Flower Show season…
January 18th, 2008
Eat Your Vegetables: Garden to Table [Cindy Combs photograph]
The minute the calendar page turns to the New Year gardeners don’t read: “January.” They read: “Spring.” It’s silly when so many places are still buried in snow, have sub-freezing temperatures, or even worry (as I am) about occasional frost. But we are busy planning our planting schedules.
Until the soil warms up, however, we can take solace in the piles of seed catalogs that fill our mailboxes. To speed up spring’s arrival, we buy tickets to the pre-season extravaganzas: Flower and garden shows. I liken these green celebrations to the “annual meeting” for plant lovers — especially plant lovers who push the envelope when it comes to defining our gardening season.
I’m deep into planning my February and March travel itineraries for taking in the Northwest Flower & Garden Show (February 20-24) and San Francisco Flower & Garden Show (March 12-16), respectively. I’m excited to gain new inspiration for hot plants, cool designs and inspiring lessons from the show gardens. Here’s where I can revel in horticultural happiness with like-minded souls, because seeing friends, of course, is a huge part of the fun.
For months I’ve been hearing from my Seattle garden friends about the flurry of activity surrounding the Northwest Horticultural Society’s display that will (I think) be the educational organization’s largest ever at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. As a former NHS board member and past editor of the organization’s newsletter, “Garden Notes,” I have a special place in my heart for its people and programs. Through NHS and its members and speakers, I have gained so much knowledge and inspiration over the years.
NHS has sponsored inspiring art- and plant-filled displays in past years. For 2008, NHS president Nita-Jo Rountree tells me the focus will be on edibles. “Eat Your Vegetables! Garden to Table,” promises to be centered around a tasty and inspiring display garden. Actually, THREE edible gardens. When it opens on February 20th, the installation will be a centerpiece of the Washington State Convention Center’s south lobby entrance. The goal is to demonstrate to showgoers that edible plants are easy to raise, attractive when mixed with ornamentals in the landscape and, with a few simple preparations, ready to go from the garden to the dinner table.
The 1,200-square-foot display will highlight two huge lifestyle trends — growing vegetables and cooking “fresh,” says Nita-Jo. I called her recently to get the inside scoop on how the garden plans are coming together. The design will feature an chef demonstration stage, plus a trio of edible landscapes: A formal French potager, designed by Robyn Cannon (featuring material and ideas from Lucca Statuary and Lakeview Stone); a contemporary container garden, suitable for balcony and rooftop, created by award-winning designer Wendy Welch; and the ideal patio kitchen garden with a “to-die-for” Aqua Quip kitchen and furnishings supplied by Gillian Mathews and Ravenna Gardens.
“Vegetables, fruits and herbs are the rage in gardening right now,” Nita-Jo says. Interest in growing one’s own food is a response to healthy lifestyle trends — a philosophy that excites and inspires novice and experienced gardeners alike, she points out.
“We’ll have organic cooking demonstrations surrounded by ideas for vegetable gardening and seed starting,” Nita-Jo adds. From Ciscoe Morris’s favorite Brussels sprouts to the recipeses of famed chef Jerry Traunfeld, formerly of The Herb Farm, cooking with seasonal and local ingredients will be presented.
Good design is an important element of appealing edible gardens. “We’re going to have a very cool circular stone patio that Lakeview Stone is installing,” Nita-Jo explains. “It will be surrounded by a tapestry of lettuces and strawberries.” Robyn recently shared with me her exploits in procuring 150 “perfect” dwarf boxwoods, which will knit together the intricate parterre for her potager design. All around, this is an ambitious – and delicious – undertaking.
To think that hundreds of tiny plants are needed to create the perfect edible garden is mind-boggling. A review of the list of vegetable seeds started and forced indoors weeks ago reveals the ambitious scale of this endeavor: Lettuces with names like ‘Outredgeous’, ‘Merlot’, ‘Oak Leaf’, ‘Italian Misticanza’, ‘Yugoslavian red butterhead’ and ‘Black Seeded Simpson’; ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Golden Sunrise’ chard; ‘Grafitti’ cauliflower; ‘Russian Red’ kale; and ‘Ruby’ cabbage. The bounty of the greenhouse also includes aforementioned Brussels Sprouts, plus onions, leeks, rhubarb, chives, parsley, cilantro, sugar pod snap peas, strawberries, rosemary, a bay tree, fig trees, tomatoes, peppers, beets, spinach, and 10 espaliered apple trees!
Creating a Flower Show display garden is nothing short of a labor of love – one that is created to share with thousands of fellow garden-aficionados. For those of us who desire an edible garden, one that feeds and nourishes our bodies and souls, the NHS display will be even more meaningful. Best of luck building your gardens, NHS!