March 12, 2010

Flower show nourishes the winter-weary

— An event like the Portland Flower Show, which closed a five-day run last Sunday, serves a lot of purposes.

The most important purpose is that it gets people fired up for the gardening season. The display gardens give people new ideas that they can try out at home -- whether it is discovering a plant or two they haven't seen before or a way of using stone in the garden.

But the show also gives people a break from the outside world. It is a fantasy land of Maine in late spring or early summer brought inside at a time when people can no longer stand the idea of snow or ice.

Jan Love, director of the show, was pleased with the results.

''People were very happy,'' she said Monday. ''The vendors did very well. The garden exhibits had a lot of people booking appointments (for future jobs), and an amazing number of stone pieces were sold right from here.''

Paid attendance was 14,997, which Love said was a very good number. ''It certainly was a happy crowd,'' she said. Paid attendance in 2008 was 11,799, which shows a 17.8 percent increase this year.

Linkel Construction and Cosmic Stone and Garden Supply of Topsham won the People's Choice Award, announced Sunday as the show was closing. The centerpiece of the exhibit was a huge stone picnic table surrounded by stone seats and set in a wooded glen.

O'Donal's Nursery and Landmarc's Inc. landscapers won Best of Show and three other awards for the exhibit ''The Nourishing Journey,'' which showed a stream traveling through the woods toward the sea -- fitting with the show's theme, ''From the Mountains to the Sea.''

The garden included both native plants and similar non-native plants, ''separated from 'native plants' only by time and continental drift,'' nursery owner Jeff O'Donal wrote in describing the entry.

The one complaint I heard from people attending was that there were not as many flowers as they would like. The entry of Estabrooks Farm & Garden, Ron Forest & Sons and Mercier Landscaping called ''My Marshview Garden'' and the Cozy Acres Greenhouses entry ''The Cozy Garden'' included a lot of flowers, but most of the exhibits didn't.

Part of the reason was the theme. The mountain woods have more trees than flowers, and the seashore has more grasses and sand. But it also takes a lot more time and money to force flowers into bloom in time for the show.

The nonprofit groups had a lot of information. The Maine Natural Areas Program had handouts about the invasive plants threatening Maine, and the Maine Board of Pesticide Control had a lot of information on the most environmentally friendly ways to grow lawns.

The lectures were the highlights for people who had a long time to spend at the show. This wasn't a lecture, but I enjoyed an early screening last Sunday of filmmaker Brett Plymale's ''Hudson: A Chemical Reaction.''

The movie tells two stories.

The first is how Hudson, in Quebec, Canada, banned the use of lawn pesticides, and how the town went all the way to Canada's Supreme Court as the lawn-chemical companies tried to overturn the ban.

The second story is that of Paul Tukey -- a former sportswriter at the Press Herald/Telegram, just so we have full disclosure. When Tukey left the newspaper, he started a lawn-care company using pesticides until he developed a reaction to the pesticides and sold the company.

Tukey has since become a crusader for organic lawns, using his magazine ''People Places & Plants,'' by writing ''The Organic Lawn Care Manual'' and by founding SafeLawns.

A large chunk of the movie has Tukey interviewing people in Canada about how lawn pesticides have been banned there and about Tukey's efforts to institute a similar ban in the United States.

Plymale is hoping to have the film accepted to be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The flower show was the first time it had been shown in public, and Tukey and Plymale were looking for feedback.

The other lectures gave me good ideas on growing fruit, using native plants, growing better lawns and more. Some of those ideas will be explored in detail in later columns.

You can still view my ''Constant Gardener'' blogs from the flower show at

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

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