PORTLAND – The smell of fresh mulch and the sense that winter’s almost over drew Betsey Andersen of Falmouth and Leslie Hyde of Yarmouth to the Portland Flower Show’s opening night.
The friends said there’s no better cure for the winter blues than a trip to the flower show, which began Wednesday in the cavernous 1840s-era buildings at the Portland Co. complex off Fore Street.
“It has been a tough winter. This is celebration of what things will be. You realize that you are going to survive winter,” Hyde said.
“It’s more than just a touch of spring,” said Andersen, who has been going to the flower show for more than 20 years. “I love looking at the garden designs and how they have been put together.”
This year’s show is an eclectic mix of beautiful gardens, miniature waterfalls, vendors’ displays, food booths and a few oddities such as brightly colored peacocks in a cage and a sprawling model train display.
The Best of Show garden, called “Gone Fishing” – a collaboration between Skillins Greenhouses and Prays Hardscape Inc. – features a 1934 Model T car.
This is the 16th consecutive year that the Portland Co. has hosted the show. Hundreds of people browsed through the exhibits and gardens Wednesday night. For the opening-night admission fee of $45 at the door, or $30 in advance, they got refreshments, and live music by Anna and the Diggs.
Visitors could stroll comfortably from one exhibit to the next, avoiding the congestion that occurs on weekends, when admission prices drop to $15 at the door and $13 in advance and thousands of people crowd into the show.
The buildings that form the Portland Co. complex opened in 1846 as a locomotive foundry, said their owner, Phineas Sprague. More than 620 locomotives were built there to serve the Portland-to-Montreal rail line.
The property is for sale, but Sprague said he hasn’t received any serious offers, so the Portland Flower Show is in no danger of leaving anytime soon.
Sprague said visitors to the flower show seem to enjoy walking through the enormous brick halls.
“I’ve tried to keep the buildings pretty much the same because they are treasures,” he said.
Richard Young, who lives in Portland’s North Deering neighborhood, was invited to create a model train display with more than 20 miniature buildings, more than 250 feet of track and a 20-foot-long bridge.
And, of course, the train display features several plantings, from dwarf spruce trees to primrose and blooming maple.
“This is just a hobby for me,” Young said. “Our backyard looks like this.”
Next to the trains is an eye-catching garden bathed in bright colors and feathers.
Mike Silvio of Tightlines Landscaping in Brunswick said the pheasants, which are kept in a cage, were loaned to Tightlines by the Maine Fun Farm in Otisfield.
“We chose a lot of our (garden) colors around these red-golden pheasants,” he said.
John Pray, who owns Pray’s Hardscapes of Falmouth, said the display that won Best of Show, “Gone Fishing,” took more than four days to erect.
Pray did all the stonework, in collaboration with Skillins Greenhouses of Falmouth.
“I really like the smell of the flowers,” Pray said. “It makes you thing that spring is coming.”
One of the more unusual products being sold at the show this year is copper garden sprinklers, designed by Mickey Bush of Saugerties, N.Y.
The sprinkler gets attached to a pole that is stuck in the ground. Each circular sprinkler head is adorned with a creature, like a cat or a moose, a hummingbird or a garden fairy.
The theme of this year’s flower show is “Timeless Gardens.” Organizers invited children and teenagers from across Maine to write essays explaining how to make gardens timeless.
Amy Witt, a home horticulturist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said nine students received cash prizes for their winning essays.
One of them, Tanner Carpenter, 12, of Porter, said he would put “contraptions” in his garden.
“The final thing I would put around my garden is a bug zapper fence so the crawling bugs would not get in and ruin the plants,” he wrote.
The show will run through 5 p.m. Sunday, when the People’s Choice award for best garden will be announced.
For more information or to order tickets, call 775-4403 or go to: portlandcompany.com/flower.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: