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Darrell Blackwelder: Take tours of public gardens for Christmas

Choosing a Christmas gift for the finicky gardener can be a very trying task. Hand trowels, bulbs and gloves are pretty much the standard gift. The most logical gift would be a gift certificate from a local nursery or garden center. However, you may want to trump the standard gift card and surprise your favorite gardener with a gift of a day trip or weekend trip to a formal or public garden.

I’ve never met a gardener who didn’t crave the chance to visit formal public gardens. Below are a few I have visited and would recommend:

* Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens — Formal gardens in Belmont just west of Charlotte feature formal plantings for the seasons along with a decent gift shop. www.dsbg.org.

* J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, Official arboretum of N.C. State University — An ocean of trees and shrubs, the garden is in its 30th year and has been completely redesigned. This is a research arboretum for N.C. State University providing lectures to public. User friendly with gift shop. www.ncsu.edu/jcraul stonarboretum.

* Biltmore Gardens at Biltmore House in Asheville –Brilliantly designed landscape by Fredrick Law Olmstead gives way to America’s castle and also a chance to visit the gardens and greenhouse. Formal gardens and plantings at Biltmore House also includes the best wine-tasting room in the nation. www.biltmore.com.

* Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo — Well, this is a fairly long trip, but if you’re near the Outer Banks this spring, it’s a must for gardeners. The Elizabethan Gardens are a re-creation of 16th-century English gardens, established as an elaborate memorial to the first English colonists. www.elizabethangardens.org.

* Tryon Palace in New Bern — If you decide to head to the Outer Banks and the Elizabethan Gardens, take time to visit the gardens at Tryon Palace in New Bern. The grounds feature extensive English formal gardens, a kitchen garden and wilderness garden areas. My wife Gerrie and I visited in early spring when the tulips were blooming and enjoyed the early gardens before the heat arrived. www.visitnewbern.com/attractions.htm#palace.

* Calloway Gardens-Pine Mountain, Ga. — A beautiful garden and resort nestled on a championship golf course. The garden features massive azalea plantings, a butterfly hatchery, All-America Garden trials, tropical gardens and much more. Visit the gardens when the azaleas are in full bloom. www.callawaygardens.com.

* Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, S.C. — This is a very old garden founded in 1676 by the Drayton family. Magnolia Plantation is the oldest public garden in America, opening its doors to visitors in 1872. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens will host its 2007 Spring Camellia Festival Jan. 25 and 26. www.magnoliaplantation.com.

Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. For archived garden columns or other information, visit the Rowan County Master Gardener web site at www.rowanmastergardener.com , e-mail Darrell_Blackwelder@ncsu.edu.

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