March 8, 2010

Just in time for winter-weary Mainers: The 2010 Portland Flower Show.

By Tom Atwell
Staff Writer

Spring arrives in southern Maine this week – or at least an inkling of it.

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This 2008 display for the “Urban Retreat” show was the creation of Cozy Acres Greenhouse of North Yarmouth.

2008 Press Herald file

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Estabrook’s display from last year. This year, people will see a lot of what they liked in the past, says director Jan Love. “I think people come specifically to see the gardens,” she said. “...Winter is a struggle for a lot of people. Then you have the smell of the flowers and the mulch, the sound of the water, and you can see spring coming.”

2009 Press Herald file

Additional Photos Below


WHERE: Portland Company Complex, 58 Fore St.

WHEN: Preview is 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. Show runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 14.

AUCTION: The Cumberland County Master Gardener auction of plants begins at 5:30 p.m. March 14. A silent auction will be held 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. March 14.

CHILDREN’S GARDEN: Located on the second floor, the children’s garden will include a scavenger hunt and craft activities.

HOW MUCH: Advance tickets are $13 ($12 for seniors) at Hannaford stores, Skillins, Allen Sterling & Lothrop, O’Donal’s, Estabrook’s, Kennebooks, Sawyer & Company and Moody’s Garden Center. Tickets at the door are $15. Opening-night tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the door.


The Portland Flower Show opens at the Portland Company Complex at 58 Fore St. with a preview party from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.

The show runs through March 14.

This year’s theme is “Gardens Gone Wild,” which will give the creators of the 18 display gardens at the show a chance to show off their imagination – and their skills.

Flower show director Jan Love said there will be a few major changes at the show, but it will also give people what they liked in the past – mainly, display gardens.

The lectures and vendors are part of the attraction, but the display gardens are the most important aspect.

“I think people come specifically to see the gardens,” Love said, “to have that wonderful moment when you walk into the exhibition area and just go, ‘Aahhh.’ You have that sense of relief.

“Winter is a struggle for a lot of people. Then you have the smell of the flowers and the mulch, the sound of the water, and you can see spring coming.”

What might be the toughest part of the flower show to pull off are the flowers – getting plants to come into blossom in early March instead of May or August, when they would if nature were allowed to run its course.

Jeff Marstaller of Cozy Acres Greenhouse in North Yarmouth and Tom Estabrook of Estabrook’s, which has garden centers in Yarmouth, Scarborough and Kennebunk, are two exhibitors Love mentioned as excelling in getting flowers to bloom in time for the show.

Marstaller starts working on forcing flowers for the show shortly after Christmas.

“We are tied to a couple of very big variables – warmth and light,” Marstaller said. “There are many plants we would never even try to force for a March show.”


Plants that depend on day length for blossom and would normally blossom in June will need artificial light to come into bloom for this week’s show. That is because day length is 12 hours in March and about 13.5 hours in early June.

You would think that with perennials, plants that normally bloom earlier in the season would be easiest to force, but Marstaller has had good luck with astilbes and perennial Rose of Sharon, which both bloom fairly late in the summer.

“We don’t understand it,” he said in late February. “Not everyone would have tried Rose of Sharon, but I have some right here that look like they are going to be in bloom in two weeks. Some things break the rules.”

For woody plants, Marstaller said, lilacs and crabapples come out quickly and work well, although sometimes the bloom on the lilacs will come out before the leaves. He then puts the plants in a cooler greenhouse, which will slow the blossoms but allow the leaves to develop.

Marstaller also had some Olga Mezitt rhododendrons that looked like they were going to be ready for the show.

“You have to get the plants to where you want them and then put them in the cold house so they don’t get above 45 degrees during the day,” he said.

Estabrook said forcing flowers involves both guesswork and redundancy.

“We force almost twice what we need, and only half will make the show,” he said.  “We pretty much set up our design for the hardscaping and do the flowers on the floor based on what we have.

“You pick plants to grow that we know will go together, and once we get to the show, we pick the colors that complement each other and kind of pull things together.”

All of this can get expensive.


Estabrook said he will probably begin forcing plants that cost $6,000 or $7,000 before taking into account greenhouse and labor expenses. The costs of creating a garden for the flower show rise from there.

“I would say with forced plant material and hardscape and fencing, we typically spend upward of $30,000 for us to do the show,” he said.

“This includes staffing the show and the week before to set up and the week after to take down.”

The expense is factored into the company’s marketing, especially now that Estabrook has stores in Scarborough and Kennebunk to go with the original one in Yarmouth.

But the expense also is part of the reason more companies are teaming up to put together gardens for the flower show.

Marstaller’s company deals in wholesale, and while he does have a vending booth at the flower show, he thinks it helps his wholesale business as well.

“We overload our garden with color because that is what we sell,” he said. “I think people like that. We don’t do woodies, because we don’t sell those.”

It is hard to measure if the show helps Marstaller’s wholesale business.

However, he knows that some of the people doing rock work and other hardscaping can come away with a list of up to 50 names of people interested in having work done at their homes.

Love thinks the show will have good attendance this year. Last year, there weren’t flower shows in Boston or Bangor, and the Portland show had paid attendance of 14,997.

The Boston and Bangor shows have come back this year, but both are smaller than they were in the past.

“Maybe people liked enough of what they saw last year that they will come back this year,” Love said.

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

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Additional Photos

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This is the 2009 best-in-show garden by O’Donal’s Nursery and Landmarc’s Inc. landscapers. The theme for 2009 was “From the Mountains to the Sea.”

2009 Press Herald file

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Daffoldils and tulips in an Estabrook’s display at last year’s Portland Flower Show.


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