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Now that all those catalogs have visions of flowers dancing in our dreams, how about seeing the real thing?

It's flower show time -- an opportunity to escape winter, at least for a day or two, wandering through gardens most of us can only dream about.

But they're great for ideas that can be introduced into home gardens.

If you have never attended a flower show, it's about time you did. Here's a quick look at four shows, one of which should fit your money and time budget.

So give youself a treat and mark your calendar. You won't regret it.

Cleveland: National Home and Garden Show, Feb. 6 to 14, International Exposition Center (I-X Center), 6200 Riverside Drive near Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Adults $9.50; children 6 to 12, $375; under 5, free. Phone (216) 529-1300.

It will be "Sunny Italy" from the moment you step into the 12,800-square-foot grand entrance with its traditional scene from the Italian countryside, formal gardens and an Italian bistro. From the gardens, a bridge carries visitors over a canal, complete with an authentic gondola that flows into an Italian marketplace.

This show covers 20 indoor acres of what's new for homes and gardens in '99.

Please note: This is not the annual Floralscape Show, traditionally held in March in the Cleveland Convention Center. That show is taking a year's hiatus to complete some major changes, but promises to be back in 2000.

Philadelphia: Philadelphia Flower Show, March 7 to 14, Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch streets. Adults, weekdays $16, weekends $18; children under 12, $8 any day. Phone: (215) 988-8836.

"Design on Nature ... the Art of Gardening" i sthe theme for the 31 acre show, which depicts gardening styles of the 1920s and '30s with their elegant fountains and formal designs.

Among the special attractions will be a station with hands-on demonstrations and displays of gardening gadgets and techniques; a gardener's studio with information presented throughout the day, and free hourly lectures and demonstrations.

Twice each day, guest celebrity chefs and designers will offer decorating and preparation tips from garden to table.

If you would prefer to leave the arrangements to someone else, Cooks Knows How Tours, 65 Mid Country Drive Drive, Orchard Park (phone 667-1442 or 667-1543), offers a three-day motor coach trip, March 6 to 8, that also includes a visit to the beautiful Longwood Gardens on the way home.

Those outdoor gardens will probably still be enjoying their winter sleep, but Longwood has glass-covered conservatories that spread over four acres.

Toronto: Canada Blooms 1999, March 10 to 14; Metro Toronto Convention Center, South Building, 222 Bremner Blvd. Adults, $12; students with ID, $7; seniors, $10; children 10 and under, free. Phone (416) 447-8655 or (800) 730-1020.

"A Gardeners Getaway" is the theme for the show, which is spread over sic acres.

There are several competitions at this show for the best gardens and flower arrangements. Throughout the day, there are lectures and demonstrations. In the evening, background music is provided by jazz and classical musicians.

A March 10 bus tour by District 8 of the Federated Garden Clubs of New York is open to anyone. Bus pickups will be at 7:30 a.m. at Southgate Plaza, West Seneca; 8 a.m. at Boulevard Mall, Amherst, and 8:30 a.m. at Tops Market, Military Road, Niagara Falls. The return trip leaves Toronto at 4:30 p.m.

Cost, covering bus trip and show ticket is $32 before Feb. 10 and $37 after. For information and reservations call Ginny Brown, 652-5045, or Mary Ellen O'Leary, 745-7739.

Rochester: GardenScape '99, March 11 to 14; Dome Center in Henrietta, just outside downtown Rochester, convenient to Thruway Exit 46. Adults, $8; children 6 to 12, $4; children under 5, free; seniors on Senior Day on March 11, $6. Phone: 259-9018.

This show includes a Children's Garden re-creating the path Dorothy and her friends tool in "The Wizard of Oz." Thousands of plants amd flowers line the path through the Enchanted Forest, and the end of the yellow brick road there is a play area where children can enjoy activities that will teach them about gardening and horticulture.< There are more than 50 other gardens to browse though, along with demonstrations and speakers.

The Buffalo Botanical Gardens Society has planned a motor coach trip to Rochester on March 13. It will also include stops at the Lamberton Conservatory and the Rochester Civic Center Garden Center.

The cost of $35 for society members and $40 for non-members includes bus transportation, shows admission and lunch.

The bus will pick up passengers at two locations, the Botannical Gardens on South Park Avenue and the Main Street intersection, with the I-290 in Amherst.

If interested, call 827-1584 by March 8.

Back to winter

Several readers have called to express concern about whether their trees and shrubs will be damaged by the recent heavy snows or future snowstorms.

"There are good and bad points to heavy snow," said Rochelle Smith, an arborist. "The good point is the insulating factor of the snow. It makes a great blanket for established plants as well as for new plantings, since it slows the freeze of the shrub or tree.

"The bad part," Ms. Smith said, "is the heavy snow and the ice bends the branches and worried gardeners try to get the snow and ice off. That can result in breaking the branches that may have become brittle because of the cold."

Ms. Smith, who has a business called Earth Care at 450-B Young St., Tonawanda, also reminds gardeners: "We have been dry for so long, the snow is great for the gardens, shrubs and trees. Even the bitter cold weather with the snow was good because you don't have what could be a damaging superfreeze that you get with a dry winter."

Finally, she advises, "if you feel you must shake the snow from branches, do it gently."