For the Cost of a Single Ticket… Why the Cleveland Botanical Gardens Should Not Be Free

Orchid at Orchid ManiaYesterday I had a lovely tour at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens led by Matt Edwards, who is the Gardens’ animal caretaker. I got to see and hear about several very cool things and, of course, look at all of the orchids they have for their Orchid Mania show.

In fact, there was so much information (and pictures), that I am going to split up the whole thing into a few manageable posts.

I thought that a good place to start would be to talk about why I think the CBG rocks. And why I think we should have to pay for things like the CGB.

In my last post, Melanie from Shaker Heights said:

Do you really think the Cleveland Botanical Gardens are EXCELLENT? I have a very negative attitude towards it since the remodel. I can remember going down there on a weeknight and taking a stroll thru the herb gardens….FOR FREE!!!!

Melanie is a wonderful gardener ( and she leaves many wonderful and thought provoking comments) and this is a very valid question. Why should we pay for a Botanical Garden that was free just a few years ago? What do we get out of it? Don’t we have better things to spend our money on? Do we?

The people of Cleveland may not realize how they have, for a very long time, benefited from an legacy of wealth, elegance and opulence that had its heyday back over a century ago. A long time ago, wealthy men (and their wives and children) built in Cleveland, through a small portion of the ginormus pile of money they had made off oil, steel and railroads, what they felt a sophisticated society should have. And so, we have Wade Oval plus many other amazing features in Cleveland.   The CBG is ultimately a remnant of that era.

Unfortunately, greedy men (ok, inept city council members – I guess history sometimes doesn’t change all that much) chased away those wealthy men and their lovely remnants of sophistication were left to fend for themselves.

And they did fend for awhile. They brought in donations and they pounded on the doors of companies in Cleveland, demanding, begging that they keep these legacies alive. They kept up the buildings and grounds so we the public could enjoy them for free, but they did not have the funds to improve and ultimately amaze.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how many volunteers you have, no matter how enjoyable something is, no matter how much the public loves and adores it, these places cost money to operate. Love is just not enough to pay an electric bill or bring in a new, fascinating, highly unusual exhibit. And in case we have forgotten (not that I think anyone here has forgotten, but some people reading are not from Cleveland), the number of companies and wealthy donors in Cleveland has gotten significantly smaller over the years and the number of organizations with their hands out imploring has only gotten larger.

I have no doubt that the CBG had to recreate itself or it was facing a slow but inevitable crawl into oblivion. They faced a difficult choice, remain the same (free) and eventually perish - or –  evolve (charge money) and thrive. And it has recreated itself beautifully.

We have no problem with paying $8 to see the latest action packed drivel to come out of Hollywood. And after two hours there, we are politely but firmly herded out of the theater. We will pay $20 – $200 for a single ticket to enjoy the excitement of a sports game, a Broadway musical or a rock concert, and after a few hours, again, we are asked to leave. Many of us will spend literally $1,000s of dollars to follow that magical dream of “We’re going to Disney World” which is really no more than a well run and glorified amusement park. And yet we balk at the cost of a ticket to share the wonder of nature, science, beauty and amazement.

And what an investment those things are! I can honestly say that I have had more “amazing” moments with my children at museums, zoos and gardens than I ever did at a movie. Just ask the grandma who was following her 7-year-old child off the elevator yesterday at the CBG. That little girl’s exclamation of “Grandma, it’s all so BEAUTIFUL!” when suddenly facing a room full of orchids, is something that never would have happened had it not been for the fact that the cost of their tickets helped make that show possible in the first place.

For the low, low price of $7.50 ($3 for children), you can wander the grounds for an entire day. The show starts and ends when you say (as long as you say it between the hours of 10AM and 5PM) and the show is limited only by nature. As gardeners, we know that means that there are no limits.

If you live here in Cleveland, be glad that the cost of the CBG is less than the cost of a movie. If you still live in a place where your local Conservatory or Botanical Gardens are free, remember that it costs money to operate and without your donation, it might not be there tomorrow. Drop a fiver or a ten spot into that donation box. Our gardens deserve our money more than any of those snobby actors out in Hollywood do.

12 thoughts on “For the Cost of a Single Ticket… Why the Cleveland Botanical Gardens Should Not Be Free
  1. I completely agree with you-I don’t understand people who think everything “public” must be free. I rather pay a small price for enjoyment, than have a place run down, or closed.
    When I travel to some countries I can’t believe the people who complain about paying 25 cents to use the washroom. I rather have a CLEAN public washroom for that price than some horror I don’t want to enter.


  2. I agree as well. It takes time and labor and money to care for the Botanical Gardens. Why would they be free. You can spend all day there and truly get something out of your visit.


  3. Now I’m sorry I didn’t know about the CBG the last time I was in Cleveland visiting my aunt…maybe I’ll get there again someday.


  4. Having helped create several “public gardens” I know that this cost money, even on a small scale. Of course we should pay. We usually get more than our money’s worth.


  5. You are so lucky to have a public garden on such a scale. In Saratoga we have a small city park and Yaddo, an artist’s retreat. Yaddo is a “remnant” of one of these men or, in this case, women. The house, for the artists, is private while the gardens are open for free. They rely on volunteers for most of the upkeep. When I lived in San Antonio, TX a garden was being built. Even in it’s early stages it was great. At the time I worked at the Alamo on their small, 3 acre, gardens. I really enjoyed seeing the looks on people’s faces as they walked about. So, remember the workers when you are there.

    As a foot note, there is talk of building a garden in a state park here. That would be a great place to work.


  6. Melanie on

    You’ve made your point….I will dig deeply into my pockets for the dough. I really do miss strolling through all the gardens, but I still don’t like the remodel!
    Shaker Heights Gardener,


  7. Oh my gosh, as someone who has been to the CBG many times, I can’t imagine why anyone would complain about paying such a small amount to see what an incredible treasure there is there. It costs $12 to see Marie Selby Gardens in Florida and while the two are entirely different, I enjoyed each as much as the other.
    But……if you want to consider another option, join the American Horticulture Society for $35 and you’ll indeed get in to CBG for free, as well as Marie Selby and a whole plethora of other public gardens. Not only that, your membership will get you in free to many wonderful annual flower and garden shows. You will also get a discount on purchases at many public garden gift shops (usually 10%). And if that isn’t enough, you get a free subscription to The American Gardener magazine, which is a wonderful publication.


  8. Melanie on

    Please people, I was only making a point about all the changes there….admission only being one of them. I understand all the cost involved, but as Hanna explained…Cleveland is having a hard time. Well guess what? So are it’s people. I don’t go to the movies or buy expensive cups of coffee. Think of all the inner city families that can’t afford the admission cost. Two parents, couple of kids, that’s a lot of money. I can afford to visit a few times a year, but now I never run down after dinner to take a quick stroll through the gardens. Besides the admission cost I really don’t like the new “LOOK”. It’s too in your face, too much CONCRETE! Before the building blended into the landscape.


  9. “Think of all the inner city families that can’t afford the admission cost”

    You know, when I discussed this topic with a friend before I posted, he brought up that exact point as well. The cost of admission does exclude those who already do without and it is unfortunate. Though I am not certain how to address that. Perhaps a weekly or monthly “freebie” day, like the zoo has would be a nice gesture to see?

    The building is a matter of taste. They do use alot of concrete around it, but for me, I like the architecture. It is certainly better than that Case monstrosity across the way that looks like wadded up aluminum foil.

    Melanie, I do want to say, thank you for bring up your points. I do appreciate them. One’s personal opinions are not worth a penny unless they are discussed, challenged and constantly reassessed.


  10. Melanie, I’m sorry if I sounded like I was coming down hard on you. I really wasn’t, but it sounds like it in print. You DO have valid points. As someone who lives in a VERY rural area of Ohio, where we have to drive at least 2-3 hours to visit a wonderful facility such as this, I guess I have a different perspective of it all.
    I like Hanna’s idea of a freebie day!


  11. I agree that people who can afford it should pay admission to public gardens like the CBG. I also think that those who can’t should be given opportunities, as suggested, such as one day a week free day or a pay as you can admission scale.

    Further, I would hope that CBG has some kind of educational outreach program that would bring in inner city school children to learn about its horticultural treasures.

    Thanks for the great reviews and commentary about the garden and the orchid show. I am making plans to head up there for the final weekend and hoping to bring home one or two new orchids to add to my small but hardy collection.


  12. “Further, I would hope that CBG has some kind of educational outreach program that would bring in inner city school children to learn about its horticultural treasures.”

    Yes, they do. They also have gardening satellites in the urban areas. I have visited the Esperenza Gardens ( and I know there are several others around Cleveland as well. They have the Learning Gardens down in the Hough too.


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