A Flower Show at the End of the World


    Enjoy a photo-travelogue by our guest Rob Cardillo!


    This past October, I was lucky enough to attend Japan’s fourth annual Gardening World Cup set in Huis Ten Bosch  –  a slightly surreal, Dutch-inspired theme park complete with canals, windmills and stroopwafels.   Invited by the sponsors to come see one of the lesser known flower shows, I packed my camera bags with little idea of what to expect of this cultural mash-up.


    Getting there wasn’t easy. After the long trans-Pacific flight to Tokyo, I faced another two-hour flight, plus a lengthy train ride to get to the southern end of the country.  After 22 hours of travel, I limped into the Hotel Europe, one of several elegant hotels within the park, with a broken suitcase wheel and a desperate need for a shower.


    In the morning, I found hives of workers assembling  displays on the grounds of the Palace, a faithful recreation of one of Holland’s official royal homes.  Sixteen designers had been chosen for this year’s exhibit — six from Japan, two each from New Zealand and South Korea and one each from England, France, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa.  The lone U.S. designer was Michael Petrie, a veteran of many Philadelphia Flower Shows.


    Local contractors began building the basic structures days before the designers arrived.  Once there,  Michael quickly scooped up plants at nearby nurseries and fine-tuned his installation, assisted by  his crew and Yoko Jacobson Noguchi, an excellent translator.


    Despite typhoon-fueled rains and eleventh-hour improvisations, everything was on time for judging.   This year’s judges (from left,  French designer Pascal Garbe, Drew Becher from PA Horticultural Society and RHS’s Bob Sweet), along with note-takers and umbrella-holders, questioned each designer and then sent them off while they discussed their creations.  “A Prayer for World Peace through Gardens and Flowers” was this year’s theme — fitting for this green oasis so near Nagasaki.


    This Best in Show for the larger Show Garden Division went to the Singapore duo of John Tan and Raymond Toh.  Here they are accepting the award from Hideo Sawada, CEO of HTB, at an elaborately staged event complete with orchestral fanfares much like a Hollywood award show.


    Their exhibit, “Timeless Tropical – Peace with Nature”, featured a rusted metal pathway and fence posts leading to a petal-like seating pavilion within lush sweeps of orchids, peace lilies  and sansiveria.


    Leon Kluge of South Africa took Best in Show in the smaller Home Garden Division.  He’s shown here sharing the honor with his construction foreman and family.


    Leon’s conceptual exhibit “Breaking Free” depicted the time period shortly before the release of Nelson Mandela.  A prison desk, journal and leg chains contrasted nicely with the iconic freedom posters.


    A red-carpet gala followed, filled with black ties, kimonos and exquisitely prepared foods.  As my Japanese is limited to three words, I can only guess what I ate that night.


    A Las Vegas-styled female Elvis was part of the evening’s entertainment.


    And a thumping fireworks and laser show capped the evening.


    The public arrived the following morning and filled the grounds by noon.


    Like all flower shows, the paths are lined with offerings of plants, garden accessories and street food.


    A comic speed gardening event was a crowd-pleaser.  Here French designer James Basson chased after Leon Kluge for stealing plants from his side of the arena.


    And Bayley LuuTomes from NZ posed as a spurting fountain in his completed tableau.


    With or without the GWC, Huis Ten Busch is a worthy destination.  Like much of Japanese culture, it seems quite western…until it isn’t.  By day, there are  several world-class art museums to tour and you’ll find excellent live musical acts scattered through the park.


    But at night,  the place lights up like a birthday cake with laser shows, mazes, a Ferris wheel, horror rides and haunted castles.


    A nightly motorized parade snaked through the park featuring mythical creatures.  This relative of the Pillsbury Dough Boy conducted the marching singers.


    While illuminated flower girls passed out candy to the kids.


    A few of us traveled to Nagasaki for a day, mostly to see the Atomic Bomb Museum.  It’s a sobering  mix of what physically happened to that city in 1945, along with heart-wrenching stories of those who survived.


    We also managed a few hours in nearby Sasebo, where editor James Baggett made friends with the local canines.  Look for a more complete story of the GWC in an upcoming Country Gardens magazine.

    Rob Cardillo has been pointing his lens at green things for over half his life.  He has a bunch of new projects on the stove — a second book on Chanticleer, two plant combination cookbooks with perennial legend Nancy Ondra and an abstract botanical print show, “Deep in the Weeds” at Philadelphia’s Morris Arboretum running until the end of December.


    1. Loved this! When I saw mention of “Gardening World Cup” – in Japan! – I had to know more, and your report was terrific.
      Soo, do they ever invite bloggers?????

      Also, I’m not surprised James made friends with the local canines – I saw him do that in Columbus. You guys must have had SO much fun and I’m SO jealous!

      • Thanks, Susan. James and I indeed had much fun popping around Japan. And I’m sure we unknowingly violated many customs along the way. Will let you know if bloggers are added to the media mix next year…..


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