IN DARK MIDWINTER, you really can’t blame a gardener for dreaming of more pleasant days ahead. Thankfully, after a year off due to the pandemic, we once again can satisfy our seasonal reveries. The Northwest Flower & Garden Festival is back with “Greetings from Spring” from Feb. 9-13, when lavish displays transform the cavernous Washington State Convention Center into a botanical wonderland that’s recognized as one of the country’s top flower shows.
Dramatic show gardens on the main floor provide theatrics and splash — literally. Past gardens have included impressive boulder-strewn waterfalls, trickling rills and reflective ponds. Building with blood, sweat and likely a few tears, garden creators have just under 72 hours to bring their ambitious plans to life before the public shows up eager to fill their garden-starved selves with scores of spring flowers and the fragrance of moist soil.
From the darkened display garden floor, make your way to the avenue of City Living patio vignettes, flooded with natural light on the glassed-in Convention Center overpass. Here, landscape designers and local retail nurseries break out their best ideas and their most innovative approaches to crafting outdoor living spaces, working within a limited 12-by-8-foot floor space. Think vertical plantings, container compositions and inviting seating areas.
This year’s slate of respected judges includes U.K.-based Sarah Eberle, acclaimed Chelsea Flower Show designer; Tracy DiSabato-Aust, horticulturist and author of the bestselling “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden”; and Scot Medbury, executive director of Sonoma Botanical Garden. In addition to evaluating the gardens and bestowing the coveted Founder’s Cup Award to the display garden they determine as the “best in show,” the judges will share their personal work with talks on the seminar stage.
The seminar schedule is as robust as ever, with more than 90 lectures and workshops on three stages throughout the five days of the festival. Garden experts, many of them authors, address a broad range of topics, including choice plants for Pacific Northwest gardens, inspired design, cultivating small spaces and indoor gardens, Earth-friendly growing practices, edible gardening and building your garden skill set. Valuable Q&A time and book signings are a part of each lecture, and it’s all free with show admission.
On the Blooms & Bubbles stage, Slow Flowers Society founder and hometown gardener Debra Prinzing is producing a series of daily hands-on workshops led by regional floral pros. Sip on a bubbly beverage as you create your own flower-filled, make-and-take project.
Friday’s featured florist, Kiara Hancock, will demonstrate how to style a petite centerpiece. Hancock is committed to elevating the industry from a cultural perspective.
“As a Black child growing up, I wasn’t exposed to the world of flowers, and I certainly didn’t see or know of anyone who looked like me who worked in the field,” Hancock reflects. In addition to sharing flowers and helping people discover a new creative outlet, she hopes to be “a link in a chain of representation” in the floral field. Even if you don’t book a Blooms & Bubbles package, it’s great fun to watch people handling flowers and crafting from the sidelines. The joy is palpable.
Daily clashes on the Container Wars stage offer a friendly challenge as local gardening experts compete to create a trio of beautiful — and practical — container plantings in front of a live audience. Emcee Marianne Binetti, beloved garden columnist and TV host, keeps things moving along and spirits high during each timed one-hour event. Frankly, the only thing I do battle with are slugs and snails, but Tacoma-based gardener/designer Sue Goetz and I cross trowels at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Is there even such a thing as too many flowers? The spectacle that is Fleur de Villes returns with a splashy runway of fanciful mannequins bedecked with blossoms and fine foliage. Blooming bonnets off to local floral designers creating this year’s glorious display, titled ROSÉ in support of breast cancer research, to celebrate survivors and to honor those we’ve lost to the disease.
As the familiar saying goes: But wait! There’s more. Gear up for the coming growing season by exploring the fully stocked Marketplace. Almost as unlikely as strolling through inspiring gardens in downtown Seattle in the dead of winter, picture more than 350 garden vendors from around the world gathered to bring you one-of-a-kind arts and crafts, choice plants, garden tools and accessories, books, seeds and more. Visit the show’s website for a complete listing of vendors, and check out show specials.