English Vs. American Gardens

The iconic gardens of Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, Bressingham, and Beth Chatto’s were on my recent UK garden tour this July.

My recent group of garden tour friends at Great Dixter

Along with many other gardens that deserve more attention and recognition, I returned home with a renewed appreciation for the diversity and passion for gardening that is encountered only in the UK. Gardening is an obsession with the Brits and since I share that obsession, I can relate to the culture and the importance that they place on this “hobby”.

An explosion of color using island beds at Bressingham Gardens
Entrance into the white garden at Sissinghurst
Thyme patio at Sissinghurst, picture by Amy Sparwasser
Sissinghurst’s hop-kilns for drying hops
Great Dixter is known for their artful use of containers throughout the garden

Not only is gardening a great practical past-time, but an entire nation engages in the leisure activity of visiting gardens enrolled in the National Garden Scheme. Begun with the aim of “opening gardens of quality, character and interest  to the public for charity”, the National Garden Scheme has raised over 50 million British Pounds since it began in 1927,  and over a half million visits occur each year in more than 3700 gardens open to the public. Garden visiting on that scale is totally unheard of in the rest of the world.

Royal Hort Society at Wakehurst is unique in they have one of the only seed banks in the world providing a safety net for species threatened with extinction

People in England love to visit other people’s gardens to gather ideas and perhaps with hopes of adding their own gardens to the National Garden Scheme rolls, and it includes small town gardens as well as more urban gardens.

A friend’s beautifully designed garden in the Cotswolds
A garden arranged by plant families, the Chelsea Physic garden is in central London

But why does Britain have this obsession? Probably climate plays a large role in the answer to the question. The closest comparison of UK weather to US weather would be the Pacific Northwest. If you have ever traveled to that area of the country you will see extraordinary gardens and plants that you can only dream about growing in other parts of the US. The hardiness zones determine your frost free days to garden and the Pacific Northwest is a temperate zone 8 and zone 9. For comparison, here in Maryland, I am a 6b which means that I get much more extremes in weather. Plants don’t like extremes; the more moderate temperatures encourages a wider range of different plants to grow. The hardiness zones in the UK run the gamut of 6 in northern Scotland, to the rest of England with the majority in the 8 and 9 zones. The UK enjoys a temperate maritime climate characterized by cool winters and warm summers, which sounds similar to Seattle. Go to Hardiness Zones in the United Kingdom to see a map and explanation of their zones.

Lady Di’s garden at Kensington has palm trees

So, mild climate, regular rainfall, and a very long growing season. It is no surprise that England has fantastic gardens. When I take visitors to gardens in England, they are often surprised when they see flowers that are blooming together, like a Lenten Rose and a tea rose blooming side by side. At home this would not be possible, especially in my unforgiving mid-Atlantic climate. Or you will see palm trees or other tropicals that stay outside all year. Tree echium (Echium pininana) , a native of the Canary Islands, is a plant that can naturalize in southern California, and you see it planted extensively in southern England. An exotic that will merit lots of admiring comments, this is a favorite plant of many English gardens.

Echium at Rushton Vicarage near Norwich

Closeup of Echium which has tiny blue flowers on a gigantic towering stem up to 13 ‘
An extraordinary grouping of geraniums at Beth Chatto’s garden
Beth Chatto started dry gravel gardening and can grow exotics and tropicals year round
Magnificent Eucalyptus tree at Beth Chatto’s garden
Beth Chatto’s garden

Plant Hunters Started It All

To add to this climate bonanza, many historic plant hunters calling England their home, departed the shores to bring home numerous offerings, especially during the Victorian era. Bringing together all the world’s plants and see them bloom together is often startling to visitors but you can trace this directly back to those first adventurous plant hunters. Starting at Kew Gardens, then disseminated to the ruling class, these exotics were propagated and descended the social scale until they reached the smallest village as cuttings. You can see the results in the gardens across the United Kingdom today.

A commonly seen ‘Cape Fuschia’ or Phygelius capenisis is seen in English gardens and hales from South Africa
Eremurus or Foxtail Lily hails from Asia and is rarely seen in the US
At the Hampton Court Flower Show, Eremurus is planted in a meadow


Gardening On TV

I gave up long ago looking for gardening on HGTV.  But in the UK, gardening shows run constantly with every subject under the sun discussed. Planting seed potatoes? Yes there will be several shows on that in the spring getting you up to speed. And on the subject of potatoes, the English are mad about growing and eating potatoes. It is one crop that I viewed everywhere outside my coach window zipping by. And it is the main crop that the English grow on their “allotments” which is simply a large plot of ground that they grow all types of “veg”.

An exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show of potatoes won a gold award, picture by Darlene Wells

Obsessive Gardening & Flower Shows

So, gardening is a total obsession for natives of the UK and they have good reason to be with the forgiving climate. And gardening off-shoots also thrive with flower fetes, flower shows, and events like the Snowdrop Sensation Plant Fair in February or the Christmas Floral Extravaganza in December.

Flower shows are a celebration of the pinnacle of gardening achievement and draws in hordes visitors every year, with everyone flocking to Chelsea or Hampton Court to admire perfect examples of pretty much every type of flower.

Exhibit of Alliums at Chelsea
One of my favorite exhibits at Chelsea
Love this display at Chelsea


At Hampton Court Flower Show in July 2019
At Hampton Court Flower Show, I saw this Allium ‘Forelock’ which I am going to plant next year
An array of lavenders at Hampton Court Flower Show, 2019
Display of glads and dahlias at Hampton Court
Recreation of Beth Chatto’s dry gravel garden at Hampton Court Show

Bringing tour groups of like minded gardeners to the UK each year has become a ritual as I like to take part in the enthusiasm and passion that residents have for such a rewarding hobby. I find that American gardeners can be just as passionate about gardening but it isn’t as ingrained like it is in England.

Chartwells’s border of nepeta and lambs ears was one of my favorite vistas

Status Vs Oasis 

One big difference between English and American gardens is how the American perceives the garden as a status symbol and the English native sees the garden more as an enjoyable oasis to putter around in. The Americans do love the lawn with vast expanses devoted to it. Having English roots, the lawn is really not as significant in any other culture.  Mown grass dominates any American “yard” or public space currently, but I see meadows creeping in taking the place of grass. But in England, meadows are everywhere, even in graveyards!

Instead of manicuring graveyards, meadows grow up around the gravestones
Meadows are everywhere that there is open ground: here is a graveyard in Bury St Edmunds

Another difference is that Americans call it their “yard” which has negative connotations and not a “garden” like the British. The British are all about the love of gardening and being horticulturalists. Americans are more about “curb appeal” and how their yard will appear to the neighbors. So, you could say that the Brits express themselves through how they decorate their garden with plants and structures, which is connected to their home, but Americans are more into the low maintenance and the utilitarian aspect of gardening and showing it off.  They just want it to look good outside and retreat into their homes. As a landscape designer in the business, I can attest that most people do exactly that.

Where else would you see a monk made out of twigs? Seen at Hampton Court


Garden centers are another good example of the difference between the US and the UK.  Nurseries in the UK are destination trips that include several on -site restaurants, clothing, child care, and other amenities, But in the US the nursery is more about buying plants and gardening tools and then moving on. I see that changing gradually with some great garden centers that have popped up in recent years in the US. Check out Escape to Surreybrooke .

Dobbies is a great destination garden center located in Scotland

Societies & Organizations

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), sponsors of the famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show, offers access to more than 140 gardens around the UK. Just a comparison: There are about 20,000 members of The American Horticultural Society and over 500,000 members in the Royal Horticultural Society!  The RHS motto is “Gardening for all,” and the society’s goal is to help both professional and amateur gardeners with inspiration and advice.
I recently visited Wakehurst, a RHS garden, which had a fabulous ‘Satomi’ Kousa dogwood blooming
Border at Wakehurst, RHS Garden

Trends-Stumperies, Meadows, and Naturalistic Plantings

A whimsical, but practical garden feature unique to England are stumperies. An intentional arrangement of woody plant material left over after removing stumps and large limbs or any re-purposed wood, these structures can make interesting decorations in a garden. Creating a habitat for mostly shade loving plants like ferns, a stumpery is only something I encounter while in England. Displaying interesting architecture of roots and trunks, the vertical use of space creates perfect pockets for plants to thrive in microclimates. An ingenious use of  stumps that would otherwise be trashed, stumperies can be awesome structures.

Old stumps create habitats for ferns
Stumpery at Arundel Castle

Stumperies, first created in 1856, are enjoying a resurgence in popularity and there are stumperies everywhere in England. I expect soon to see one here in the US.  The trends in gardening are about 5-10 years behind here.

Meadows and naturalistic plantings are in vogue in England and I saw them everywhere, especially at the Hampton Court Flower Show. Queen Anne’s lace, which Americans consider a weed, was planted in naturalistic plantings and there was even a lovely pink variety.

Pink Queen Anne’s Lace in a natural meadow at the Hampton Court Show
Pink Queen Anne’s Lace
There were meadow pocket plantings at the outdoor seating areas at Hampton Court


A North American native to the western US, Penstemons were probably my top flower that I saw this past July. UK gardeners have taken this US native and made it their own with new cultivars that I was salivating over and cannot find here, like ‘Laura’, a white with an edging of pink. And don’t get me started on Delphiniums! They are just over the top!

Penstemon  Laura
Penstemon at Wakehurst
More Penstemon!
Delphiniums at Savill Gardens near Windsor

For my next garden tours, I will be traveling to Portugal and Madeira in March 2020 and Ireland in September 2020. Go to my trip tab to see the itinerary for Portugal/Madeira. Ireland is being made up right now and I should have it available soon.

For more posts on my trips, go to Chelsea Flower Show: The King of Flower Exhibitions and Garden Trip-Chelsea and Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds.






Winter Blues-Blue Poppy Envy

  Blue poppy

Only on display at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for two to three weeks, the Himalayan Blue Poppies are stunners and considered a rare garden treasure. Almost extinct in their native habitat of Bhutan, photographers flock to Longwood to capture some photos of these amazingly true blue spectacles.  Sporting deep sky blue crepey petals with mauve highlights and a ring of golden stamens and anthers, the plant is much sought after to add to gardens.

blue poppy

Unfortunately, in North America it can only be grown in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and parts of New England successfully. Meconopsis grandis is the national flower of Bhutan, a country high up in the Himalayas, above 10,000 feet, and wants cool, cool temperatures, like 45 to 50 degrees F. The conservatory at Longwood Gardens is certainly warmer than this so the flower is fleeting in its beauty.

Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens
The Winter Blues Festival is all about blue flowers at Longwood until March 25
Blue hydrangeas and white orchid balls decorate the conservatory at Longwood Gardens
Pride-of -Madeira, Echium candicans is part of the display
One last petal hanging on
One last petal hanging on

Once considered a myth and brought back to the west by plant hunters, the Blue Poppy is a challenge to grow for the most experienced gardeners and a mark of distinction for any gardener succeeding in its cultivation.

On the cusp of opening
On the cusp of opening

Requiring moist and cool conditions, Longwood Gardens, one of the few places to see them, forces the variety Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ into bloom every March and increases their number each year because of their popularity.

Thousands of pots of Blue Poppies at Longwood Gardens in the production greenhouse, photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens

blue poppy
Photo courtesy of Pam Corckran

Drawing large numbers of people, especially photographers getting that perfect shot, the colors are unbelievable-saturated blues with streaks of mauve plum tones- on a large 4-5 inch flower.

Showing mauve highlights is a sign of stress
Showing mauve highlights is a sign of stress

A shade of blue rarely seen in other flowers,  the foliage is also stunning with grass-green hairy stems and leaves. Longwood Gardens gets their Blue Poppy plants shipped to them from an Alaska grower in the fall and they grow them in perfectly controlled greenhouse conditions to force them into bloom for display in the spring. Longwood has two different batches that it refreshes the flowers with so they can extend the brief bloom time for visitors.

Blue poppy

Growing in the warm clime of the conservatory, the mauve highlights were evidence as a sign of stress. The ephemeral quality of their blooms is part of their attraction and charm and visitors flock to see them.

blue poppy

Demanding a rich loamy well draining soil in partial sun in cool conditions is the primary ingredient to successfully growing this garden gem. Way too hot in my mid-Atlantic climate, I get to photograph them and enjoy them at Longwood Gardens in the spring. For more information on how to grow them if you are in a better suited climate than mine, go to Himalayan Blue Poppy Care.

Every year at Longwood ,the Blue Poppies are used in different areas of the Conservatory

blue poppy
Photo courtesy of Pam Corckran

For my post on growing cool season poppies, go to Cool Season Plants  or Poppy Love. To see the famed Blue Poppies, go to Longwood Gardens by the end of March.


It is a double treat at Longwood with the Orchid Extravaganza
Blue and white at Longwood Gardens

Winterthur’s Dried Flower Christmas Tree

Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur

A tour of Henry Francis du Pont’s former extraordinary home was my destination this year to enjoy holiday style decorations. An eighteen room dollhouse, fully decorated with Christmas treasures and other handmade pieces was one of the draws for me. Another was the large fir in the Conservatory decorated with hundreds of multi hued dried flowers that looked as fresh as if just picked. The iconic ‘Dried Flower Tree” is a tradition for Winterthur and people are amazed when they see it.

Dried rose and statice on the tree looked fresh
Dried rose, Chinese Lantern, and Statice on the tree looked fresh

Arrangements are placed throughout the house all year-long with fresh flowers, and after they have done their duty in the floral designs, the flowers are taken to the basement of a cottage on the property and dried in the room dubbed “The drying room”. Serving double duty, these flowers once arranged on the tree creates a multi hued rainbow effect that is stunning.

A single rose hangs from the tree
A single rose hangs from the tree, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For the actual process of decorating this tree, which started in 1986, look at the video.

Most of the flowers are picked on Winterthur’s property throughout the year and either air-dried or dried with silica gel, a  crystalline dessicant. Starting in March/April with the daffodil, any flower that can be dried is used for that purpose.

Some of the dried flowers used
Some of the dried flowers used

Everything is then packed into a fumigant tent for three weeks, starting in early October, to kill any pests. In late October, the flowers are brought out and organized by color into long boxes. Starting with the topper, the staff works all around the tree, bunching many of the flowers for a bigger impact. Special flowers like peonies and roses are placed singly on the branches, wired for stability.

Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Dried peony
Dried peony

Queen Anne’s Lace, peonies, daffodils, and zinnias are dried for ten days with silica gel as these don’t dry well with air drying. Others like larkspur, yarrow, billy balls, safflower, cockscomb, money plant, hydrangea, and Chinese lantern are air-dried in a dark place for about a week and then are packed away until ready to be used.

Grasses are also used
Grasses are also used
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For hours and more information about Winterthur, go to Yuletide at Winterthur. Next post will be on the miniature Christmas decorations in the dollhouse at Winterthur.

Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center
Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center
Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center
Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur. picture by Amy Sparwasser

English Gardens-Grand Estates & Cottage Gardens

If you have never been to the Hampton Court Flower Show or other iconic English gardens, read on if you want to check this off on your bucket list. For a full rundown on my recent trip to the Chelsea Flower Show, and gardens in the Cotswolds and Wales, you need to check out my post. 

At the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show

Sussex, Norfolk, Kent, Essex, and Suffolk, have some of the most beautiful and famous gardens of England, and you owe yourself a trip there. If you are serious about things of a horticultural nature, then look no further than my upcoming tour of Hampton Court Flower Show & English Garden tour. The English know how to garden, and for them it is a blood sport when they display at garden shows. And we have a full day at the Hampton Court Flower Show on Royal Horticultural Society members day only. That means less crowds to deal with!

A beautiful bee hive surrounded by lavender at Chelsea Flower Show

Starting with the Hampton Court Flower Show which is the largest of its kind in the world, we travel to Kent, the ‘Garden of England’, to visit Chartwell,  the family home of Sir Winston Churchill. Pictures, books and personal mementoes evoke the career and wide-ranging interests of this great statesman, writer, painter and family man, while the hillside gardens reflect Churchill’s love of the landscape and nature. You may be able to spot the black swans that have been there since Churchill’s time.

Chartwell, photo by Amy Sparwasser
Chartwell, photo by Amy Sparwasser
Chartwell in Autumn, photo by Amy Sparwasser
Black swans at Chartwell

Sussex, Kent, Norfolk, and Surrey are a treasure trove of beautiful stately gardens surrounding grand estates, some like Leonardslee Lake & Gardens that has roaming wallabies and a one of a kind miniature/dollhouse exhibit. Closed for many years for a major renovation, Leonardslee is open for the first time in many years, and I can’t wait to tour it.

Great Dixter is one of my favorite gardens included, the garden of the late plantsman Christopher Lloyd. So many containers are packed into this garden, the containers become a huge feature. The flower filled borders are some of the prettiest in England.

Poppies blooming at Great Dixter
Containers at Great Dixter
The home of Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter
The White Garden at Sissinghurst

Many other iconic gardens are included with a total of 14 gardens, Ely Cathedral, Sutton Hoo archaeological site and a nature boat trip down the Norfolk Broads to see the countryside. Also an afternoon cream tea at the famous at the famous Essex Rose Tea House is included- a lot to pack in for 10 days!

My tours are for small groups, are all by coach and we stay at 4 star hotels. I have a wonderful tour guide who has been with me for four tours and makes all of our visits a delight and very informative. We have a lot of fun exploring medieval towns and the countryside and experience England’s centuries-old fascination with gardening.

For a full itinerary with pricing, go to my Trips page. Here’s the flyer:


Taking Root: Delaware Botanic Garden’s Progress Report


Ambitious Master Plan of the Delaware Botanic Garden


Visiting the Delaware Botanic Garden in year two, one year later than my original visit, was an eye opener in the evolution of a major public garden. Even working as a landscape designer/installer, I was surprised at the great strides the difference of a year makes. For my first year post, go to DBG-From the Ground Up.

Just a year ago, there were large unplanted areas in the Meadow

The first thing that hits you as you enter is the wild centerpiece garden- The Meadow Garden- full of thousands of perennials that have matured with just 18 months or less of growth. Pollinators were zipping and buzzing around me as I wandered the winding pathways.

Horsemint (Monarda punctata) is a standout for structure and insect visits in the Meadow Garden

Meadow Garden

Closeup of the design of the Meadow

World renowned Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf designed the showpiece Meadow Garden. The Master Plan describes it as  “an exuberant palette of mostly native ornamental grasses and herbaceous flowering plants that will create spectacular four-season color and textural saturations against a distant horizon”.


‘Matrona’ Sedum is a great late interest perennial

An old planting adage is “1st year-sleep, 2nd year-creep, and 3rd year-leap” and this second year is more than “creep”. All the perennials in the Meadow Garden have absolutely “leaped” this second year and appeared very established. Located on a sunny 2-acre area adjacent to the woodland edge, the goal was to plant sixty-five thousand herbaceous flowering plants and ornamental grasses to provide multi-season interest. The first thing that visitors will see entering DBG, the Meadow was completed this spring except for some small patches, with volunteers. It is already an undulating textural mass.


Close plantings discourage weed growth

The close planting will discourage weeds as the herbaceous perennials knit together as a ground cover.

‘Matrona’ Sedum edges a pathway in the Meadow Garden
Dog fennel (Eupatorium capillfolium) is a stinky feathery spiky plant that has seeded in between the perennials

Before the perennials form that weed smothering ground covering, opportunistic weeds, notably ‘dog fennel’ (Eupatorium capilifolium) have taken hold between the plants and tower over some of the new plantings. Volunteers were out in force when I visited recently and were pulling stinky dog fennel on a 95 degree humid day. Not fun for some 265 volunteers that work there throughout the year! Fortunately portable tents are set up to cast some much-needed shade and there is a camaraderie evident in everyone you speak to.

Lots of Dog Fennel to remove


A volunteer is mulching with pine fines; In the distance, you can see the shade tents
Volunteers can work under a canopy from the hot summer sun, photo from Janet Draper
Water hydrants are located conveniently throughout

Pollinators Abound

The native perennials are thriving and even in mid August when color is hard to find in a perennial border, texture and color abounded throughout the insect heavy plantings. Camera in hand, it was hard to keep up with all the native pollinators that were buzzing around.

Butterfly on Liatris microcephela
Monarch on Rattlesnake Master (Ernygium yuccafolium)
Dragonfly caught on Little Blue Stem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium)
Swallowtail on Stokes Aster (Stokesia)

New Hoop Houses

Brand spanking new hoop houses were just erected with a gravel base that can be put to use this winter in growing new transplants (plugs), cutting propagation, and overwintering of young, frost susceptible plants.

Inside one of the new hoop houses


Pine straw and pine fines are being used as mulch

Woodland Garden

Eradicating invasive plants, installing pathways, careful tree removals, and  shade plantings have been progressing in the Woodland Garden.  With a phased implementation of DBG, the Meadow Garden is the first phase and the Woodland Garden is close behind, so intensive shade loving plantings are being installed along the newly placed pathways. Curving volunteer constructed stone walls make a nice addition as well as holding soil in place along many of the pathways.

Some areas of the Woodland Garden will showcase only native plants and others will contrast natives along with non-native plants from Asia and Europe. Plantings will be planted from the upland areas to the nearby water’s edge of Pepper Creek.

Plantings along with irrigation are being installed in the Woodland Garden
Irrigation is being installed

Trimmings and prunings are being recycled  and reused as sculptural elements in bird’s nest structures and a porcupine “tree” is a sculptural stopping point on the path.

Birds Nest of twigs that would otherwise be thrown out
Funnel spider web in bird’s nest
Porcupine Tree

Learning Garden

A wetland area will be an outdoor classroom called the “Learning Garden”. A high school class of seniors has already been hosted in a learning experience there. Interactive programs and living classrooms encouraging active involvement with nature is a major component of the DBG goals.


There have been no applications of fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides thus far.  For pathway weeds, a  20% Horticultural vinegar was used which was quite effective.

Eradication of weeds in pathway with horticultural vinegar

Whats Next

A projected opening date of September 2019 is only a year away and lots of money and volunteer hours will be needed in the meantime. A fall tree planting campaign, planting of the dune gardens, and the east woodland border are next on the agenda. Frequent fund-raising is being done  to feed the volunteer efforts and plantings. If interested in donating, go to Make a donation.  This is an exciting opportunity to get on the ground floor supporting or volunteering at  the incredible new Delaware Botanic Gardens.

A volunteer working; A temporary visitor center is in the distance
Artist rendering of projected visitor center, photo courtesy of DBG

Longwood’s Summer of Spectacle

New fountain display at Longwood Gardens, photo courtesy Longwood Gardens

Two years in the making, the revamped and rebuilt 5 acre fountain display of Longwood Gardens is ready for prime time. Major new renovations that incorporate new technology have energized the old Longwood Gardens fountains into an unforgettable experience.

According to Longwood Gardens website; “The culmination of the legacy and vision of Pierre S. du Pont, the garden combines classic landscape design with art, innovation, technology, and extraordinary fountains. Spectacular events, glorious gardens, live music, special exhibits, and jaw-dropping fountain performances await”.

Fountain scenery in the past was beautiful but lacked the movements of the modern ones, photo by Longwood Gardens

If you have never been to Longwood, their vision is clear; “To become a world apart, a place accessible to all is the driving force behind all we do to ensure we preserve and enhance this extraordinary experience for future generations”. Home to more fountains than any other garden in America, this is an experience that you won’t see anywhere else. New fountain engineering and lighting technology that weren’t available in the thirties transformed the fountains to the digital age.

During daylight hours, the fountains provide a wonderful backdrop for the gardens

Return of the Fountains

I remember the fountain display from years ago and I wasn’t prepared for the new and improved version with shape shifting columns of water.


On a recent humid summer night I got my chance. Sitting in a reserved seat, I had a perfect view of the recent renovations complete with fireworks, fountains, and music. ‘Dancing Divas’ was the theme and the fountains literally danced! Waves of undulating water streams throbbed to the music punctuated by eye dropping fireworks.

LED lights produce colors that weren’t possible when the fountains were designed and there were bursts of water propelled by compressed air and flames of propane gas that flare atop columns of water- Fire & Water!

Dancing fountains
Even in daylight the fountains are extraordinary. Here is the basket weave effect, photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens


Designed by Pierre du Pont and first turned on in 1931, the $90 million revitalizing project began in October of 2014 and opened with great fanfare this spring.

You can reserve seats or bring your own; these lawn chairs were covered because of a threat of rain


Lots of new jets were added (1,340) and the tallest jet went from 130 feet to 175 feet. The basket weave effect (pictured above) was added, a “Hidden Layer Dancer” and “Dancer on the Stage” were added, which means a nozzle moves side to side and front to back to make beautiful gyrations that are put to full use. The fountains did dance.


Summer of 2016 the fountains were still being worked on

Daily fountain performances with additional special evening shows Thursdays through Saturday showcase the new fountain experience.

Reserved seating is available

The Historic Pump Room & Gallery highlights the original pump systems that powered the main fountain garden from 1931 to 2014 and gives you a behind the scenes look at the powerful equipment required of the old fountains.

The original pump room has been restored

Flower Garden Walk

I loved the fountains, but walking through the totally redone first garden of Mr du  Pont was my pleasure of the evening.

A stellar garden walk in front of the restored fountains
Lushly planted gardens are adjacent to the main fountain garden
Hundreds of seasonal dahlias were on display for everyone’s enjoyment

A celebration of annuals and perennials and a wonderful dahlia garden that was at its peak in August drew my attention and many photos later I joined my family at the Beer Garden for refreshment.

Beer Garden

Returning for Thursday to Saturday evenings, the Beer Garden was a perfect spot to sit with friends and family for wine/beer and wood fired pizza and bratwurst. I have been to a real Beer Garden in Germany and this was very similar in ambiance and flavor.

Kevin, an employee at Longwood, gave us some useful tips on navigating the Beer Garden
Magical at night, there was plenty of seating and food options in the Beer Garden


The spiritual center of the new fountain display has to be The Grotto. Meant to be a place of reflection, it includes four fountains, including one that falls from the ceiling.

The grotto with a suspended fountain was my favorite-an area for reflection and meditation, photo by Longwood Gardens

Framed in limestone walls, all of the old crumbling statues and carved wall fountains at the main fountain garden’s base,  had to be removed and either replaced or rebuilt by craftsmen. New plantings of boxwood were added and the old invasive Norway Maples that have fallen out of favor were replaced with Lindens.

Sunset, photo by S. Markey

New plantings were added
New limestone walls are the backdrop for dramatic containers

Longwood Gardens is off Route 1 in Kennett Square, Pa., and contains more than 1,000 acres of gardens, woodland, idea garden, hillside garden, meadow and conservatories. In the Main Fountain Garden, 12-minute fountain shows are held daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Thursdays through Saturdays, when Longwood is open until 10 p.m., there is a 12-minute show at 7 p.m. and a 30-minute show at 9:15 p.m. The last show has illuminations.

Special tickets are required for the Fireworks & Fountains Show.

Ladew Garden Festival 2016

Ladew Topiary Gardens iconic scene of the flx and hounds
Ladew Topiary Gardens iconic scene of the fox and hounds


Now in its 8th year, the Garden Festival at Ladew Gardens in Monkton, MD, has become the most anticipated specialty plant and garden ornaments sale in the region, featuring an eclectic variety of vendors who specialize in unusual and unique plants and garden related items.

Ladew srping 2014 002
Beautiful arrangement greets visitors as they enter the Garden Festival
Beautiful containers dot the grounds at Ladew
Colorful containers dot the grounds at Ladew

Garden Festival guests can shop from more than 45 vendors offering hard-to-find perennials and annuals, unusual exotics and container specialties, decorative garden furniture, urns, statuary, and other architectural treasures. I attend every year and get lots of ideas, buy many plants, and meet like-minded plantaholics. You don’t get many casual plant shoppers here, but knowledgeable plant fanatics.

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An antique bird house for sale
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The gardens are in spring bloom
Unique garden items are for sale
Unique garden items are for sale

Attending the lectures and workshops is an added benefit, but I am usually so busy shopping that I don’t have time to attend. After shopping, I also stroll through Ladew’s beautiful historic gardens known for the sculpture of shrubs into fantastic shapes.

Ladew srping 2014 021

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Oversized bird houses are on the grounds

I am always searching for the latest and greatest plants and I am sure to find them at Ladew – at a cost though. The prices aren’t cheap, but you will find things here that you can’t find anywhere else, so I am careful about what I purchase. Since I usually buy wholesale plants, I always get sticker shock when I see retail prices.

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I picked up this yellow Salvia Madrensis which I love for its unusual color and furry leaves

 Forget carrying all those heavy purchased plants around as Ladew volunteers collect your plants in wagons and take them to the parking area where you can drive up and load them up. I still take my portable cart with me as once it is full, I stop!


Ladew is always looking for quality vendors, and there is usually new ones as well as old favorites. The fairy garden vendor is especially charming and I always stop and admire the miniature gardens.

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Miniature garden for sale
Verbenas in chair
Peace Tree Farm booth
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Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm


This year the Festival will be held Saturday, May 7, from 10 AM to 4 PM at 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, MD.  For more information, go to Ladew Gardens. This is your opportunity to find plants and ornaments that are rare and beautiful to make your garden a unique place.

A beautiful spring container at Ladew
Venus Dogwood
Want a Venus Dogwood that has blooms as big as your hand? You will find this at Ladew
Where else can you find miniature hostas?

Decorating “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton Mansion

Hampton Mansion all lit up for a festive Yuletide night
Hampton Mansion all lit up for a festive Yuletide night

Every year, I help with the decorating of “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton National Historic site in Towson, Maryland, for their Yuletide celebration.  Dating back to the eighteenth century, Hampton is a large estate built in the Georgian architectural style, situated on many acres including a farm, greenhouses, slave quarters, an orangery, large Italianate gardens, horse stables, cemetery, and an English style park-like setting. Built as a country seat just after the Revolutionary War by the prominent Ridgely family, the house and its immediate surroundings are just a remnant of the Hampton estate of the early 1800s.

Many large mature trees surround Hampton Mansion
Many large mature trees surround Hampton Mansion
English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from t...
English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from the southwest. Hampton National Historic Site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Decorating the Mansion along with the Park service is a lot of fun, and gives me ideas on decorating my house with fresh greens, garland, natural materials, and fresh flowers and fruit – all materials that were used back “in the day”, Williamsburg  or Colonial style.

The Christmas tree in the music room is decorated with handmade Victorian ornaments

Located in the music room, the Christmas tree exudes Victorian elegance with the hand-made ornaments reflecting the ornate Victorian era. The screens in the background are hand painted with colorful scenes and the furnishings reflect the lavish decorating in vogue at that time for the very wealthy. The mansion  showcases Mid-Atlantic life from before the American Revolution to after World War II.

Peacock hand painted screen
Peacock hand painted screen
Drawing room wall paper
Drawing room wall paper
Another beautiful painted screen at Hampton
Another beautiful painted screen at Hampton
The candlelit table is set for a big celebration
The candlelit table is set for a big celebration

Place settings are in the cranberry colors befitting the Yuletide season, and sideboards and tables are set with the house silver and groaning with food ( good quality fakes), but set up for a typical Christmas spread of the period.

Portrait of Eliza Ridgely, the American heiress and mistress of Hampton for many years
Portrait of Eliza Ridgely, Lady With a Harp, by painter Thomas Sully, the American heiress and mistress of Hampton for many years
Red Roses were used in most of the arrangements

The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland take charge of the festive greenery decorations, as well as the fresh floral arrangements, all with the time period in mind when choosing materials. Slated to be restored in the near future, the dilapidated greenhouses were used by the Ridgelys used for out of season food and forcing flowers. Many of the clubs of District III, Baltimore and Harford County, participate and get together to carefully decorate the towering Christmas tree and make lots of labor intensive boxwood wreaths and arrangements.


Using fresh cut greens, a volunteer puts together a large arrangement in a towering urn
Using fresh-cut greens, a volunteer puts together a large arrangement in a towering urn


Landing arrangement with peach roses
Landing arrangement with peach roses from 2013
We use a wide variety of fresh evergreens
We use a wide variety of fresh evergreens
The Orangery being used by Garden Clubs to arrange the flowers
The Orangery being used by Garden Clubs to arrange the flowers


We meet in the old Orangery to work our magic on beautifying the mansion.  Armed with fresh-cut greens, we bring cut flowers, greens, and cutters. The Park Service also will cut some special greens from the surrounding landscape, like ivy berries, holly, and boxwood, which are beautiful and were certainly used when the Ridgely family lived there.

Mature Ivy
Mature Ivy has great black berries
Decorated table at Hampton
Decorated table at Hampton

At night the mansion is full of musicians, carolers, and docents who will answer questions about daily life of the Ridgelys, as well as the many slaves who lived on the grounds. The Hampton estate was the home of the Ridgelys through seven generations, and also of the enslaved people, indentured servants, and paid laborers who supported them, from before the American Revolution to after World War II.

One of the bedrooms with toys that were used in the time period
A bedroom interpreting the life of the children living at Hampton
Paper dolls were typical toys of the time period
Paper dolls were typical toys of the time period
Doll with tea set in one of the bedrooms
Doll with tea set in one of the bedrooms
The servant call bells are still in place
The servant call bells are still in place

One of the many garden club arrangements
One of the many garden club arrangements

Plant Lust- 8 Must Haves

Longwood's borders are chock full of annuals, perennials, and shrubs
Longwood’s borders are chock full of annuals, perennials, and shrubs

Plant Lust

According to Urban Dictionary, Plant Lust is defined as an uncontrolled desire or craving for any member of the kingdom Plantae. Yes, I just added that to the Urban dictionary as it is a well known term to plant addicts and I fit right into this category. Plant lust or envy is a condition with no cure or treatment. A craving or appetite for unusual plants is a common condition in garden circles and you learn to live with it. See what is on my current list.

Kingdom Plantae Wish List

I have a running list of plant acquisitions in the Kingdom Plantae pegged on my bulletin board that I “must” have. Understand, that I don’t “need” any of these. I need more plants like my dog needs more toys! I compare it to clothes shopping when you are not looking for anything in particular, and then spot something so perfect that from that moment on, you can’t do without.  When I visit different gardens and see something irresistible, I whip out my iphone, take a picture and look for the name tag. That happened recently when I visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and my plant envy list just got longer. Here are a few things that I will be looking for next year, either seeds or plants, anyway that I can get them!

Pennisetum 'Feathertop'
Pennisetum ‘Feathertop’

1. Pennisetum villosum ‘Feathertop’– I am not a huge grass fan, but I definitely have some favorites that I use at many of my landscape jobs. Hakonechloa or Japanese Forest Grass, pictured below, is my absolute favorite grass for shade. But I am open to suggestions for new favorites.

Japanese Forest Grass 'All Gold'
Japanese Forest Grass ‘All Gold’


So when I saw this Pennisetum ‘Feathertop’, I fell in love. Yes, it is an annual for me because it is hardy in zone 8 to 10. And yes, it looks like it could seed in after reading the reviews- meaning coming up everywhere. But with its pretty, white, bottlebrush plumes, perfect for cut flowers, these dramatic plumes contrast with all kinds of perennials – kind of how a pretty scarf can ramp up your outfit. This valuable attribute helped give Feathertop the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 2002.


Feathertop Pennisetum

Pennisetum Feathertop with Verbena bonariensis
Pennisetum Feathertop with Verbena bonariensis


Feathertop Pennisetum
Feathertop Pennisetum

2. Ammi majus or Bishops Weed- An annual that looks like Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids. Instead of a flat umbel profile, the flower is dome-shaped, with beautiful frilly fern-like foliage. This plant also can seed in, but that’s quite all right. I can deal with it. I see this as a great filler and valuable addition in cut flower arrangements.

Ammi majus
Ammi majus
Dome shaped flower of Ammi majus
Dome shaped flower of Ammi majus

3. Celosia argentea ‘Sylphid’

Celosia 'Sylphid' with Zinnias
Celosia ‘Sylphid’ with Zinnias

What can I say about green flowers? I am a sucker for them every time. And when I spotted this Sylphid Plume Celosia, it was love at first sight. Graceful greenish-yellow feathery plumes sit on tall straight stems.  The perfect color to set off vibrant colors in your garden or bouquet.

4. Flashpoint Lily

Flashpoint lily in a garden
Flashpoint lily in a garden

Flashpoint is a Orienpet Lily (cross between an Oriental and Trumpet) which is an explosion of color, red and cream outfacing blooms. I didn’t see these at Longwood, but love this combination so much, I am going to duplicate it in my garden. Similar to a ‘Stargazer’ lily but with a lot more substance and staying power. Fragrant too!

5. Dahlia ‘Pam Howden’


Dahlia 'Pam Howden'
Dahlia ‘Pam Howden’

Dahlias are definitely my weakness. Big, blowsy, colorful blooms that arrange beautifully and draw pollinators. What’s not to like? Pam Howden, a ‘waterlily’ type, is one I spotted and will be planting next year. Loaded with blooms, I admired another dahlia, pictured below, Starfire.

Starfire dahlia
Starfire dahlia

6. Hibiscus ‘Fifth Dimension’

Fifth Dimension Hibiscus has a beautiful silvery plum center
Fifth Dimension Hibiscus has a beautiful silvery plum center

Hibiscus was definitely not on my radar when I went to Longwood, but this one practically jumped up and hit me – Fifth Dimension. Looking the flower up on-line, I discovered that when the bloom first starts to open,  it is orange with a silvery contrasting center. As the day progresses, the orange changes to yellow. I caught this bloom in the yellow stage. Go to Longwood Gardens Blog  to see a time-lapse video of the transformation, like a psychedelic experience!

7. Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’

Gomphrena 'Fireworks'
Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’
Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’

I admit I have grown this one before and loved it. But after spotting it in the Longwood beds, I need to add this to my permanent list of annuals for yearly planting.  Flowering all season long with straw textured globes, the ends of the petals are topped with yellow stars. I grow these from seed as I have never seen the transplants available in the spring.

8. Lisianthus or Eustoma 

Lisianthus comes in pink, white, and purple, and bi-colors
Lisianthus comes in pink, white, and purple, violet, and bi-colors

Commonly known as Prairie Gentian, Lisianthus plants are herbaceous annuals which have bluish-green, slightly succulent leaves and a large rose-like flowers growing on the long straight stems. Frequently seen as cut flowers at the florist, you can grow these in your garden if you can find the transplants in the spring as the seeds are very difficult and slow to germinate. Preferring cooler temperatures would limit this flower for me, but I would like to give it a try. Great as a long-lasting cut flower and I know this will be hard to find.

Lisianthus resembles a rose
Lisianthus resembles a rose

Orchid Mania at NYBG (New York Botanical Gardens)



Orchid chandeliers! Orchid planters! Orchid islands! Just think orchid everything at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. I saw orchids there in colors I have never seen before like this mint green hanging orchid ( I love green flowers!)


Miltonias are my favorites-They look like orchid pansies
Miltonias are my favorites-They look like orchid pansies

Orchids are at their peak at the end of winter/early spring and the various botanical gardens make the most of it. Longwood gardens has their opus and the New York Botanical Garden chimes in with their twist. And their twist is stunning! Orchid Chandeliers were touted as the star and just look up and you will see the beautiful ceiling mounted floral creations that make your jaw drop! –  Aerial flowers!

Orchid Chandelier
Orchid Chandelier

As soon as you step foot into the conservatory, cylinders and enormous hanging creations with a kaleidoscopic symphony of colorful orchids such as Cattleyas and Phalaenopsis  are framed by the magnificent architecture of the crystal palace Conservatory.

Orchid Chandelier
Orchid Chandelier

The floating islands of orchids were just as incredible and greeted you at the door of the historic Victorian inspired Enid A. Haupt conservatory. But the theme of this year’s orchid show is “Look up!”, not “Float like a boat” and you can see how they made these creations at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6q4BQH8vn0

NYBG conservatory
NYBG conservatory
The gardens at the NY Botanical Gardens were still in winter mode
The gardens at the NY Botanical Gardens were still in winter mode

Floating islands of orchids greet you at the entrance of the Conservatory
Floating islands of orchids greet you at the entrance of the Conservatory
There were other chandeliers, like the  Staghorn ferns!
There were other chandeliers, like the Staghorn ferns!
More chandeliers
More chandeliers

Guerlain, a perfume and makeup company teamed up with the New York Botanical Garden on its Orchid Evenings to promote its orchid scent focused on the flower.  And talk about fragrance! It was wafting everywhere in the conservatory. All the orchids were so fragrant, I couldn’t figure out where the fragrance was originating-it was just everywhere.

The Cattleyas are particularly fragrant
The Cattleyas are particularly fragrant

Other tropicals were showcased along with the orchids as they bloom at the same time- Bromeliads, Anthuriums, Bird of Paradise, and Gingers were all in exquisite form.

Yes, Anthuriums!!
Yes, Anthuriums!!
Let's not forget the Bromeliads
Let’s not forget the Bromeliads
Planters full of multiple orchids
Planters full of multiple orchids

Go to http://www.nybg.org/exhibitions/2015/orchid-show/ to read about the popular orchid evenings, dance exhibitions, poetry readings, and tips on orchid care that you can enjoy until April 18 in NYC in the Bronx.

White Orchids
White Orchids