Friday, March 12, 2010

March: Chicago Flower & Garden Show!

How I look forward to the Chicago Flower & Garden Show every year! It always arrives when spring has started to assert itself but it's too early to dig or plant outside. Can you believe Chicago's last-frost date is still more than two months away?? Luckily, I have memories of the garden show, and a few new juniors, to get me through that oh-so-frustrating period...

It should surprise no one that I looked forward to the "Alice's Wonderland" garden most of all. In keeping with the show's "Cultivating Great Performances" theme, the garden incorporated live-action elements of Lookingglass Theatre's "Alice." Unfortunately I did not get to see Alice herself hanging from the ceiling, but I did experience Tweedledum and Tweedledee playing catch and the Queen of Hearts (on stilts!) playing flamingo croquet with the Jack of Hearts. The garden was not the Garden of Live Flowers but rather a mixture of elements of Lookingglass Land (the chessboard, the mirror) and Wonderland (the rabbit hole, croquet match, and tea party).
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I enjoyed the textures of the checkerboard groundcover and crushed glass pathway, and there were lots of little hidden things to find like the Cheshire Cat's grin and the Mad Hatter's hat. The Red Queen is not nearly so foreboding in the book; I suspect this Red Queen was finding her vertical-garden dress a bit damp.
"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else -- if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

Amen, sister.

There were so many other things to enjoy that I couldn't possibly cover them all, but here are some highlights.

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The Broadway in Bloom display along the main "boulevard" of the show floor consisted of containers planted to reflect the seasons. They were gorgeous and included some unusual flower choices including this stunning red ranunculus.

The Art of Bonsai garden from the Chicago Botanic Garden was really lovely. The CBG has so many options for its show entry and I appreciated their choice of a quiet, somewhat austere bonsai garden. Bonsai are extremely cool and I know I would never have the patience for it so I respect people who do.

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"Our Town: Your Garden" was one of my favorites because it looked like a place where I could happily spend an afternoon. Many of the displays were too heavy on the greenery and hardscape but this garden really popped with bold colors. It was designed in collaboration with the Arthritis Foundation, which has a display every year; instead of being overly commercial, they always do a good job of integrating their tools and ideas nicely into the environment. The irony of the "Our Town" garden of course is that actual stagings of "Our Town" have minimal set pieces, a few chairs and two stepladders if I remember right. This was better; how many plants can you stack on a stepladder, anyway? Oops, there I go giving myself ideas.

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I have never been a fan of the tablescapes in the past but this year I enjoyed several of them, particularly the ones that did not sear my retinas (I'm looking at you, carousel horses!).

"Spring Awakening": Hey, now I know what a potager is! This spiral was cute but even better was the mix of cool colors with a handful of hot orange for drama.

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The Garfield Park and Lincoln Park Conservatories shared a wonderful space that took full advantage of its air rights so there were plants in every direction we looked. I was a little puzzled by the levitating dead tree; it seemed to fit better in the "Wicked" garden. The azaleas on the other hand were a knockout.

The "Jekyll and Hyde" prairie restoration exhibit was not so much a garden as an educational display, but I'm a huge fan of native plants and of prairies in general and it made me happy to see other people enjoying it and asking questions. The display starts with a tangle of buckthorn, phragmites and garlic mustard, hated invasives all. Then viewers move into an area of buckthorn stumps painted with herbicide and learn about strategies for removing unwanted vegetation. Next they see a prairie in its full glory (well, spring glory; a prairie's true glory is in late summer!) and learn about controlled burns to keep the woody vegetation in check. One of my favorite details was the use of logs, lengthwise and short stumps, as edging. I know Belgard sponsors the show but seriously, how much tan retaining wall can a person look at in a day?

We were very surprised by the small number of plants in the horticulture contest. In past years seeing the entries has been one of the best parts of the show but this year it seemed sparse (or were these only the winners being shown? Still, underwhelming.). My favorite was this Bowiea volubilis (Best in Show, I believe); if you aren't already sick of me talking about Bowiea, let me tell you, I love these things. Mine aspires to be this impressive someday.

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The marketplace of course is lots of fun and even now I'm thinking of things I wish I had purchased. Oh well, next year! Ted's Greenhouse is the highlight for some of us. After agonizing for hours, I brought home four cute little succulents, plus a fat spiny Echinofossulocactus for TMCH's office. And I did buy the hedgehog I wanted. Yay!

Thanks to MrBrownThumb and the generosity of the show's organizers, many of us had media passes to the show. I met up with several other garden bloggers on Sunday: MrBrownThumb, Linda/GardenGirl, Alexander/Finding My Green Thumb, Gina/MySkinnyGarden, Kylee and Louise/OurLittleAcre, Cara/BlueHydrangea, Xanboni, Beth Botts/Growing in Chicago, and ShawnaCoronado (I hope I'm not forgetting anyone!). On Wednesday I went back with MrBrownThumb and Monica/GardenFaerie, and we scored free cheesecake without having to sit through a lesson on how to make it.

Now maybe I can survive until Real Spring gets here!

P.S. The rest of the photos are here: Chicago Flower and Garden Show


Ramble on Rose said...

I'm sorry I missed you! I was there on Saturday. I also enjoyed the bonsai display, and it was not what I was expecting from CBG, but that's a good thing. Alice's Wonderland was certainly creative, but I thought the Red Queen bordered on grotesque!

MrBrownThumb said...

Awesome writeup Diane.

Was fun hanging out with gardeners and taking in the show.

You, me & Gina should start a Ted's Greenhouse shoppers club and visit the real location someday where we can stand around looking at plants to buy for hours. Feels like I spent more time around Ted's display looking at plants than I did on the show floor.

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Hmmm... I was positive I left a comment here, but I guess I didn't! I like how your photos are different from mine... it's been cool to look at everyone's perspectives. Yes, I'm excited about Grand Rapids!!! Chihuly is my fave living artist. P.S. That Red Queen is way, way scarier than tarantulas!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I wish I could have seen Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum and the croquet game, I'm sure they were much more entertaining than Alice. She just sat on the swing. I missed the Mad Hatter's hat.

Diane said...

Rose - The Red Queen may have been grotesque but you definitely won't forget about her!

MBT - A Ted's Shopper Club? I'm in! Should we make t-shirts? haha!

Monica - I'm starting to think that Tweety Bird on top of the "Bye Bye Birdie" entrance was scarier than the Red Queen *or* the tarantulas. Yikes.

Barbara - Dee and Dum, and the croquet game, added a lot of chaos... was nice to see the garden a second time without so much capering going on.

Jill-O said...

I had a good time at the Garden show as well..though disappointed by my photos. Many seemed slightly out-of-focus. I totally blame the low lighting - not my fault at all. My favorites ran along the same lines as yours. Alice in Wonderland, Our Town and the spiral potager. I'm going to post the show this weekend, since it's supposed to snow. So long, crocuses, iris reticulata and early daffys. Love Ted's Greenhouse as well, but didn't buy any succulents this year; last year's purchases are doing well.