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Archives for March 22, 2015

Home & Garden Expo awash in ideas

The sky outside was gray, but the colors of spring were all around at the Erie Home Garden Expo inside the Bayfront Convention Center on Saturday.

Green plants with bright blooms lined exhibits, drawing the attention of gardeners eager to start digging. The more than 170 exhibits sparked more than landscaping dreams for visitors, though. There were plenty of ideas for home improvements, both inside and outside the house.

Attendance for the four-day show, which began Thursday, averages 8,000 to 10,000, show organizer Mark Concilla, of Erie Promotions Expos, has said.

The Erie Home Garden Expo continues today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the convention center, 1 Sassafras Pier. The cost of admission is $7 and is free for children younger than 10.




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Rocky Mountain Hardscapes opens retail store

Rocky Mountain Hardscapes opens showroom

First opened in 2008 as a supplier of pavers and blocked landscaping, Rocky Mountain Hardscapes is adding a showroom to its current location at 915 Crescent Drive. The retail showroom, called Rocky Mountain Hardscape Supply, will carry the concrete landscape pavers and blocks, fire pits, lighting, outdoor furniture and “anything to do with outdoor living,” said Jason Lindseth, co-owner of the company.

The grand opening of the showroom is tentatively scheduled for late April or early May.

Rocky Mountain Hardscapes also recently added a new component of its business, Sport Court of Montana. Sport Court is a modular athletic surface for indoor and outdoor use.

Multisport backyard surfaces that can be used for basketball, volleyball, tennis, pickleball and badminton are catching people’s eye, said Lindseth, who co-owns the business with Brian Bergan.

The outdoor surfaces are constructed in a grid system that allows water to drain off quickly.

Indoors, a high-grade plastic that resembles wood is used for basketball courts. The indoor courts are a “niche” for facilities that don’t want to purchase a hardwood floor but want something more substantial than concrete or tile. Lines are custom-painted after the floor is laid, Lindseth said.

Seven years in, Rocky Mountain Hardscapes has made a place in the market with new products, now with the Sport Court but originally with concrete pavers.

“We started bringing most of the product we use in from manufacturers out of state because there wasn’t anything locally here,” Lindseth said. “It’s kind of taken off here in Great Falls.”

For more, visit or call 781-4151.

— Briana Wipf

Health grant contest is next month

The Benefis Health System Foundation is holding its community grant contest, with awards of up to $2,500 for successful applicants.

Two awards will be given for youth and adult organizations that have ideas for improving or enhancing the health of the people in the community. Schools, churches, clubs, youth groups, businesses and other organizations are invited to send their ideas to the Benefis Foundation through March 31.

The finalists will be listed on the foundation’s Facebook page at, and people can vote on their favorite project during the week of April 13-19.

For more information and to download and print the contest form, go to The completed form can be emailed to or mailed to P.On Box 7008, Great Falls, MT 59406. Call 455-5840 with questions.

Last year’s winners were the Farm in the Dell, which purchased equipment and seeds to further its vocational farm program for people with developmental disabilities, and Montana Council Boy Scouts of America, which bought an automated external defibrillator and CPR mannequins to train scouts.

— Briana Wipf

Best place to retire

Great Falls is among 25 communities listed by Forbes as the best communities to retire in. It is the first time the Electric City has made the cut.

Strong economy and low unemployment on the banks of the Missouri River are pluses, according to Forbes, along with a cost of living 2 percent below the national average, an average home price of $172,000 and a good tax climate. Above average air quality, the high number of doctors per capita and a low serious crime rate are other assets making Great Falls an attractive retirement community, according to the list.

Cold winters are a disadvantage of spending your Golden Years here, according to Forbes.

—Jo Dee Black

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The I-77 bridge in Cornelius: Inviting gateway or big fail?

If one goal of public art is to spur conversation, then the silvery new masts and cables on the Exit 28 bridge over Interstate 77 are doing their job.

The two masts and diagonal cables were supposed to help brand the town of Cornelius as the gateway to Lake Norman. But since their installation in January, criticism has been profuse: The masts are too short. The metal cables, too thin. The scale is off, and the whole thing is hard to see from the highway.

Among the disappointed: Some town commissioners who approved the design.

“It’s a classic fail,” former Mayor Lynette Rinker says.

“We’re underwhelmed,” commissioner Dave Gilroy admits.

“EVERYONE recognizes the design of the masts at exit 28 falls woefully short of expectations,” former Mayor Jeff Tarte, now a state senator, wrote on Facebook.

The pieces, which are meant to evoke sailboats, or perhaps a suspension bridge, are part of a bridge makeover that’s less than half done. Town leaders are counseling patience until all elements – decorative abutments, lantern-topped brick columns, landscaping – are installed.

But they’re also already brainstorming fixes. Gilroy proposes a black coating that would better contrast against the sky. Mayor Chuck Travis suggests spires, flags, maybe reflective white paint.

Today, the bridge saga looks like a case study in the complexities – and pitfalls – of creating successful public art. It begins with a beautiful but too-expensive plan from a Raleigh architectural firm. It continues with then-commissioner John Bradford volunteering the services of an architect friend, who drew a mast-and-cable design. His work became input for the Raleigh firm, which created a design that commissioners approved in 2012. The finished product is less majestic than it appears in drawings.

“The masts are small and insignificant compared to the structure of the bridge. When I first saw them, I thought they were new lights,” says David Walters, a UNC Charlotte professor emeritus of architecture and urban design who has served on public art commissions. “I’m afraid it makes the town look rather silly.”

Joining east and west

The project began with ambitious goals. As the state planned a diverging-diamond interchange at Exit 28 to improve traffic flow, Cornelius leaders saw an opportunity to overhaul the aesthetics of the bridge that’s often visitors’ first glimpse of the north Mecklenburg town. They hired the Raleigh architectural firm Ratio and held meetings to seek the public’s ideas.

The original objective: a bridge that reflected Cornelius’ unusual history, as a former cotton mill town that became a lake community when Lake Norman was created. That history often makes Cornelius, population 27,000, feel like two places – the older town east of I-77, and the newer part, with expensive lakefront homes, on the west side. With the bridge design, leaders saw a chance to link the town metaphorically.

Commissioners initially considered a design with lighted sail-like canopies over a pedestrian walkway and braided railings that evoked both water and weaving. Interstate drivers would see white lettering that would spell out “Cornelius” against a blue background. “It was stunning, and it would have been gorgeous,” Tarte says.

But that plan cost at least $4 million, about $2 million more than commissioners wanted to spend.

So at a 2012 meeting, as they debated what to cut, commissioner Bradford, now a state representative, told his colleagues on the town board that he’d find another architect to draft a design free.

A friend of Bradford’s, Charleston architect Mark Moehring, drew up designs depicting diagonal cables stretching from the bridge to two masts. The masts rise from brick columns on opposite sides of the bridge. “Cornelius” is spelled out on the bridge railings.

The town paid Moehring $5,000 for the design rights and shared it with Ratio, which came up with its own mast-and-cables design. Moehring recently described his involvement as “very early on and very brief.” He said he hadn’t seen the installation.

The mast and cables went up in January, following construction of the diverging diamond interchange, which had caused months of traffic delays. Motorists and businesses were relieved that all lanes had re-opened. And as installation approached, local leaders expressed excitement.

“I don’t think there’s any bridge on any interstate that will look as spectacular as this bridge is going to look,” Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce President Bill Russell told the Observer in November.

Then the masts and cables were installed. Some residents reacted on a Facebook page called Exit 28 Ridiculousness, a forum where people had vented and shared information during the interchange construction. Several complained the structures were hard to see from the highway. Cornelius resident Courtney Shaughnessy posted a photo of the bridge, the cables barely visible against the blue sky, with the caption “Nailed it!”

“It was really meant for some comedic relief,” she said. When she compared the handsome renderings to the final product, she thought of photos of failed attempts to copy crafts depicted on Pinterest, a photo-sharing website.

Ratio’s Jennifer Sisak says Ratio delivered a product “very much” like the version the firm showed commissioners in 2014. That version tweaked an earlier design, deleting six of 24 cables because they placed too much tension on the bridge. Some people have wondered whether the height of the masts is lower than planned. Sisak says no. They’re within about three inches of the height originally depicted – more than 38 feet.

The only change from a year ago, Sisak says, was for safety reasons. The N.C. DOT required a horizontal cable that connects the diagonal cables. That cable is diverting some light that illuminates the structures at night, she says. The town is looking for a way to correct that.

Aiming too high?

Tarte, who was mayor when commissioners approved the design, wonders if their aspirations were too high, considering what they were willing to spend. He had favored limiting the aesthetic improvements to $2 million, given other pressing needs, such as road improvements. Maybe, he says, the desired impact was impossible on that budget.

Rinker, who was mayor pro tem, agrees: “I’m not saying it was right to spend $4 million, but in hindsight, putting an artificial cap on (the project) limited the options.”

Rinker also wonders whether she and her colleagues erred by changing design directions late in the process, when the project faced a DOT deadline. “In some ways, we made a decision without having all the answers,” she says. “We were within a hair of losing any aesthetic improvements. What do you do? You go with this or nothing.”

Walters, UNCC’s professor of architecture, says the story of Cornelius’ masts and cables is one he’s heard before: “Those are the kinds of well-intentioned mistakes that happen often to neophytes – the mismatch between plans and budget, the oh-my we have to make a decision now.”

Walters counsels that towns hire public art advisers. “Public art is a complicated process,” he says. He even wonders if the bridge was the best place for the art. “If you’re saying, ‘You’re going to enter somewhere special,’ probably a freeway bridge isn’t the best place to do it.” He feels for the town, “because they wanted to do something good, and they ended up with something silly.”

This was the first time public art had been integrated into a state Department of Transportation facility, Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant said. The department had to approve the design, which needed to be durable and easy to maintain. Designers had to take into account factors such as weight, bridge vibrations, road salt and weather. The town used public art consultants early in the process, Grant said.

The masts and cables cost about $170,000, a small part of the total estimated $2.4 million price tag, which has included burying utility cables and adding a protected pedestrian walkway across the center of the bridge.

Mayor Travis says he’s reserving his final opinion until everything is completed. Bradford, the former commissioner, also emphasized that much remains to be done: “All of that is going to be a welcoming gateway into the town of Cornelius, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final product.”

But when will we get the final product? That’s unclear. The remaining construction will probably take six to eight months, Sisak says. It can’t begin, however, until the DOT determines engineering requirements for two new lanes in each direction under the bridge, part of the state’s I-77 toll project from Charlotte to Mooresville.

So for now, there are the masts and cables, which rise amid a tableau of taller street lights and a McDonald’s. You may notice them when driving on I-77 at Exit 28. Or, depending on weather, light and your attention level, you may not.

Pam Kelley: 704-358-5271

The Exit 28 bridge makeover

The aesthetic makeover follows last year’s completion of a diverging-diamond intersection on the bridge.

Estimated cost: $2.4 million.

Completed improvements include: Buried utility cables, protected pedestrian walkway, sidewalks with brick pavers, stainless-steel masts and cables. Landscaping on the bridge is nearly complete.

Improvements to come include: Four brick abutments with columns topped by lanterns, decorative sign posts, landscaping in the ramp areas and adjacent to I-77.

Completion date: Unscheduled until engineering requirements are determined for the upcoming interstate widening.

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Vail Daily Landscape Logic column: Getting the veggie season off the ground

Growing your own veggies that can go from the garden to the table in a matter of minutes is not a fad but an ever-increasing trend. Even restaurants are establishing their own gardens to give their customers the freshest flavors possible.

Soon will be the time to get those tasty crops growing with cool season veggies lettuce, carrots, radishes and spinach. And once they are harvested, the growing space can be replanted with warm season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, etc.

But before you plant, give some thought to the soil. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or new to the veggie patch, it’s time to dig in — and quite literally.

Experienced gardeners know that the quality of veggies you get out of the ground is directly related to what you put in it. Everything that happens down in that dirt is what makes plants grow — or not!


If you don’t know the kind of soil you have, then your growing efforts may not bring the best results. Having low organic matter in the range of less than 1 percent is typical in Colorado. In order to get soil to the desired range of 3 to 5 per cent organic matter, you will most likely need to amend the soil.

Before adding amendments, however, consider having the soil tested to learn what you really need to add. A soil test (available from Colorado State University for less than $50) gives important information about the ph level of the soil, salt content, amount of organic matter and the content of several minerals such as nitrogen. Local garden centers may also have soil testing kits.

The CSU soil test kit tells how to submit the soil sample. Results arrive in a few weeks, and you don’t have to be a scientist to understand them. When you know what your soil needs, you can go about adding it. When amendments and compost are added, till the soil well by hand digging or using a rototiller.


Creating raised beds is an effective way to designate a space for veggies and herbs and can be labor saving. These beds can be filled at the start with good planting soil and that takes out the steps of testing the soil, finding the right amendments and tilling them in. Landscape pros and garden centers can help you get a quality planting mix.

The same principle applies to growing herbs and veggies in containers which can often be placed closer to the kitchen than other beds. Taking just a few steps outside to snip some herbs keeps food prep moving faster than a trek to the back of the yard.

Becky Garber is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.

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Xeriscape gardens help save water and reduce work

Tree prunings are pictured Saturday at the Xeriscape demonstration garden at the Riverside Nature Center in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — The secret to a good Xeriscape garden is proper mulch and irrigation, according to Donna Thatcher, the education coordinator at Riverside Nature Center.

If done right, a Xeriscape garden can reduce the amount of work people have to put into their yards.

However, yearly spring maintenance is still required.

Because of that, dozens of volunteers showed up at the nature center Saturday morning to help cut the bunch grasses, prune trees and clean up the garden.

One of the volunteers was Weldon Stoltzfus, who has grown up doing landscaping work. He volunteered along with the Mennonite youth group.

“We thought it was something good to do,” he said.

The Xeriscape garden serves as an example for what people can do with their own yards.

“It’s all a demonstration of how to do beautiful landscaping without too much irrigation water,” Thatcher said Donna Thatcher.

In areas like the Four Corners, Xeriscaping can save water, which is especially important in the face of drought.

While Xeriscape gardening cuts down water use, it does not mean people no longer have to irrigate, Thatcher said.

She said a secret to having a good garden is to design and plan it ahead of time, especially the irrigation system.

Instead of using sprinklers, Xeriscape gardens use drip irrigation systems, which provide the water directly to the plants.

“It’s very hard to retrofit if you decide to add on,” she said.

Even trees need to have water unless they are native junipers or piñons, Thatcher said.

To set up an irrigation system for trees, Thatcher said many people make the mistake of watering directly at the base. She said trees are not designed to get water from the base because the plant’s branches block the majority of precipitation. Instead, she said people should provide water to the trees at the edge of the canopy.

The Xeriscape demonstration garden is pictured Saturday at the Riverside Nature Center in Farmington.

Another secret Thatcher has learned is that to keep deer from eating plants, people can create three rows of river stone cobble around the plant.

“It works like a cattle guard,” she said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.

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Wet and wild: Water features for Alaska gardens

From a simple fountain to a waterfall or pond, animal-shaped squirters to rock-fashioned bubblers, a water garden element can be basic or elaborate — it all depends on personal taste, budget and setting.

“There’s hardly anything you can do that’s more impactful than a water feature,” said Benjamin Brown, project manager at Faltz Landscaping and Nursery in Anchorage. “Human beings love water…the main draws are the sound and visual aspects.”

In the winter months, Brown suggests draining the actual feature, but leaving the pump in the water. “The common belief is you have to take it out…but we found that almost 100 percent of the time the pumps will fail during that (off) season.”

Inactive pumps left in the water during winter months are more likely to work properly in the spring, according to Brown. The water acts as a seal and keeps the pump’s more delicate pieces from cracking. The water remaining in the pump will expand when frozen, but typically not enough to damage it. Pumps removed from the water for winter months face a higher risk of cracking and breaking.

Algae should not be a huge concern in Alaska Brown said, but it is always a possibility when working with water. Installing a water squirter to promote water surface movement may reduce the amount of algae in a pool, as will fish. Koi are a practical option and can often survive winters in northern environments, so long as they have access to unfrozen water and fresh oxygen — this means building a pond that’s too big to completely freeze, or relocating them to an indoor aquarium during the winter. Setting up an ultraviolet lamp can also help reduce algae growth, much like it does with a fish tank.

Getting started

The first step when considering a home water garden feature is to decide whether you’ll do it yourself or hire a professional. Both have advantages. Hiring a professional comes with a higher price tag, but when you work with a qualified contractor who uses a high standard of installation, you reduce the risk of any features malfunctioning. Setting it up yourself saves you the cost of labor, although it will require more personal time committed to the project. Either way, you will still have the advantage of personalizing your project throughout as well as after installation.

For the purpose of this tutorial, we’ll focus on building a small pond with a circulating pump.

  1. Any water garden begins with a place to put a fountain or pond. Be cautious of putting the feature under a tree, as falling leaves may be a constant hassle to remove. Depending on the size of your feature, it’s important to ensure the stability of the ground and to adjust accordingly.
  2. Digging a pond may require professional assistance for larger areas. It is possible to dig yourself, but be careful not to over-exert yourself. (You might also call in some friends to help with this step.)
  3. The bottom of any pond must be layered with special pond laminate lining to prevent water from escaping. This can be purchased through any local water garden vendor. Multiple pieces should significantly overlap. The plastic should blanket up and over the walls of the earth bed to prevent erosion; the exposed flaps can be hidden later with rocks or earth.
  4. When purchasing a circulating pump, consider the size of your pond, the type of feature (if you choose to add one) and whether you wish to introduce fish. Fish will require the purchase of a more advanced pump with the ability to filter out fish food and waste.
  5. Place the circulating pump in the lowest point of the pond. Faltz Landscaping recommends putting your pump in a five-gallon bucket with large holes cut in the sides; this will assist in filtering the amount of debris making contact with the pump. Plug in the pump to an electrical source. Do not tamper with any electrical parts from the manufacturer; they should already be tested, water-safe and ready to go.
  6. Fill your pond by running a garden hose from the house or by manually hauling buckets of water.
  7. Turn on your circulating pump, enjoy and monitor regularly.

Additional tips and reminders

  • It’s possible to adjust the sounds, splashes and bubbles of your water feature by making changes to the position, pump type and size of your feature.
  • Water will evaporate, so keep an eye on your feature to ensure it stays full. Refill as needed. Automatic refill pumps are available, but they require maintenance and may unexpectedly spike your water bill.
  • Be aware that your electric bill will go up during active months, but generally only $9-$20. This is based off a pump drawing between 0.5 AMPs for a smaller feature up to 9.0 AMPs for a larger one. This price increase may also be affected by how many kilowatts are being used and if the pump runs 24 hours a day or on a timer.

This story appeared in the March 2015 issue of 61º North Magazine. Contact 61º editor Jamie Gonzales at

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Spring gardening tips offered for beginners – Branson Tri

Spring is in the air (as is pollen, so allergies beware) and many people may be wondering about gardening season, especially if they’ve never experimented with their green thumbs before.

Danny Manis, President of the Master Gardeners of the Ozarks, had several tips to offer beginner gardeners.

In the case of folks who have never gardened before, Manis recommended that they first talk with gardeners they know.

“The best thing would be to ask your friends and neighbors,” he said. “The big thing is to talk to someone who has one. Talk to somebody.”

The next step is to prepare the garden area, Manis said. This includes doing a soil test and maybe even building a raised bed.

“If they’re just starting out, they may have to make a raised bed because the soil is very rocky,” Manis said. “Select the site, sunny location — six to eight hours a day of sunlight for vegetable gardens.”

Once the soil has been tested, it’s time to begin looking through seed catalogs, Manis said.

Manis said there are several vegetables he would recommend and they include: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green beans and squash.

“If you’re ready to go now, these are going to be cool season vegetables,” Manis said. “When the weather, all danger of frost is past, plant your summer vegetables.”

There are key things to remember when just starting gardening at a beginner’s level, Manis said.

“The big mistake is people buying too many of the same variety,” Manis said. “Buy a little tomato plant; you buy 10 or 12 of them and you have too many.”

Another tip is if the garden spot is used again next year, rotate the soil spot, Manis said.

For more information, call the Taney County Extension Office at 417-546-4431.

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‘Expect Downton Abbey with gardening tips!’ in Ropsley hall

A gentle portrayal of a veteran gardener can be seen on stage in Ropsley next week.

In Old Herbaceous Peter Macqueen throws a warming comfort blanket round his audience with his touching and gentle portrayal of veteran gardener, Herbert Pinnegar, in Reginald Arkell’s story of a man looking back over his life and over English rural social history.

Old Herbaceous, to give him his nickname, is at times charming, crotchety, stubborn and given to flashes of humour… He’s full of little knowing chuckles as he casts his mind back nostalgically. Macqueen, or is it Pinnegar, sprinkles garden wisdom into a tale which engages the audience and as a gardener himself, Macqueen has empathy with the character, inviting his audience, his guests, to share his greenhouse, his tips and his life.

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As one critic put it: “It’s Downton Abbey with gardening tips – what more could the modern theatregoer ask for?”

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Some early spring gardening tips on pruning

Late March is a wonderful time to prune most shrubs if you are willing to sacrifice flowers to wrangle an overgrown shrub back into its allotted space.

If you prune right before plants wake out of winter dormancy, their foliage will fill out over newly made cuts rather quickly.

If you are unwilling to sacrifice blooms on your early spring bloomers, you may choose to wait until your shrubs are finished blooming, and prune immediately after. In that case, foliage may not fill out quite as well until the following growing season.

Generally, if you have a drastic pruning job to accomplish, sacrificing blooms for one year may be the best way to get a head start. If you have been keeping up with regular pruning, then waiting until after bloom will work just fine.

Keep in mind that pruning does not mean shearing. Use a hand pruning tool and open up the shrub so light can reach all branches. Only formal hedging requires shearing, most shrubs respond best to hand pruning and patience.

If the top foliage shades branches below, the plant will become leggy at the bottom. To avoid this problem, first understand the form of the shrub you would like to prune. Not all shrubs will grow in a manner that stays full to the ground. To rejuvenation prune, cut out 1/3 of the foliage each year for three years until you have resized the shrub.

For rounded forms, prune shrubs in an arc to be sure sunlight will reach all the branches for a fuller form.

Shrubs that grow upright and then cascade into a fountain like forsythia respond best to pruning out the oldest canes at the base to maintain a natural form.

Alternately, they can be clipped into hedge forms, but the base will never be as wide as the top due to the natural way in which the plant grows.

A pruning cut made on a forsythia branch results in many new branches sprouting near the cutting site. On such a quickly growing plant, this creates a never-ending pruning task to maintain a clean hedge form.

Upright shrub forms like lilacs may just need the largest, oldest canes removed on occasion to rejuvenate the plant and allow more light into the newer growth. Cut down the largest stems to within four inches of the ground.

A simple way to learn more about your particular shrub and best practices for its care is to do an internet search typing in the name of the plant you are interested in, followed by the words “fact sheet” (i.e.” azalea fact sheet”).

Universities publications and other horticultural organizations that have created an informational guide on that subject will appear.

Try to find a fact sheet written by a university in the Midlantic region or neighboring states for recommendations that correlate to our hardiness zone.

For more information about this topic and others, visit or Rutgers Master Gardeners of Sussex County website at , or contact Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Sussex County by phone at 973-948-3040.

Lisa Chiariello is The Master Gardner coordinator for Rutgers Cooperatve Extension of Sussex County. She can be reached at 973-948-3040 or at

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Britain’s best gardens: readers’ tips

More tips from readers

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

The gardens at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock are beautiful. My parents live close by so I spent my childhood playing in the Pleasure Gardens’ giant maze and riding the miniature train. The formal gardens are spectacular and for £22.50 you can get a year’s pass to explore them all, including the water terraces and the rose, Italian and (less structured) secret garden, where all plants are labelled and there’s a tiny bridge over the lily pad-covered water.

Jess Dawson, London

Blenheim Palace (Fotolia/AP)

Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire

Wollaton Hall Gardens and Deer Park in Nottingham is stunning. Five hundred acres of deer park, a beautiful lake to walk around and formal gardens as well as Camellia House (the oldest steelhouse in Europe). It is open all year round and there is also a lovely café where you can go for a meal in the gorgeous surroundings. Wollaton Hall is a Grade I listed Elizabethan mansion, home to Nottingham’s Natural History Museum. It’s a wonderful day out for all ages.

Liz Denial, Nottingham

Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset

Irate call from my daughter: “What have you been telling the boys about witches? They can’t sleep.” Full marks to my husband for his storytelling, and full marks to Hestercombe Gardens, near Taunton, which include a witch’s house, temple, lake, watermill, art gallery, bat observatory, children’s trails, stately home, and deliver an adventure whatever your age, whatever the season.

Hosting regular activities, commerciality never subsumes the heart of Hestercombe: the gardens themselves. Miles of woodland paths melting into snowdrops or rhododendrons, borders oozing colour and texture fused with the comforting familiarity of Lutyens’s formality. The place is so magical that the only thing missing is the witch. Or is it…?

Julie O’Donnell, Somerset

Hestercombe Gardens (Alamy)

Chalice Well Garden, Somerset

My favourite garden is the Chalice Well Garden in Glastonbury. It combines soothing spring water with a beautiful garden and delights the senses on many levels. The water first enters the garden at the wellhead where visitors can sit quietly and soak up the atmosphere. The water then flows underground through a breathtaking flower garden especially delightful on summer days. Then the water surfaces and pours through a brass lion’s mouth, here it can be collected and drunk for its healing powers.

On down through King Arthur’s Court, a mossy, leafy, shady part of the garden where the water cascades down in a waterfall. And finally the water emerges into the open again swirling through a specially designed water feature, which looks like a series of bowls to be collected in a pool at the bottom. It truly is a magical place to visit, whatever the weather, and a place where one can regain one’s serenity and calm.

Rosemarie Marks-Crockett, via email

Bide-a-Wee Cottage Gardens, Northumberland

As its name suggests, Bide-a-Wee Cottage Gardens could be one to spend a wee time in, but no, for this gem created in a sandstone quarry near Morpeth in Northumberland, only a visit of a few hours would do it justice. I recommend you just sit, relax (there are numerous well-placed perches) and marvel at the imaginative planting of trees, ferns and grasses interspersed with perennials to create layers of colour and texture. Then wander slowly around every path corner to be surprised at how thoughtfully the talented creator Mark Robson designed the layout to reflect the natural undulations of the quarry. The water areas are a haven of peace and tranquillity. A true paradise. I wish I could visit it every year.

Judy Chamberlain, Cambridgeshire

Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye

In the far north-west of the Isle of Skye lies Dunvegan Castle. Its splendid garden provides a spectacular counterpoint to the bleak, sublime scenery of the island.

The many trees give essential protection from the sea winds and paths meander through the woodland with its large collection of rhododendrons. There is a spring border and a summer rose valley. To one side, past the simple circular garden (and its complex Monkey Puzzle tree) sits the walled garden, where select vegetables have been joined by multicoloured herbaceous borders and a lily pond. There is a boathouse, offering seal-watching tours on the loch.

The highlight of the garden, is perhaps the “gully”, which is densely planted (for this is a plantsman’s garden) with specimens from around the world. Its rushing waterfall tumbles across the native rocks in a way that truly fixes this garden in its unique landscape.

Graeme Barron, London

Dunvegan Castle (Fotolia/AP)

Wyken Vineyards, Suffolk

My favourite gardens are open to the public, but belong to a private house in Suffolk. Wyken Vinyards are the love child of Lord and Lady Carlisle, and the gardens never disappoint. The layout, planting and colours, together with the beautiful accessories like mosaics and screeching peacocks and chickens make it an unforgettable experience. Nice food to be had in their café/restaurant and irresistible gifts from their stylish gift shop guarantee the ideal day out.

Gisela Barrington, Buckinghamshire

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

The Birmingham Botanical Gardens have some of the most beautiful landscapes you will see designed by JC Loudon.

A trip to any of the four glasshouses will take you though differing climates, housing amazing flora and fauna from the tropical forest to the desert. It is a glorious place to relax and admire the fantastic flowers, plants and gardens in all of their splendour and beauty, a real treat for any gardening and horticultural enthusiast.

Godfrey Callus, West Midlands

Woolbeding, West Sussex

Among the many wonderful National Trust Gardens, Woolbeding, near Midhurst, West Sussex, is a hidden gem.

Set in the Rother Valley and surrounded by rolling, green countryside, this 26-acre garden was developed during the Eighties and Nineties by the current occupants, in conjunction with leading garden designers. The result is a charming mix of formal, colour-themed “garden rooms” and landscaped grounds, punctuated by a number of enchanting follies.

After admiring the ornamental planting rooms, as well as the herb and vegetable gardens, take a wander farther afield to the small lake. A series of paths around this informal part of the garden lead you to discover a Chinese bridge, summer house and the River God grotto, as well as a birdhouse, enabling visitors to watch the woodland birds. It’s only accessible by park and ride from Midhurst, pre-booking is essential.

Mary Davis, Hampshire

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