Evaluating Canada Blooms 2013

March 27th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Flowers do not a garden make. Nor a garden show.
Nonetheless, for me flower arrangements were the highlight of this year’s Canada Blooms. And I am not a flower arranger. Not any good at it, and not interested in becoming any better.
But I do like art, and to see amazingly artful compositions
made with plant material was a nice treat. Can you imagine the time and effort it took to create this gold ribbon winner?

Nancy Wilson’s gold ribbon winning painting reflects an amaryllis tucked into the arch behind.
This close-up of another composition was in the same category, called Magical. The colours, composition and texture of the leaves and seeds truly were.
A close-up of Valerie Smith’s gold ribbon entry.
Generally I don’t like the artificiality of flower show arrangements and the precise demands of different categories leave my head whirling. But how can you not admire the skill demonstrated in this devilish arrangement? No, it isn’t edible, despite how real it looks.
A devilishly delicious entry by Judy James
I also enjoyed the imagination and vibrant colours in this meadow-like display of a mother and foal, by the Toronto Garden Club.
Lively colours make these horses dance.
And yet…
For me, display gardens are the highlight of a garden show. That’s what I look forward to seeing at any garden show, and once again, with few exceptions, Canada Blooms was a disappointment. I liked the rows of colourful maple syrup buckets that represented the Reford Gardens. They suggested both the innovation of the International Garden Festival and the gradations of colour found in Elsie Reford’s Long Border. For me, the plants were superfluous. I’m guessing that the criteria for a display garden made them necessary.
Another winning display from the Reford Gardens in Metis, Quebec
Shawn Gallaugher’s Otium showed imagination, pointing to the garden as a place for exercise, where a beautiful body can be cultivated in a beautiful setting. The name itself showed a flair missing in other gardens. (Wikipedia tells me that ‘otium’ is an abstract Latin word that can refer to a temporary and sporadic time of leisure. That pretty much defines exercise, doesn’t it.)
Otium, a display garden by Shawn Gallaugher’
I liked the brightly painted framework of Gallaugher’s garden but found his plantings as uninspiring as most of the others in the show. I saw the same plants, used again and again. I saw them used in the same way, without much flair. The result? Monotony on overdrive, and nothing that really wowed me.
Canada Blooms is, apparently, the only garden show in the world where plants can be ordered from the show organizers. And hats off to those who manage to coddle plants into blooming on a schedule not their own. But the result is too many trees, shrubs and flowers that look the same – because they are. Which makes it hard to distinguish one garden from another, despite the names given to differentiate them.
I can’t help wanting more, and better.
More and better speakers, talking about more interesting topics. More and better gardens, inspiring me with new ideas.
And I can’t help wanting fewer people hawking things of very little interest.
Is this what it’s all about?
A glimpse through a window of the Chinese Culture garden into the retail area at Canada Blooms.
I understand the difficult economics of putting a show garden in place. Each garden costs a bundle and any direct payback for the garden-maker is questionable. I also appreciate the difficulty that the organizing body faces in trying to mount a show where the cost of admission doesn’t break the bank. Where the show itself makes enough to keep going the following year. Where the quality of everything on offer remains high enough to attract repeat visitors.
Am I alone in wanting more? Based on comments I heard and overheard, I think not. I believe I’m part of a growing crowd – people who once went to Canada Blooms, who would come again if they knew they would see gardens that engaged all their senses. Including their minds.
I have no solutions to offer, only questions to ask. Could the realities of Canada as a 21st century multicultural society be a way to broaden the appeal? Could looking at the role that gardens play in this world offer more scope for innovation, and a way once again to attract serious gardeners?

I hope Canada Blooms finds a path.
Confusing choices ahead?
Paths in the Irish Spring Gathering Garden

Is Canada Blooms a garden?

March 21st, 2013 | 2 Comments »
An extra post, from Toronto As I write, I’m on my way to Toronto to visit Canada Blooms, Canada’s largest garden show. I’m speaking tomorrow about using art in a garden and am pleased to be doing this. I set myself a goal when I first started giving talks about gardens and garden design, and that goal was to speak at Canada Blooms. So, as of tomorrow afternoon, I'll check off one item on my (increasingly long) list of things to do. I visited Canada Blooms last year and, quite


In Transit / En Route: Part Three, the final installment

March 19th, 2013 | No Comments »
Several weeks ago I started a three-part series about an art installation at Glen Villa called In Transit / en Route. I posted the first two parts and intended to post the third in week three. But California and all I saw there captured my attention and my blogging time. So the third part of In Transit / en Route went to the bottom of the pile. Finally, though, it is back at the top. So here it is, the third and final installment. If you want to read (or re-read) the


The Sound of Summer

March 13th, 2013 | 2 Comments »
It seems perverse to write about the sound of summer when winter winds still howl and more snow is forecast. But how better to keep warm than to anticipate? And to remember. For years my husband and I spent our summer vacation with our children at a cottage next door to Glen Villa.  My brother-in-law owns the cottage now, so we visit it regularly. And when we do, I hear the thing I remember best from summer nights  – the sound of the stream gurgling over rocks. The stream by


A Garden Review: Sunnylands

March 5th, 2013 | No Comments »
I visited one well-designed public garden in and around Palm Springs, the garden that surrounds the visitor's centre at Sunnylands, the modernist house built for Walter and Leonora Annenberg. Entering the estate, you get a preview of what's to come: lots of barrel cactus arranged in rows that reminded me of dots on an old-style dot matrix printer. Barrel cactus at the entrance to Sunnylands In front of the visitor's centre -- itself a model of contemporary, modernist-influenced design -- is an area where dry land plants dominate. My photo