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Monday, February 2, 2015

What I'm Most Looking Forward to at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show opens next week at Seattle's Washington State Convention Center, and I plan to be there for 4 days of it -- on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with a special visit on Tuesday for the Media Preview, which I've attended for the last two years.

Garden bloggers, journalists, and local media folks gather on Tuesday morning as soon as the display gardens have received their finishing touches, to tour each of the gardens and take photos without the pushy hordes of eager convention-goers getting in the way. Occasionally the garden creators are also available to answer questions. Peter The Outlaw Gardener and I will be going into Seattle together to check it out, followed by lunch in town and a couple of (probably madcap) nursery stops in the afternoon. Knowing Peter, he'll try to cram four or five nurseries into that half-day.

The NWFGS has been running since 1989, and is celebrating its 25th birthday this year. You can read the Show's history here. My first visit was in 2009. We had just moved here to the PNW the autumn before, in October, 2008. I remember asking people at the show what these plants were, that looked like they had purple and/or multi-colored Iris foliage, but obviously weren't Irises. They were Phormiums. That was the first of what my fellow PNW bloggers call the Phormium Killing Winters.

Oh, I had so much to learn.

Courtney Goetz's Display Garden, Paradise (to be) Regained, 2011
(a favorite of mine)

When I attended my first NWFGS, we were living in a rental house in northwest Seattle, and I wasn't blogging yet either. I started this blog in the fall of 2009, when we bought and began transforming our current house and garden. I skipped the 2010 show, but I've been to every one since. It didn't take me long to realize that spring in the PNW begins in February. I now think of the NWFGS as Spring's starting gate.

So, what am I most looking forward to next week? Well, of course, the Display Gardens. Every year they've been designed around a theme, which sometimes works, and sometimes....doesn't. Movies? Music? Art? Trying to fit the theme can result in forcing a design to embrace a degree of cheesiness. One of the things I look for in show gardens is ideas to take home to my own garden. When you force the designer to make a garden based on, say, a piece of art, it limits what they can offer. This year the show takes place over Valentine's Day weekend, and so the theme is Romance Blossoms.

I don't expect to see anything in the show gardens that surpasses, or even matches, Riz Reyes's showstopping 2013 garden entitled The Lost Gardener -- A Journey From the Wild to the Cultivated. It was that rare display garden that actually was way better than its cheesy description as Jurassic Park meets King Kong meets Raiders of the Lost Ark (that was the movie-themed year).

The Lost Gardener, 2013

But I have high hopes for Romance Blossoms. Gardens are already romantic, aren't they? How can that go wrong?

You can find a list here of descriptions of the 2015 gardens. As a plantaholic, I have to note how few of them actually mention plants, and how many refer to "plant material" (Ugh!) Overblown descriptions of hardscape, however, are quite prominent. Judging simply by the descriptions in the linked list, the following are the gardens I'm most interested in seeing.

Over the Moon by the Washington chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers will feature white flowers with accents of yellow, apricot and orange, contrasted with shrubs and perennials with maroon foliage. Sounds yummy, but it will be interesting to see how this vision is executed.

Rekindled Rendezvous by McAuliffe's Nursery will spotlight reclaimed materials, such as 120-year-old barn timbers from an historic barn in Snohomish and a portion of the original fa├žade from Seattle’s historic Fox Music Hall. I'm all in favor of re-purposing, so I'd like to see how this designer incorporates these interesting finds.

The Romance of Steampunk by Whitby Landscape and Design embraces steampunk elements of technology, sci-fi and fantasy by incorporating salvaged materials, including a Victorian folly with a domed roof and stained glass windows. I love steampunk design and stained glass so, yes to this.

Pining over Yew by Oliana Gardening touts a rain garden. I'm all in favor of a good, groan-inducing pun. And rain gardens are fun and trendy too.

The interesting features of Step by Step, Side by Side by Treeline Designz that I'm most eager to see are the gabion path and recycled wine bottle garden border. I've Pinned more than a few recycled bottle borders, and I have two bins full of wine bottles destined for that use.

The Washington Park Arboretum Foundation's garden, Picture Yourself on Azalea Way, will have “living dresses”-- dress forms covered in ornamental plants and fabric -- for convention-goers to stand behind and pose. Sounds like fun, I can't wait to get a picture of Peter wearing a living dress! I hope he's game.

I'm often more excited by the gardens featured in the show's Small Space Showcase, where designers make the most of a space that is 8 X 14 feet, than I am by the big gardens. That size creates an intimacy that is missing from the larger display gardens. I also love them because you can get up close and personal with them, and because they are built in the Convention Center's SkyBridge, with its huge windows to let in natural light (making photo-taking much easier). There's a list here of Small Space designers, but unfortunately, no description other than a title. The ones I'm most eager to see are from perennial favorite Ravenna Gardens, the afore-mentioned Riz of RHR Horticulture, and Sorticulture by Vanca Lumsden and Judith Jones, two fun ladies that I met recently at Barbara Sanderson's Christmas party.

Ravenna Gardens' Small Space Showcase Garden, 2013

Ravenna Gardens' Small Space Showcase Garden

On Wednesday, I plan to shop till I drop in the Marketplace. Given the dearth of plant vendors at the recent Tacoma Home and Garden Show, I'll be checking out the booths of Ravenna Gardens, Christianson's Nursery, Branches Garden Center, Dig Nursery, Elandan Gardens, Keeping It Green, Molbak's, Swanson's, Windmill, and Sundquist Nursery. There'll also be several lily, Dahlia, and bulb purveyors, such as B & D Lilies and Peony's Envy. Then of course there are the garden artists such as Barbara Sanderson of Glass Gardens Northwest, flower-themed jewelry creator Botanical Creations, recycled glass vendor Bedrock Industries, and purveyors of metal sculpture such as Blackwaters Metal, and one I'm quite curious about simply because of its name, Release the Flying Monkeys. Check out their website here. There's a full list of all the exhibitors here.

Barbara Sanderson's Glass Art

Carol Rice Dean's funky head planter (I bought tiles from her that hang in my gravel garden)

The first time I saw a spotted Podophyllum, a now much-coveted plant (I think this one is called 'Kaleidoscope')

I don't usually pay close attention to the Floral Competition, but occasionally one does catch my eye. See the list here.  A few years ago Mari Malcolm of Lusher Life created a memorable, award-winning Small Space Showcase garden, and this year she's in the floral competition, so I've got to check out her entry.  Here's a link to her company website.

The show is introducing a brand new feature this year -- Garden Wars It's a live-action event starting every day of the show at 1 p.m., inspired by reality-based competition shows on TV. Basically, two teams of two novice gardeners, mentored by a local garden pro, will design and install a garden in two hours. The show, hosted by Joe Lamp'l of the TV show Growing a Greener World, will benefit local charities. Apparently they've done a mock run-through of this. How I would have liked being a fly on the wall for that! I watch a lot of skill-based reality competition shows, such as Top Chef and Chopped, and two from England that I've recently discovered, The Big Allotment Challenge, and the Great British Bake-off.  Here's a link to more information about the NWFGS's Garden Wars.

Another big benefit of attending the NWFGS is the Seminars -- more than 100 of them over the course of 5 days. There's a huge roster of classes, talks, and panel discussions each day. I often intend to see more of these than I actually get to. Once I'm at the show wandering around, it's easy to lose track of time. On Thursday, I'd like to catch either Beyond Plants: Art in the Garden by Lucy Hardiman or It Would Be Better With Vampires: Adding Drama to the Garden by Susan Morrison. How frustrating that they're on at the same time. I'd also like to see the presentation Native Plants Are Cool by Sean Hogan, co-owner of Cistus Nursery in Portland, but it's at 5:45, kind of late. I can always catch his second presentation on Friday afternoon, Plants So Amazing, You'll Think We're Making Them Up! On Friday I also might catch Rochelle Greayer's talk called Express Yourself: Cultivating Garden Style. I can always benefit from a lesson in style, since I have none. (Unless dumpy is a style. Do you think dumpy can be a garden style too?) You can find out lots more here about the seminar schedule and presenters.

Finally, I am planning to make it to the early morning (7:30 a.m.!) Thursday Tweetup. I joined Twitter two years ago just to go to this, and have planned to attend for the last two years, but haven't made it yet. 2015 is the year! One good thing about the Tweetup is that we get to see the show gardens before the show opens for the day and without the theatrical lighting, making picture-taking easier. But the absolute best thing about the Tweetup is that I'll be meeting blogger friends there -- Peter, of course, as well as Portland bloggers Loree of Danger Garden, Ann of An Amateur Bot-ANN-ist, and Jane of MulchMaid. Oh, they give away a cool swag bag, too! 

I'm going to have a busy, but fun week. Can't wait!


  1. It all sounds very exciting and I'm looking forward to your report and photos of the event!

  2. Have a good time! I'm looking forward to your upcoming posts about the show. Also, Kathryn would thank you for the shout out!

  3. Following you and Peter with a cup of coffee in my hand I feel I get the very best of the garden show with none of the fatigue. The conversations leading up to actually getting to the show are an added treat. Be safe, stay well, enjoy and take lots and lots of photos to carry us through the rest of winter.

  4. Best EVER pre-post on the NWFGS, Alison! You should be writing for a much bigger audience: now you've got me even more excited to be there. See you bright and early on Thursday!

  5. And I thought I was excited to go to the show BEFORE I read this! You've got me wanting to drive up today and camp out at the door. See you Thursday morning!

  6. I just read all the garden descriptions, something I hadn't bothered to do before. Augh!!! Seriously, "plant material" how could they? This is why Riz's garden was such a breath of fresh air, thank you for highlighting it.

  7. This list will help you focus so have fun and I look forward to your reports.

  8. I think that as with all these shows, how each garden designer translate the subject/topic can be a bit of a hit or a miss. Chelsea being one of them but if we can take a little bit of inspiration from somewhere, the trip has been worth while.
    Romance Blossoms - as you say, what can go wrong?
    You are going to have a great time and I so look forward to reading all about your trip Alison. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! Oh, and buy some plants :)

  9. Can't wait to read your reviews. It looks like it will be a great year.

  10. Almost 2 months to go before our SF show..and still have to decide on one day or two..our show sure went through some rough times and the road back has been slow. I was optimistic after last year . I would not want to miss this rite of spring.

  11. Wow! You really DO the show! We have been going since the very first one, having only missed two years. We're going on Wednesday, the one day we are free to spend the whole day. We'll be there at opening, and close it down. We always start with the display gardens, then work our way through the market place and the other displays and the plant sale areas, and after dinner we walk back through the display gardens when the crowds have gone home. We usually take in one or two seminars. I need to study my show booklet to see what we want to attend.
    Great post, Allison.

  12. I am SOOO envious. We don't have anything nearly equivalent nearby. I look forward to your posts - don't hold back on the photos! Next year maybe I can convince my husband that we must visit his brother on Vashon in February.

  13. Great post, Alison! Seeing our blogging friends has become the highlight of the show for me, too! Unfortunately on the day of the preview/lunch, I have to be back in town to teach an evening class so our nursery visits will have to be limited to only ten or so...

  14. I am looking forward to seeing what wonderful things you find there....

  15. Hi Alison! Thank you!!!
    This will be the first time when I go there on Saturday. We always go in the very beginning. Well, I hope the plants won't be absolutely wilted by that time! I also hope you'll leave some plants for me to buy!!!
    Have a great time and say Hello to the fellow bloggers.

  16. Alison - this post is a fantastic overview of the show! Thank you so much! I didn't think I was going to, but then Laura and I decided that maybe we could head up Thursday, if only I could take off from work. So, when I asked Gina and William if it was okay that I didn't show up that day, they decided they wanted to go too, so now all four of us are driving up together. Would love to meet up somewhere!

  17. I just discovered this post, so I'm a little late to the party, but thank you so much for sharing! I'm honored that you featured my 2011 garden. It makes me miss designing at the Show.
    I hope you can make it to the TweetUp next year... you were definitely missed!


Gardening is a solitary activity. But blogging about it is a social phenomenon! I don't make money from my blog by advertising, or use it to drive customers to a business. If you liked my post, or my writing or photography, or even just one picture or turn of phrase, I'd love to hear from you. That's how I get paid.