Show Business

By knoxred (knoxred) on February 13, 2011

It's... show time!
If you want to know what to grow, don't be fooled by the show! What you can take away from the Home & Garden shows.

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               (2005 Southeast Flower Show - Atlanta, top row,   2011 Dogwood Arts House & Garden Show, bottom row)    


Spring Home & Garden shows are being held all across our winter-weary nation.  Finally!  By this point, gardeners and non-gardeners alike are hungry for some signs of springs and are starting to plan their garden projects for the year.  It's important to remember, though, that display gardens at these shows should not be copied and recreated at home.  Here's why.

Building a display for one of these shows is very involved.  Beyond creating a design, there is finding the materials, forcing early blooms in a greenhouse, transporting all the plants, soil, mulch, stone, banners, displays, literature, etc. to the site.  Exhibitors are assigned a small section of concrete floor, and anything else is pretty much up to them to provide.  There is short set up window, and there are no head starts allowed on disassembling and hauling it away at the end.  Generally there are financial penalties for booths that try to close early.  Plant selection is limited by what can be sourced in the dead of winter and what is possible to transport to the show. With all these constraints, the designer still needs to create a memorable display of color, texture, interesting plants & hardscape in order to bring in design clients.   They have to suspend garden reality in order to accomplish this, so understand what you're seeing.

Take home the idea, not the blueprint.   Plants grow, one of the few problems a display garden doesn't have to address.  A row of loropetalums "planted" side by side in a mountain of mulch on the display floor makes for an impressive mass of color.  The same loropetalums would need to be placed 5 to 10 ft. apart in your landscape, depending on variety.  Also, the row of  Gold Mops false cypress crammed right next to those massed loropetalums look great at the show, but do you know how big they get in the landscape?   If you just copy down the names of the shrubs and make a quick count of how many they used, you're well on your way to a gardening disaster when you try this at home.

Here is what you CAN take away from this display:

1) masses of color make a big impact

2) purple & gold foliage will "pop" when placed together 

3) plants with different textures add a lot of interest to a landscape 

4) evergreen doesn't always mean green 

5) you can achieve color through foliage, not just blooms. 

Often you will see plants and plant combinations that won't work in your yard.  Sure, those tulips looked fantastic with the Mexican sage at the garden show, but in your landscape, the tulips will bloom in the spring and the Mexican sage will start blooming in late summer.  The combination is never going to happen for you.   Or maybe the designer turned to houseplants to fill the display because that's all that was available in February.  (Tropical ferns and orchids were notable examples at the Knoxville show.  We're zone 6/7.) Also, shade plants and sun plants, rock garden plants and bog plants can all co-exist happily for a couple days in a display garden, but will not tolerate the same growing conditions in your garden.   Again, you can't copy the displays verbatim.

What you can learn is which colors, forms, and textures complement each other and what plants are available in your area.  If there are plant tags attached, read them and expand your plant vocabulary.  

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     Allan Armitage - SEFS, Atlanta 2005                    Willow Ridge display garden - Dogwood Arts, Knoxville 2011

Wander the booths and garden displays, check out new products and hardscape options.  Notice different design styles and decide why you like one style over another .  This will help when you are designing your own landscape, with or without professional assistance (get business cards from the designers you like). Attend the free seminars.  By the end of the show, you'll have noticed recurring themes and design trends.

Don't have a show near you?  Enjoy some photos from this weekend's Dogwood Arts House & Garden Show in Knoxville.  http://cubits.org/tngardens/thread/view/50754/ 

Related articles:
Allan Armitage, Atlanta, booth, design, display, Dogwood Arts, exhibit, flower show, garden, garden show, home, home show, idea, Knoxville, landscape, show, Southeast Garden Show

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Comments and discussion:
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Garden shows valleylynn Feb 19, 2011 5:13 AM 15

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"The most serious gardening I do would seem very strange to an onlooker, for it involves hours of walking round in circles,
apparently doing nothing. What I'm doing is forcing myself to evaluate certain areas....
Only during these quiet moments does a good idea suddenly occur."
~ Helen Dillon, Irish garden writer