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Meet: Richard Barley, CEO, Open Gardens Australia

Photo - Robin Powell

The mission of Open Gardens Australia is to promote the joys and benefits of gardens and gardening. Over 25 years garden-lovers have been inspired by what other gardeners have achieved, and more than $5 million has been raised for charity. There was more good news this year when Richard Barley received a prestigious international award. We asked him all about it.

What did the Garden Tourism award recognize?

It sounds sort of grand – “International person of the year in garden tourism” – but I take that as a stamp of approval for everything we do here with at Open Gardens Australia, and with the way we are raising the profile of garden visitation here and abroad. So while it’s an individual award I see it as recognition of all our people, working across the country, many of whom are volunteers.


Who gave you the award?

The Garden Tourism Council is based in Canada and the US, and it created the awards in 2011.

Did you go to Canada to collect it?

I did briefly, and was able to be part of the Garden Tourism Conference in Toronto.


Is garden tourism a growing interest around the world?

Absolutely: without question. The Garden Tourism Conference heard from many interesting and well-credentialed speakers on the themes of gardens and their boosting effects on tourism. The keynote speaker was Richard Benfield, whose book on garden tourism will be published this year. He pointed out that more people visit gardens in the US every year than visit Las Vegas, yet so far garden tourism is a bit of a well-kept secret. The conference heard that garden tourism would rise for the next 15 -20 years. People like to go to places with good gardens and good green spaces. Conversely, places that don’t have them are less attractive. There are economic benefits of good gardens in a community, and of course well-gardened, well-greened communities contribute to better quality of life not just for visitors but for locals as well.


Craignish, Leura, open early August. Photo - Robin Powell 


Do you do much garden tourism yourself?

I do like to get out and have a look at a few gardens on the weekend.

I think what I appreciate and enjoy the most is the great diversity of gardens that are open. You can go from some inner-city productive garden to something on a grand scale out in the country in the same weekend. You can see gardeners coping with all kinds of challenges. So I have about three or four hundred favourites!


Are you opening more gardens?

No, if anything we have contracted the number a little. I wish to ensure that the gardens we open are all high-quality gardens. It’s not about opening 5-600 gardens, but making sure that they are all of exceptional quality and fascinating for our visitors.


And do you garden at home?

I do as time allows. I scratch away and wage an ongoing battle against a variety of common weeds! We have an old garden of around 1.5 acres, in Woodend, Victoria. We have cold winters, exciting spring seasons, dry summers and beautiful autumn colours.


Elegans, Galston, early August. Photo - Anne Smith


Text: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell