Today was the last day of the Chicago Flower and Garden Show and the themed concept was a hit, and a miss in some respects. Personally, I'm a big fan of garden themes. A themed garden can be fun, interesting and a good opportunity to teach and engage other people about your garden. Last year when I heard theater companies would be given creative control I was a little skeptical because it could've been over the top or looked liked like a high school stage production. Some of the gardens deserved a standing ovation and some shouldn't have made it past a staged reading. So here is my opinion that nobody solicited.
Hits: Alice's Wonderland: Visually striking, some creative touches that can be incorporated into any garden. After the crowds dwindled it was even a bit interactive with kids playing in the croquet field after the Lookingglass Theater performers had gone for the day.
Good VS. Evil: Inspired by "Wicked" this garden had some nice touches like the "A B C" created out of marigolds the visual pun of the garden beds and the green baby.
Our Town: Your Garden: A collaboration between the Arthritis Foundation and James Martin Associates. It highlighted accessible gardening for people with disabilities or mobility issues. The icing on the cake was just how beautiful it was and how all the colors tied the whole set together.
Great Performances Through the eyes of a Child: This was the storybook gardens depicting The Three Little Pigs, Hansel & Gretel and Three Billy Goats Gruff by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. It was pretty much a flawless execution of a theme that kids of all ages could enjoy.
Spring Awakening: I'm a big fan of Growing Power and this garden didn't let me down. The grouping of edible and ornamental plants was creative and attractive. The mounded spiral bed is something I'd like to recreate.
Jeckle and Hyde-Prairie Restoration: This garden was beautiful, the issue is timely and I liked the use of the felled logs to create the shape of the garden and pathway. With every other garden using stones and bricks the rustic qualities of tree trunks really made it stand out.
Shakespeare in the Garden: The container garden of herbs mentioned in Shakespeare's play can be recreated in the smallest of balconies in Chicago. The knot garden can also be recreated in many of our postage-size front yards.
Best in Show: A replica of the Garfield Park and Lincoln Park conservatories was a big hit. The line to walk through the exhibit wrapped around the exhibit itself for most of the day. Visiting this exhibit was like touring both of the conservatories in one day.
Many of the gardens could be walked through where you could get close-up views of the planting and flowers. The use of vertical gardens and living walls was kept at a minimum and this is a good thing. Living walls and vertical gardening was so last year and was done really well here and here in last year's show.
Misses: I imagine creating a garden exhibit is a costly endeavor and I don't mean to diminish the hard work and dedication of the people involved. But a lot of the exhibits didn't feel as grand as last year. Some people commented on it being a result of the economy. Others thought perhaps it was because they weren't structures weren't as tall. Whatever the reason- here are some, IMO, misses.
Product placements are a part of life and the majority of the exhibits are good exposure for the companies that sponsor them. Some, like Our Town did a good job of balancing them and some didn't.
Good VS. Evil: This garden should really have been the scale of Alice's Wonderland. Most of the things I found interesting about it you'd have to be three feet tall or shorter, to have glimpsed and truly appreciated.
Best in Show: Should have incorporated the model trains from the Winter Flower Show, just because it is rad. It also would've benefited from someone working the line with a cattle prod to get people to move along and keep the line moving.
Music Man: This garden could've been fun but the execution wasn't there. It felt...well...flat. Can a gardener at least get a bed planted in the shape of a treble clef? I didn't understand the brass instruments tucked in the plantings. It looked like a graveyard for a high school marching band. Actually, zombies would've made this garden a lot interesting. Is there a play about zombies? If there isn't, there should be. I didn't even take a picture of this garden.
Bye Bye Birdie: Again, some interpretation of the theme could've gone a long way. One giant birdhouse with a giant Tweety Bird knockoff wasn't enough.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: The only thing I know about Joseph are memories I have of commercials for the touring production starring Donnie Osmond (in a horrible wig) playing at the Rosemont Horizon. I looked and looked for this garden and didn't realize until late one day that the circular groupings at one end of the exhibition hall were the exhibit.
I'd Like to thank the Academy: I get it and all, but with all the props and used clothing it looked like a yard sale. The kind of yard sale you don't even slow down to look at because even at 20 mph you know there is nothing there you want to buy. The Illinois Landscape Contractors Association should've teamed up with Macy's and displayed that collection of award show gowns they have on one of the floors if they wanted to do Hollywood. Considering that at one point Chicago was the motion picture capital of the country, this display could've gone two ways: either reminding people of that history or really doing the Hollywood glam theme justice.
Lanie's World: I know I'm not in the demographic for this garden but it just seemed to stand out as one big product placement for this line of expensive dolls.
On the Street where you Live: Again, it just was a big product placement, this time for KIA Motors. I don't think I would've minded as much if there had been more plants or if the street facade didn't remind me of the cinder block monstrosities in gentrified neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Every time I walked past it I felt stabby. Although, the potted echeverias on the stoop were something I drooled over many times while visiting the show.
The flower show this year was one giant potager that exemplified the way edible and ornamental gardening can coexist in the garden. A lot of the plant and color combinations were bold and impressive and a lot more theatrical than some of the exhibits. The quality of the vendors seemed better this year. In particular, the D. Landreth Seed Company afforded many gardeners the opportunity to buy seeds and tools to create great edible gardens and that was something I thought was sorely lacking last year. The flower show was open until 8PM on weekdays and they even had evening lectures that the 9-5 crowd could've attended. Most of the gardens could be walked through allowing us a chance to get a better look at plants and plantings. Sheila King Public Relations continued their outreach with local garden bloggers allowing them to attend the show as press so they could blog about the flower show. The horticultural competitions and window box displays were a fun addition.
The flower show was open until 8PM and had evening lectures without much support to market them. Around 5PM the exhibition hall looked like a ghost town. One late afternoon I took both of my 5-year-old nephews to see the show and as one of them handed his ticket over and entered the hall he asked me why people had left their grandmas there. Ouch. Within a few moments the hall was clear of grandmas and the kids had the run of the exhibits, much to their delight. After sending them home with their parents I attended an evening lecture where a total of three people showed up. If you're the kind of Chicagoan who stays away from Navy Pier, and the flower show in general, because you don't want to deal with the grandmas, tourist and strollers: you really missed out by not attending in the evening when things were quieter and walking away with some garden inspiration and new plants.
I hope the later hours and lectures are kept for next year but more effort is put into marketing them to locals. Perhaps, a series of themed nights would help draw in a crowd in the evenings. Nights like: industry night, where employees of garden centers, garden club and plant society members attend at a discount to mingle. Or nights that cater to the various ethnic groups that make up Chicago. For many of us in working-class neighborhoods the only plant buying options are places like Home Depot. As you can imagine, some of our gardens start to look repetitive.
The Chicago Flower and Garden Show as a whole was very enjoyable. I got to take my nephews for the first time and I hope those memories of visiting the Red Queen and taking pictures are something they remember for years to come. I got to catch up with a friend who came to the show because we never see each other outside of Facebook any more. I held a seed swap with friends I only knew through blogging, Twitter and Facebook and reconnected with others. I learned a lot and came home inspired, ready to tackle the gardening season upon us. The Chicago Flower and Garden Show should be like this for everyone, every year.