Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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!


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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.

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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!

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…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.

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Now that the California Spring Trials are over, it’s time to give some other parts of the world a chance to shine!

Our editorial director, Tim, is in Wisconsin for the beginning of this week, visiting growers and retailers and working on the cover story for our June issue of Big Grower.

Next week, Tim and I will be in Las Vegas for the National Hardware Show. Lawn & Garden Retailer is the official publication sponsor of the Lawn, Garden & Outdoor Living segment of the show, and we’re teaming up with some of our expert industry friends to educate attendees. Tim will be leading a roundtable discussion on displays that mix green goods and hard goods, with panelists from Dramm Corp., Conrad Fafard, Inc. and Syngenta Flowers who will share their expertise and some great examples.
I’m proud to share the stage with two amazing experts in the horticultural field who also happen to be pretty amazing businesspeople:
The first is Kim Bird, VP of Marketing for Calloway’s Nursery, our 2010 Merchandiser of the Year. She’ll be talking about Calloway’s multistore merchandising strategy, which has a big emphasis on plants — check out our feature on them from our February 2010 issue — as well as how the stores use social media to draw customers to their events and raise awareness in general.
The second is Kelly Norris, who I had the pleasure of meeting at last year’s Garden Writers Association Symposium in Raleigh, N.C. He spoke then on how to cater to the younger, upcoming generations of gardeners — and loved his energy and approach. When we were brainstorming topics for our Hardware Show presentations, I knew he’d be perfect to capture the attention of attendees wandering the floor. He’ll be talking about how retailers can get in touch with their younger customers — it’s going to be a smash.

Then, later this month, I take off for my Garden Getaway Tour. I’ll be traveling with a group of Master Gardeners and their friends and family from Orange County, Calif. Stay tuned for more on that later this week…this deserves a post all on its own!

We love your comments — what did you think of the Spring Trials coverage? What would you like to see here on the blog?

As always, you can keep up with the Lawn & Garden Retailer staff here on the blog, as well as the following:

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Golden State Bulb Growers

Callafornia Callas

What a perfect way to start the day! Admiring gorgeous calla lilies! We started our Thursday morning in Moss Landing, where Tom Lukens took us through the Golden State Bulb Growers trials. The calla lily is definitely one of my absolute favorites, so I always look forward to this stop. I loved the way they packaged their new varieties, focusing more on merchandising. They showed the many ways callas could be dressed up at retail for every season.

Pacific Plug & Liner

Comparison trials at PP&L with Ryan Hall

It’s always nice to see the comparison trials at Pacific Plug & Liner. This year, Ryan Hall displayed two separate trials: ipomoea and lavender. Ipomoea has been a huge trend in our industry the past few years, and it was great to see all the different varieties side by side. Be on the lookout for Ryan’s article in GPN, where he will explain the results of his ipomoea trials.

We also got to check out all the new varieties introduced by the various Agrexco companies. Hishtil had some very unique plants on display, as well as some tasty herbs. I really liked this double-flowered petunia introduced by Cohen.

Syngenta Flowers

Decorative mums at Syngenta Flowers

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Syngenta Flowers location in Gilroy was the amazing mum display. Faith Savage told us that some of the big box retailers were extremely impressed with the potential mums will have in the garden center. Rather than going by “pot mums,” Faith is now referring to them as “decorative mums.” The folks at Syngenta dressed up the mums spectacularly; I wanted to take them all home with me!

Color theory

Another display that really caught our attention was Syngenta’s Color Theory. They had merchandising vignettes organized by color. They showed how easy it can be to merchandise hard and live goods together using similar colors. And speaking of color, have you seen Syngenta’s new orange marigold? I have never seen a marigold so bold, it’s no surprise it was a recipient of an All-American Selections award this year.

If you’d like to see even more photos of our trip along the California coast, please check out our Flickr page. One more day to go, then it’s back home to Chicago!

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American Takii

Jasmina with Bonnie Marquardt

Yesterday morning we drove two and a half hours north to Salinas, where Bonnie Marquardt of American Takii gave us a wonderful tour through all the varieties Takii, Sahin and Global Flowers are offering. Takii added two new colors two its gerbera Royal series, making it even more complete. They truly are remarkable plants, with an impressive range of colors, number of stems per plant and large flower size. Takii also added a new dark-leafed canna to its collection; I’ve never seen anything like it! It was also very interesting to see OHP’s trials at the Takii site. Their display showed the various effects of PGRs on Takii’s products.


Greenex Kalanchoe

The folks at Speedling could not have chosen a better theme this year: One-Stop World Tour. We got to see all the new varieties from Hem Genetics, Greenex, Schoneveld, Plant Source International, Thompson & Morgan and ABZ Seeds. I absolutely fell in love with Greenex’s kalanchoe collection. The vibrant colors and large flowers were outstanding. Thompson & Morgan had a variegated Cat Grass on display, which sparked some interest among visitors to their trial site. And keeping along with the trend of using edibles in mixed containers, ABZ Seeds had a delightful presentation of strawberries at its trial stop.

Aside from admiring all the gorgeous plants, we got to chat with Gerry Giorgio of MasterTag about all the new programs his company is unveiling. The new Snap Tag is a product that stemmed from MasterTag’s consumer research, in which they discovered that 62% of gardeners want to keep their tags for reference and 66% want to use them in the garden. Now they can do both!

I can’t believe this week is almost over. It feels like it just began! If you want to stay up-to-date once the Spring Trials are over, please visit www.CaliforniaSpringTrials.com where we will be posting even more photos and updates in the coming weeks.

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