Hartley Magazine

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A Paean to Flower & Garden Shows

The NW Orchid Society’s display was based on the movie, Encanto. Members contribute their own plants.

When I was six years old, living in a small town in Pennsylvania, the local garden club put on an indoor flower show with display gardens created on the gym floor of the YMCA. I was entranced by the artifice—little picket fences surrounded neat plots of flowers, bordered by sod pathways, and festooned with glass gazing balls. Tiny hand-made felt fairies lurked under arching fern fronds.

Ever since, I’ve been a fan of flower shows, any show, large or small. I just got back from a week at Seattle’s Northwest Flower & Garden Festival. It’s like the circus came to town for everyone who loves plants and nature.

The Grand Victorian Lodge nestled into its garden on the show floor.

Last month I wrote about the Victorian Grand Lodge Hartley-Botanic was bringing to the show as the centerpiece of a display garden. I knew it would be popular. Turns out, the black structure was sold even before it was deftly erected during the two-and-a-half days of show creation. It was situated in the middle of a garden devoted to healing plants—a perfect set up. People lined up to walk through the Grand Lodge. The sense of safe and solid enclosure was often commented on.

The North Hall was loaded with plant choices.

At a time when snow was falling outside, the interior of the Convention Center was bursting with something for everyone. Need to find plants you’ve never seen before? The corner plantings at Little Prince of Oregon’s display garden—they won the People’s Choice Award—had visitors stopping to exclaim over their unusual offerings.

Horticultural entertainment Seattle style – garden authors Kathy Jentz and Mary-Kate Mackey competed to create a winning container design.


Got questions about gardening conundrums? The free lectures were so well attended. And yes, I was a garden speaker at the show this year, but I’m gratefully following in the footsteps of those I’ve seen speaking in the past, presenting the latest and greatest ideas. I’ve learned so much from sitting in darkened rooms watching screens filled with inspiring photos full of possibility.

And there’s more education at the bookstore. University Books had the largest collection of gardening and nature books I’d ever seen. I was honored that my latest book appeared on the shelves.

Shelves were stacked with garden books at the University Book Store’s display.

And so much to buy. Yes, plant vendors galore, and seed sellers, and a whole row of booths featured non-profit organizations you could join—from native plant groups to amateur stone cutters.

Wherever you are in the US, somewhere nearby, a plant show is coming up. Or maybe it’s a home and garden show. It might not be as elaborate as Seattle’s, and perhaps you’ll have to wend your way through offerings of mattresses and brooms, but you can usually find something that will pull on your gardening heart strings.

The show floor of the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival.

Just as your garden and the natural world are at their best when they form a diverse community, so reaching out to folks at these horticultural circuses can help support a broader effort for gardeners to make their place (and the world) better than they found it—and have fun too.