Invited to visit Columbus during its really big gardening trade show and then shown a fabulous time in their clean, beautiful city, how could I not write good things about it?

I’d never taken part in a “press junket” before and planned to decline them – if ever asked – to avoid a conflict of interest when writing about the companies that hosted the trip.  But for a city, especially one I’d heard great things about?  No problemo!

So here’s the short version of the great time shown to 10 of us “garden press” by Columbus.   (The 10 party animals hard-working magazine editors and bloggers are revealed below.)

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We brunched at at Till Dynamic Fare,  Columbus’s best new restaurant of 2012.  They have their own bio-dynamic garden in the back, and serve only locally sourced products.  As if that weren’t cool enough, how about the tats on co-owner Magdiale Wolmark?

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At the North Market we were given gift certificates and told about the resurgence of markets in Columbus’s downtown.   We also learned that Columbus is definitely not a Rust Belt city, having never had the industry that has since abandoned cities like Detroit.  But like cities everywhere, Columbus had experienced white flight and the resultant downturn of its core, which has since come back with a vengeance.  Indeed its downtown is super-lively, and not just with students at Ohio State but with actual adults, too.

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That’s our group dining at The Seasoned Farmhouse, above, a just-opened “recreational cooking school.”

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Our dinner companions included the adorable Gretel and Steve, who supplied the flowers, and local brewer Matt Barbee.  It seems that Columbus is full of cute young artsy people like them.  (I’m sure they’re not all cute but the ones we met sure were.)

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The Topiary Garden includes a replica of Georges Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte.”

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We made a whirlwind stop at the Franklin Park Conservatory, where the sunny outdoor gardens had us running for relief indoors.

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I stopped here to photograph a fabulous glass art piece by Dale Chihuly, an artist already well known and loved by everyone else in my group.  Better late than never.

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Fortunately there are lots more indoors with AC.

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No, these orchids are NOT real.

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The Chadwick Arboretum at Ohio State hosted a reception for all the attendees at OFA.  The trial gardens are, I’m sure, where important research is done but I couldn’t drag myself away from the Steven Still Perennial Garden designed by Adrian Bloom.  (Steve Still being a renowned hort professor at the university, not the drug-addled former rocker .) Can you imagine having this outside your crappy old dorm?

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Even dinner at the Columbus Hilton was made into an event for us.  Chef Bill Glover has bragging rights to the Hilton chain’s only restaurant that sources locally and has its own bee hives on the roof.  Coming soon – a rooftop garden, too.

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Our Columbus keepers knew that we’d all want to see some private gardens, so they showed us a neighborhood that’s full of them.  Really nice ones.  That’s German Village, with its carefully restored 19th century homes and even fancy garages like the one above that holds five cars.

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We saw tiny, fabulous gardens, with containers to match.

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There are fun signs, too.  The quote on the right – “The hay is good and the dog’s so fat” – had us scratching our heads.  The other sign is pretty clear.

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Schiller Park in German Village boasts humongous perennial borders, maintained by legions of volunteers.

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Our guides were so thoughtful, they even provided photogenic dogs for us to include in our garden shots.

The park on the left, in the middle of German Village, was funded and is maintained by the neighbors.

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Finally, the merry band on the “press bus”.  Front row from left:  Katie Ketelson of Better Homes & Gardens, moi, Stephanie Petersen of Garden Gate, Anna Laurent of Garden Design, and Kylee Baumle of Our Little Acre.  Back row from left:  James Baggett of Country Gardens, Helen Yoest of Gardening with Confidence, Steve Aitken of Fine Gardening, and Laura Kunkle of OFA.

A huge thank-you to our hosts Scott Peacock and Beth Ervin of Experience Columbus, who with help from Amy Weirick managed to show us a great time without anyone getting lost or in too much trouble.

Addendum:  If you go, try to see the governor’s mansion gardens, which I raved about here.  But contact them early; the visiting hours are limited.