The LA Garden Show–Who Knew?


I spent Sunday at the LA Garden  Show  at the  LA  Arboretum in Arcadia, near Pasadena. And even though I knew, on some level, that the show would be outside–it’s at the arboretum, after all–it wasn’t until I got there that I thought:  Wow.  An outdoor garden show.  What a concept.

I understand why most garden shows have to be indoors–they are held in early spring, presumably to give gardeners a fix before the snow melts, and in most parts of the country, that means that they have to be at a convention center, not a botanical garden.  And in those climates, it just doesn’t make sense to wait until summer to have a garden show–it sort of misses the point.

Or does it?  In LA’s mild climate, they could hold an outdoor garden show just about any time of the year, but this one comes in early May, well into the gardening season.  Here are the advantages to their approach–and all the reasons why I highly recommend this show. If you’re going to be in LA this time next year, make a point of going to this show. And you magazine editors who say you check GardenRant every morning: Give this show more coverage!  It’s incredibly cool!

Mature and realistic display gardens.  No hustling your show garden into the convention center three days before the event.  These gardens set up right on the lawn (the lawn needs a little TLC after thisLapagoda is all over, but nobody seems to mind), and they have close to 3 weeks to set up.

Display gardens blend in with real gardens.  With the actual arboretum gardens in the background, these show gardens look like they’ve been there forever.  Look at this Monrovia demo
garden–can you tell where the display ends and the real garden begins?  (Sorry  about the crappy cell phone photos)

No piped-in pre-recorded bird calls. At the LA Arboretum, actual birds twitter in the trees, and actual peacocks stroll the grounds. 
It is very charming to be standing at the Smith & Hawken booth contemplating their garden tools and to have a peacock stroll up to you and proposition you with a display of feathers.  (Sorry, mister, I’m married.)

More kid-friendly, and by that I don’t really mean kid-friendly.  I mean:  less annoying, stroller-wise.  It’s just hard to navigate a crowded convention center with kids and strollers, and it’s harder for everyone else to navigate around the kids and strollers.  But this is a wide open space, so there’s plenty of room to let the kids run around or do whatever they need to do.  You can bring a picnic, you can let Junior Lapeacocktake a nap under a tree.  Nice.

TONS of plants for sale.  Big, healthy plants that are ready to go in the ground.

VERY multicultural.  This has nothing to do with the fact that the show is outdoors; it’s just LA.  Lots of people talking about gardening in lots of different languages.  Lots of Asian and Latino families. I love that.

I’m really not knocking the early spring convention center model.  By February, I am totally ready for a fix.  The Seattle show, for example, in cosmopolitan downtown Seattle, is a FABULOUS way to spend a chilly February weekend–gardens, shopping, and cocktails, all within walking distance of each other.

But I ask you: if LA does this in early May, couldn’t it happen anywhere
in early May?  Would you rather go to a garden show at a convention
center in February or March, or wait until May and see the same show
outdoors at an arboretum or botanical garden?


  1. Well, I would certainly cast my vote with an outdoor show. Of course, the problem in this part of the world is that it might well rain on show weekend–in L.A., the rain is reliably finished by March.

    But the problem with the icy spring model is that you can’t buy plants.

  2. I agree Amy, the LA Garden Show was great! Sorry I missed you on Sunday, I went on Friday. I took some photos of creative succulent planters that the arboretum volunteers made and posted it on my blog if you care to take a peek! Hope to catch you in L.A. sometime.

  3. I think I would much prefer an outdoor show, but in Richmond, VA? It’s mostly how to mount your television by your turbo grill in your outdoor room anyway …

  4. Here in Raleigh NC we have an outdoor flower and garden show, and it’s in the fall (Oct)and in conjunction with our state fair.

    Besides the normal exhibits and container plants it also has cut flowers and foliage competitions. The highlight is the display gardens which can be grown by individuals or groups who have all summer to grow and decorate their plot.

    It always ranks high with the fair attendees. It’s in a corner of the fairgrounds done up like a mini-arboretum originally planted by Tony Avent (who used to work there) with many rare plants coming from the late J.C. Raulston. The whole thing is a treasure for this city.

  5. A garden show outdoors ?, Great ! In balmy LA, fantastic !
    I see both the advantages and disadvantages in an outdoor location and having the show late in the season.
    Built insitu gardens cause a substantial amount of left behind damage for the botanical garden to patch up after the display is trucked away.
    One must be keen to choose the initial set up sites for both vehicle and pedestrian load and flow of traffic.
    A decent budget should be calculated in to the Overhead for the following clean up and patch up work.

    May is the busiest season for gardeners, designers, architects, groundskeepers, nurseries and all other associated with the industry.
    By holding a show in May puts a squeeze on making that almighty buck that gets us through the rest of the year.

    Often times those who go to the garden shows are going to find designers and nursery people to work with them in laying out their garden.
    If you try to hire someone to help you in May chances are you won’t have your garden installed until early autumn, or in my case, wait a year.

    But it sure is glorious as a consumer to enjoy an outdoor garden show. Pay your entrance fee, enjoy the beautiful scenery, the weather, a picnic and even a nap under a flowering Jacaranda tree.

  6. In writing what you liked about the LA Garden Show, you hit so much of what I didn’t like about this year’s first-ever garden show visit — to the SF Flower and Garden Show. Honestly, though we don’t have quite the weather LA has, we could surely have an outdoor show here. Any gardener who can’t take a litle drizzle or fog needs to give up and get a desktop zen garden.

  7. Yeah, I think in Buffalo, the garden designers are totally inundated with jobs at this time. Our Botanical Gardens has a ton of space though–I’d love to see some display gardens set up there. Hypothetically, it would be awesome.

  8. I think in the Seattle area such a show would have to wait until July to be sure it’s done snowing and hailing…. especially this year. We do, however, have the Point Defiance Garden show in Tacoma, which is outdoors in June.

  9. I grew up and learned to garden right next door to Arcadia (La Canada – actually right across the street from the famous Descanso Gardens).

    If the L.A. Garden Show happened to fall between serious smog pollution events, you are quite lucky. For 90% of the year, the entire area is not safe for human lung function.

  10. Sounds fun, and a refreshing change from indoor garden vignettes. Just read that the SF Flower & Garden Show is moving to the San Mateo Event Center next year. Wonder what the ratio of indoor to outdoor will be there? Bay Area in March… sometimes wet… sometimes dry. 😉

  11. We have a not big one here in NOLA in April and again in the fall at the New Orleans Botanical Garden, which is located in City Park, the largest interurban park in the U.S. (Unfortunately, the staff to care for it may number only fifteen.) It’s still cool enough, and the vendors we have are good. My favorite vendors are the Weeds, who have the best ferns, along with some begonias and a few other plants, and also help maintain the fern room in the Pavilion. And, I get to say I get beautiful plants from the Weeds.

  12. In England all our best shows are outside: if you are quick you could get here in time for the Chelsea Flower Show which has been going on for nearly a hundred years. July we have Hampton Court and Tatton Park. Well worth the journey.

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