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Petal Power

A 30-acre garden in the centre of Atlanta has become famous for its collections, conservation work and art exhibitions in nature, and is now a beloved haven for locals. Mary Pat Matheson, CEO of Atlanta Botanical Garden, talks to Kath Hudson about her vision

By Kath Hudson | Published in Attractions Management 2018 issue 3

When I joined in 2002,
I saw the garden as an adolescent in a city which was growing up,” says Mary Pat Matheson. “I realised it had huge potential for growth and my expertise is in raising money to build gardens. It had some great staff, as well as the largest collection of carnivorous plants in the world and the largest collection of orchids in the US. I told the executive committee that I wanted to create big exhibitions and they gave me the freedom to be creative.”

Matheson kept true to her word; under her stewardship Atlanta Botanical Garden, located in Atlanta, Georgia, has gone from strength to strength. She has increased annual visits from 120,000 to 500,000, as well as raising funds and overseeing an ambitious expansion of the main site and the launch of a second, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainsville.

One of Matheson’s ideas credited with putting the attraction on the map was to turn it into an outdoor art gallery, inserting sculpture among the plants.

The first exhibition – a glass sculpture of Dale Chihuly, in 2004 – helped lay the groundwork for the first capital campaign. However, the second time the artist was showcased, in 2016, it was worth an estimated US$50m to US$60m for the city.

A museum without walls
In 2009, the gardens played host to the largest collection of Henry Moore bronze sculptures ever seen in the US. Four years later, the attraction commissioned Mosaiculture International of Montreal to create some of its massive sculptures made out of plants for the Imaginery Worlds exhibition. Some of these remain at the Gainsville location.

“Gardens are simply museums without walls, and the best canvas to showcase sculpture and art,” says Matheson. “There’s often the perception that museums aren’t open to everyone, but gardens don’t have the same exclusivity: everyone enjoys being out in nature. It has been a privilege to be able to showcase such iconic artwork in such a serene setting.”

Another Matheson win has been to diversify to bring in new audiences.

“In a competitive environment you need to offer more than just hydrangeas in bloom. I work by the mantra that it all begins with the visitor: educate them, get them to join as a member or become a donor,” she says. “In order to attract different audiences, we needed to offer different opportunities. In 2002 we had some families visiting, but no young people. So we started holding cocktail evenings aimed at those in their mid-20s to late 30s. All the marketing was done electronically and it was very successful.”

These evenings have now become established in the city, with older people coming in the early evening to have a glass of wine and listen to music and then a younger crowd arriving later.

Time to expand
A variation of the social offering has been culinary experiences, with the attraction’s chefs cooking outdoors: “Who doesn’t like being cooked for by a great chef in nice outdoor surroundings?” says Matheson.

A major part of the annual event calendar is the holiday light show at Christmas, which is one of the biggest in the US. It draws 185,000 people, from all over the south east, having a major economic impact on hotels and restaurants.

With the gardens’ popularity growing, Matheson saw the opportunity to expand and in 2012 successfully completed a US$55m capital campaign which enabled the expansion of the garden with a new visitor centre, an edible garden, a cascade garden with waterfalls and a flagship 180-metre canopy walk being added.

Once that was completed, work started on creating a second site in Gainsville, which was launched in 2015. “We were simply out of space,” says Matheson. “Part of our mission is to work with other countries to save species – we are actively involved in many countries including Cuba, China and Vietnam – so we needed more room for nurseries in order to do our conservation work. Gainsville is much bigger than the main site and has given us the chance to grow.

Urban oasis
Going forward, as more people live in cities than rural areas, Matheson predicts public gardens will become ever more important for health and wellbeing, both mentally and physically. “There’s more pressure on everyone now and many studies show that in order to be healthy, humans need nature,” she says. “Gardens offer people the opportunity to slow down and feel more human again, replenish their spirit and relieve the stress of the city. We’re an urban oasis in a concrete city.”

A challenging aspect of the job has been the constant push to evolve and raise the bar on quality, which involves always fund raising. However, this is Matheson’s speciality: “Good planning is the key,”she says. “We know where we want to be in five years time. We think of it like a business, but operate like a non-profit. And, the more successful we become the easier it gets: investors want to invest in success and we have a great product which everyone loves.”

Atlanta Botanical Garden: overview

null,Following a petition by local residents in 1973, Atlanta Botanical Garden was incorporated in 1976 as a non-profit corporation with a mission to develop and maintain plant collections for display, education, research, conservation and enjoyment. In 1980, a 50-year lease was negotiated with the city, safeguarding the garden’s future.

Located in the heart of Atlanta, the 30-acre attraction is composed of a number of themed gardens, including formal gardens, woodlands, a children’s garden and an edible garden with outdoor kitchen, as well as a 180m canopy walk through the city’s last urban forest and the world’s largest collection of carnivorous plants.
The largest permanent display of orchids in the US is on show at the The Fuqua Orchid Centre, including rare orchids which are able to thrive thanks to special technology developed to create the ideal environment. The Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory contains plants from deserts and tropical rainforests. In collaboration with Atlanta Zoo, there is a room containing tropical animals, including birds, turtles and poison dart frogs.

 



The garden was founded as a non-profit organisation in 1976
 


The garden was founded as a non-profit organisation in 1976
 
 


Within the grounds of the botanical garden is the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory
 
 


 
The Gainsville Garden

A US$2.5m gift from the Woodruff Foundation helped to fund the launch of this Gainsville branch of the Atlanta Botanical Garden in 2015. At 168 acres it is more than five times the size of the Atlanta site and amenities include a 2,000-seat amphitheatre and a 5,000sq ft greenhouse.

The attraction also houses some installations from the Imaginary Worlds exhibition. These impressive sculptures are made by stuffing metal frames with fabric bags of mulched bark and soil-less bedding material. Holes are then made in the bags which grasses, succulents and evergreens are included to create spectacular living sculptures.

 



In addition to the Atlanta flagship, a second botanical garden is located in nearby Gainsville, Georgia
 


In addition to the Atlanta flagship, a second botanical garden is located in nearby Gainsville, Georgia
 
 


 
Mary Pat Matheson

President and chief executive officer of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Mary Pat Matheson joined in 2002 and under her stewardship, the visitor attraction has actively expanded its fund raising, education, business administration, horticulture and conservation initiatives.

Her reputation and expertise has led to her winning many awards, including 2005 Professional of the Year from the American Horticultural Society, and to joining committees, including a conservation committee in Cameroon and one on sustainability in China.
Previously, she was executive director of Red Butte Garden and Arboretum in Salt Lake City where she increased revenue by 600 per cent.

 



Through Matheson’s leadership, Atlanta Botanical Garden has been transformed into an iconic, landmark attraction enjoyed by the entire city
 


 
Mary Pat Matheson has worked at the Atlanta Botanical Garden since 2002
The mainly outdoor visitor attraction offers more than 30 acres of botanical gardens
The mainly outdoor visitor attraction offers more than 30 acres of botanical gardens
A 180-metre-long canopy walk is among a series of 2010 additions that doubled the size of the garden
A 180-metre-long canopy walk is among a series of 2010 additions that doubled the size of the garden
In a competitive environment you need to offer more than just hydrangeas in bloom
A 180-metre-long canopy walk is among a series of 2010 additions that doubled the size of the garden
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Jobs . News . Products . Magazine
Visitor attractions
Petal Power

A 30-acre garden in the centre of Atlanta has become famous for its collections, conservation work and art exhibitions in nature, and is now a beloved haven for locals. Mary Pat Matheson, CEO of Atlanta Botanical Garden, talks to Kath Hudson about her vision

By Kath Hudson | Published in Attractions Management 2018 issue 3

When I joined in 2002,
I saw the garden as an adolescent in a city which was growing up,” says Mary Pat Matheson. “I realised it had huge potential for growth and my expertise is in raising money to build gardens. It had some great staff, as well as the largest collection of carnivorous plants in the world and the largest collection of orchids in the US. I told the executive committee that I wanted to create big exhibitions and they gave me the freedom to be creative.”

Matheson kept true to her word; under her stewardship Atlanta Botanical Garden, located in Atlanta, Georgia, has gone from strength to strength. She has increased annual visits from 120,000 to 500,000, as well as raising funds and overseeing an ambitious expansion of the main site and the launch of a second, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainsville.

One of Matheson’s ideas credited with putting the attraction on the map was to turn it into an outdoor art gallery, inserting sculpture among the plants.

The first exhibition – a glass sculpture of Dale Chihuly, in 2004 – helped lay the groundwork for the first capital campaign. However, the second time the artist was showcased, in 2016, it was worth an estimated US$50m to US$60m for the city.

A museum without walls
In 2009, the gardens played host to the largest collection of Henry Moore bronze sculptures ever seen in the US. Four years later, the attraction commissioned Mosaiculture International of Montreal to create some of its massive sculptures made out of plants for the Imaginery Worlds exhibition. Some of these remain at the Gainsville location.

“Gardens are simply museums without walls, and the best canvas to showcase sculpture and art,” says Matheson. “There’s often the perception that museums aren’t open to everyone, but gardens don’t have the same exclusivity: everyone enjoys being out in nature. It has been a privilege to be able to showcase such iconic artwork in such a serene setting.”

Another Matheson win has been to diversify to bring in new audiences.

“In a competitive environment you need to offer more than just hydrangeas in bloom. I work by the mantra that it all begins with the visitor: educate them, get them to join as a member or become a donor,” she says. “In order to attract different audiences, we needed to offer different opportunities. In 2002 we had some families visiting, but no young people. So we started holding cocktail evenings aimed at those in their mid-20s to late 30s. All the marketing was done electronically and it was very successful.”

These evenings have now become established in the city, with older people coming in the early evening to have a glass of wine and listen to music and then a younger crowd arriving later.

Time to expand
A variation of the social offering has been culinary experiences, with the attraction’s chefs cooking outdoors: “Who doesn’t like being cooked for by a great chef in nice outdoor surroundings?” says Matheson.

A major part of the annual event calendar is the holiday light show at Christmas, which is one of the biggest in the US. It draws 185,000 people, from all over the south east, having a major economic impact on hotels and restaurants.

With the gardens’ popularity growing, Matheson saw the opportunity to expand and in 2012 successfully completed a US$55m capital campaign which enabled the expansion of the garden with a new visitor centre, an edible garden, a cascade garden with waterfalls and a flagship 180-metre canopy walk being added.

Once that was completed, work started on creating a second site in Gainsville, which was launched in 2015. “We were simply out of space,” says Matheson. “Part of our mission is to work with other countries to save species – we are actively involved in many countries including Cuba, China and Vietnam – so we needed more room for nurseries in order to do our conservation work. Gainsville is much bigger than the main site and has given us the chance to grow.

Urban oasis
Going forward, as more people live in cities than rural areas, Matheson predicts public gardens will become ever more important for health and wellbeing, both mentally and physically. “There’s more pressure on everyone now and many studies show that in order to be healthy, humans need nature,” she says. “Gardens offer people the opportunity to slow down and feel more human again, replenish their spirit and relieve the stress of the city. We’re an urban oasis in a concrete city.”

A challenging aspect of the job has been the constant push to evolve and raise the bar on quality, which involves always fund raising. However, this is Matheson’s speciality: “Good planning is the key,”she says. “We know where we want to be in five years time. We think of it like a business, but operate like a non-profit. And, the more successful we become the easier it gets: investors want to invest in success and we have a great product which everyone loves.”

Atlanta Botanical Garden: overview

null,Following a petition by local residents in 1973, Atlanta Botanical Garden was incorporated in 1976 as a non-profit corporation with a mission to develop and maintain plant collections for display, education, research, conservation and enjoyment. In 1980, a 50-year lease was negotiated with the city, safeguarding the garden’s future.

Located in the heart of Atlanta, the 30-acre attraction is composed of a number of themed gardens, including formal gardens, woodlands, a children’s garden and an edible garden with outdoor kitchen, as well as a 180m canopy walk through the city’s last urban forest and the world’s largest collection of carnivorous plants.
The largest permanent display of orchids in the US is on show at the The Fuqua Orchid Centre, including rare orchids which are able to thrive thanks to special technology developed to create the ideal environment. The Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory contains plants from deserts and tropical rainforests. In collaboration with Atlanta Zoo, there is a room containing tropical animals, including birds, turtles and poison dart frogs.

 



The garden was founded as a non-profit organisation in 1976
 


The garden was founded as a non-profit organisation in 1976
 
 


Within the grounds of the botanical garden is the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory
 
 


 
The Gainsville Garden

A US$2.5m gift from the Woodruff Foundation helped to fund the launch of this Gainsville branch of the Atlanta Botanical Garden in 2015. At 168 acres it is more than five times the size of the Atlanta site and amenities include a 2,000-seat amphitheatre and a 5,000sq ft greenhouse.

The attraction also houses some installations from the Imaginary Worlds exhibition. These impressive sculptures are made by stuffing metal frames with fabric bags of mulched bark and soil-less bedding material. Holes are then made in the bags which grasses, succulents and evergreens are included to create spectacular living sculptures.

 



In addition to the Atlanta flagship, a second botanical garden is located in nearby Gainsville, Georgia
 


In addition to the Atlanta flagship, a second botanical garden is located in nearby Gainsville, Georgia
 
 


 
Mary Pat Matheson

President and chief executive officer of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Mary Pat Matheson joined in 2002 and under her stewardship, the visitor attraction has actively expanded its fund raising, education, business administration, horticulture and conservation initiatives.

Her reputation and expertise has led to her winning many awards, including 2005 Professional of the Year from the American Horticultural Society, and to joining committees, including a conservation committee in Cameroon and one on sustainability in China.
Previously, she was executive director of Red Butte Garden and Arboretum in Salt Lake City where she increased revenue by 600 per cent.

 



Through Matheson’s leadership, Atlanta Botanical Garden has been transformed into an iconic, landmark attraction enjoyed by the entire city
 


 
Mary Pat Matheson has worked at the Atlanta Botanical Garden since 2002
The mainly outdoor visitor attraction offers more than 30 acres of botanical gardens
The mainly outdoor visitor attraction offers more than 30 acres of botanical gardens
A 180-metre-long canopy walk is among a series of 2010 additions that doubled the size of the garden
A 180-metre-long canopy walk is among a series of 2010 additions that doubled the size of the garden
In a competitive environment you need to offer more than just hydrangeas in bloom
A 180-metre-long canopy walk is among a series of 2010 additions that doubled the size of the garden
 


ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media, Portmill House, Portmill Lane,
Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 1DJ Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2018

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
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