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.
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.
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.