No More West Coast Garden Shows?


This just in–the owners of the Seattle and San Francisco garden shows have announced that they are retiring, so the shows will either be sold or closed. Get the press release hereNews reports say that the shows are on the market for one or two million; another article reports that the Seattle show made money and the San Francisco show lost money.  Not a surprise, in my opinion:  for one thing, San Francisco gardens year-round, making a garden show in March less of a big deal than a Seattle show in February, and for another, Seattle has the most awesome venue–an enormous shiny new convention center downtown–as compared to San Francisco's aged Cow Palace (where it was held until this year–now it will be at the San Mateo Events Center).

Like everything else, corporate sponsorships are down (remember the ill-advised Sally Fields/Boniva sponsorship of last year's Seattle show?) and ticket prices just don't cover the cost of the show.

According to the press release, the show's owners do hope "that 'My Garden Spaces,' an on-line
community recently launched as a year-round adjunct to the flower shows, will
continue beyond the shows."  My Garden Spaces appears to be one of those "hey kids, come do your social network thingy on our website" initiatives, much like Scotts attempt to get people to blog on their site, or Lowe's weird faux-Second Life experience called Sunnyville (now ended, apparently).  I understand the idea behind these sorts of initiatives–corporations hire a consultant who tells them that these crazy kids today have gone all bloggy and virtual, and they'd better get with the program, but I cringe when I think of what they must spend on this stuff compared to what they get in return.  We're on Flickr and Facebook and Twitter and TypePad–come talk to us there if you want to talk. 

Otherwise, just put on a fabulous show that fills me with joy in early spring.  I sure hope somebody steps up and takes over these garden shows; no digital experience can replace the fun of hanging out with thousands of gardeners on a wintry day in a big city, even on the not-that-wintry West Coast.   


  1. If they had a show that’s about plants, and maybe some garden gadgets and garden arts, I’d love to continue going. But off late it seemed to mostly be a boys with toys events. Large amounts of boulders trucked in, wood-fired pizza ovens, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms — in several of the installations, the plants were hard to find the last time I went.
    So, maybe this will be a chance for a new start. A Flower and Garden Show…

  2. I agree with Town Mouse…more gardens and plants, less hardscape and motor toys. Our closest “garden show” is in Spokane, WA, but there are very few displays of design or plants. Lots of carnival-style come-ons.

  3. The NW Flower & Garden Show is over the top beautiful and the smells are heavenly. I haven’t been there in 3 years because the drive takes 4 hours now instead of 2. I-5 traffic around Seattle is a nightmare. I’ve been debating whether to take a tour bus there this year. After reading here that this could be the last year, I’m going.

  4. I think part of the reason that you’re seeing more large landscaping, home and patio products and services is that those vendors are willing to pay higher booth fees that squeeze smaller companies out. Companies with big ticket items only need a few good leads from an event like that to make the cost of exhibiting worthwhile. Smaller companies have to work a heck of a lot harder to just cover the cost of the booth, not to mention travel and hotel if they’re not local. It’s hard to justify exhibiting at a show if you’re losing money or just breaking even.

    I’ve been to a lot of “garden” shows in the past couple of years that don’t seem to have much to do with gardening at all. The gardening items are being replaced by whoever is willing to pay the booth fee. Show organizers want to fill all available booth spaces, so they don’t mind if it’s got nothing to do with gardening. Ticket buyers show up expecting a garden show and are disappointed when it’s not. It’s not long before people stop buying tickets, fewer vendors find the show worthwhile, and it’s just a downward spiral from there on out.

    Of course, not all garden shows operate like that. Some of them still allow only garden related items.

    Wow, I didn’t expect to rant that much.

  5. I’ve been to Nor Cal. It’s geared towards the nursery trade with booths featuring plants from various growers. It’s a good chance for buyers to source plants for their nurseries by seeing who’s growing what. Not sure it would be all that interesting to most gardeners.

  6. On a brighter note – and it’s usually not like me to be such an optimist – lol but the Chicago Flower & Garden Show is now back where it should be: in Chicago proper not the suburbs where for the last 2 years it was fading away fast to nothing.

    So far they have a great lineup of seminar speakers. Hopefully, the vendor lineup will be equally as inspiring.

    BYW – being nosy as I am, I checked out their booth prices, a standard 10 x 10 space starts at $1950.00 and goes up significantly according as to size and visibility such as a corner space.

  7. No, say it isn’t so!!! I LOVE the Seattle show & would be heartbroken if it was no more. It is amazing what is created, trucked in and then out, and you can spend over an hour just in awe of that.

  8. Wow, this is news to me.
    I recently spoke to the S.F. show director and didn’t hear a peep about this.
    This is sad news for our garden loving community.
    I, like many gardeners look forward to the garden shows in early spring.
    After a long chilly wet rainy winter ( of which we have not had this year) it is always refreshing to see the creative inspiring show gardens and the many plant and garden related vendors.

    I’ll miss many of the different out of state and long distance nurseries that I regularly purchase plants from each year.
    And I’ll miss the educational seminars, slide shows and demonstrations.
    I’ll also miss the few really creative and innovative ideas that I walk away with each year thanks to the work of the exhibit gardens.


  9. No more SF Garden Show? WAH!!!! If the only thing left is those mediocre home and garden shows that have no dramatic and fantastically themed gardens, where else can I get inspired to try new things in the garden? Yes, there are TV shows and articles, but to actually walk through a garden with an interesting arrangement of plants and hardscape? Because of the SF Garden Show, I want to use landscape glass and a create a mini tea garden in the back corner of my property. I will miss the experience of sight, sound and smells that I look forward to every March. Here’s to hoping Sunset Magazine takes it over.

  10. The SF show is most likely doomed even without a buyer, the move to San Mateo will kill it. The San Mateo Expo Center space may be fine for a wholesale show like NorCal (which was pretty good this year)… but it does not have the grand theatrical space for the show gardens. It also has to hurt that American Stone and Soil is not sponsoring this year, I know in the past they have provided huge amounts of material and labor. And lets face San Mateo is too far south for the SF crowd to go to. It has even worse public transportation access than the Cow Palace does. I assume Mascone center is just too expensive… but really the SF Flower and Garden Show should be in San Francisco not 20 miles south.

    But I hope they find a buyer and a better location, it is always fun to work with designers and provide them with cool plants for their creative visions. Even if I am not convinced it is a great advertising method, it is being part of the community and like Michelle D says there are always a few creative ideas to walk away with. Bummer indeed.

  11. I was a vendor with mosaic sculpture (=higher end) stuff to sell at last year’s Garden Show, sales for myself (and some of the other higher end sellers) were close to non-existent. So, some of those sellers are not coming back this year.

  12. Nice thought but I don’t think we can look to Sunset to rescue the event. They’re hurting like everyone else.

    I hope someone with deep pockets and a true passion for gardening steps forward to take over. February won’t seem the same without the NWFG, although I console myself that us Portlanders will still have the Yard, Garden & Patio show. I heard its attendance was up last year so that’s a good sign.

  13. Thanks for discussing this important topic. I seriously cannot imagine Seattle without a show, and that was before I started blogging for them. I think your opinions are valuable and I know the show appreciates hearing them. Thanks for your support!

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