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How Missouri Botanical Garden grew its virtual following, what's in store for 2021

Peter Wyse Jackson talked with the Business Journal about continuing to grow the organization's virtual plans in 2021
Credit: SLBJ
Peter Wyse Jackson is president of Missouri Botanical Garden.

ST. LOUIS — When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Missouri Botanical Garden closed its doors to the public for three months.

Officials immediately began working on plans to offer virtual tours and events, which began with walk throughs of favorite MoBot areas on its social media pages, said Peter Wyse Jackson, president of MoBot. This resulted in more than 4 million virtual tour attendees in 2020

"We canceled or adjusted events as necessary to ensure the health and safety of all," Wyse Jackson said. "For example, it was not possible to hold our Japanese Festival, which typically brings around 35,000 visitors to the Garden on Labor Day weekend. We still wanted to offer some special activities that weekend and were able to host tours of our Teahouse Island, which isn’t normally open to the public, and we extended the hours of the Garden all weekend."

On June 16, after working with city of St. Louis officials, MoBot opened its doors and reduced its visitor capacity to 25% of normal levels. The venue had 440,000 in-person visitors in 2020, down from about 1 million the year prior.

Wyse Jackson talked with the Business Journal about continuing to grow the organization's virtual plans in 2021 and the status of its new visitor center project.

You pivoted to offering virtual options early on. How did that work out? Immediately after we closed to the public, the Garden began offering virtual tours through our social media pages. This allowed us to bring the Garden into our visitors’ homes when they could not come to us. We offered walks through favorite areas of the Garden and showcased what was in bloom each week. We also offered behind the scenes looks at the Garden and into rarely seen greenhouses. Horticulture staff shared information on how we care for our living collections. These all received much positive feedback and had a wide reach. Just on Facebook, our virtual tours were viewed by 4,098,758 individuals. Some of our annual plant sales were held virtually, with online ordering and drive-thru pickup.

We also increased the number of our virtual education offerings. We learned how to offer online public classes, tours, field trips, camps, educator workshops, and volunteer trainings. The membership division began hosting member events virtually, and even added virtual programming that had not existed prior to Covid. We hosted the annual Dwyer Lecture virtually, and we even went online to host the Green Living Festival. That event resulted in more than 5,000 views in the first two weeks alone.

Are there changes you made due to Covid that may stick around in the future? We intend to continue virtual tours, which are a wonderful way for anyone who cannot visit in person to connect to the Garden. We have noticed this expands our reach to “visitors” around the world looking to connect with the Garden. In 2020, 6,567,136 people visited the Garden’s main website. Member speaker series and lectures are also good candidates for continued virtual delivery because they allow members and other interested guests the opportunity to participate in programming that might otherwise be unavailable to them in person.

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