Well, it’s been about two months since we blogged last.


Like everyone in this industry, we here at Lawn & Garden Retailer are still trying to figure out how to work social media and all our electronic products into the mix of all the other things we have to do at the office! Summer’s been crazy.

Just before the OFA Short Course, we were working overtime to finish our redesign of our sister magazine, GPN, in time for the July issue, which we hand out at the show. It looks gorgeous, and we’re so proud of it…whew!

Check it out:

Short Course kept us all super busy, too — we’ll be discussing all that in the next episode of Hort TV, which will be out at the beginning of August.

Photos from Short Course are up on our Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/lgr-and-gpn.

What have you been up to this summer?


Yesterday, we visited Alnwick — that’s pronounced ANN-ick.

Why the extra letters? The [American] world may never know.

We’ve been staying in Edinburgh, in Scotland, but Alnwick is a wee bit south into England; the town’s big attractions are a castle and a garden. We visited on a Sunday, so most of the shops in town were closed, but traffic on the one road in and one road out was absolutely nutty.

To weather in Scotland has been incredibly mild and sunnier than usual lately, so the garden was just mobbed!

But this isn’t the formal, straight-laced type of place you conjure up when you think of a garden in the UK. This garden is a charity, dedicated to community and education.

In other words: an absolutely glorious place.

The Duchess of Northumberland founded the garden as we know it in 1996. When we arrived, Ian August, who’s been in the garden’s employ since its inception and is now garden liaison director, took us into a room just off the gift shop and talked to us for about 15 minutes.

The garden had a sort of “soft open”; instead of one grand opening, it was planted and developed in phases, and the public was invited in almost immediately. Developers originally estimated that they’d get 67,000 visitors in the first year and require about 25 employees. They were a bit off: In just the first three months, there were more than 250,000 visitors and needed more than 100 employees!

To say the least, Alnwick Garden has been a hit. Phase two of development has recently been completed, and phase three puts the final touches on the space. They’re testing out new walking surfaces and perfecting some of the accessibility aspects, as well as installing the last of the physical gardening spaces. If I were a regular visitor to the garden, I think I’d prefer seeing it completed in stages like that — always something new to check out!

The gardens, of course, were lovely. It was separated into sections: a rose garden that wasn’t in bloom yet; a “poison garden” used mainly to educate visitors about drugs and other dangerous plants; an ornamental garden with tall hedge walls; a bamboo labyrinth. But the best part about the garden wasn’t plant-related at all, though: What I loved most was the kids.


And they weren’t just staying close to their parents’ sides. They were playing in the water features, running in the grass and chasing one another through the labyrinth. This is a place where kids felt comfortable, a place kids thought was fun!

Families brought picnics out and sat to enjoy them on the lawn; the queue (that’s British for “line”) for the ice cream stand wrapped around the corner after the lunch hour passed. The kids especially loved waiting for the jets to go off over their heads on the cascading fountain display, just off the main lawn. (Check out the photo!) You could hear them squeal from anywhere in the garden when they finally shot up. I couldn’t have had more fun playing in the fountains myself.

This hands-on, educational family atmosphere is something all attraction gardens and garden centers alike should strive for, no matter where they are. I suppose there’s a place for serene beauty and quiet reflection, but these days, the more people we can entice to get passionate about plants, the better!

I knew coming in this would be a lovely trip, but it’s really shaping up to be incredible. It’s now day three in Edinburgh…what a beautiful city.

Yesterday was a scorcher, about 27° C. That’s in the mid-80s, I think, and for Scotland it’s absolutely a day at the beach. We piled into a bus at 9:30 and made our way through town to the stunning Edinburgh Botanic Gardens.

The gardens are free to all visitors and right in the city, so they’re very accessible to the residents of Edinburgh. It’s lovely to see such an investment in the natural beauties by the government. At the newly constructed visitors center, the guides split us into three small groups, and we set off on tours of the grounds — though we couldn’t even begin to cover the 70 acres.

My group’s guide, Stephanie, was a tiny Welsh sprite of a woman, who seemed to know the garden by heart and loved every plant in it. The California garden enthusiasts in the group — some of them Master Gardeners, others just friends and spouses but plant lovers all the same — stopped to “ooh” and “aah” at the rhododendrons and azaleas, exotic trilliums and various trees you just don’t see in the states. (Though we did stop in a grove of redwoods, and everyone seemed right at home.)

After our guided tour, I went with four women to visit the Queen Mother’s garden, planted in her memory after her death in 2002. It was nestled behind a long, tall row of trees that had been cut into hedges — that’s where the photo I posted last night came from. All the plants in that garden had royalty-themed names, and stones along the ground detailed each decade of Elizabeth’s life.

After a long, relaxed walk in the shade through the gardens, we stopped in the gardens’ restaurant for a little bite to eat. Fresh!! I ordered a vegetarian dish, spiced falafel with couscous, and “rocket” (arugula) and mixed greens. Also at the table: Smoked Scottish salmon on a chive scone, and a lovely salad with chorizo, red beans and a mustard vinaigrette. With a glass of wine to wash it down, we were truly “ladies who lunch” yesterday.

I’ve posted some photos on Lawn & Garden Retailer‘s Flickr — go ahead and add us as a contact if you have an account, too! Or, if you like short bursts of information, you can follow me through my travels on Twitter at @lgrmag.

Today, we’re driving along the A1, one of the main “motorways” out of Scotland and into northern England to visit Alnwick. Which is pronounced Annick. (Of course.) The sun’s trying to peek through the clouds and haze, but I’m not holding my breath. The weather today is far more Scottish: misty, chilly and damp. But still beautiful. What a glorious garden getaway so far!

For more information, visit www.gardengetawaytours.com or contact Vanessa Dinning at plantvan@gmail.com.

…I’d say we’re holding up.

Folks, you’d better be getting some shuteye as I write this!

My flight to Amsterdam — the first leg of my Garden Getaway Tours journey — left Chicago at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, and suddenly it’s Friday morning. And…I forgot to sleep on the plane. But I did get to finish a book and dream about all the beautiful gardens I’m going to see over the next 10 days!

But gardens look better, I think, with a bit more rest. Here’s hoping I make it to Edinburgh with no problems and can meet up with Gary and my group feeling refreshed!

Just checking in…stay tuned for photos and lots of garden talk!

Last week, I had lunch with Home & Garden Showplace‘s new director, Sue Amatangelo. We go way back — as way back as I can go with people having been in the industry for just shy of three years; we met in November 2007 on my first-ever GCA Holiday Tour. (Oh, the memories!)

We talked a bit about my upcoming trip to the United Kingdom, and she asked if I’d be visiting any garden centers when I was over there. I honestly hadn’t thought about it and wasn’t sure I’d have time… But Sue used to work for Ball Horticultural and knew someone who might be able to offer some recommendations of great garden centers in England.
I got in touch with Bill Doeckel, who then got in touch with one of his colleagues at Ball Colegrave. Here’s what I got back:

Garden centers near London

Hi Paige,
The recommendations below are from a colleague of mine who works for Ball Colegrave in the UK> He knows the independent garden centre business well so you can be sure these are highly rated centres. His contact info is below should you need it.

South of London

Squires Garden Centre
Sixth Cross Road
Tel: 020 8977 9988
Ruxley Manor Garden Centre
Maidstone Road
DA14 5BQ
Tel: 020 8300 0084

Coolings Nurseries
Rushmore Hill
Nr Sevenoaks
TN14 7NN
Tel: 01959 532269

North of London

Aylett Nurseries Ltd
North Orbital Road
St. Albans
Tel: 01727 822255

The Van Hage Garden Company
Nr. Rickmansworth
Tel: 01494 764545

What do you think?

Can you recommend any other stellar garden centers in or around London? Or, if you’re not as horticulturally inclined, are there any amazing general retail operations in the U.K. that are worth a look? I’ll definitely be stopping at Harrods, but I can’t say that will be a professional endeavor…

Please leave a comment and let me know what your London (or Edinburgh) looks like!

One more week…

…until I’m off on my Garden Getaway Tour
And less than two weeks until member day at the Chelsea Flower Show. Wow!

If you’re stopping by here for the first time and don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the article I wrote in our February issue of Lawn & Garden Retailer.

I received my final confirmation and itinerary a couple of weeks ago, and now that the June issue of our magazine is put to bed, I can finally focus on being deliriously excited! I connected with Gary, the Orange County Master Gardener who organized my trip, this morning and chatted with him a bit about our upcoming journey.

He went on a tour last year with Vanessa and Josh, who both work with Cultivaris. The itinerary is essentially the same this year, only a week later…Gary’s concerned about the cool weather — lots of travelers in the group are hoping to see some rhododendrons in bloom! — but of course…we all know that we travel (and sell) at the whims of Mother Nature!

The group, in general, is 34 gardening enthusiasts of all ages and experience levels. Sounds like I’ll fit right in. Still, I’m antsy just to get there and meet everyone — and start making friends! I just found out that the Internet connection at our hotel in London is free, so I’ll be blogging and posting pictures from London at least!

Gary’s tour last year had such a great manager that he requested the same for this year’s trip…and he got it! Chris Robson will be leading our group, and he’s supposed to be one of the best! Here’s the bio I received with my itinerary:
“Friends say they secretly based the film Billy Elliot on me. I came from a small northern town, studied languages at Cambridge and then trained as an actor. I love learning and am driven by communicating.
I’ve been lucky enough to work for Spielberg and the Royal Shakespeare Company but am just as excited arriving at the Pont du Gard aqueduct, about to enjoy a lovely picnic of local food and then swim in the river with thousands of years of Roman history towering above us. It is the most rewarding work I do!”

All that enthusiasm…plus an accent? Be still, my heart! This is sure to be an incredible trip. I can’t wait to meet Gary, Chris and the rest of the California travelers at our hotel in Edinburgh. One more week!

Are you interested in a Garden Getaway Tour of your own? E-mail Vanessa Dinning at plantvan@gmail.com.