Ciscoe Morris offers a show of appreciation, from 1 dramatic koi rescue to 2,500 enlightening gardening seminars.
THE PREMIER GARDENING event of the region, the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, began in 1989 after entrepreneur and playwright Duane Kelly came up with the idea of a Seattle show after visiting the oldest and biggest garden show in the nation, in Philadelphia.
Kelly took a huge risk by mortgaging his family’s home in order to raise the money required to launch the show. Fortunately for Kelly, it was an immediate success, attracting crowds of visitors from the Northwest and nationwide.
The annual show, in its 30th year, remained immensely popular, but almost ended in 2009, when Kelly shocked the gardening world by announcing that he planned to sell or close the show in order to pursue his playwriting career full-time. But Terry O’Loughlin of O’Loughlin Trade Shows bought the show. Under his leadership, and the efforts of a dedicated and talented staff, the show has continued to thrive and grow and now is the second- biggest (and, in the opinion of many, the best) garden show in North America.
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The heart of the show is the 20-plus display gardens, featuring innovative designs, varieties of structures, new plant introductions, garden art and more. There are also container garden exhibits, floral displays, information booths and shopping. It’s the place to go to learn practically anything about gardening, with seminars and hands-on demonstrations.
But have you ever wondered what we’d have missed had Kelly lacked the foresight and courage to create the show?
To start, about 2 million visitors never would have passed through the doors of the convention center to view 700 magnificent display gardens that never would have been created.
Nine thousand volunteers would have gained back at least 85,000 hours of sleep they lost in their efforts to complete the gardens in the 3½ days allowed.
Without the gardens, 1,800 truckloads of sawdust and soil wouldn’t have been dumped on the floor of the convention center, and 8,400,000 pounds of granite and basalt rock, including a 10-ton boulder, never would have been hauled inside to create walls, alpine mountain scenes and everything from ponds to massive water features.
A traffic jam on I-5 would have been averted because a record-breaking 1,500-pound, 30-plus-foot-wide Sumac tree wouldn’t have been brought up from Oregon on a flatbed truck.
Water from a leaking pond never would have poured down on cars on the freeway, and two famous chase scenes would have been avoided: the first when a white peacock took flight to go on a midnight rampage, and the second when a goat led staff and security on a lively pursuit through the gardens after it escaped during judging.
Speaking of animals, had there never been a show, at least 30 chickens, a smattering of ducks and a few rabbits would have missed out on their moments of stardom, and I wouldn’t have had to make a heroic rescue of a very expensive koi after it managed to jump out of its pond during a press tour.
In addition to all of that, none of us would have had to decide which of the 2,500 seminars to attend; or which of a gazillion plants, tools or works of art to buy; and, judging from the number of people I’ve seen carrying them out the door, about 31 million stirrup hoes never would have been sold.