With a new admission fee in place, the Dothan Area Botanical Gardens is also offering a way for those who can’t afford the fee to still enjoy the gardens.
The gardens began charging a $5 admission on July 1 for visitors ages 16 and older. Admission remains free for those ages 15 and younger. Members of the gardens also still get in free.
“Most gardens are not free … the gardens in the United States that are free are normally either sponsored by a city or may be tied to a university or tied to a very large donor,” said William Holman, executive director of the Dothan Area Botanical Gardens. “We’ve kept our garden free as long as we can.”
But to offset the cost to those who cannot afford the $5 admission, the Dothan Area Botanical Gardens is now participating in the Connect Pass program offered through the Dothan Houston County Library System.
Anyone with a library card in good standing with the Dothan Houston County Library System can reserve free passes for participating cultural institutions and local attractions in the Wiregrass through the Connect Pass program. The passes are then picked up at the system’s main library in downtown Dothan.
Currently, participating groups and attractions include the Dothan Area Botanical Gardens, Escape Dothan, Landmark Park, Southeast Alabama Community Theatre, Tri-State Community Orchestra and Wallace Community College. Visit https://www.dhcls.org/special-services/connect-pass/#top for more details on how to reserve passes.
One Connect Pass allows two adults to visit the gardens, Holman said. Charging the $5 admission was not an easy choice for the botanical gardens, he said.
To avoid having to pay admission with each visit, memberships are available and cost $35 for an individual and $50 for a family. Membership also provides free admission to 320 other public gardens across the U.S. through the American Horticultural Society. Members also get local nursery discounts.
Collecting the new fee is going to be a learning curve for the gardens, Holman said. Collection is based partly on an honor system with paid employees collecting admission on weekends and other times.
The new fee doesn’t impact private rentals with those rental fees collected in lieu of the admission fee. The garden also has a policy for commercial photographers who want to use the gardens as an outdoor studio, such as for engagement photos. Commercial photographers are asked to become preferred vendors in order to use the gardens.
The Dothan Area Botanical Gardens has a few paid staff members but relies heavily on volunteers to maintain the individual gardens. Numerous flower societies as well as members of the Wiregrass Master Gardeners Association work on the grounds. Other volunteers and board members help organize events for the gardens, such as the annual plant sale or the Gardens Aglow event held between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Holman said the gardens tried the keep the new admission fee as low as possible.
“As the gardens improve, cost rises with that,” he said. “… The gardens have to grow.”