Report From Dottyland


Of course, you can
learn a lot about what's wrong with garden ornaments from this show. I
can't imagine that these spinners haven't been responsible for a
certain number of grand mal seizures.

Inexplicably enough, given
the captive audience, there were no vendors selling
plants worth buying.  A few places were offering bulbs, but it was all
familiar stuff.  I did spend $5 on one huge bulb of a trumpet lily
called 'Golden Splendor,' just because it was the only lily there that
I didn't already own, and after a long winter's recession, I'm dying to
buy plants.

There is also no food at the garden show worth eating.  The food concessionaire offers nothing but the lowest of the low.  Green hotdogs. 
Weird glossy bagels that appear to be made of plastic.  Boxed iceberg
lettuce with dressing in a foil packet.  Really ugly.  Why haven't the
organizers figured out that the "garden" label encompasses actual grown
food, and then find somebody who can supply something that actually
once grew or grazed?

Do I sound as if I don't like the flower show?  I hate it and, for the last two years, have had a fabulous time there. 
I've figured out that the way to deal with the cheap carnival
atmosphere is to bring people who will consider it a carnival, namely

My little one got her face painted, climbed the sample playground equipment, ate way too much candy, and insisted that I buy her a little cast-iron fairy painted gold.  "She looks just like the fairies I've seen in the garden," she said solemnly–and I did a double-take.  Yes, at six, she is no longer sure about Santa Claus and is a complete cynic about the Easter Bunny, but when it comes to flower fairies, she's a true believer. 

IMG_2224 My son Milo and his best friend Jon spent an hour at a bonsai workshop, something Milo had been waiting an entire year to do, ever since he saw his first bonsai at last year's show.  Helping the boy bonsai-makers along was the incredibly nice and patient David Payton of the Mohawk-Hudson Bonsai society.

"We're all gray-hairs," David said to me, when I thanked him for being such a sport.  "We need to bring some young people into this."

But greatest conversion experience was that of my 11 year-old daughter Georgia.  After some heavy bribery involving lots of sugar and cash outlay, I got the four kids in my group to sit quietly during  Master Gardener Audrey Hawkins' slide show of Frank Cabot's incredible garden in Quebec, Les Quatre Vents.  From the photographs I've seen in books, Les Quatre Vents ranks up there with Filoli on my list of the most amazing gardens not located in Europe.  Georgia gasped her way through the thuga allees, water courses, and man-sized delphiniums.  She'd had no idea it was possible to make a landscape that magical.  She came home and instantly began drawing her own garden plan, which involves half a dozen keyhole-shaped garden rooms and approximately $100,000 worth of hedging plants, fountains, and stonework. 

As much fun as it is with kids, I suspect that the Capital District Garden & Flower Show is really aimed at yard putterers well into their second childhood.  They're the ones with the money to spend on crazy resin angels and power hoses to blast their glassed-in porches clean.  They're the ones who tastes are being gunned for with all those fake flowers and basket displays and pastel prints of roses.  God knows, there is nothing cool or streamlined or hip or classical being sold.

Of course, some of the not-so-young flower and garden people at the show are really fun, like this group of chapeau'd ladies–gardeners of varying degrees of seriousness and fast friends–who call
themselves the Twisted Twelve. 

What does it take to join the group? 
"You have to be over 50 and certifiable," I was told.   I am preparing my application for next year.

Wandering the aisle full of displays by plant societies and other non-profits, I also ran into two delightful guys who are trying to convince New York State to build a botanic garden, complete with Victorian-style glass house, in Spa State Park in Saratoga Springs.  Given the many city-wreckingly stupid public works projects that have been perpetrated on my part of the world in the last 50 years, this is one sheer brilliance, something that would totally suit my well-preserved Victorian town and add to its already considerable appeal.  In fact, I think this is best possible use of the stimulus money pouring out of Washington, right after universal health insurance and free college education, and far ahead of anything "shovel ready" involving asphalt. 

And this is the kind of cause you only really learn about at the flower show. 

So what's my final verdict on the Capital District Garden & Flower Show?  It's hideous and appalling and completely divorced from my own experience of gardening, and I'd be sorry to miss it.


  1. So you’re not sitting on the fence then? Thanks for this post, it made me laugh and realise that even bad things, very bad things bring good things too. It’s great that your Georgia is now digging garden design. High time for you to develop a cunning plan to get her actually digging. 😉

  2. Yes, many of us have love/hate reactions to garden/flower shows, though when I wrote that I was “conflicted” about the Philly Garden Show, some readers were not pleased. But we’re used to that. Hell, we _expect_ that.
    Kudos on sneakily turning your kids into gardeners.

  3. You should come to the Lincoln, NE version and buy a tractor. Not a lawn tractor, I mean a tractor. I went once, hated it for all of your reasons, and now have my own flower show. But I did buy some honey.

  4. We’re pretty much old school gardeners ourselves, in fact, we’re down-right OLD WORLD. So while all this is highly amusing,
    my Italian neighbors and I will continue to grow what our grandparents cultivated.

    Readers may enjoy Skip Lombardi’s take on a Mediterranean transplant that provides seasonal sustenance and shade.

    holly AT hollychase DOT com

  5. After reading about your garden show I’m extremely grateful to learn that the San Francisco Garden Show has been saved by a new investor.
    We thought that we were going to lose our garden show and that was really sad news because it is generally an innovative and inspiring event.
    Sure , there are some really campy and horrid exhibits each year along with some left field vendors hawking their wares, but all in all it is a pretty good show by international standards.

    We’re hoping that it returns to its cutting edge sculptural arty roots that it had during its first 12 – 15 years ( when it was run by a non profit local organization ).
    In the mean time, it’s just nice to know that we won’t be without a spring time garden show that provides so much enjoyable entertainment.

  6. I always wondered about other garden shows after having been to the big SF one when it was still at the Cow Palace (sigh) and having been absolutely flabbergasted. This sounds a bit unfortunate, but at least it sounds like they cater well to kids! Yay for new blood!

    Also, kudos for the Filoli shoutout, that has to be one of the most fun places I’ve ever worked.

  7. I loved this post, Michele. I have to admit that the blogosphere’s images of flower shows across the U.S. always look appalling to me. I never go to the one in Austin (Why bother? We have a green, temperate winter.), so I don’t have any first-hand experience with them. But the way you found the joy in it, by letting your kids loose to create and make-believe with plants and gardens, is priceless. I love that your daughter came home to draw her own garden design!

  8. I’ve been trying to come up with a word that describes what is wrong with flower shows and all I can up with is luckybambooishness.

    You’d think by now that someone somewhere would develop an event tailored for “real” gardeners.

  9. You know you speak the same language when your comments to other gardeners about a home & garden show lists off how many hot tub vendors, or gutter guard vendors there were instead of live plant vendors.

  10. Yes It was very fun doing Bonsai there with my friend though I have to agree that the stands were not very garden related. My friend Jon even commented on this while we were there.

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