Seen at the garden show


Tis the season. Indeed, many of you have already attended or ignored your local home & garden/garden-only exhibitions, which are timed to capture the attention of property owners as winter fades. Our show happened this past weekend. I used to look forward to this when I was first starting out as a gardener. Now I mainly go to find things to mock. That’s sad, isn’t it? Nonetheless, it was fun to see the plants and smell the mulch. I also bought some lily bulbs.  Here’s what I noticed, good and bad:

veggiesWIN: Food garden promotion. However this is done, it is important that there be some mention of food growing in the commercial garden show context. I was encouraged to a large display from a local horticultural program focusing attention on vegetables and herbs rather than patio paving and outdoor TVs.

bugsFAIL: Really? An extermination company using a picture of a BEE? Seriously? I have no words.

beerWIN: Too bad the bottles are all empty. So you know, the theme of this year’s show was “partying in the garden.” I don’t think you need grills the size of Buicks, expensive furniture, or firepits for a great garden party. A bucket of beer gets the job done just fine.

borerFAIL: Enough with the scare tactics. This year, it’s the borer; next year, there’ll be another bug. Education on biodiversity in all planting is what’s really needed.

kidsWIN: Stuff for kids. I didn’t see too much garden content in this children’s garden, but it looked fun, and—again—it’s all about the context. Kids need to associate gardening with fun.

fountainFAIL: Maybe it’s just me, but I think water features should be about the sight and sound of water flowing, not  monoliths that look like they escaped from Disney Stonehenge.

How about your garden show? Anything that rose above the flagstones?

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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. You know what that giant fountain reminds me of? Those new “flickering flame” LED pillar candles that were selling at Christmas! It’s always nice to have a reminder of how to define the word “kitsch”. Here in Rochester, we no longer have our Gardenscape show; just as well, since it devolved into a mess of uninspired landscapes and “As Seen On TV” crap in the vendor area (most of which had no relation to gardening whatsoever). Sad to say, I don’t really miss it.

  2. I used to go to this garden show. But $10 to get in for what is really a commercial show and few garden displays turned me off.

    Big garden centers in Albany? Except for Hewitt’s with it’s 7 or 8 rundown locations there are no large garden centers left in the Capital Region of Upstate NY.

    Albany, and its’ surrounding area, is a BIG GOVERNMENT and INSTITUTIONAL TOWN.

    When translated to shopping = BIG BOX HEAVEN.

    The residents of this area are all big on local and organic when flapping their jaws but when it comes to flipping open their wallets it’s BIG BOX BABY all the way.


  3. Actually, the herbs and veggies (and beer) were part of the fiesta display garden created by the Niagara County Community College Horticulture Program and the McKinley Adult Education Horticulture program. We agree, edibles should be an integral part to the gardening conversation.

  4. This is a family blog, so I won’t tell you what the giant garden fountain reminded me of, but suffice to say nothing like that will be making its way into my garden in the near/medium/long term/ever future. Thanks for the chuckle.

  5. The one in SF went all out on seminar presentations this year. Tons of talks on edibles and natives for a change! But they didn’t get them posted on the website with enough advance notice. Such interesting content that I wished I’d planned to attend all 5 days. I didn’t spend much time looking at the commercial stuff, since I’d spent such a big chunk on the outrageous parking fee.

  6. Chicago was $19 to get in plus $19 for parking. Rather expensive for the average family. Good veggie representation with the Peterson Garden Project (Fearless Food), though the vegetable garden in the tower of old filing cabinets was way more artistic than practical. It seems that the real issue is finding an identity for these shows. Are they education, art, sales, horticultural, or all and more. As with anything that tries to appeal to all, it can be a mixed review.

    • Wow! And I thought $12 was high (it was $8 the last time I drove there; I’ve also taken the train to avoid driving and parking), though I do live rather close to the edge. I haven’t paid an entry fee for years. Most years I volunteer at a booth for 2-3 hours, which means I get in for free and get to spend the rest of the time at the show. For a few years, a local nursery sold tickets and offered the full value of the ticket in merchandise after the show: so you pay $16 for the ticket, go to the show, and go back to the nursery after the show to redeem your ticket for $16 worth of plants etc. This year they stopped doing that. Instead, they offered a discount.

      The SF show also offered a 5-day ticket for $30, which might be worth it if I could spare the time away from my gardens and if I didn’t have to pay for parking. I talked to someone who did go all 5 days and got there 2 hours before it opened to find a parking spot on the street nearby.

  7. “Disney Stonehenge” Bwahahaha!

    Yeah, the local site for big shows (gun shows, rodeos, banquets, etc.) is only a kilometer from my house, but the last “home and garden” show Mrs. Kermit and I went to was more home than garden. $5000 hot tubs, gourmet kitchen rebuilding, fireplaces, etc. Most of the plants were in landscape designer displays.

    On the plus side, Tri-Cities WA, with about 250,000 people, has four top notch nursery/garden centers and another one 30 miles down the road in the next town. So we save our money for actual plants and other essentials.

  8. I went to the two shows in Portland OR. Gleaned a few ideas but truthfully what I pay for entrance fee and parking I could buy some plants at my fav nursery. I think I’d rather pay for “open garden” events and see some real gardens.

  9. I live in SW Ohio and the Emerald Ash Borer has been rampant. Our neighborhood looks like the “after” photo. A beautiful nature preserve nearby and a state park a few miles away have removed over 20,000 dead ash trees from their lands, leaving another 5000 in place for habitat.. Driving along the local freeways, whole hillsides are covered in dead trees. The Ohio DNR estimates 40% of Ohio’s trees are in the Ash family and it is easy to see the accuracy of their estimate on any summer day. It’s heartbreaking. We are all hoping the long and unusually cold winter will slow their progress.

    • This is truly tragic–and affects vast ecosystems.

      I do have to say that I must respectfully disagree with the proposition that raising EAB awareness is a scare tactic/fad, and that mixing up plantings is all we need. Let’s not forget Dutch Elm Disease and Chestnut Blight–diseases that affected not only intentional plantings but entire forest systems. EAB is here. Beech Bark Disease is here. As gardeners, as citizen scientists, as humans who ourselves live within the rules and impacts of ecosystems, we should be aware. We should take note when our street trees die en masse like in the picture here. We should notice those naked summer hillsides. And we should allow ourselves to be scared.

      • Also with respect, I do realize that these insects and diseases can do a lot of damage. Indeed, Buffalo was devastated by Dutch Elm. I have also seen the opportunism of companies who offer unnecessary and expensive treatments for this and other problems that have received significant publicity.

        Increasing species diversity is considered by many scientists to be by far the most important action in the near term, so I didn’t think I was being frivolous by suggesting it.

  10. After the horrible winter we had, I decided at the last moment to go to Canada Blooms. After a couple hour drive and paying $20 for parking which was a 20 minute walk away from the show, and $20 to get in…’s an expensive day. The show was terrible. They paired it with the Home show a couple years ago, so now the plants have to make it much longer before. Last year I went on the last day and nearly all the plants were dead in the displays. This year I was there on the second day, the plants were alive but not very diversified. When the show first started years ago they made the effort to force different trees and flowers to bloom. Now it is sparse and boring. Many of the Landscape designer firms don’t put gardens in any more. It just didn’t pay off for them. The marketplace was dismal… lots of junky stuff, a couple good booths, but not many. I usually really enjoy the actual Flower competition, but even it fell flat this year for me. Remind me not to waste my time and money next year.

    • I have been to CB a few times Lisa, and the main thing I love is their flower show. It is the closest one I can get to. Otherwise, meh. Better than our small one (CB is a BIG show) but not that great, considering all the ballyhoo it gets. Also, I can’t really buy anything, so there’s that.


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