Worlds Biggest & Best Garden Shows.

February 9, 2009

The list is complete (unless someone tells me of another event that I am not thinking of).   I have done a quick overview of each of these flower and garden shows.  They are (I think) a comprehensive list of the best and brightest in the world.

Hampton Court – England

Philadelphia Spring Flower Show

Floriade Netherlands

Melbourne International Flower Show

Singapore Garden Festival

Jardins de Metis, International Garden Festival – Quebec

International Garden Festival Chateau de Chaumont

Chelsea Flower Show

A few things that I noticed while compiling this.  All (except for the US based show) have outdoor elements to the show.  All occur during a prime ‘busy’ season for landscapers (i.e. the event is not planned for outside of the main growing season).  Many of them don’t run annually.   What trends do you notice.? What are your thoughts?  I personally think that all of these should be studied intensely while planning future New England shows.   Joe Kunkel of Mass Hort emailed me about my last post and he is questioning how much of the failure of the NE show and others in the US (San Francisco, Seattle)  are a result of the economy and how much is that the ‘flower show model’ is tired.   I think it is both…but perhaps more so the tired model.  In my opinion, this show was failing long before our economy imploded.  What do you think?  What would you like to see at a future flower show?   If you could fashion a show for landscape people, landscape designers, and gardeners, what types of events would you like to attend?   What would you like more of in garden shows? less of? What is you most memorable garden show memory? Let’s hear it!

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  1. rochelle says:

    I recieved this via email from Pamela:
    I thought the flower show was going to be held in the building lobbies that surround the Greenway?
    Did I miss-hear this or perhaps I’m late into the discussion…

  2. rochelle says:


    You are right – an event will be held in the lobbies of buildings, but my understanding that this is not really a replacement for the show, only something to do this year while the show is re-thought.

  3. rochelle says:

    I received this via email from David:

    Thanks for initiating a discussion about the New England Flower Show. It is valuable to have a sharing of opinions. It is also good to learn that the folks at the Hort Society may actually be paying attention to ideas outside of those heard inside the fences of their own elaborate yard.
    For decades the Flower Show was dedicated to providing a venue for folks to learn about excellent horticulture and to see living examples of good, if not outstanding or inventive, design. It wasn’t primarily a place for show-boating or theatrical display. It was a genuine horticultural show. This was both its failing sometimes as a crowd pleaser, and its great success as a venue for learning by inspiration and example. But it seemed that over the years it became more of a kind of elaborate entertainment. It also became increasingly expensive and difficult, both to exhibit and to visit.
    First of all, the venue for the show, the Bayside Expo center, is execrable. The place may be OK for a boat or auto show, but not for a flower show. The only plus it has is that it is relatively easily accessible at several places to large mechanical equipment and has a large open area outside to accommodate materials and supplies. Other than those two logistical advantages, the Bayside, frankly, sucks.
    Though there were always at least a couple of outstanding designs in every show, as the number and variety of exhibitors dwindled over the last few years and the number of vendors and hawkers grew, even on the exhibit floor itself, the overall variety and most certainly the quality of the show declined. The rules of horticultural rigor that had always prevailed at the show were gradually thrown out and replaced with a New England version of anything goes razz-ma-tazz. It seemed to me that the gardens became more concerned with showmanship and glamour. Despite some stunningly beautiful vignettes and consummate craftsmanship, the gardens on display in recent years became monuments to conspicuous consumption and excess, not good sense. As a former exhibitor and judge, I can testify to the extravagant expense that some exhibitors lavished on their displays. While some of these temporary gardens were truly lovely and a joy to behold, they were far, far beyond the means of all but a tiny handful of the visitors who attended the show. This is not a brief for contending that all or even most of the gardens in the show should be “affordable”, but there should be some indication of the real cost of installing and maintaining the gardens that are on display. It has always puzzled me that there has never been an award at the show for a modestly priced, but stylish and horticulturally sophisticated garden that could be achieved by someone of moderate means.
    The very real condition of reduced “disposable income” is affecting certain areas of the landscaping business unevenly. While there is an increased interest and investment in “gardening”, the truth of the matter is that there is less and less demand for purely decorative landscape design. In fact, this is a great opportunity for the Mass Hort Society to make itself relevant again. Perhaps for the next few years they should concentrate on encouraging and supporting what I would call practical as well as beautiful gardens. These gardens would combine the elements of traditional vegetable or nourishing gardens and those of decorative gardens. It would be a felicitous, welcome and timely marriage. Such a balancing of the components of “utility and delight” provides a unique challenge for designers and gardeners alike. Such an approach could and should go beyond the current rage for “edible landscapes” or “edible estates”. The opportunity for lively inventiveness in design is unlimited.
    As far as the rejuvenation or resurrection of the Flower Show is concerned, maybe it is a time for a few years of experimentation. Different and new venues, combined with different and new “design programs”. I think the Society should also renew its commitment to horticultural reality, education, and community involvement. Certainly they can come up with creative ways to be more inclusive and encourage a wider field of exhibitors as well as visitors. I hope this year’s small substitute venues will keep the spark of the Flower Show alive, but it will require a lot of puffing on that spark to bring it to flame again. To echo President Obama, it’s time to rebuild.

  4. rochelle says:

    I recieved this via email from Joe:

    I appreciate the comments in your recent blog about the Flower Show and I agree with them.

    I am the Voluntary (with the appropriate pay scale) Acting Executive Director of Mass Hort. My background is Business and Horticulture and a fair amount of community service. For the past 5 years, I have worked with Adrian Bloom to build gardens around the US to promote Horticulture using donated plants and volunteers.

    A year ago, I was hired by Mass Hort to build the Gardens on the Greenway in Boston. Then I was part of the staff reduction over the summer. The Greenway project, the Bressingham Garden at Elm Bank, the MHS history and my feeling that MHS should be a Regional Horticultural Center resulted in my becoming a Trustee last fall and now the Interim Director.

    If MHS is to succeed, many things need to change. The Flower Show is certainly on the list. Now that the Seattle, San Francisco and Bangor Shows are ending, I wonder how much is due to the economy and how much is due to the possibility that the Flower Show ‘model is ‘tired’

    I would welcome the opportunity to hear some of your thoughts regarding Mass Hort, the Flower Show, and shows in general.

  5. I have been going to the San Francisco Garden show every year since its inception.
    This means I have seen it through 2 different venues and about to see it at its third and final location.
    The model for the show is definitely tired and the attendance numbers reflect this.

    True, the exhibition gardens and some of the vendors change every year but over all there is no sense of wonderment of new discovery.
    It has gotten as predictable as the menu at Whooper Burger.

    I’ve attended some of the International shows listed above and they are far superior to the Boston , SF and Northwest shows.
    The ability to have a show that is partially or all out doors really makes a big impact on so many different human levels.
    The first and foremost important critical aspect is the sensation of natural light playing across the gardens at the International shows.
    The “dramatic interior theater lighting” that the Boston and S.F. show have immediately sets up a feeling of ‘imitation’. .. and in a bad way. It’s like Red # 4 added to a natural garden.

    If the Boston and S.F. shows could hybridize the International models they would move the shows up in date so that they could be comfortably attended during the spring or early summer months and have a large portion of the exhibits out doors.

    I can hear the professional landscapers moaning now that this would cut into their “busy” season, but if you want to market your company at a venue with 50 thousand potential clients then you have to make some compromises.

    My all time favorite garden show is Floriade. Absolute design innovation. Horticulture par excellence.

  6. rochelle says:

    From Kath via email:

    I was going to suggest the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle (, but I see that this may be its last year, too, as the couple who have run it for the last 20 years want to retire. It’s usually featured in “Garden Design” and looks like a very creative showplace.

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