The Best Garden Show of All

Slug traceries — a morning delight in my garden.

I don’t enjoy ranting and would much rather rave — about, for example, the glorious iridescent slug traceries on the pavers of my courtyard this morning. However, that will have to wait for some future date, because today’s topic is home and garden shows.

My tendency has been to dismiss the garden shows unless I am in the market for something particular. If I know I wanted to buy a greenhouse or a hot tub, I’d do it at the garden show to get the substantial discount.

I suppose that, if I wanted to know the latest gardening trends, I might take a peek at the demonstration gardens, where a young and daring landscape designer might have produced a cool structure or used a quirky palette.

Gabions were featured at the recent Northwest Flower and Garden Show. Such a versatile strategy for adding vertical interest! Also easy to do it yourself, inexpensive, and can be dismantled quickly (unlike a rock wall) should you change your mind about it.

Another thing to love about garden shows is, of course, the plants. Weeks or months before they emerge in our own gardens, we get to smell all those forced bulbs (we don’t all have Elizabeth’s way with forcing).

A highlight of my brief foray into the NWFGS was smelling the blooming Edgeworthia chrysantha shrubs and toying with the idea of popping one into my car to watch it fight for its life here in my Zone 5b garden. Luckily for those Edgeworthia, my visit met an untimely end, so they might be snapped up instead by admirers in warmer zones.

Edgeworthia chrysantha, growing in the courtyard at Chanticleer, from the book Hellstrip Gardening.

There are great educational opportunities at some of the garden shows. I learned a lot from Tammi Hartung, who spoke about “Peaceful Ways to Handle Wildlife Challenges” at NWFGS, and wish I’d been able to see more of the talks during that 5-day show.

It is fun to see all the tools on display too. I think a seminar devoted to demonstrating all of them would fill a great need. How does a sickle work, and how does one hold it? What do you use those iron claws for?

What uses, exactly? Surely this would make a fascinating subject for a seminar.

But now we get to the ranting. It’s hard to reconcile the crowded hubbub and stimulation of the garden shows with the refreshing, satisfying, never-too-overwhelming, and mainly solitary activity of gardening. The garden shows promise some of the joys of gardening, but they cannot deliver on that promise because they are not peaceful, they are not soulful, and they are not natural.

There is a place for them, and they have much to offer, but they are disappointing teases, ultimately, because I really would prefer to be in my garden.

My garden, with its barely emerging hyacinths, crocus, early tulips, and narcissus; its cluster of new chive stems, which are just what I want to be grazing on; its half-uncovered pond where I can occasionally glimpse a darting orange fish; its spreading patches of pussytoes, strawberries, sedum, hens and chicks, lime thyme, and bearberry; its reassuring gray-green mounds of lavender, artemisia, and garden sage — for me, it is the show to beat all garden shows.


  1. Well, as a Midwestern denizen, and probably many from the northeast this year, going to even a modest garden show in February is a way to survive intact. We have nothing peeking through the snow any time soon, and more subzero (F) weather on the way! It’s still too early to start most of my seeds, so dashing through the -25 deg wind chill to the Wisconsin Public TV garden expo was a way to keep myself sane…

  2. Well put, Evelyn , I feel the same way , I much prefer my garden. But when in Chicago during the frigid cold winter of March the Flower show was literally a breath of Spring.

    Now that I’m in North Carolina where I can practically garden year ’round the garden shows have lost a lot of their lure for me.

    Although we’re having a bit of winter this week my garden show will soon continue with camellias, violas, daffodils, Siberian squill , Forsythia , Dogwoods, Flowering Apricot, etc. You can have something in bloom every month of the year here and that’s my favorite garden show.

  3. Rant away! And I agree completely. I have a hard time getting excited about convention halls and whatever unattainable pretend gardens have been assembled in them. Susan

  4. Right now, I’d kill to go to a garden show. We used to have one here in Rochester, NY but it went away years back. The best part was always the displays where they forced lilacs into bloom; God, how I miss that! The best option at the moment is the bulb display at the George Eastman House, and I intend to hit that next week.

  5. Ah, the scythe…..Years ago in Tucson, I had no mower, but I could borrow a scythe from the neighbors. I used it to “mow” the lawn. How you hold it varies on your height. Being small I could put one arm straight down a ways on the handle hand), and used the left hand to get the pendulum swing going at the top of the handle. You work on getting a steady swing in front of you going from left to right, and just walk along, following the pace of your swing. It’s not exhausting…you can go at your own pace. Of course, it helps if you have a sharp blade, or blade teeth.

    I discovered, too, that men especially were in awe of a woman swinging a big tool, and none of them ever harrassed me again (at that time I was young and cute) after they saw me out “mowing” the lawn with a scythe. It also has the advantage of being very quiet, and doesn’t cause pollution. I “mowed” my lawn in Tucson with a scythe for over 4 years, until I moved away. It was good, mild exercise, too. I felt like a woman in Van Gogh’s paintings.

    Mary Jane

    • When I was a kid in the 70s & 80s, we used one to mow the front lawn. Mom never had to ask us twice to do it – sometimes we fought over who got to! Once we got a gas mower though, mowing wasn’t as fun, though it was faster. Somehow the time-saving machine made it feel more like a chore.

  6. I agree that the crowds at flower shows make it not much fun, unless you go in the evening when everyone leaves for dinner. However for the 3rd year in a row, 3 friends and I are taking advantage of a heck of a deal offered at the Philadelphia flower show. For $100 (less than the 4 individual entrance fees would be!) we get 1 membership to the PHS sponsor organization, plus 4 tickets for the show that are allowed to enter at 8 am on opening day. This is 3 hours prior to when the general public enters. It isn’t the empty space I imagined, but still really nice compared to the crowds that surge thru the doors at 11.

  7. I used to go to the Philadelphia Garden Show. It’s big, it’s amazing. But the major displays that catch the media’s and crowd’s attention are unrealistic for my yard, and thus not aspirational. I go now only if I need tools or a new concrete turtle, since the vendor market there is incredible. I think the show does much for non-gardeners than gardeners. After all, in this area, the Philadelphia Garden Show marks the date that we can start seeds indoors. That does enough to make me feel spring is coming.

  8. I agree; you have to look hard for inspiration. And the big themes often strike me as more worthy of Busch Gardens, like the can-can dancers in the recent year they ‘did’ Paris. But here in upstate NY, I am really ready for big and amazing, with lots of green. It’s worth the 4 hour drive to see that, and of course I get to spend the weekend with some good friends from when I lived near Philly. And it will be a little warmer than our -4 degrees. A total win-win situation. 🙂

  9. Thank you ALL for ranting! Down here in South Florida, it’s already hot and humid. I forgot how much fun it was Up North, waiting for Spring and the big Mass Hort garden show in Boston. Daffodils popping up out of snowbanks, and cabin-fever. Ahhhh. Those were the days! And, wow, here they are again:
    I love the Seasons (but down here, its Snowbird Season versus f#[email protected]! Season).
    Keep up the great rants! Thanks!

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