Monday, March 8, 2010

I'd rather be gardening

I attended the Chicago Flower and Garden show this weekend, looking for some inspiration and a gardening fix to get me through these wet, chilly weeks of March. A better name for the event would be the Chicago "hardscape" was heavy on the fountains, paving stones, and other expensive trappings of suburban landscaping. Ho-hum. My two favorite specimens on display were a houseplant, a sea onion, and a Covey redbud. Here's the sea onion, which further stoked my lust for rare succulents:

Here's the redbud in close-up:

Generally, I left underwhelmed. I expected more DIY and urban gardening projects on display...did I miss the composting area, or was it just non-existent? The window box section seemed to be the only projects within reach of city folk. People interested in city gardening might be better served by the lectures, several of which deal with containers and small spaces. I appreciated the chicken coop on display...even my reluctant husband admitted the coops looked do-able for our yard. Finally, the checkerboard "lawn" was pretty cool -- I would like to try a mini-version of this in my own yard, but it looks a little too anal retentive for my skills and time.

I really wish there had been more vegetables, beyond the standard ornamental brassicas. It's early spring, so I understand the displays can't be heavy on the edibles, but so many of the planted areas reminded me of over-manicured subdivisions in the far hinterlands of the Chicago area.

Right before I checked out the show, I participated in a seed swap. It is late in the seed-accumulation season, so no one really had the energy for actual swapping....mostly it was folks trying to give away what they had. The packets were just kind of placed in the middle of the table. I picked up a few flowers that I can scatter around in the bare pockets of my beds, as well as some more greens to try early in the season. I swore up and down to myself I wouldn't get sucked into any pumpkins or winter squash, for the space reasons that I've previously discussed. But Garden Girl brought red kuri seed! I love this variety; it has become my absolute favorite for cooking squash recipes. So, I guiltily snagged a packet. Sigh. It may take one more squash failure to convince me that there is no space for such plants in my garden.

The show has demonstrated to me quite effectively that, even for a small space like mine, there are plenty of people ready to sell me a multitude of expensive landscaping "necessities". If I wanted, my faux-brick retaining wall could match the soles of my designer garden clogs. I'll leave the show to the ladies who lunch. You can find me in my own messy, ugly garden where the hardscaping consists of some mismatched bricks and old railroad ties.


  1. So relieved to hear someone else left underwhelmed, and for the same reasons. I'll give them a pass on the hardscaping, since they had to accommodate crowds, but the lack of vegetables, the lack as you say, of things that were doable by the average gardener, were terribly disappointing. I'm going to try checking out Family Farmed expo on Friday, hoping for better results!

  2. Sounds more geared to those who employ gardeners than those who ate gardeners.

    They may revoke your press pass for next year after this review, not that you'll be shedding tears.

  3. @tom, I think I will survive a revocation. It was cool of Mr Brown Thumb to arrange it, but I'm not a garden show kind of girl...

  4. Hi Abbie, I know exactly what you mean. I was dissapointed in the lack of vegetable garden displays. Big garden shows kind of remind me of that HGTV show Ground Breakers. Most of the designs aren't my cup of tea to begin with, and they're so over the top in hardscape and out of reach of the average homeowner (especially in this economy.) We have a decent-sized suburban yard, and while some small vignettes were inspiring to me, my favorite parts of the show were the prairie restoration in stages, the photo exhibit, the seminars, meeting up with old friends, and having the chance to meet people I only previously 'knew' through their blogs, twitter, or facebook.

    I enjoyed shady swap even if it was late in the season. It was a fun chance to talk gardening with new and old friends and try some new seed varieties. I kind of liked that it was easygoing and relaxed - gave us all a chance to chill and chat before checking out the show.

    I hope the kuri seeds do well for you. My veggie growing space is really limited too. A sturdy tall trellis is perfect for sprawling vining stuff like squash and cucumbers - they use inches instead of feet of precious soil space. I think the plants and fruits are healthier too when they're not on the ground, and the fruits ripen more evenly.

    They won't revoke your press pass. I'm glad you talked about this side of the show. If the organizers are smart they'll incorporate this kind of criticism into future shows. Last year veggies, composting, organics, natives, water conservation, etc., were much more a part of the show.

    I'm not a garden show kind of girl either. This was only my second year attending. It was probably scaled back in 'grandeur' last year because of the economy. This year might have been closer to the norm, but I hope they rethink that for next year. It may be the nature of garden shows to be somewhat over the top, but I also think the organizers would be wise to incorporate more ideas within the reach (and wishes) of a broader demographic of gardeners.

    All that aside, I'm glad you came - it was great to meet you!