Valentine’s Day may be the biggest event in the late winter calendar, but what really gets the gardener’s heart going is the chance to be somewhere warm, humid and green. Unless you work in a greenhouse, or you are flying to a tropical destination, there are only two ways to do this: Go to the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens any time of year (the “Night Lights” show is especially exciting this month) or book your dates for a flower show.
You don’t have to be a gardener to go to a flower show. In fact, sometimes the people who aren’t gardeners have the most fun. That’s because they aren’t compulsive about taking notes, scrambling to catch every speaker and determined to memorize every plant name.
Those non-gardeners or light-hearted gardeners just breeze along, snapping pictures or smelling the roses (and hyacinths and narcissus), feeling good in the springlike atmosphere.
Or, like my husband at the Philadelphia Flower Show – produced for 100 years by the wealthy and long-established Pennsylvania Horticultural Society – they walk the show for the overall beauty, a little shopping and then – faster than some of us – enjoy a beer and oysters or knockwurst (or a zillion international delights) at the train station across the street. (Every show has somewhere nearby for sitting and sipping and studying the program. Watching the gardeners with their armloads of treasures is equally diverting.
Seriously, though, if you are a gardener and have never been to a flower show, you are missing social, shopping and educational delights. Our own Plantasia, produced by the Western New York Nursery & Landscape Association, may not be the Philadelphia show in size, scope and displays, but it offers a solid lineup of speakers and demonstrations and there is a lot to learn, free with admission.
Nearly all flower shows have classes, and sometimes nationally prominent speakers and recently published authors.
For the first-timer: Find the speaking schedule online or get one as soon as you arrive, and build your day(s) around the must-see programs. (Unlike other lecture situations, speakers in these shows are mostly not insulted – I can speak for myself among them – if you choose not to stay for the whole talk. We know you have shopping to do, and not every topic is for everybody.)
Second tip: Walk around the whole show once, fast, to decide where to allocate your time. Don’t get bogged down in miniature terrariums when your passion is new annuals or garden design.
The shopping is a pleasure in every garden show. In Plantasia, local garden centers and independent vendors pack the prettiest examples of their product lines and plants into 10-foot spaces, in the hopes you’ll buy now and come to their shops during the season.
In the Toronto, Philadelphia and Southern or West Coast shows, you’ll see national and international products represented – items you might not see at home. Our garden centers send staff to these shows to scout for products they should be carrying; tell your garden center folks what you loved. It’s a lot easier to judge a tool or statue with your own eyes than through a catalog, and to try on flower-decorated Wellies or garden hats in person.
What will you shop for? Beyond garden tools and props, you’ll see hardscape or landscaping products (from pavers to pergolas), some outdoor furniture, gardeners’ clothing, usually books, and always jewelry (because, after all, the majority of garden show visitors are women.)
The plants are the best part of it for some of us, as you can see and take home potted herbs, tropicals, forced bulbs, spring-planted bulbs, and some forced perennials for planting when the weather warms. (You can bare-root some plants from Canada, but in most cases you’d be better off just bringing home ideas.)
So go to the show, to feel spring in the air, or for serious learning and shopping.
Landscape and garden ideas
The biggest features – the reasons for being – of most flower shows or garden and landscape shows are the landscape and garden displays presented by individual landscapers, or collaborating members of landscape associations or horticultural societies. These displays deserve our time and attention. Each landscaper, nursery or plant organization puts many weeks into the planning, forcing plants or acquiring forced plants, designing and then exhausting construction of the spaces. The displays show you landscape designs and miniature scenes, from trees to babbling brooks, fountains and waterfalls.
Not easy. Often they do this for their association, more than for new customers.
Meet and thank the display hosts; use their designs as hints about their styles; see if this is a fit for your own landscape needs. This is a good time to ask questions and interact with garden experts, arborists and CNLPs (Certified Nursery & Landscape Professionals).
• Philadelphia Flower Show (mother of them all) March 2 to 10, www.theflowershow.com.
• Central New York’s CNY in Bloom (landscaping, leisure and more) in Syracuse from Feb. 28 to March 3, www.cnyinbloom.com.
• Canada Blooms in Toronto March 15 to 24, www.canadablooms.com.
• The Garden Artisans Expo in Rochester March 14 to 17, www.gardenartisansexpo.com.
• Plantasia “Backyard Oasis” in the Fairgrounds Event Center and Expo Hall in Hamburg March 20 to 24, www.plantasiany.com.
What about home and garden shows, like the Buffalo Home and Garden Show? (Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, March 8 to 10 and 15 to 17; www.buffalohomeshow.com).
As the name tells you, it’s not primarily a flower show, but organizers are offering some garden speakers and booths, and outdoor living displays and products abound – a large, professional show with many reminders of summer.
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.