This year’s Maine Flower Show, set to open at the end of March, is being held two weeks later than its predecessor, which means attendees will get to see more and different flowers than they have in past years.
“We have two more weeks of hot weather and bright sun in the greenhouse,” said Jeff Marstaller, co-owner of Cozy Acres, which is one of three Maine companies growing plants for the show. The others are Estabrook’s and Pierson Nurseries. (As these words are being edited, though, with a Nor’easter blowing hard, it is anything but hot and bright out.)
“I toured Jeff’s and Tom’s greenhouses last week, looking at plant material, and I was blown away by the variety and amount of what they are growing,” said Maine Landscape & Nursery Association (MELNA) President Jake Pierson, referring to Marstaller and Tom Estabrook. The association is the new sponsor of the flower show, which was operated until 2013 by Portland Yacht Services.
“This show is not going to be sparse on plants,” Pierson continued, addressing complaints that display gardens in previous shows emphasized hardscaping – stonework, benches, garden houses, water features, walks and patios – more than plants.
The flowers and plants that will be the objects of envy and appreciation at the show have been growing for weeks.
“We have two full greenhouses,” Marstaller said, both in North Yarmouth. “Our zero-emissions greenhouse is chock-a-block full” of plants being kept at cool temperatures. The traditional greenhouse is kept warmer and is almost as full. The cooler greenhouse slows plant development while the warmer one speeds it up. In concert, they’ll ensure that all of the flowers will be at their peak for the show.
At Estabrook’s, with locations in Yarmouth and Kennebunk, Tom Estabrook said his company is growing thousands of plants for the show, both for its own displays and those of other landscapers and nurseries. While Marstaller is focused on annuals, vegetables and herbs, Estabrook’s is growing the whole gamut.
The later date of the flower show also answers another complaint that show-goers have had in past years: the lack of plants for sale. This year, attendees will be able to buy plants.
“You could plant some of them outside in the first week of April,” Pierson said, referring to perennials, as well as to the 300 trees and shrubs now growing in his own wholesale company greenhouses for the show. Barring a late-season snowstorm or cold snap, the ground in southern Maine, at least, is often workable and temperatures warm enough then for planting.
Pierson’s own booth will be selling a line of small native plants that are ready to go in the ground. Estabrook’s booth, too, will offer a variety of ready-to-plant items, include pansies, ranunculus, hellebores and small shrubs such as magnolias.
Both Marstaller and Pierson will have display gardens at the show, among the 16 display gardens in total. Pierson said his company is creating a display garden for the first time since it closed its landscape-design division more than 20 years ago. As MELNA president, he wants to support the show. But there’s another reason, too.
“I’m trying to help the home owner understand they can buy plants that are locally grown, that are tested by local growers in this climate, and those growers are employing their neighbors,” Pierson said.
He said that Maine’s nursery industry has not done a good job of communicating to the public that the buy-local movement consumers have embraced for fruits and vegetables also applies to ornamental plants.
The theme of this year’s flower show is “Plant Something,” in coordination with the association’s marketing campaign, itself part of a national campaign that encourages people to garden and promotes “the environmental, financial and health benefits of trees and plants.”
What happens to the display plants once the five-day show ends? The perennials, trees and shrubs whose growth is being sped up in greenhouses will live after the show – although some will need as much as a year to recover from the stress. Most of the annuals, however, will not be saved.
And while three local nurseries are producing most of the plants before the show, Estabrook hopes attendees will take up the task after. To increase the odds of that, they can take home free seeds for pollinator-friendly varieties. Information on how to grow the seeds will be posted to the flower show website.
Later this summer, whenever they see butterflies and bees hovering around the plants those seedlings produce in their own gardens, flower show attendees can remember the flower show. It will provide some pleasure in the moment as well as advertising for next year’s show.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]