We became Lan Su Chinese Garden members this October, in a desire to make impromptu, and often quick, visits to the Garden but not wanting to pay the entry fee each time for a 5 to 10 minute stroll or tea at the tea house. The real value in a membership at the Chinese Garden (or Japanese Garden or Art Museum) is in the ability to structure visits based on mood or time constraints: visits become about what you need that day: reflection, education, stimulation. If I'm spending the full price of admission for a one day visit to a museum or garden, I always feel pressured to spend more time at that institution, simply to "get my money's worth". This idea of maximizing time per admission fee results in a significant loss of freedom and enjoyment of the experience.
Obviously, a membership involves a steeper upfront cost, but that costs is recouped within a few visits. And once that happens, each experience becomes less about seeing as much as you can and more about truly absorbing one specific exhibit at the art museum, or taking a 10 minute walk through either the Japanese or Chinese Gardens. This is precisely how we've been interacting with the Chinese Garden this year. If we're downtown, it's easy to drive over, walk around the garden, and then leave, instantly refreshed.
We took a 10 minute stroll two weekends ago and as I marveled at the 4 pm light, blooms and colors, I formulated new plans to return the following day with my camera. If I hadn't been a member, I'd have been less inclined to do that, and probably angry at myself for not bringing my camera. When I returned, I let the light and colors dictate what I shot, instead of a previously set agenda. And the day I brought my camera was even sunnier than the pervious day, camellias, maples, and reflections all the more vivid.