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Garden Gathering Again: BGO uses pandemic as opportunity to grow

by Jocelyn Murphy | February 14, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
A group has a picnic Tuesday July 14, 2020 at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks in Fayetteville. In place of the Firefly Fling Festival, which was canceled due to covid-19, the garden is hosting Magical Evenings in the Garden during the week of July 12 - 18. The garden will be open from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Guests are invited to wear their fairy wings or costumes, bring picnics, and enjoy the garden in the cool of the evening. In order to allow proper social distancing, guest capacity will be limited. Face coverings will be required and guests must maintain a minimum of six feet from others. To reserve space visit the garden's website at Visit for photo galleries. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)

The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks staff had big expectations for 2020. They were on track to have their largest attendance yet for popular events Chefs in the Garden, Greening of the Garden and Firefly Fling, as well as celebrating the 25th annual Greening of the Garden Gala, among other intentions for the year and immeasurable planning. Though the venue is mostly outdoors, even BGO did not escape the pandemic's grasp. All the aforementioned events generate revenue for the garden, and their cancellations due to covid left a deep scar on the nonprofit's budget.

In spite of the setbacks, the garden did still report climbing admission numbers throughout the year. During the summer and fall months, daily attendance was higher than the same time period in 2019, reveals spokeswoman Liz Atwell. "We were glad we could provide the community with a safe place to bring their families to explore, play or relax," she says.

Though the team is trying to maintain a sense of pragmatism in the uncertain face of the coming year, they are optimistic in looking ahead to 2021. Here, Atwell shares a bit more about how covid affected the BGO's operations and where they go from here.

Q. What's your biggest goal for 2021 for the BGO?

A. This past year was a challenging one, so I'm trying to keep my goals for the garden realistic. I would love to see us increase our attendance and revenue over our 2019 numbers; however, I'm not sure that will be possible this year. So many things are still uncertain with this pandemic, but there is a lot of hope now because of the vaccine. I would like to see our membership grow, as well as our presence in the Northwest Arkansas region. Many still do not know all the things we have to offer and the wide range of programming we provide.

Q. Are you still planning events on BGO's typical timeline? Or have you shortened that time frame while you wait to see what happens with covid?

A. We are planning to have a lot of our usual events this year; however, we've moved some things around and are keeping everything very fluid. Things will certainly be different and scaled down, and we may have to make last minute changes or adjustments depending on what is happening with the pandemic. However, we are fortunate to be an outdoor venue and to be able to hold events at all, albeit smaller ones.

Q. What do you have planned that we can look forward to?

A. We will have our annual Plant Sale April 23 (members only) and April 24. However, due to staff limitations, we will not be growing and selling our own plants this year, only plants from outside vendors. Then, on April 25, we will have our Earth Day Festival -- a family-friendly outdoor event with crafts and activities. We have moved Chefs in the Garden from September to May 25 this year. We are also bringing back Terrific Tuesday Nights for the summer! Additionally, we are planning to have Firefly Fling on July 10 and our International Festival on Sept. 19.

Q. Are there changes that came from covid that will be permanent, in some form or fashion?

A. The main changes that will stay in effect for the foreseeable future are how guests enter the garden. We now have walk-up windows to purchase admission or show your membership card. Coming to the garden is easy and almost touchless.

We will continue to limit access to the office due to space restrictions. Of course, we are still hosting weddings and other kinds of rental events and event space, and bathrooms are available for those occasions.

Q. Has anything changed about the goals / vision of BGO?

A. During the pandemic, we have taken the opportunity to embark on major strategic planning utilizing a professional consultant. This has given the board and staff time to think about the present organization and to dream about the future. We believe that our overall mission in Northwest Arkansas will stay the same, but we will be more focused and deliberate as to how we get there.

Q. What are the next BIG goals for the BGO?

A. This spring or early summer we plan on opening up a new garden, the Lakeside Garden, which will be a relaxing, shaded area close to Lake Fayetteville. This spot will be wonderful for weddings, a family picnic or just enjoying the native environment. We also will have changes in the Children's Garden that will make the area even more magical. All other BIG goals will be coming out of the strategic plan, so those will be showcased at a later date.

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Botanical Garden of the Ozarks

WHEN — Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Tuesday; closed Wednesday and Thursday

WHERE — 4703 N. Crossover Road in Fayetteville

COST — Adults, $7; ages 5-12, $4; free for members and children age 4 and younger

INFO — 750-2620,


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