Garden installations crammed into windowless domes and convention centers in the middle of winter always feel so desperate to me. Maybe it’s the lighting, which is horrific, especially if you’re trying to take photos. Maybe it’s the predictable collection of plants, which consist of forced bulbs, a few shrubs, and a limited selection of perennials. Maybe it’s how the “plant materials” are generally there for the purpose of accessorizing hardscaping in the form of walkways, retaining walls, fire pits, and grilling areas.
Yes, of course, I have seen exceptional work at these shows, including beautiful stacked stone constructions (shown above), treehouses, and creative reuses of found objects. And, of course, I realize how difficult (and expensive) it is to obtain interesting plants at this time of year. I know that contractors and designers must create these installations on their own dimes. Finally, I realize that midsized garden shows struggle to survive and that you’re lucky if your town has not merged the garden part into a “home and garden” show.
For once, however, I’d like to reimagine the pre-spring garden show. Here’s how:
What should stay:
Vendors: I mostly love the vendors at our local show. Many sell things I need, like lily bulbs, supports, tools, and other accessories. Many sell things I want, like orchids, other gift plants, and plant-themed table linens. We also have a big nonprofit area, for the societies, extension service, and other important groups.
Some shows are allowing in vendors that have nothing to do with gardening, including the predatory face cream hawkers we see at malls. That’s something to keep an eye on.
Flowers: We have a small floral display area; I’d like to see it expand.
Kids play area: of course.
What should change:
The actual garden installations are expensive to do and many fall flat; there is really just so much you can do in the inhospitable spaces and seasonal impossibilities these shows present. Are there alternatives?
- A well-done visual display based on electronic media—video, slides, projections—along with traditional large-scale reproductions could show off the best of a given designer’s work.
- Virtual reality is a reality now. Would it be possible to rent such services for immersive experiences of what dream gardens could look like?
- There could be a competitive process for the designers/companies. Only the best, most interesting installation would be included.
All this said, I am attending all the garden shows in my part of the world this month. They’re the closest I can get to gardening season for weeks to come—indeed, we’re still getting some intermittent snowfall. And I remain thankful these shows are here.