I was able to spend 4 leisurely hours at the Boston Flower & Garden Show (theme: “Nurtured by Nature”) this year — 1.5 in the morning, lovely lunch at the Legal Seafood Test Kitchen restaurant nearby, 2.5 hours in the afternoon. The show was much the same as last year, with a giant vendor/cafe area and 12 or so major landscape or feature displays in the center, most by the same exhibitors as last year (though my favourite from last year, Magma, wasn’t there).
Again, I wasn’t hit with inspiration to do (or buy) anything new or different after looking at the show’s displays. I did attend two lectures, one by Liquid Landscape Designs on water gardens,
the other by Boston radio personality C.L. Fornari titled “The Cocktail Hour Garden: Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining” (based on her new book, which she was signing afterward). Both of those talks provided some food for thought, particularly the cocktail hour presentation, with not only lovely photos but a list of considerations and features for the late afternoon garden, and for herbs and other edibles to use in making cocktails (or mocktails): Don’t block the western sky. Plants with fine foliage, and plants with yellow and red foliage and flowers, catch the light of the setting sun. Include features that call to mind earth, air, fire, water, and sky. Consider drinking cocktails in the vegetable garden, because then your fresh appetizers — radishes, snow peas, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, beans, nasturtiums, etc. — are right at hand. And so on.
I felt inspired to have a cocktail outside. And grow more herbs.
Gardening is in large measure a phenomenon of attention. – Allen Lacy, in The Inviting Garden
As always, it’s the scent of the dirt, the mulch, and the hyacinths that makes me swoon at the flower show. This year, unlike last, our winter was short, mild, almost without snow, and the ground even in central NH is bare already (though Boston got a little snow from a coastal storm on Sunday night); because I can actually see my own garlic shoots and spring bulbs sprouting above ground already, the flower show seems less surreal and fantastical than usual, more vital and solid, less a whisper and more a command, less a dream and more a to-do list. I think I preferred the dream experience in some ways, the feeling of being transported to an extravagant, humid other-world.
Every year, the displays consist of mainly the same plants: spring bulbs, hellebores, primroses, azaleas and other rhododendrons, many evergreens. This year, though, a strange Martha-Stewart-endorsed houseplant, the Medinilla magnifica, was added to the mix. Nicknamed by its growers as “the Rolls Royce of houseplants,” this large pink flowering plant made its way into a few exhibits, where it looked (as I overheard some visitors notice) dead, because of the way it sprawls on the ground if not staked up. At least two displays featured it, including one whose focus was attracting pollinators to the garden (Plant Something Mass), and yet this plant is a houseplant, can’t be outside in temperatures under 70F (per the sign at the exhibit — it’s also called a Malaysian orchid, which doesn’t sound well suited for northern New England, though it is grown for sale in Canada ?), and it frankly looks plastic. It was all very strange. On the way to lunch, I saw the van that brought them.
On the other hand, I was chuffed to see not only the Soak Up the Rain display, with ideas for water collection and retention (green roofs, water gardens, permeable surfaces, etc.), but also the Urban Homestead Pavilion, with chickens and “smart” beehives,
and the Massachusetts Correctional Institute‘s display of raised vegetable beds and container plantings including veggies and herbs.
I’m still waiting for a permaculture display, food forest designs and installations — something Food Forest Farm and Permaculture Nursery could think about??
A few vendors had some interesting displays, and there seemed to be even more tasty snacks to nibble while wandering: Cabot cheese was one of the best, as were olives at Lakonia Greek Products based in Saco, Maine, and the nuts and toffees at the Heitmann’s Nuts English toffee place. Though there were no wine samples this year, there were a couple of hot teas for trial from DavidsTea, another Canadian company; I liked the Midsummer’s Night’s Dream herbal tea with mint, apple, and gooseberries. Among the items being sold by vendors were chaga from North Spore Mushroom Company, nicely made furniture from Country Teak, an 8×10 shed (or tiny house!) from Walpole Outdoors, and of course the smart bee hives.
The window box invitational was a small display but worth checking out for beautiful boxes, including one with “banker” and “trap” plants grown as part of an integrated pest management system, made by the Environmental Horticulture Students at Wellesley College. (The other boxes are by Harding Botanicals and Broderick Designs.)
The Florist Invitational theme this year was “Gnome Homes.” Most were nothing spectacular, even on a small scale, but I thought the use of Brussels sprouts for cabbages and little sedums for perhaps Brussels sprouts in this gnome’s garden was rather clever.
There was also a large room of floral designs following various themes. A couple were quite nice:
The Mass. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife are at the show every year, with their array of sweet pelts from long-dead woodland animals: coyotes, grey and red fox, skunk, beaver, and others. Always a popular “touch” station at the show.
The large scale garden displays were quite attractive this year. As I said before, they were perhaps not especially inspiring for me and my garden, but they smelled good, the texture and colour combinations were stimulating and provocative at times, and the overall concept (nurtured by nature) was demonstrated well, particularly, I thought, in the Rutland Nurseries (Rutland and Wellesley, MA) display (water feature by Liquid Landscapes):
If you can’t read the Statement of Intent, it says “This eco-friendly sustainable design is created to envelope you into nature in your urban or suburban backyard. All the materials used are reclaimed, green, or sustainable. Enjoy fresh fruit or vegetables at the end of your fingertips and oxygen-rich relaxation thanks to the green living wall, while warming yourself by the fire and listening to the serenity of the water feature.”
Not unlike the “cocktail garden” in its use of fire, air, earth, and water.
The walkway is made with shells. People really enjoyed crunching them.
A few edibles in the garden:
Interesting green wall with an understated yet ‘statement’ fireplace:
There was a quite a bottle-neck here behind the green wall, to look at the fire and the blazing orange azalea.
I liked this woman in the beret relaxing on the patio.
Here are a few pics from each of the other large-scale displays.
First, Miskovsky Landscaping: A Topiary Garden (Falmouth, MA) with David Haskell Nursery (Fairhaven, MA). Usually, it’s one of my favourites, but this year, with the theme of topiaries and the haphazard design (or so it appeared to me), it left me a bit flat. I always like their use of many trees, though.
The show brochure notes that “this garden was conceived and built without plans or drawings by several landscape professionals and many volunteers” — I think lack of drawings plus multiple “designers” (some professional, many not) gives it that thrown-together feeling for me, like there is too much going on at once.
I think they include an umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) every year; I love them for their long soft needles.
Next: Heimlich’s Nurseries: A Backyard Oasis (Woburn, MA). You couldn’t go into the shed and that made it much less engaging to me. The display did offer a balanced mix of trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs.
Much of gardening is a return, an effort at recovering remembered landscapes. ― Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education
The 2016 Newport Flower Show display (“Gilded – Artful Living” — show in Newport on 24-26 June) — was too fancy for my taste, more like a small wedding venue than a relaxing backyard, but the elements and plants in the formal design worked well, I thought, the circles and verticals balancing each other nicely.
Graystone Masonry (Gilford, NH), with Joseph Gray’s sculpture:
Liquid Landscapes, with a three-tiered waterfall:
Maine Stonework (Kennebunkport, ME):
I took one or two pics each of the Mass. Horticultural Society garden display, the Boston Outdoor Living display, the Minuteman Regional Technical Vocational School Horticultural Department display (they need an acronym), and the Plant Something Mass. display (apart from their pink medinilla plants):
It’s obvious when I look at these for a second and third time that we live in a part of the world where water is plentiful and hot sun is not — there are no xeriscape designs, lots of water features, very few tropical plants, succulents, or cacti, and lots of trees, especially conifers.
I also note that though we have an abundance of grape hyacinth and tulips in the gardens, there were few daffodils or crocus. I don’t know what to make of this: is it a fad? were grape hyacinths on clearance? are tulips favoured over most other bulbs for their wide array of bright colours?
And this year there seemed many fewer hosta plants than in the past, and perhaps even more rhododendron and azalea. Along those lines, I was happy to see a few leucothoe and pieris japonica (Japanese andromeda) here and there, two favourites of mine, both in the heather family, Ericaceae.
The venue was quite crowded on Saturday, perhaps slightly less so when I left around 4 p.m. I’m sure I missed a few gems because I couldn’t get close to the displays at times.
I’ll end with some trees, shrubs, flowers growing outside the show, in the city of Boston, this weekend:
I don’t divide architecture, landscape and gardening; to me they are one. — Luis Barragan