I’ve had the privilege of volunteering behind the scenes at Canada Blooms since about 2008, as part of the team that creates arrangements in the planters that are scattered throughout the show. The opportunity to get my hands into some fresh mulch and do something resembling gardening in March is my main motivation, although I also think it’s good for the city, and gardeners in particular, to have a show of this calibre. [shashin type=”photo” id=”353″ size=”large” columns=”max” order=”user” position=”left”]
One of the side benefits of volunteering is that I usually have an opportunity to take a tour through the show the night before it opens, while most of the gardens are done and others are just receiving their finishing touches. The bright lights aren’t yet on, and the beeping of forklifts can still be heard, but this is my favourite time to walk through the gardens, as there are no crowds and you can take the time to truly SEE the gardens. Here are the highlights of my tour: (click on any image to enlarge it)
[shashin type=”photo” id=”338″ size=”large” columns=”1″ order=”user” position=”left”]Near the entrance to the show are several mannequins, dressed stunning in plants by some of the city’s top floral designers. Several of these were still being completed but this one was done to the nines. The bodice of the dress is made of pussy willow catkins, the skirt is made of leaves that have been pleated and stapled into fan shapes, interspersed with fresh flowers. It’s quite striking from a distance but simply stunning as you get close and examine the detail. I’ll be heading back to this display during the show for a close look at all the completed outfits.[shashin type=”photo” id=”339,341,342″ size=”medium” columns=”3″ order=”user” position=”left”]
The Parklane garden, “Rewilding”, and it’s neighbour, the Bienenstock Natural Playground, together created quite a magical space (to be truthful, I didn’t realize they were two separate gardens until later). There were streams flowing throughout and many interesting details.[shashin type=”photo” id=”299,300,307,313,314″ size=”medium” columns=”2″ order=”user” position=”left”]
The Parklane garden had a most interesting “carpet” of plants, about 5″ high, which turned out to be 1500 white pine seedlings. [shashin type=”photo” id=”312″ size=”large” columns=”2″ order=”user” position=”left”]
I loved the stone arbor/gateway in this Irish-themed garden. I believe that’s dry stone wall construction, where they don’t use any mortar–just craftmanship–to keep the stones in place. The stone sheep were also a delightful touch! [shashin type=”photo” id=”282,284,285″ size=”medium” columns=”2″ order=”user” position=”left”]
Landscape Ontario’s garden at the show is always something special, and this year was no exception. From the willow twig entrance to the invasion of gnomes there was lots to take in, and as expected, all of it was extremely well executed: [shashin type=”photo” id=”376,350,359,358,354″ size=”medium” columns=”2″ order=”user” position=”left”]
Here are a few shots of some of the planters our team worked on. They’re scattered throughout the show, in the show aisles [shashin type=”photo” id=”279,334,352″ size=”large” columns=”1″ order=”user” position=”left”]
And here’s what it looked like to create those planters (the photo of me is borrowed from Charlie Dobbin’s twitter stream):
But I digress. That was before the show, when safety boots and hard hats were mandatory. As of Thursday night, it’s a different world. Cleaner. Quieter. And filled with wonderful things to buy…
The Toronto Botanical Garden has an amazing assortment of garden related items at their booth/store that I can’t wait to look at more closely. PickOntario has a large display of blooming plants ready to bring home, including the amazing Medinilla plant. In the garden marketplace there are many interesting vendors, including Gardenimport (back to the show for the first time in a few years) with an excellent selection of bulbs, and a lot of clever “garden art” at Kate’s Garden. I’ll definitely be stopping by these booths when the show is open so that I can do more than window-shop![shashin type=”photo” id=”347,346,381,378,377″ size=”medium” columns=”2″ order=”user” position=”left”]
One place where you can only look but not touch, regardless of when you go, is the flower show competition area. There’s quite a lot to look at here (and clearly a lot of talent was put to use to dream up some of those designs) but I was most impressed by the miniature designs. I’ve tried to create these myself and believe me, it’s quite a challenge to manipulate such small pieces of plants. To create a real design out of them is quite a feat, which is the case with the first place winner in the miniature design using fresh flowers category (I’ve included my hand in the photo for scale):[shashin type=”photo” id=”369″ size=”large” columns=”1″ order=”user” position=”left”]
Back to the gardens–this one was definitely a little jewel. A trickle of water flows down the rocks, along a crevice in the stone table, and down into a little pool below.As I was there “after hours” the water feature wasn’t turned on at the time of the photo, but you can see the path for the water. Note the wonderful moss “placemats” on the table. [shashin type=”photo” id=”374,373″ size=”large” columns=”1″ order=”user” position=”left”] I’m not sure that many people would actually have such a table in their garden (few could afford it, for sure) but it’s this intersection of reality and art that is where Canada Blooms hits its stride. To be sure, there are many practical ideas and tips to be had, but artful inspiration is what sets this type of show apart.
Even with the planters I worked on, they would not exist in a real garden for any length of time–they’re a fantastical mix of plants that wouldn’t naturally bloom at the same time, arranged more than planted, sometimes in a manner that defies gravity–but I think they serve the purpose of both education and inspiration. And when there’s a foot of snow falling outside, in mid-March! we could probably all benefit from a bit of floral-scented escapism!
Don’t miss the small moments
The gardens are filled with many special details for those who are willing to look. One of the large garden spaces appears, at first glance, to be mostly about hardscaping–it’s an ocean of cut stone (well put together, but still, cold, hard stone). But examine the pockets of plants within that space, and you’ll see really well composed plant borders, including not just the usual garden show suspects (tulips, daffodils and ferns), but less common perennials. There are lessons to be learned here in the mixture of leaf textures, heights, and colour. And if you get close enough, you’ll see some really beautiful details like these: [shashin type=”photo” id=”331,330″ size=”large” columns=”1″ order=”user” position=”left”]
There’s lots more to see if you’re willing to take the time to look. Canada Blooms runs March 14-23, 2014 at the Direct Energy Centre on the grounds of the CNE in Toronto.