The Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, which ran from Feb. 19-22, couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The month of January was icy and bitterly cold, and February hasn’t been much better, with the groundhog predicting six more weeks of winter.
This year’s 28th annual flower show was a breath of fresh spring air. The minute I walked through the doors of the Convention Center in Hartford, I felt the weight of winter lift from my shoulders. Visions of spring lay out in front of me with daffodils, tulips and rhododendrons in full bloom! With my camera in hand, I took off to discover the wonderful landscape exhibits that welcomed my weary soul.
‘America the Beautiful’
In keeping with the “America the Beautiful” theme for this year’s show, many of the landscape exhibits included the American flag or used red, white and blue in their designs.
The variety of landscapes represented America’s heritage throughout the years. A log cabin reminiscent of Abe Lincoln was included in one display. The Old Glory flag from 1776 was included in an urban garden exhibit. Earth friendly exhibits mingled with the historic displays.
The Connecticut Horticultural Society’s display demonstrated the contrast between a neglected city building and one that had been renewed with earth-friendly materials and flowers.
Many exhibiters were keen to educate the homeowner about the importance of using native plants but also avoiding the use of invasive species that harm our wetlands and forests.
The secondary theme represented in the landscape exhibits demonstrated how important it is to make the landscape an extension of the home.
Most exhibits included a stone or paver patio with a fire pit or outdoor fireplace and a water feature placed nearby. A pergola or gazebo created an area to take cover from the sun. Retaining walls or boulder-strewn berms were used to show off landscaping or to create terraced areas for structures within the exhibits.
From a behind-the-scenes observation as a landscaper myself, I could also appreciate the physical work that went into building these incredible exhibits; most of the landscapers I spoke with said it took them four to five days to build their exhibits.
And as a designer, I can tell you that many hours of planning took place before these gardens were built under the roof of the Convention Center. Let’s not forget the time it took to force the trees, shrubs, and flowers into bloom and add unseasonable color to these displays.
Award-winning landscape exhibits
Although every landscape exhibit included in the garden show was amazing, I did have two favorite displays.
One exhibit was inspired by Katharine Bates’ trip to Pike’s Peak and featured natural stone retaining walls and rock outcroppings. The large display also featured a white pergola on a raised stone patio. Rocking chairs placed on the patio underneath the pergola offered a place to sit and relax while looking down onto a secondary bluestone patio with a fire pit and dining area.
The exhibit included large trees and evergreen specimens, rhododendrons, azaleas and winterberry placed among rock outcroppings on large berms.
A Dawn Redwood tree caught my attention, due to its bright green emerging foliage that glowed beneath the spotlights. White and red tulips were planted along the edge of the exhibit and echoed the colors of the pergola and winterberry. This display was clearly a favorite of the judges and its awards included “Best Horticulture,” “Best Cultural Perfection” and “Best Outdoor Living Space.”
My second favorite exhibit was a recreation of an 18th Century farmhouse depicting life during simple times.
This patriotic display included a white clapboard home with a blue door and red curtains in the windows. The house was set atop a stone retaining wall with a brick sidewalk and granite steps leading up to the brightly colored door where the American flag was proudly displayed. An herb garden was located to the left side of the cottage, and it included a star pattern created with cut bluestone in the center of the herbs. White wicker furniture was set up on the lawn for enjoying the sights and scents of the herb garden.
Information available for gardeners
Seminars are one of the reasons that gardeners pay the $14 admission to enter the doors of the flower show. Well-known presenters this year included Tovah Martin, Roger Swain [of the PBS Victory Garden], Heather Poire, Virginia Small and Sydney Eddison.
There were many other knowledgeable presenters who spoke on a wide variety of topics such as garden design and maintenance, plant choices and landscape construction techniques.
The Connecticut Green Industries display included a stepping stone path leading between our native trees, shrubs and flowers. A representative handed out the CT Garden & Landscape Trail brochure that maps directions to nurseries, garden centers, greenhouses and landscapers found in our state. If you would like more information, call 800-562-0610 or visit www.CTGardenTrail.com for a copy of the brochure.
Right next door, was a native plant display by Pride’s Corner, a wholesale nursery located in Lebanon. I shared an interesting chat with Ben Zotter and Len Giddix about the organic pre-emergent herbicides available to gardeners.
I had known that corn gluten was an earth-friendly weed preventative, but Len educated me about the fact that the mixture must include the proper ratio of nitrogen. It is the bacterial by-product that creates the pre-emergent herbicide and I was told the product should be applied to the garden bed while the forsythia is in bloom. It can even be applied at this time of year, if your garden bed is not hidden by snow!
They recommend using a product by Jonathan’s Green Organics, if you want to give it a try. Preen also has an organic product, if you have used this product in the past. By the way, Len is one of the speakers on the WTIC 1080 radio show called “Garden Talk with Len and Lisa.”
Advanced-Standard Flower Show
The Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut is an integral part of the flower and garden show each year. Members from garden clubs across Connecticut display their creative talents in the form of floral arrangements, from large displays using unusual material to miniature displays within a box.
Beautiful table settings are on display; mailboxes and birdhouses are decorated; bulbs are forced into bloom; and every type of horticulture is exhibited including cacti, herbs, flowers and evergreens.
“Of Thee I Sing” was this year’s flower show theme, as a celebration of our great country and its horticultural diversity.
The garden club members also volunteer their time as judges and hostesses, and sell books during the show.
Something for everyone
The garden show offers something of interest for everyone. There are numerous small vendors and artists who sell plants, birdhouses, paintings, jewelry, tools, and anything else related to gardening or horticulture.
Landscapers have displays to sell their services, and large vendors hawk their hot tubs, gazebos, garden sheds, outdoor kitchen appliances, fireplaces and fire pits.
The vendor area can be a bit overwhelming and crowded during busy times, but most people come back year-after-year to find something new for their garden. You are guaranteed to walk away, carrying something under your arm by the end of the day. I found a watercolor painting of a wren with violets, a bronze pig statue, and an unusual houseplant with purple foliage.
The highlight of my day came when I saw a young girl taking a photo of a statue in an herb garden. When I asked her why she liked it so much she said, “My poppy is in the garden.” I was a bit confused, because there were no poppy flowers in the garden. As I stood up, I saw her proud grandfather standing there with an ear-to-ear grin that was priceless. Her “poppy” was the artist who had created the beautiful statue that we both were admiring!