Growing garden communications
Highlights from Hungary
A blog by Catherine Leonard, INTO Secretary-General, on the Hungarian Garden Heritage Foundation (MKA) annual conference (20-22 April 2023)
There are almost two thousand gardens in Hungary which are considered by experts to be significant, owing to their natural and cultural features of garden heritage importance.
I was struck by the challenges felt by central European colleagues – not least by the war in Ukraine, but also the lasting consequences of Communist rule. We heard movingly from Réka Folly about her family’s efforts to care for the Folly Arboretum through wars, nationalisation, farming and finally buying back the property after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
I loved the unified branding, the unapologetic central position of the children’s play areas, the signage, the artwork. All enhancing a spirit of place focussed on four generations of the Folly family. You can see more on YouTube.
The magic of fireflies
Another inspirational speaker was the Firefly Master, Ferenc Halász. In 2007, Ferenc began offering tours of the firefly swarming at Alcsúti Arboretum.
This natural phenomenon can only be experienced over two weeks, between around 9-10pm at midsummer. In the first year, he had 35 guests – this number has now risen to over 20,000 and the concept has been franchised to other gardens in the country!
Not only is it a wonderful way to talk about biodiversity loss and light pollution, but it’s also about bringing people together at special places to create lifelong memories. See for yourself the magical firefly walks.
Inspiration and challenge!
Media and messaging
Sian Thomas from the National Trust gave an insightful introduction to working with the media and shared numerous tips. But what resonated with many delegates was ‘show don’t tell’ and that people are interested in people.
We heard from garden designer Nigel Dunnett – his urban planting projects are inspirational, from Olympic Park meadows to Tower of London Superbloom, as well as pioneering work to transform the streets of Sheffield.
He challenged us to be more activist and ambitious about creating a mass movement, and to put people first.
I reconnected with Gillian and Richard Mawrey, who I first met over twenty years ago. Gillian introduced us to garden magazines through the ages and around the world. Her presentation sparked a discussion about the value of printed paper versus digital, with delegates agreeing that both were important.
Now, the Historic Gardens Foundation awards small grants to people publishing magazines.
Focus on wayfinding
Parques de Sintra in Portugal welcomed 2.8 million visitors in 2022, João Sousa Rego, Managing Director for Built Heritage, told delegates. In contrast to others present, the aim at the Pena Palace is not to grow overall visitor numbers – but to grow the numbers visiting the park. Currently, 20% visit the park, most often because tickets to the Palace have sold out.
The team want to grow that to 50% and to increase the length, value and enjoyment from their visit.
One of the ways of achieving this goal is through wayfinding. The Pena Park has already identified points of interest – particularly popular with Instagram users – at strategic points in the visit. They have developed a geocache style app for families, and improved directional signage.
Top tips and takeaways
MKA have been doing great work to bring together the Hungarian garden heritage sector nationally and provide a bridge to international expertise. Their sharing of knowledge and building of common cause shone through. This was summed up by Ágnes Herczeg, MKA President, in a quote from a Hungarian philosopher.
“What you get, what you achieve, what you know, what you experience – share it!”
So, apart from the joy of interacting with colleagues from around the world amid beautiful and inspirational surroundings, here are my top five highlights from the conference:
- The firefly walks at the Alcsúti Arboretum – in the spirit of blockbuster exhibitions, what similar unique things can we offer at our places?
- The wine and wander at Folly – could this be replicated? With locally sourced drinks if not made on site.
- Loofahs at Knightshayes – what unusual plants do you have in your gardens which could inspire folks at home to ‘grow-along’?
- Layers of interpretation – are you providing different ways for people to engage with your site? Can they simply enjoy its beauty or have fun? Or are we forcing learning on them?
- Using plants to give life to lifeless places – what can we do to bring colour and sustainability into urban areas, and lay the foundations for a healthy, climate-friendly future in our cities?
I came home with a big bag of flower seed from the Hungarian Garden Heritage Foundation and tree seeds from the Folly Arboretum. I’m very excited about doing my bit to bring nature and beauty together in my garden at home!