Dormancy in some plants may suggest February is a slow time of the year at the Nursery. However, a behind the scenes look shows our staff is busy, busy, busy getting our booth designed and plants prepared the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, one of the biggest shows of the year.
Customers delight in our lush-green garden display mixed with unusual plant selections and age-old antiques. It is an experience of contrasting forms and products (silver creamers and ironstone dinnerware atop moss place mats) along with varying height racks of healthy, beautiful, flowering plants and evergreen conifers: some not to be seen at any other booth.
This year, we wanted to show you the behind the scenes look of how we reach that point of historical charm and describe some of the considerations it takes to present an award-winning booth.
Many structural components are needed to create the vignettes inside the 20 x 20-foot space: a cash wrap, plant racks, a form for architecture and layers of unusual plant material all nested into the purposeful aging display of the Nursery, as if to pay homage to the Naturalists of the 1880’s. Toni Christianson oversees a four-person design team: Hardgoods and Pottery Buyer, Lily Hirdler, Primrose Merchandiser, Brenda Cornett and two staff members skilled in fabrication, Fred Bell and Katheryn Shiohira. The team often discovers overlooked objects from around the Nursery to incorporate into the booth that will support and highlight product bought specifically for the show. Aged, green, mossy wood from our shade house was salvaged and redesigned into boxes to be placed at the high corners of our prominently displayed rusted arbor with sprays of volunteer ferns nestled inside. Our hope is for our customers to walk into a well-planned environment and be transported into their imaginative past; immediately loving it without wondering why.
Our plant buyers have been talking with vendors since November about arranging delivery of the best plant material in time for the show. It is always a fun challenge for our buyers to forecast plant trends as it is based on many factors; what speakers may be discussing or introducing for the new year; which garden designers may be using as a feature in their container wars and what is available during that time in February, etc. In good humor, they admit to never knowing an indicator, but they always hope it is something unusual. Last year’s hot seller was a fragrant camellia with light pink blossoms named ‘Fairy Blush’.
Recently our staff has been moving plant material into the Greenhouse to keep it perfectly happy and looking exquisite for the show. One variety of paper bush shrub to watch for: ‘Edgeworthia Akebono’. A cousin to the daphne, it is a rarer shrub with unusual crayon-orange flowers (instead of yellow) that stay open through mid-April. A surprise offering (we won’t reveal all our secrets before the show!) will be Leptospermum; the specimens are in a perfect state of bloom with tens of tiny, pink, ruffle-edged blossoms against dark green needles.
This year, it will take two trucks and all hands-on deck to load up the structures, plants and supplies. Plants need one final soaking and feeding before getting transported down the I-5 corridor and then the game begins. Watching everything be loaded is likened to the game Tetris, an addictive puzzle game where players strive to make organization from chaos. John Christianson and our staff do their best to fit the pieces into place. It is amazing to see how much can fit into a box truck! The loading process is dialed in so narrowly, it seems there is scant room for a mouse to climb aboard afterwards. And even though many, many items are packed tightly, there is always a need to make a trip or two back to the Nursery to restock the hot sellers for the busy weekend.
John and Toni Christianson, along with the Nursery staff, and volunteers, have been participating in the Northwest Flower and Garden Show since 1989. Every year the show is different. Being one of the most seasoned participants in the Pacific Northwest nursery industry makes all of us here feel eager to experience, share knowledge and curiosities with other like-minded novice, hobby and professional gardeners.
Seattle’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show begins Wednesday, February 7 and runs through Sunday, February 11. Don’t wait in lines for tickets at the show. Adult early bird entry tickets are on sale now for a discounted rate of $19.00 and, once the show begins, tickets will still be available but the price will be $24.00.