Garden Shows: Show us your speakers!


by Susan
Yes, it’s the time of the year when we stream into cavernous convention centers and pay good money to be jostled by several thousand of our fellow gardening-starved brethren so we can strain to see a22_sallyfield_lgl few phony, badly lit gardens and spend more money on stuff we probably don’t need.  Fun! 

Clearly I’m no fan of all that crowded commerce at the heart of garden shows, at least of the ones I’ve attended. (In a classic CYA move I’m reserving judgment on all the others.)  But here’s what I DO love about garden shows – some amazing speakers.  Like?

The Capital Home and Garden Show in Northern Virginia, February 21-24, features lots of "celebrity guests" talking about roofing and window treatment and exactly one speaking about gardening – our friend Don Engebretson, the Renegade Gardener.  So I’ll drive an hour, pay my money and put up with bathtub liner salesmen because I want to hear whatever he has to say.  Story and photos coming soon to this blog.

The Maymont Flower and Garden Show in Richmond, VA , February 21-24, has all KINDS of good gardening
speakers, including:

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show, February 20-24, features Sally Field talking about "Gardening for Good Health", which I would dearly love to hear.  (Anybody going who can give us a report?)  I admit she’s not exactly a gardening authority but she’s older than I am, so I’d listen to her talk on this subject any old day.  Oh, and they have a whole bunch of actual gardening experts speaking, too, like Dan Hinkley.  Check out the schedule.

Just a little browsing of garden show websites tells me these shows don’t promote their speakers enough, especially if they want to attract return visitors because I don’t THINK I’m the only one who’s seen enough fake convention-hall gardens to last a lifetime.  But I do seek out great speakers and while the shows have ’em, you’d only know that by digging deep into their websites.  (Hinkley’s buried waaay below all the Sally Field hype.)  And for that matter, why use the inapt and unexciting term "seminar" at all? 

Best example of a bad practice?  The Philadelphia Flower Show – the grand dame of them all and still the largest in the East – whose speakers are nowhere to be found on their site.  We know they have ’em – lots of ’em – and that they’re famously not paid a dime for their efforts because it’s such a privilege to speak at the Philly Show.  Looks to me like crappy treatment of gardening experts on all counts.  (Though I’m sure someone will speak up to defend them, so let’s hear it.)

How about shows in your neck of the woods – any speakers you’re excited about hearing?  Or do you adore the show gardens and all those vendors and think I’m nuts because I don’t?


  1. Ours has a blog and so does Seattle’s. I haven’t been reading it regularly, but it’s already introduced me to some new plants. And vendors.

    I think the display gardens are fascinating. The throngs of people, I somehow manage to simply ignore. This year I’m volunteering at the preview party so I’m going to avoid them all together and enjoy the display gardens in peace.

  2. Drive an hour to see Sally Fields? What would her topic be?
    “Decision Making in the Garden — Is Prozac or Zoloft the best choice?”

    Please: Enduring one manic/depressive exwife is enough for anyone’s lifetime. I have no interest in seeing which chemically dependent Sally Fields will show up.

  3. Chuck, thanks for the link. That’s a great addition to regional links on the Regional Garden Guru site. We haven’t yet found a large how-to-garden site for the SF area. Know of one?) Lots of terrific blogs, though.

  4. I’m attending the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. I have a slew of speakers I’d like to hear, including Sally Field. I suspect, though, that passes* for her talk will go quickly so we’ll see whether I get to hear her or not.

    *Not that long ago, attending a seminar at NWFG meant standing in lines, often for an hour or more, to hear a speaker. And even then there was no guarantee that you’d get in (such as the time I waited 1.5 hrs and missed the cut-off by 10 people – what a waste of time!). Nowadays, you pick up a pass 2 hours or less beforehand and as long as you’re there 15 minutes ahead of the talk, you know you’ll get in. It certainly hasn’t been the headache it used to be. They rarely have problems filling their seminars, which might be one reason they don’t hype them more.

    Chuck b, where do I find the blog for the NWFG?

  5. Susan, I’m glad to read this post. After trying out both the NYC and Albany spring gardening shows a decade ago–and leaving both with a headache brought on by viewing too many vinyl “home improvement” products–I’ve lived without the experience.

    But I never considered the speaking schedule until now! The Capital District Garden & Flower Show website promises that the lectures this year will be arranged by Cornell Cooperative Extension. I think that means…they might actually be good.

  6. If you ever have the chance to catch Carol Reese, do it – she’s an absolute stitch! I’ve seen her speak twice now, and I saw someone laughing so hard that he started slapping his thigh! I even think her “wildlife sex in the garden” talk offended some Oldie McBluehairs in front of us, making her presentation that much more golden.

  7. I’m going to the SF Show and will undoubtedly come home with new plants and gadgets. Yes, the lighting at the Cow Palace is a bit on the macabre side, but there are some really interesting designers there this year I can’t wait to check out. Also, Keeyla Meadows and Annie (of Annie’s Annuals) are giving talks. Fun stuff.

    Sally Field is speaking at the affiliated Seattle Show?!!! No fair! I love her on Brothers & Sisters and would love to hear her talk about gardening.

  8. Isn’t anyone disturbed about a GARDEN show being sponsored by a BIG DRUG COMPANY (Roche/GSK), with a celebrity spokeswoman, instead of focusing on gardening?

    Last year the show was very generously sponsored by Sunset Magazine, which clearly has a strong gardening focus.

    How many women this year will be influenced by Sally Field and Boniva to take some drug for bone health instead of just getting out there and double-digging to strengthen your bones?

    Gardening shows should be independent from drug-pushers.

    [Full disclosure: I have a B.A. in Biochemistry and have been in the molecular biotechnology industry for over 15 years. I especially object to the potential fear-mongering that this kind of sponsor produces because now all sorts of suggestible women will be influenced into taking a drug just because it was ‘recommended by that nice woman I saw at a show …’. I want all women to discuss any concerns with their doctors, do their own research, and come up with an independent opinion.]

  9. I understand that the one-and-only Amy Stewart is speaking at the New England Spring Flower Show (AKA The Boston Flower Show), which is produced by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. I was lucky to hear Amy speak at the Arnold Arboretum last year and can’t wait to hear her again. (No, I’m not a relative *:-). Check out

  10. Now that you mention it, Grace, it appears Sally will be speaking about gardening and health. I don’t really have a problem with commercial sponsors because I pay very little attention to ads and commercials, but if her speech is about how great a certain drug is and how it will make gardening so much easier, then I guess I would have a problem with it.

    Sunset is still a sponsor and the show is still all about gardening. That said, I wouldn’t want to attend a “gardening seminar” that is really just a drug promo. I like Sally Field and that would make me squirm in my seat (for both of us). I wouldn’t presume that’s what’s going on here, but if it is, that’d be unfortunate.

    Luckily, people would still have to check with their doctors to get a prescription for whatever it is that’s being promoted. It’s not like they’ll be handing out free samples at the show, right? 😉

  11. Roche/GSK came in for the first time last year at the NWFG. I heard more details why at the time but what I recall is it boils down to $$$. It takes a lot of money to put on a garden show and due to declining garden show attendance (matching what’s happening in the gardening world in general), I guess it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. For the record, I don’t recall a whole lot of pitching going on. There was a free medical screening area that was quite popular but nothing else distracted me from the gardens, shopping and seminars.

    There have been a few other changes at the NWFG as a result of downward trends and market survey information. For instance, they have made a concerted effort to get families in, reducing or eliminating ticket requirements for children. I remember seeing lots of school kids so there must have been field trips, too. It’s all in an effort to reach out and connect with young gardeners.

    Darcy, I’ll see you at Portland’s Yard, Garden & Patio Show!

  12. I’d like to visit the San Francisco flower and garden show, lawn tractors, kitschy displays, speakers of dubious merit, speakers worth listening to and all. The SF show’s offerings wouldn’t even be particularly relevant to my own climate, because I’m in Reno. Still, by mid-March, I’m madder than the proverbial hare and badly in need of plant fixes.

    Alas, you can count me out because I can’t rely on the weather in the Sierra Nevadas at that time of year. A six-hour drive could become a twelve-hour drive, or no drive at all due to snowstorms on Interstate 80. I just can’t quite bring myself to purchase round-trip airline tickets to Oakland for the event (Oakland is closer than SFO).

    I’m also in serious fits of giggles over the idea of Sally Field trying to garden the way I and my “extreme gardener” friends do. I just can’t see her out in the garden the way I was today, whaling away at large chunks of ice in my pond with an old shovel so that I can speed the thawing process and get a new pump installed. I can’t see Sally Field doing the Human Bulldozer thing like my pal Yulia, all 100 pounds of her prying huge boulders out of the soil and moving them around her garden like furniture. I know there are genteel gardeners out there, but it’s so much more fun to just be a complete maniac.

  13. Not that I’m a shameless self-promoter – well, O.K., that’s exactly what I am – but I want to promise Michelle and other Rant readers in the Albany, New York region that if you attend my presentations at the Capital District Garden & Flower Show on Saturday, March 28th and the Adirondack Garden and Flower Show on Friday, April 25th you’ll come away with boatloads of great environmental landscape design and management strategies!

    You might also want to catch my presentations at GardenScape 2008 in Rochester and at CNY Blooms in Syracuse!

    You can learn more about my Flower & Garden Show appearances at

  14. I am as excited as Hilda about Amy Stewart’s appearance at the New England Flower Show I believe that she is speaking on March 8th. I enjoyed ‘Flower Confidential’ and I know she is an avid gardener. I hope to hear her. Tony Avent will also be speaking at that show. Barbara Damrosch will be speaking at the Rhode Island Spring Flower Show which is a pretty small show but welcome at this time of year. Their web site is

  15. I was thrilled to hear that Amy is going to be speaking at the New England Flower show, as is Tony Avent and Paul Tukey of Safelawns. I can’t wait! Stephanie Cohen will be there from Bull’s Eye Perennials, a company that is new to me.

  16. I adore the Philadelphia Flower Show – the whole City catches the fever! My 6th year there heading via Amtrak, 3rd year in the Lecture Series! YES, SHAMEless self-promotion! I am speaking – and showing, inspiring, and have surprises for those at 100 Ways to Jazz Up Your Garden! Ahh…New Orleans is the theme this year! It is such fun. Script done…more than half done with fab photos on PowerPoint – email me with photo and permission to use if you want to show off a “jazzy” photo!

  17. I will be at a press conferance with Sally Field as well as going to her seminar. I will be reporting on it when I am through, so I’ll keep you posted.

  18. Barbara – we’ll be up at Philly Show twice – once with Garden Writers mtg on 3/2-3/3 and then again on 3/5 when we bring a busload of folks up from the DC metro area (still room on the bus if anyone wants to join us – drop me a line!) — when are you speaking? Will try to catch you there.

  19. I’m new to this blog and am seeking all manner of comments, advice and info from my fellow garden geeks. I am a coordinator of Springfest Flower & Garden Show – a small gem of a non=profit show in northern NJ. Run by a group of dedicated volunteer gardeners, we have grown over the last 12 years by listening to our 8,000 annual visitors’ comments (good & bad) and sugggestions – adapting, tweeking,and getting it better each year.We want to know how to be different , high quality, educational, fun, not too big,and still make money for our mission – to promote the love of gardening thru agricultural initiatives and scholarships. Any ideas?

  20. Deanna, I agree with your statement about Melinda Myers. She is very knowledgeable and a great speaker. I enjoy her seminars every chance that I get.

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