Next week, it is time for the Northwest Flower and Garden show in Seattle again. That means it took me a year to write this post. I apologize. In all honesty, I had a hard time with it, as I wasn’t all that excited about it. I have spent the year battling not so positive thoughts about it, and trying to analyze why it didn’t make me more excited. My dear, wise grandfather taught me to always add “I think”, when voicing my opinion. This is a great policy (I think 😉 ), because it respectfully acknowledges the distinct possibility that others might disagree with you. Which is okay. I still have no answers worthy of carving into stone, but here goes; My time of ponderance is up!
View toward the Puget Sound from the Washington Convention Center – home of the NWFGS.
While it’s always a fun treat to go to garden shows, I’d go out on a limb here to say that they aren’t always that memorable. Did I see beautiful things in Seattle? You bet. Was I inspired by fabulous, imaginative creations? Sure, at least a couple of times. Did I get my socks knocked off? Well, there was this one deck… which I will dwell more on later. There were definitely a few memorable highlights – for me, about a handful.
The theme for 2016 was “America the Beautiful” – celebrating the US National Parks. This was one of my favorite displays – mostly because of how it manipulated scale. Its creators managed to create a miniature naturalistic representation of a massive land form using basalt pillars, completing the picture with blue drifts of crocus and iris, receding and leading your eye into the composition. Using a limited plant palette an rock against a photographic backdrop of sky, they managed to convey the majestic power of one of our most treasured environments.
I also appreciated the display’s slatted enclosure. The cut wood slabs that framed the entrance were magnificient!
Closeup of one of the Grand Teuton wood slabs.
This was another one I liked – a camp site set up in a desert.
There was a little of the Wild West over it – with modern conveniences, of course.
I remember being quite surprised that it didn’t win a higher award than it did. One of the designers explained to me that it didn’t fill the criteria of having enough blooms. I suppose it is a “…Flower and Garden Show”, but still…. To my mind, it was far better than many of the other, higher ranked display gardens.
The one thing that was my absolute favorite highlight of NWFGS was this deck. I LOVED how the contours of the planks had been allowed to fit into each other. So unique and beautiful!
What I didn’t like was this scalloped rendition of Adirondack chairs adorning this fabulous deck. What a letdown… This fascination with Adirondacks in any and every iteration always irks me – it’s like they are the only kind of furniture imaginable in American gardens – be they wood or plastic. You’d think at a garden show, perspectives would widen a little…
…but no. Let’s put one in every display. They come in so many colors…! (Sorry for the snark, but… really?!)
Considering the buzz of irrefutable greatness that surrounds the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, and its reputation as a regional heavyweight in its genre, I wondered if there was something wrong with my lukewarm reaction. It’s a good thing I had a while to think about this, before writing this post. I pondered whether it might be because, in my line of work, I am trained to apply a critical eye. This is what I do. A critical assessment is what people expect from me, and pay me for. This is not to say that I set out with the intention to find faults in the work of others at an event like this. Far from it. I usually dive in with eyes wide open and an equally open mind, with great expectations of getting inspired, and of learning of something new and exciting.
So, the feeling of “mostly meh” that prevailed after our visit needed to be explored and examined. Why was I so unmoved? Is it a plant thing? For a while, I thought it might have to do with the fact that the show is in February, and that you are met with an ocean of flowering spring bulbs, mixed with baby renditions of much larger plants, that would never actually function together for more than one season? At first sight, the plant textures and colors look fabulous together, but as any decent gardener knows, it would never truly work in an actual garden. But, no – I don’t think that’s it. I think some textured bravado is probably both allowed and encouraged at a garden show. Even though – as read on the Frustrated Gardener’s blog – the comparative diverse display gardens of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (which takes place at the end of May) – made me wish for a more accurate representation of actual plant behavior. I marveled at Dan’s tales of the designers who had grown seeds they had collected themselves in far-away, exotic places, and at the admirable timing and skill behind the accomplishments to make them bloom for those exact few days when they needed to be at their best. Perhaps at the height of spring it is easier to achieve such things? I don’t know, but I can’t help thinking of bulbs as floral one-hit wonders. Don’t get me wrong – I do love them, and have gobs of them in my own garden – but by the time they’re done, you can’t wait for them to go away. In February, I bet they are the hands-down easiest solution. Maybe that’s my problem – I don’t want to travel this far to see ‘easy’.
Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs…
… and more bulbs.
This one I really liked – Cyclamen and Fritillarias – and some rock for them to stand out against.
Maybe my issue is with the concept. A show garden is a concept thing. I don’t think there is really a requirement for it to work in reality, but it does need to represent an idea. Some garden shows make each participant create an interpretation of an overarching theme they need to adhere to. Seattle’s is one of those shows. As mentioned, the theme here was “America the Beautiful”. The year before, it was “Romance Blossoms”, which was positively overbearing in its pink- and redness. Kind of sappy too – it reminded me of this girl in my sophomore architecture studio, who when asked, answered that her concept was “cozy”. Okay then…
In other types of shows – like the Chelsea – each show garden has a sponsor, and its own concept – which obviously makes for a greater variety. Perhaps the idea of outside, corporate sponsorships is a key to my puzzle. Judging from the scale, originality, and level of detailing of the Chelsea gardens, there is A LOT more money involved, and last year’s themes ranged from math to geological processes, to political and environmental statements. This year’s NWFGS theme is “Taste of Spring”, with tangents of Urban Farming, from Farm to Table, and Sustainability. This might be interesting, and I’m prepared to be surprised. Without a framework of non-edibles, it is difficult to make edible gardens visually interesting for other than a short period of time. Or, at least I don’t know how. I hope to learn a few inspiring tricks. After all, Urban Farming is one persistent trend, and one that I struggle to find interesting.
Both years I have visited this show, it’s been the marketplace part of it that I’ve found most fun. The Pacific Northwest has lots of glass artists. Although I don’t have any in my garden, I think it’s fun to see the plethora of booths featuring the shiny, colorful, amorphous creations.
There were tons of other arts too, and of course plant vendors – hooray! Among the vendors was a display from Butchart Gardens, BC. I would love to visit them some time. Their displays are always feature some of the more interesting plant combinations at this show – at least I think so.
This year, they had a Zebra as part of their composition.
I was delighted to see one of my faves in there – Stachyrus salicifolia!
The orchid display is always wonderful, but terribly hard to photograph!
The garden art is always fun to admire. Lots to choose from, should you be so inclined!
All seen and done – when it really comes down to it, the opportunity to hang out with friends for a day or two of garden revelry is truly what makes this memorable. This year, we are missing Tamara, but William and Gina will be there. And just about all my other blogger friends too. It will be lots of fun – of that, I have no doubt!