A not so memorable road trip to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show…

My years in Georgia allowed me to be a regular attendee of the Southeastern Flower Show–a fabulous explosion of color, creativity and educational opportunities, not to mention pretty good garden world shopping. I have also been lucky enough to experience the Philadelphia Flower Show and Canada Blooms! in Toronto.

With those memorable garden show experiences in mind I have literally gnashed my teeth that the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show always seemed to fall when other commitments took precedence. From 2009-2012 my hopeful heart actually purchased advanced tickets which went unused because I just couldn’t seem to get there! A week or so ago a whim took me again to their website to check the dates and I was excited to see that the other goings-on in my life had left an open spot to make that road trip for a day at the 2019 show. I was also confused by the fact that this year’s show was to be held at Cal-Expo in Sacramento. More about that was revealed as I read through their website which includes a brief history of the 34 year old event.

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The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show started as a fundraiser in 1985 for the SF Friends of Recreation and Parks and was originally called the San Francisco Landscape Garden Show. Twelve years later the show was acquired by an events company and given its current moniker. The famed Cow Palace was the show’s home for the next ten years until, in 2009, the San Mateo Event Center became its venue and another change of ownership occurred. Yet another event company acquired the show in 2013. 2018 marked a long awaited return to the historic Cow Palace which the event owners had hoped would be its permanent home. According to http://www.sfgardenshow.com “due to unresolved scheduling issues and the pending California State Legislature’s move to tear down or sell off the Cow Palace, the Show has found a new home at Cal Expo, in Sacramento.”

A road trip to Sacramento always offers the chance to visit a couple of good garden centers in the area so with nothing to lose and, as disconnected as it may sound, I set out on the road to our state capitol for this venerable San Francisco event! Having no previous Shows to compare it with I have no idea if the 2019 effort was typical so I am going to fall on the side of positivity and declare this to be a ‘transition year’ with hopefully more vibrant Shows to come. Let me be clear–the local Sacramento gardening community was out in force, represented by numerous specialty clubs, their community gardening organization and their Master Gardeners. Everyone was very pleasant and helpful with their well manned booths offering brochures and experts to encourage and consult. Several had make and take activities for both adults and children. My comments about the Show overall in no way diminish their efforts and participation–a good garden show starts with time and attention from its owner or promoter.

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Master Gardeners consult and advise
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The River City Food Bank’s Growing Circle highlighted the work of the local community gardening collective

Other than the awning in the first photo there was virtually NO SIGNAGE anywhere on the show floor which was one large room. There was neither an information area as you passed through the Main Entrance nor a sign directing you to an information area anywhere else in the Show. There was NO show program or brochure giving you the layout or timeline of what was happening on the two small stages. Toward the end of my visit and while I was in search of a restroom I happened on a pleasant volunteer at the very back of the space in a small booth (also without signage.) She had a pile of printed out maps of the layout attached to a schedule of events and advised me that their color brochures had never arrived. If I’d had a piece of paper, a Sharpie and some tape in my bag I would have made a sign to put by the entrance to let visitors know she was back there!!

The highlights of any flower show for me are the display gardens designed and installed by local landscape designers and contractors. They should be a cutting edge look at what’s new and upcoming in the landscape industry and have always been a source of inspiration for my own garden. The Show’s website has photos from previous years 2015 and 2016 showing 14 and 11 display gardens respectively. In 2018 it looks as though 13 were expected but only 9 appear in the digital brochure online. A preview of this year lists 14 display garden participants but there were only 7 on the floor. Only one of them inspired me to get my camera out of my bag!

A Fire Resistant Garden was the submission of Nathan Beeck from Clearwater Designs Inc. and was not only really interesting but very timely given the recent devastation in areas all over our state.

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Looking across the reflecting pond (which also serves as a water source for fire suppression) to a cosy sitting area

The designer encourages us to think outside of the box to create new California landscapes using materials and plants resistant to fire. The room was dark and the garden’s hard surfaces were also quite dark–a combination which challenged my mediocre photography skills.

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Another view of the pond and  covered structure

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The structure is predominantly steel and the wood that is used has been charred with an ancient Japanese technique called Shou sugi ban which makes it fire resistant. Dianella and ferns have been tucked into pockets to soften the hard surface.

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The pockets allow for greenery at a variety of heights

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The plantings were provided by Brent Cruz of Site One Nursery and were selected for their fire resistance. Everything was clearly labeled and a plant list was available for the taking. This display garden was definitely a winner for me!

Although flower arranging is not a particular interest of mine, flower shows often present interesting themes and challenges to those who excel at this art and I like to walk through just to see how individual flower arrangers meet the task. As with the rest of the venue there was NO signage to give visitors a clue as to what the displays parameters were to be–no statement of theme, zip, nothing. Only after I got home and went back to the website I learned that the flower arranging participants were members of the Sogetsu San Francisco Bay Area group. Maybe I would now know what ‘sogetsu’ is had there been some explanatory or educational signage provided by the show…this is not the responsibility of the participants but of those organizing the show.

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I really appreciated the skill of the bonsai artists whose works were on display. The morning of my visit a number of the contributors to this exhibit were on hand to answer questions but again,  no signage other than what the plant’s owners had provided.

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Just barely starting to leaf out!

A quick pass through the marketplace offered little of interest to me. Although there were several specialty plant vendors who seemed to be attracting interest there were far too many booths of what I consider to be non garden related goods. I have never used a Cutco knife in my garden and I think the window companies are better served at the ubiquitous ‘home and garden’ shows next to the solar companies. Here’s the best of what I saw.

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Lorena’s Edible Garden had lots of herbs and herbal products
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Dan’s Dahlias was the most colorful booth at the show!

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Now if I’d had anything resembling a brochure…I might know the names of these booths! Even after I had accidentally found the lady hidden in the back with the maps I was still in the dark as the booths were numbered on the map but there was no key nor a list of vendor names. If I had paid for a booth with the belief that guests would walk out the door with something in their hands to refer back to that had my business’s name and contact information I would probably be pretty unhappy…

My single purchase was this perky little clay armadillo. My sweet digging David’s childhood nickname was Armadillo and I’m an easy mark for any new ones I can add to my collection.

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This little guy is instantly recognizable to Fresnans as a Margaret Hudson sculpture.

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You got it–I traveled to SACRAMENTO to go to the SAN FRANCISCO Flower & Garden Show and purchased a clay sculpture from an iconic FRESNO artist’s gallery. All in all an efficient and productive day trip, don’t you think?

Generally I have taken the attitude that if I am disappointed in an event or tour I just don’t post about it. There is already enough negativity in the blogging world and no need to add more but my day at the San Francisco Flower & Garden left me with many lingering questions. This show has been listed on more than a few lists of ‘Top Ten Flower Shows’. I have many readers in the Bay Area and would love to know–has the event simply declined over the years with changes of ownership and now location? How did it seem to you compared to previous years? Am I judging too harshly given its transition to a new city and venue? Does this show have a real future in Sacramento? Love to hear your experience and insights on this event.

4 thoughts on “A not so memorable road trip to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show…

  1. I am sorry that you were disappointed. Sadly, even though I did not attend, I am rather disappointed too. Many years ago, we exhibited rhododendrons when the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show was still at Fort Mason, and although small, was quite an excellent show. For us, it was odd that our exhibit of blooming rhododendrons was thought by many to be one of the landscapes, but that was really no problem. I do not remember how many years we did that. In 1999, I started going to the press tours and press receptions and such, and the Show was quite grand at the Cow Palace. I do not remember when the decline started. By the time I exhibited a landscape there in 2009, it was at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds, which was not such a great venue. To make matters worse, the experience was VERY unpleasant for me, although that had nothing to do with the Show itself. ( https://tonytomeo.com/2018/07/25/horridculture-reputation/ ) Anyway, after that, I just sort of lost track of the Show and no longer got invitation to the press events. I do not even know where it has been for all these past ten years. It is sad that we have nothing like what it had been in the our region anymore.

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    1. Thanks for your input Tony, it is clear I waited too long and the show is only a shadow of its grander self. A loss for the West Coast. For sure size and quality are not linked hand in hand–I’d rather see a fabulous small show than a mediocre larger one but this 2019 show was neither.

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      1. It is very unfortunate that there is nothing like the what it used to be in the West. I doubt the Seattle show is what it used to be either. I hear nothing about it. The best show out here really should be in San Francisco. It is our ‘old city’,

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