New England Spring Flower Show – Gone

February 1, 2009

I read a story in The Metro West Daily News this morning about the demise of the New England Spring Flower show.  It is an event that has been put on by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for 136 years.  I am sad that so many people will miss the event and that so many businesses found it useful to find clients and showcase their work, but I have to say, I won’t miss the show itself.   It is horrible to say it, but I have to be honest…and in my commitment to never be negative on the net, I want to try and put a positive spin on it.  There were really so many things wrong with the show (in my opinion), that I have to think that wiping the slate clean and opening an opportunity to start fresh is a good thing.

Calla Lilies

The Chelsea Flower show changed my life.  I moved to London in 1999 for a job that proved to be the straw that broke this camels back (in software project management).  I was miserable and didn’t know where to go with my career.  Having grown up in the US amongst a family of gardeners, I always had an interest and got a particular joy from working with the landscape, but I never thought I could make a career of it…Landscape Architecture, garden design, horticulture, or any other related field never had been in my realm–shockingly never considered–I think primarily because it is so under and misrepresented here in the US that I didn’t even know it was a field you could study in college.  I got a degree in Applied Physics and Environmental Science and after deciding that I didn’t want to work on Superfund sites, took a job where I had another passion…with Hughes Aircraft- working on software systems for F-18 flight simulators (I was into flying).    Anyway, that career progressed until I was doing nothing with airplanes or anything else that was remotely interesting to me and I was miserable.  Until I visited the Chelsea Flower show,  and I learned so many things…Landscape design and garden design can be so much more interesting than what we commonly think in the US,  it can be glamorous, the people involved can be famous, it can be fashionable and sexy, designers can be designers and go crazy to push the limits of materials and practicality to move ideas forward.  Growers can make displays of flowers and fruits and vegetables that not only knock your socks off but blow your mind with their skill and all the other vendors can use a flower show event to roll out their latest and greatest innovations.  This is what made me realize that I could follow my heart, and that I could make a living doing it.  Gardening isn’t a just a retirement hobby,  but a way to express yourself at any age and landscape design is only marginally related and can really be embraced by any design oriented person.  I went back to school to change careers almost immediately, because of the Chelsea Flower Show.   The New England Spring Flower show would never have inspired me in this way and that is why I think it needed to go.
Chelsea Flower Show
I hope the efforts to raise money to bring it back in 2010 will be successful, but I also hope that it will allow enough time to re-think the show and totally re-brand it.    Perhaps get rid of the disgusting bay side expo center – no green plant will ever look good there, and do not allow the place to be over run with juice guys doing knife demonstrations (not even one is ok).   Make sure that all the design schools have a stand to promote their classes and programs.  And make sure you invite the brightest stars in regional landscape design and help them showcase their talent for design, help them find an excellent builder and sponsors who can make their visions reality, and when you give out medals, get people who really understand horticulture and design and make it hard to get in and even harder to earn a gold medal (when I went to the NE Spring Flower show, the gold medal designs probably would not have been accepted into the Chelsea Flower Show…and if they had…they might not have medalled at all).   There is pride in excellence and we shouldn’t baby people and we shouldn’t lead the public to think that this is the best that there is.

I urge you to support the effort to bring back the flower show, but also encourage a necessary change.   Bringing back the old flower show doesn’t do the landscape industry any good.   It won’t bring in bright young talent, it won’t change the way people look at gardening, and it won’t be economically viable for the long run.  Have you been to the show, have you shown there? I am interested to hear what you think.

I plan to check out “BLOOMS!”  which will be held instead of the New England Spring Flower Show in Boston on March 12th-15th in the lobbies of International Place, 125 High Street and The InterContinental Boston; the buildings abutting The Massachusetts Horticultural Society Greenway Gardens.  I look forward to a first glimpse of spring and to seeing where Mass Hort is heading.  You can find out more about that event here.

REgister now!

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  1. The Central Mass Flower and Patio show is alive and well. Worcester is the second largest city in New England. Anyone looking for an outlet to display their work should sign up today. Go to This show has been slowly comming back to life and had record attendance last year. 28,000 people isnt too shaby and that was with a snow storm! The waterfall building contest drew alot of attention. Don’t give up on 2009. Together we can be stronger than ever!

  2. C.L. Fornari says:

    I’m in total agreement about hoping that the forces behind the NE flower show take this opportunity to reexamine, refresh and redo the entire venture. And YES, YES, YES get rid of the knives, mops and other gadgets that have nothing to do with gardening. I realize that the vendors provide part of the funding for the show, but if the overall aim is to get people excited about plants and gardening, then the choice of vendors should be viewed through that same lens; if the product to be displayed doesn’t help with that effort, than it does not belong in the marketplace.

    I do think that the attending public needs to realize that designing for a flower show is completely different than designing for a landscape. In the flower show you can combine plants that would never grow well together or bloom at the same time in nature. Exhibits in a flower show are stage sets, not gardens. They only have to live for a few days, not even for an entire season let alone over the years. They do not have to accommodate GROWTH. Yes, they can showcase a designer’s sensibility, but the public needs to be made aware that they are NOT real gardens.

  3. Thank you,

    Having worked at the Chelsea Show for 11 days I can relate. I think you will see that influence in the gardens I build.

    I will say that being a new trustee at Mass. Hort. we are looking for ways to reinvent ourselves and present something fresh for the public and in turn the industry!

    It’s no longer about Gardens, but entertainment! Chelsea is very entertaining!

  4. Susan Opton says:

    Having worked and been an integral part of MHS for the last 2 Flower Shows, I can give you a little insight as to how difficult it is to put on a show of that size. Your views are all very valid and ones that MHS struggled to resolve for many years. Bayside Expo was the only viable (affordable) site which could manage a show and “parking” for the size of crowd, 80 – 100K. The only other options were the BCEC which has extremely high ceilings (which makes lighting a problem) and is way to large for the show. Finding enough lectures, seminars, classes, network groups (that are different from the New England Grows Show) to fill all the ballrooms was an extreme challenge. It also costs twice the amount as Bayside and parking is outrageous. Many of the FS attendees are senior citizens and schools and they could never afford the entrace fee at the BCEC. The World Trade center was also an option and there are similar problems with that site as well (actually, it might not be large enough.) If you have any suggestions, MHS would love to hear them.
    As far as vendors go, a huge effort was made to get only garden related vendors. There just aren’t enough of them that can make a 10 day show and that can afford a booth. The big guys go to NEG show. As far as Design Schools go the ones that wanted to participate did (Conway & others.) You also mentioned big sponsors and the effort to try and get the big ones was attempted year after year. The attendance was not quite enough for large sponsors to invest the big bucks. Nor was it their target audience. So you see it is easy to complain (and I’m not saying you are wrong about any of your comments) but MHS struggled with all the issues stated above but could not seem to overcome the difficulties. Running and paying for a show of that size with a staff of 23 is not easy for any non-profit. MHS is hoping to do something different in the next years and positive suggestions from folks like you are welcomed and encouraged. You can e-mail: with your comments and suggestions. They are open to any and all “out of the box” thinking. Susan

  5. rochelle says:

    I have commented around before as to a better location and I have found that there seems to be a strong feeling that it needs to be indoors…but I am not sure why…why can’t it be moved to a later time of year (end of may or early june) and held outside. Maybe downtown on the rose kennedy greenway? Or in another public park area that is highly trafficked (regardless of the show) and highly visible to create a buzz…

  6. Anne Peterson says:

    Here are a few thoughts to consider with respect to moving the venue outside and later in the year. A later date would not be optimal because landscape exhibitors would be into their busy season. There would be serious security issues for vendors, as well as exhibitors, if the venue were to be moved outside.

  7. mark says:

    I rarely comment on blogs but yours I had to stop and say Great Blog!!

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