Will they stay or will they go? Do we care?



From the 2009 Canada Blooms

When we were discussing the demise of the New England Flower Show, a commenter said, “Is it possible, at least, that from the ashes of these expensive, corporately-sponsored shows a more “authentic” kind of show can be born?” (I love our eloquent readers!) In answer to that question: apparently not. At least not in the case of the New England show.

According to the Boston Globe (which may soon itself be defunct, according to what I’ve been hearing), there will be a “new” New England Flower Show on March 24-28, 2010, but it will be run “more like a trade show” by the same group that runs the New England Auto Show. (Hmm, auto shows aren’t doing that well either. Are we sensing a pattern here?) Some individual members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society will be involved, but the group is not officially participating. There is disgruntlement.

Go ahead and read the article (linked above) to get more of the story. I honestly don’t care much about whether these big shows survive. I had a brief flirtation with them, but have recently concluded that they’re just not that interesting; I can get much better cold weather gardening kicks by visiting indoor botanical gardens. And after the marvelous tour of Chicago’s public (and a couple private) gardens with fellow gardeners last weekend, I know exactly what kind of gardening road trip is the most fun.

That being said, it is kind of disturbing to contemplate all these things ending. I am glad that horticultural businesses can benefit from whichever of these shows survive, and if they can’t survive, than maybe our idealistic reader’s dream can come true, and the businesses can gain from a new, more relevant flower show model.

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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. After attending the Philly Flower Show for the first time this spring, I can attest I will not return to one.
    It was silly, the whole affair -gadgets and doodads in one corner and in the other corner local landscape firm designed them yards. All about product, little noteworthy.

    Although it still operates as a pageant for the coming of springtime-that is a necessary function, but can probably be attached to more relevant or interesting content- or just make it a spring parade.

  2. With big shows losing the corporate sponsor dollars they WILL Need to adjust or die. But no reason to think they cannot — many of their board members and leaders are just like you and me – dirt-in-the-nails gardeners who go into their positions for the love of growing and I, for one, want to see them succeed.

  3. I have only been to my local shows, but haven’t liked the big show since they moved to the megasite some years back. As the show grew, the old volunteer base wasn’t capable of staging it and the show lost it’s local flavor. Other than the occasional good display or vendor, I don’t take much away from it now other than sore feet and backache from walking miles of concrete floors and a headache from the intense overhead lighting and the shapr smell of the mulch. I’ll take an icy day in the nurseries and botanical gardens any old winter/early spring day. Aah! Fresh air. No crowds. No wildly impossible displays. The sound of the wind and the birds. Wonderful.

  4. Each year, come early spring I enjoy braving the crowds to view new innovative garden design work, new plants and cool new building materials as well as cruise the aisles of dozens of hot horticultural nurseries that are all under one roof.

    Life is too short . I happily appreciate the opportunity to attend an inspirational and fun garden show , whether it was underwritten by a corporate sponsor or not .
    To me, the alternative , ( no show at all ) is a lot worse.
    Seize the day. Be inspired. Have fun. See something new.


  5. I attend the Phila. Flower Show every year. Mostly to meet and greet friends and family. This year I took a lot of pics because the displays were extremely interesting. It never moves me to buy. The free ticket is just a small bonus for belonging to PHS. I would not miss this extravaganza.

  6. Genuine gardening has always been mostly about the plants, but the modern garden shows are mostly about design. The problem with is that most gardeners can neither afford the whiz bang show designs, and most don’t actually give two hoots whether they create a stunningly designed garden or not.

    Real gardeners love the process of working with plants, soil and seasons. Nothing more or less, and if garden shows are to survive, they have to get real. Design should never be the main event. Personally, I’ll take a plant fair over the Chelsea Flower Show any day of the week.

  7. Well, I do think designers see stuff that we don’t notice; my landscape architect friend gets all kinds of interesting stuff out of Canada Blooms that I don’t.

    I guess the designer vs. gardener discussion will always be with us, but I must say that I love getting input from my friend.

  8. To Frank who gardens in New York and asks, ‘what’s new ? ‘
    I didn’t attend the Philly show this past year but attended the San Francisco show.
    Lots , with a capitol ‘L’ , of new horticultural introductions making their debut. From Agave attenuatta Raea’s Gold to Leucospermum ‘Flame Giant’.
    There were at least 3 dozen new plant introductions from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Germany and the U.S.

    There were cool new sustainable ideas too.
    Like the new light weight recycled concrete pavers with a super low carbon footprint along with the cool looking recycled glass and concrete planter containers.

    Some neat new water saving pressure compensating irrigation emitters and drip line as well as some nice new comfortable gardens tools with spongy hand grips for those who have disability challenges.

    I was particularly taken with the living walls and living roofs designs. A couple of the living walls used vegetables, fruits and herbs in their vignettes.
    Quite creative !

    I can’t disagree more with Justin and his comment that ‘Design should never be the main event’.
    Ask any garden show director what the main draw to any highly attended garden show is and they will tell you, ‘it’s the show gardens’.
    Tens of thousands of people ( most of them ‘genuine gardeners’ ) do not flock to Floriade , a garden show that occurs once every 10 years in Amsterdam, for just the plant vendors.
    They go to see the art and culture of the designed gardens from all over the world.
    Take the design criteria out of the garden show , or in our daily life for that matter and you are left with some poorly thought out solutions ( after all design is all about problem solving ) and you’re left with an artless society.

  9. Count me as one who doesn’t care. Let there be real garden shows during the real garden season.

  10. Michelle D.,
    I’m not saying that garden shows – or backyards – should be design wastelands. Without any design gardens would indeed be artless, but design should play the supporting role, rather than the lead. Outdoor decorating has had its time in the spotlight. Now bring on the plants.

    Of all the gardens I’ve visited over the years, the very best reflect the personality and passions of the owner/s. More often than not, those passions are for plants, not paving.

  11. I agree with Michelle D. and offer that we don’t get it here. Instead of corporate sponsors for the shows, perhaps we should look at the grand dame of all flower shows…Chelsea. Huge corporations there sponsor the individual gardens and the RHS runs the show. Mounting a flower show garden is a big financial commitment and maybe, just maybe corporate sponsorship of garden design might just elevate its value in the public’s eye.

  12. The Capital District GArden Show in Albany is an example of a home improvement show disguised as a garden show.

    However the proceeds benefit a worthwhile non-profit.

    Smaller garden shows with real seminars from local garden professionals would be the roots of a real garden event instead of a “show”

    The TROLL

  13. I agree with Michelle that design is the key function of any garden show — any show at all, in fact. To have just stall after stall of vendors, even with the latest and most beautiful plants, would not be interesting at all. Most of us though can gain from seeing those plants incorporated into a beautiful setting even though we might not be able to afford the surrounding stonework and “hardscape”. We can take away ideas of how to use the plants, how to mass them, how to display them, and how to provide for their needs.

    I was lucky enough to attend the Floriade in Antwerp once, and it was indeed fabulous and worth waiting for.

  14. Maybe it is time to consider a U. S. ‘Chelsea’ show. There is nothing in this country like the Chelsea Flower Show which incorporates all facets of horticulture from design through gadgets. If I win the mega lottery, I will give it a go but for now, the regional flower shows are really not for those of us who are already gardening. They are for those who can’t, won’t or haven’t and just enjoy the displays. They promote gardening to those who don’t and I think that is of great value.

  15. For the last couple of years I have headed north to Philadelphia to work at that flower show. My only complaints about it is that there aren’t enough places to sit down and that it is too dark for a normal person with a point-n-shoot camera to get a decent picture. I like the way they segregate the different parts of the show so that if you don’t care about floral design you can just skip that corner. To me it is like a gallery of cutting edge efforts from some very talented people. Not a lot of it applies to what I want to do in my yard but it is still impressive. It could be improved if the vendors were more plant focused and if the nursery industry showcased their latest and greatest – which they do over in the design area but I would like to get up close and personal with the specimen. Too many of the vendors are selling low-end-import-junk or extremely expensive one-of-a-kind items. It’s not fair for me to call growing lucky bamboo “not gardening”, but I would rather only see one or two booths selling it at a garden show and more booths selling hard to find plants.

  16. I’m not sure what people are talking about here. In Mpls we have ‘home and garden’ shows–is that what you mean? I never took the ‘garden’ part seriously; who could given where they are held?

    The museum does an Arts in Bloom even in the spring that is fabulous though!!

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