2 Outstanding Central Pennsylvania Gardens Win State Horticultural Society Awards | Georges weigel

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Two Harrisburg-area gardens won awards in the 2021 Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Garden Competition.

Cumberland County’s newest pollinator public garden – a garden planted this summer on the grounds of the historic Craighead family home near Boiling Springs – was named a ‘Garden of Distinction’ in the public gardens category of the competition.

The 250-square-foot garden, designed by Cumberland County native plant educator and master gardener Heather Adams, was planted in June by a team of volunteers and master gardeners.

Dauphin County Master Gardener Kevin Kelly won a Blue Ribbon in the Outdoor Garden category of the same PHS competition for his Lower Paxton Twp. Home & Garden.

This was the third PHS honor for Kelly’s gardening efforts. His half-acre suburban garden won a Garden of Distinction award in 2014 and a previous Blue Ribbon in 2016.

The Craighead Garden is set in a semicircular bed on the right (east) side of the 1886 Victorian-style Craighead House.

This house is the home of the famous naturalist family who gave birth to award-winning author Jean Craighead George, known for her children’s nature books, and her twin brothers John Craighead and Frank Craighead Jr., pioneers of falconry in the United States and who were instrumental in drafting and passing the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968.

The siblings spent summers in their youth at home along Yellow Breeches Creek, just down Old York Road near Boiling Springs. The site is famous for its fly fishing for trout.

The Craighead family stopped using the house around 2000 and by 2012 it was in poor condition. It was then that a local nonprofit called Craighead House Committee Corp. formed to buy the property and raise funds to restore it.

Exterior renovation completed in 2019, and interior renovation is underway.

“We want this to be an education center with a conservation and ecology theme,” said Ann Dailey, Cumberland County Master Gardener and Landscape Coordinator for Craighead House.

The Master Gardeners have already given several conferences during the last season and plan to do more in the years to come.

A spring plant exchange has also taken place in the field for the past seven years.

“Your programs look absolutely fantastic,” one of the contest judges said of the garden. “The plans for wildlife habitat and the social impact it has on the community are commendable.”

Dailey said the master gardeners plan is to expand the new pollinator garden into a full circle, which will put it in the shade of nearby trees.

The current garden is predominantly in the sun and planted with native shrubs and perennial flowers, such as fothergilla, dwarf, red dogwood, mountain mint, Joe Pye grass, butterfly grass, l amsonia, asters, goldenrod, lobelia and what Dailey says was a pollinator powerhouse, a pale summer-blooming pink called a spotted beebalm.

Most of the plants were donated by Master Gardener’s home gardens, with the remainder sourced from the Diakon Wilderness greenhouse in Boiling Springs, which specializes in native plants.

Heather Andrews, left, who designed the Craighead House pollinator garden, and Christina Basonic, right, care for the garden’s young perennials.

“We laid cardboard on the grass first, then covered it with a six-inch mixture of topsoil, mushroom soil and chicken manure,” Dailey said. “The soil was excellent for moisture retention, while being very tasty for a large assortment of butterflies. I don’t think we’ve lost more than three plants this whole season.

Dailey says one of next year’s plans is to plant a small garden next to a memorial bench by the creek, which will provide visitors with a peaceful and scenic place to sit.

Another project on the drawing board is to add a meadow style garden along the west side of the property where old shrubs have been removed.

And there are plans to give a facelift to the herb garden that volunteers planted about four years ago along the western foundations of the house.

“We’re trying to bring it back to what it was when the family spent their summers there in the 1930s,” says Dailey.

The site, located at 318 E. Old York Road, Boiling Springs, covers approximately half an acre.

The grounds are open to the public free of charge every day from dawn to dusk. Parking is available on a gravel lot to the left of the house.

The new Craighead House is one of Cumberland County’s 10 Master Gardener’s Demonstration Gardens.

  • See Penn State Extension’s webpage on Cumberland County’s 10 Master Gardener’s Gardens

Others include a large butterfly garden at Adams-Ricci Park in East Pennsboro Township, a native herb and plant mansion at Kings Gap Park, a trial and idea garden at Claremont Nursing and Rehabilitation. Center near Carlisle, and a series of 10 themed gardens around the Cumberland County Extension office at 310 Allen Road.

  • See George’s 2018 post on 18 Free Public Gardens to See in the Harrisburg Area
Kelly's garden

This is the front yard in the fall of the award-winning Kevin Kelly Garden in the Township of Lower Paxton.

Kelly’s suburban yard in Lower Paxton’s Fairway Estates development is almost entirely covered in plants, with the lawn serving as curving pathways through the beds.

The various gardens are filled with cutting edge plants which are expertly combined and arranged to give changing interest throughout the four seasons.

It includes flowering shrubs, ornamental trees, dozens of dwarf conifers, and a wide selection of colorful annuals and perennials, as well as statues and water fountains that attract birds.

One of the contest judges called the garden “one of the most beautiful gardens I have judged in over 25 years”.

Kelly is a self-taught gardener who started gardening without any experience in 1993, starting with a small perennial garden in a previous house.

He became a master gardener earlier this year after semi-retirement as a family physician and has become a frequent speaker on a variety of gardening topics, including several at Dauphin County’s Wildwood Park.

  • See the Penn State Extension webpage on six Dauphin County Master Gardener Gardens, including Wildwood


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