Understanding garden visitors: the affordances of a leisure environment.
Authors: Fox, D.
Visiting. a garden in England is a traditional leisure activity that continues to grow in popularity but curiously this sector of the visitor attraction market has received little attention from academics. The thesis seeks to understand participation in garden visiting from a number of perspectives but principally that of the visitor. It moves beyond the established approach of individual agency with its assumption of free choice to incorporate social and material agency. This movement requires a shift in theoretical perspective from the prevailing theories in the leisure literature (motivational theories) to the emerging theory of affordance. The study consisted of four phases of data collection. Two phases obtained quantitative data from surveys - first, of residents in Dorset and secondly, visitors in a garden. The aim was to identify garden visitors and to establish the importance of various factors in influencing a visit. The other two phases obtained qualitative data from a series of informal conversations with a small number of residents from the survey and a large number of visitors to several different types of horticultural attractions. These sought to establish the participants' explanations for visiting gardens. Analysing the participants' explanatory repertoires reveals the importance of the natural and the social in garden visitation. Their perception of the `natural' environment of the garden is a key element of the attraction for participants as gardens offer opportunities for both relaxation and hedonism. However, inseparable from the `natural' is the `social' environment. The proprietors and gardeners may afford some aspects whilst others are realised through the companionship of family or friends. Similarly, natural environmental features and social influences may prompt a visit or influence where it takes place. The participants also reveal the power of social norms in regard to their activities in a garden and what prompted them to visit. Furthermore they disclose the importance of temporal and spatial considerations. The connections between, on the one hand, having a domestic garden, or an interest in gardening and on the other, participation in garden visiting were perhaps predictable, but the influence of the media and particularly the television on recreational gardening and the indirect consequences this has for garden visiting was less foreseeable. The thesis concludes with a summary and discussion of the major findings and interprets them in the light of affordance theory. Building on this discussion, suggestions are made for future research to explore the issues raised in the thesis. The study therefore offers not only a significant contribution to the literature in leisure and tourism studies but also the analysis of social-material agency.