Who needs gardening at the garden show?



Oh, I suppose, some practical ideas that could be executed in real gardens are expected, but that’s not why I go. Here are my requirements for an enjoyable afternoon at the typical North American garden exposition, generally held in late winter:

1. Color and scent everywhere. By this time, we Northeasterners need as many breaks from the dull gray weather as we can get.

2. Spectacular displays. Lacking that, really silly displays are almost as good.

3. A garden celebrity or two (in as much as we have them) is also a great addition, though I’m not terribly fond of sitting in sterile conference rooms listening to speakers, no matter how cool they are. Nonetheless, had the Renegade Gardener made an appearance anywhere around here (he did not) I would have sat in.

So, for my money (figurative speaking; I had a media pass), Canada Blooms, Toronto’s big garden show, satisfied on all counts and more—they even had a very civilized “wine garden,” where you could try a line-up of offerings, including icewine and some biodynamic vintages. After the needlessly harrowing drive from Buffalo to Toronto (always several inexplicable traffic hold-ups, and of course the all-new, all-stressful border experience), a drink is exactly what I needed.

A feature garden.

Once soothed by some unoaked chard, I and my companions (gardening friends Cheryl and mentee Ron) could take in the show.


Of course, you have to have a theme, and CB’s was really a fun one: Flower Power. Bright pinks, green, and yellows were the dominant colors, and flowers in these hues had been fashioned into all kinds of symbolic and sculptural forms by creative TO florists. I didn’t see all the featured display gardens, and I have no idea who won which prizes, but what I did see was mostly interesting and creative. There were lots of sustainable strategies everywhere and some attractive—even subtle—water features.

The gardens were fine, but I think CB excelled most in its very literal expression of its theme: cut flowers were everywhere. This was very welcome, as most garden shows focus on forced spring bulbs, hothouse hydrangea, azaleas, and whatever perennials they can muster at this difficult time. No one uses these flowers in their gardens in the way that garden shows do, so their presence to help simulate real gardens can be tiresome in a way that the frankly fantastic use of exotic blooms isn’t. Anyway, that’s how I see it.

Home Depot’s sea of tulips.

Psychedelic floral creations aside, the main purpose of our visit was to talk to Barbara Damrosch about her revised Garden Primer. More on that Wednesday.

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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 regularly 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 yahoo.com


  1. Eliz: I’ll be looking forward to your piece on Barbara Damrosch as I went to the RI Flower Show and she gave a great talk. I have the older primer but did not buy the new one….yet. Book whore!

  2. Absolutely right. At least the first garden shows of the season don’t have to be that outstanding to be a welcome breath of fresh air to northern gardeners.

    Love the peace sign!

  3. see my comment on your “my kind of garden show post” -“Canada Blooms” my foot!

    This is, of course, sour grapes – I couldn’t afford to attend 🙁

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