Can we all bloom along?


America’s been in bloom since 2001. Buffalo’s been in bloom since 1995. So has Canada. Britain’s been in bloom since 1963, though perhaps not continuously.

From individual cities to regions to entire countries, various "in bloom" programs, sometimes connected to a larger program, sometimes not, employ contests and other incentives to get community residents out there planting. The contests as such are not really the point. It’s all about inciting people to clean up and beautify—but the competitive spirit is meant to be a strong inducement.

It’s interesting how different countries rank the criteria. Britain in Bloom judges on floral display, permanent landscaping, sustainable development, environmental quality, and public awareness, in that order. In Canada, it’s tidiness, environmental awareness, community involvement, natural and cultural heritage conservation, urban forestry, landscaped areas, floral displays, and turf and ground cover areas. America in Bloom uses the same criteria and gives an award for each. Individual communities can organize their own contests and adjust the criteria to their needs.

We have Buffalo in Bloom, which started out as a contest organized by fifteen councilmanic districts, with only 1 winner and 2 runners-up for each (front gardens only!). Winning it meant something then; the competition was stiff. Three years ago, all that was changed and now there are no winners, just "recognition" with a sign on your yard and your address on the website. Last year over 1200 gardens were recognized, including mine. Big whup, as they say. I might add that the Buffalo in Bloom judges of yore often favored large colorful arrays of bedding annuals. Now they’re happy if you’ve weeded. So it goes.In Western New York, I would speculate that our various Garden Walks provide more of an incentive for street and neighborhood cleanups than BIB does; residents seem more aware of the influx of thousands of walkers and the desire to draw walkers than they do of the BIB contest. There are many more walkers than there are BIB judges, and sometimes the walkers buy houses. But from what I hear, the "in bloom" programs are getting hotter. In 2006, eight American communities, most of them relatively small, won awards from AIB: Gallipolis, Ohio won for floral displays and Bartlett, Tennessee won for tidiness, to name two. The Britain in Bloom program seems very strong; their 2006 award ceremony, held in Perth, was nationally reported (Scotland pulled off a sweep of sorts). On the other hand, the America in Bloom awards were given out in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and reported only via the organization’s website.

Whatever they’re doing in Britain, it does seem to work; beautification efforts in the towns and villages I saw when I was there were widely prevalent and effective. Is it Britain in Bloom? Or are they just better at the whole gardening thing? (Yeah, I know, I’m buying into the stereotype—I can’t help what I saw!) Could America in Bloom have the same effect here?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Greenest Block in Brooklyn, organized by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, is now in its 12th year. It is nothing if not competitive. The judges include professional gardeners, landscapers, and others. Aesthetics, maintenance, and appropriate plantings are considerations, but since the entrants are city blocks, not individual gardeners, community involvement is just as important.

    In my area, there’s also an annual house, and now garden, tour every June. I’m hoping I can get something on the tour in years to come.

  2. Are the Brits just better at gardening than anybody else? The answer to that question is no, IMO.

    You see, in France they have competitions between villages with the best flower displays and they take that very seriously over there. Competition is fierce!

    In the city where I grew up, Rotterdam (Netherlands), we’ve had garden competitions for a very, very long time (at least 50 years or more). My dad usually wins a prize and has done so for decades. 🙂

    In many cities and villages in the Netherlands there are open garden days where people are invited to come and see all the lovely private gardens.

    Also, a part of the tax money in the Netherlands is put aside for floral displays, the planting of trees, parks and other public places, in every city or village.

    I think that Americans don’t hear so much of these things happening in Europe because of the language barriere. Brits and Americans speak the same lingo, well more or less. 😉

    So it’s the Netherlands in bloom, Breukelen in bloom (re Xrises comment), France in bloom, Germany in bloom and probably many other parts of the world as well. 🙂

    Even Britain, or so I’ve heard. 😉

  3. The AIB contest and the leading up to the contest this year in Illinois has averaged over 3 million media impressions around the country per month (since Eureka Springs, it’s been 182 million media exposures, just for the record). To say it was only on their web site, means some one is not reading the news. It’s been on all the major yahooo, google, cbs, local tv, paper and internet sites.

  4. I was looking for a major media outlet like the Times or the Post, which I did not see using lexis/nexis.

    In Britain, it was reported by such outlets.

  5. In Belgium, like in the Nederlands, there are open garden days. Everybody is allowed to visit the best private gardens. A little bit like NGS in UK. But there is no competition, no awards, no winners. Just the pleasure to see, to discover some lovely gardens.
    In Europe, the Netherlands garden are well known and very apreciate, nearly as well as English ones. Do you know Piet Oudolf, Laura Dingeman, Mien Ruys, Ton ter linden, and so on ?
    You should do.
    Excuse me for my bad english!

  6. You have started something here with are the British better gardeners?We usually have the entente cordiale with the french but not the dutch.The competition between cities, towns, and villages are fierce.Its a matter of civic pride.The rulebook is quite thorough.I came from Cheltenham before and they spend a huge amount of time, money, and efforts putting in huge amounts of flowers.Even in the main roads into the town centre where judges are driven around.If communities become involved, and actively try to tidy it up.It has moved onto grafitti, vandalism, anti social behaviour which is problematic within areas of Britain.
    I have just seen the shortlist, and it is reported in the press.I think it has good in promoting competition between citys/towns etc, because local areas and communitys can benefit.Its the RHS that is behind it too.

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