A world of meh (with notable exceptions): the midsize garden show

I did like this stacked stone circle from last year’s Plantasia.

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.

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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 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 yahoo.com


  1. I’ve never attended a garden-only garden show. I’d like to. I have attended Austin’s Home and Garden Show and learned back then (1999/2000) that I was paying to get inside only to be advertised to.–Maybe it’s changed since I went, but I never went back.

  2. Our Gardenscape show here in Rochester was last weekend. A couple years ago, the local Landscapers Association revived it after an absence of several years. The landscapes were actually quite well done, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. My complaint was the vendor area. I think there were 2 selling garden tools, 1 selling seeds and 3 or 4 plant/cut flower vendors. Every one of the remaining vendors sold home improvement and totally unrelated junk. I don’t get it. Long ago, there were only a handful of junk vendors – all the rest was garden/plant related. My friend and I got about halfway through the vendors and gave up. It kind of spoiled the rest of the show experience.

    • Yes, I attended Gardenscapes and thought pretty much the same. Though I feel my comments about the landscapes here apply to Gardenscapes and just about any other show. But the vendors were ridiculous. There were 2 or 3 lotion people who would reach out for you as you went by.

  3. Elizabeth, we may live on opposite sides of the country, but I have to agree with ‘meh’. I doubt that the show organizers would have enough designers submitting for a competitive position in providing a garden, but let’s say they did. What they would need is to pay more for having each design installed. They should have qualified and vetted contractors to pair with each selected designer. They should begin the process very early in order to give designers the most creative license in forcing plants (because we do want to see a spray of roses in March). They should do a better job of lighting. Much of that lighting just fries young bulbs. They should be more open to landscape organizations versus individual designers, because that allows design and implementation time to be spread out among more people. I wish I could suggest a way to get beyond ‘meh’, but I’m also seeing this level in other design competitions. There needs to be a vetted level of design – perhaps similar to Chaumont Festival? People want to see new ideas, not the same old stuff. I could go on…

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