The Garden Show!

March 13, 2011

The Garden Show! The Garden Show! The Chicago Flower and Garden Show!

Sunday morning, we took Dominic back to school and then headed to Navy Pier for the Garden Show. Who knows what we would find? New designs? New ideas? New tools? The possibilities are mind-blowing!

I bought the tickets, got our parking ticket validated and we headed up the stairs. The entrance is filled with sports jerseys, bats, balls, pucks and sticks. I’m getting a clear idea of this year’s theme…

There are two boats, adrift on a bed of colored glass, blue and turquoise, arranged artfully in wave and wake-like patterns. At first, it intrigues me. The artistry of the design, the duplication of water in glass is beautifully done. But it is cold, it seems rather soulless. I don’t like it much. Tony agrees.

We pass a windbreak of sorts, a mix of spruce and deciduous trees, underlaid with green ground covers. Ah! If I could just import this entire arrangement home and plant it between Gwen and I – this is perfect! I make a photograph so I can remember what this looks (and feels) like.

The photo submissions are up and Tony quickly finds the two I’ve submitted. He is really good that way – I am not even through with the first panel. I’m looking for a reason that my photos were not chosen for awards but it all seems very arbitrary to me; the winners are not that much more astonishing. Tony tells me the fix was in. He is very sure my photographs are far and away the best ones here. (I really do love this man.) It makes me feel very warm inside that my submissions are displayed in any case; it’s really enough for me.

Tony has already surveyed the next display and points out the big balls of white orchids hanging in mid-air. His analysis is that it’s a good idea, but… I look past the orbs and see the wicket, then I see an enormous mallet, also suspended from the ceiling. “It’s croquet!” I exclaim. Tony says “ah, yeah.” Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees.

We stroll past another display, this one a backyard, complete with tulips, daffodils, lawnchairs and a grill. There are three women there and one of them is reading a tag aloud. “Lamb’s ear,” she says to her friends. “Why, I’ve never seen that before.” The next thing I know, I’m telling them what a wonderful plant it is, how it is soft, Damn Rabbit-resistant, how well it works as a ground cover, how it sends up big pink spires of flowers and how it has to be carefully tended to control its invasive tendencies. The women are convinced – this looks like a great new addition for their gardens. One of them asks where they would purchase it. I ask where they live, thinking I can refer them to a local nursery. Lo and behold, one lives in a neighboring town and the other two right here in Tinley. We introduce ourselves – they are Nancy, Geri and (I think) Carol. I tell them that I always have too much lamb’s ear and they are welcome to stop by and get some. They look a little surprised and then ask me for my phone number. I give them my number and email address and encourage them to call. “I’ve got cat mint too – I’d love to share.” Tony shakes hands all around as well and echos my invitation. Nancy asks if there’s a particular time I will dig things up. “No,” I laugh. “Lamb’s ear can come out anytime. I have plenty.” We part with promises from them to call.

Won’t that be fun??

We walk through the Aquascapes exhibit, past the crowd surrounding the koi. There is a fun container “steaming” with a short splashy fountain, just beads of water popping up. A metal bird stands inside of it and when its mouth fills with water every few seconds, the beak opens and the water spills out. I think it’s alot of fun and think the steam is kind of cool too. Tony dismisses it with a shake of his head. We pass a pondless waterfall and I point it out. “Dumb,” Tony says. “Where are you putting fish?”

“Well, that’s the point,” I answer. “It’s for people who want the splashing but not the fish and plants and maintenance.” He is not convinced and shakes his head again. He does like the overflowing jars of water that sit on a sunken pump, just like the waterfalls.

There is one large garden devoted to the Blackhawks. No flowers here, just a great many shades of green, different textures and sleek, modern hardscaping. Hockey sticks lined up in a neat even row work as a fence, pucks fill a steel cage that might or might not be a seating option. There are modern white chairs, a rectangular pond lined with perforated steel, long low benches and – how fun – the Hawks logo built from different coleus in a vertical garden.

Another garden includes several vertical gardens, A frames that dot the display. This display is filled with hyacinth and the fragrance is overwhelming, simply heavenly – spring literally in the air. I’m considering a vertical garden for edible greens on the fireplace wall this summer (I’m considering so many things – will I get any of them accomplished?!), so I make several photographs to help myself along.

And then there are the cakes. Beth Fahey, a friend of mine who co-owns Creative Cakes with her sister here in Tinley, is running this show, having organized all the bakers, the event, the publicity – she is running ragged, but looks fantastic nonetheless. The cake decorating contest started a few hours ago and the eleven decorators are well into their creative processes. The air smells like sugar, sweet and delicious. Tony and I are wondering what happens to these cakes when the judging is complete. We are willing to wait here, forks in hand, to help with any disposal needs. We watch a decorator feed fondant through a roller once, twice, three, four, five times, each time getting a thinner and thinner sheet, wider and wider. Another decorator paints peacock feathers, another fashions calla lilies. There is a cake covered with a trellis and flowers, another decorated in a “pen and ink” technique that is just so striking. Tony and I chat with Beth and we meet her husband.

It’s time for us to visit the vendor booths – I love this part. It’s not even the thought of purchasing something (although I’m so happy to see the same bare root and bulb vendor here!), it’s the fun of all this goofiness.

First stop is that bulb vendor. I’m disappointed to find not a single peony, but see many many other choices. The gardening blood starts pumping as I look at the many varieties of daylilies, daffodils, tulips. I force myself not to take a bag because it will just mean trouble. Tony picks up a bag and hands it to me. “I’ve got to be careful,” I say. “I don’t have those new beds in yet.” We find cyclamen – I love cyclamen and I’ve never found a reliable corm. These are enormous, the size of cow patties. I look at one side and then the other and remain confused. Which side is up? A grower comes by to help and tells me, “rough side up.” Well, okay. Some of them just don’t have a rough side. I pick three that do. I ask if they’ll do well under a pin oak. “They love the shade,” he confirms.

Tony points out liatris and the fact that butterflies love it. I do have room for that, so I pick up three packs of eight. Now I MUST stop – and I go to check out.

There is a booth filled with laser cut mats for photographs, thousands of names. We wonder aloud if we can find “Eliza” (rarer than hen’s teeth in your stock personalized items) and the sales man finds it for us. Tony and I look at each other, realizing we feel that we have to buy it now. $11 changes hands.

I look at real leaves dipped in copper and polished to a shiny patina. I get my rings cleaned (how weird that I actually wore them!) and tell the guy – who talks a mile a minute – that I’ll think about it. Tony subscribes to USA Today and gets a reusable bag, a travel mug and a few packets of zinnia seeds.

We sample dips on pretzel sticks, watch the demo of a garlic grater and see the vegetable peeler man. He was here last year too – bent over from years of peeling carrots and fashioning radish rosettes. He makes very bad jokes about the difference between a real beet and a deadbeat. I could watch this guy all day – I get such a kick out of his constant spiel, extolling the virtues of stainless steel and a tungsten blade.

We sit on massage pillows (ooo, very nice) and give our feet a whirl too. We try the back supports that remind me of butterflies. Smith and Hawken gives me handful of basil seed sticks; it’s only hours until the close of the show. We discuss the difference between “ends your skin problems forever” and “get the best skin you can have.” It’s like a carnival here.

We share a hot dog and a Sierra Mist.

Tony wonders what will happen to the hockey sticks and pucks when the show ends in two hours. Never shy, I go ask the people who are in charge of the display. She has, in fact, just texted her boss to find out. Check back in a half hour, she recommends.

The tabletop displays are next, with some simply breathtaking and a few uninspired. None of them are realistic, none could be used for an actual event. They are merely art for art’s sake, which is never a bad thing.

We find bentwood rocking chairs that seem to have the power to change our lives. They are incredibly comfortable, almost melodic in their fluidity. I could sit here all day – this seat would give my hammock a run for its money. We rock while we try to figure out where the vendor is. There is a mother and daughter nearby in the same conundrum. We bond over the unavailability of information. The daughter remarks that if we tried to leave with the chairs, we’d probably find out who they belonged to – quickly.

That gives us an idea and we discuss the possibility of just walking out with the chairs, with the ready explanation that we assumed they were samples. Tony talks a good game, but he’d never allow me to try it.

Our bags are full of stuff and things; our heads are filled with ideas. We are ready to leave. There is still no word back about the hockey sticks, but my feet are hurting (bad shoes on a concrete floor for hours).

I wonder if the ladies will call. I do always have lamb’s ear.

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