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Get ready for garden shows

"Canada Blooms" in Toronto started my heart pumping faster. I sighed over the flowers, made plant lists, heard some talks, shopped -- all the things gardeners do at flower shows. But each experience is unique at these exhibitions, and a show has many facets. It makes a difference with whom you travel and whose observations you hear as you take it all in. As you well may visit "Plantasia" next week, let's think about some ways to look at it:

>Plant production angle

It's a real trick to convince spring and summer plants to leaf out and bloom at the same time in March. It's not natural, according to Rochelle Smith, who teaches landscaping, design and floriculture at Niagara County Community College. It takes finesse, heat, light and time to manipulate plant performance. "I can't believe it. Did you see? They managed to 'force' a full rose garden to bloom for this show," she said.

She also observed the depth and breadth of horticulture education available at the Ontario School of Horticulture, and is determined her courses at NCCC will emulate that level of horticultural expertise.

>Designer's eye

Walking around the show with expert Mary Gurtler, who specializes in container gardening, provided another view. Mary looked at garden displays and booths for design and presentation factors. She commented on the impact of colors en masse (waves of brash yellow, orange, red tulips or the restfulness of a sea of greens). She pointed out the importance of a clear color scheme. (Some gardens showed strong blues with orange or primary triangles of red, blue and yellow.) She mentioned the "power of a single focal point" -- one blue vase among pastel flowers or neon-painted bare tree branches that drew the eye from across the room. We both noticed the value of borrowing from other cultures -- the bright colors of table cloths from Provence and vivid pottery from Morocco, Mexico and Malasia.

>Trends and inspiration

Professional gardener and design consultant Ann Dissek also commented on unusual use of plants -- Boston ferns as garden bedding plants, a new blue Campanula used in masses with lavenders. She observed how shows reflect style trends as well -- this year more annuals used in "bedding plant" styles, and the native and naturalistic perennial plantings featured last season. Dissek recommends using these shows for inspiration, taking home ideas one could apply at home. She pointed out the way a natural stone floor for a sitting area created an intimate, enclosed feeling; how uplighting dramatized the structure of a bare tree, and the appeal of simple wooden boxes filled with neatly trimmed boxwoods. Dissek, organic gardening teacher and environmentalist, also loved the focus on recycling and re-using the trash our culture produces and "thinking outside the box" about new ways to use old things.

So whether you notice production, design, new plants or derive inspiration, I hope you go to a flower show this season. It makes it seem like spring.

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer and former Cornell Extension educator.

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