PORTLAND – It’s the aroma first, lilacs especially this year, but also mulch and other flowers. The fragrances mean that spring isn’t far away after a cold and snowy Maine winter.

And then it’s the color. The Portland Flower Show, which runs through Sunday at the Portland Co. Complex at 58 Fore St., was full of blooms Wednesday for its “The Enchanted Earth” design competition.

“We wanted to give people fragrance walking in and walking out,” Chad Skillin of Skillin’s Greenhouses said of the Best of Show-winning design, “Once Upon a Time, ” done by Skillin’s with Pray’s Landscaping.

The design has a pathway with lilacs at one end and a fully blossomed Mayflower viburnum on the other. It also includes beanstalks going up a pole, trolls that Skillin made of moss and other material, a plant representing a tuffet next to another plant representing a spider web, and plants representing a trail of bread crumbs. “Chad came up with the design, and it all sort of came together when we got it here,” said John Pray.

Skillin’s Nursery Manager Tim Bate forced the plants for the exhibit. “It was touch-and-go,” he said. “We had to slow some of them down.”

Nursery professionals and the paying public said the designers outdid themselves this year.

“We come every year,” said Carla Dupuis of Freeport, “and this is the best one yet.” “It is definitely the year of the lilac this year,” said her husband, Ron. They agreed that the show is a blessing after the winter.

The show has some outstanding forced plants. The O’Donal’s-Landmarc’s display has a giant Japanese willow — about 25 feet tall and equally as wide — in beautiful bloom behind huge cells of a beehive.

“We planned our entire exhibit around that Japanese maple,” Jon Snell of Jaiden Landscaping said of an almost glowing red tree that looked like it was planted right by a spring. His garden also had a line of aromatic lilacs, across a path from the pond.

As beautiful as the show is, it also is business.

Tom Estabrook took an order for a plant that was part of his “Garden Living” exhibit. He also is excited about the re-blooming Bloomering lilac and a Liberation clematis, which he said bloomed three times for him last season.

But the flower show isn’t just for the big, well-known landscaping companies.

“I try not to feel intimidated going up against all of these big companies as a one-person shop,” said Lynn Leclair of Petal Pushers Garden Place in Litchfield.

Her “15 Emerald Way,” created with Stonewall & Repair, won the award for ingenuity.

She said this is the second year she has exhibited, and the first year that she won an award. Even though she didn’t win last year, the competition was worthwhile. She had customers showing up all last summer to buy the stone faces she had in her exhibit.

But it’s too soon to look to summer and business. Portland has blooms, waterfalls, stonework, moss and evergreens, all done up with beauty in mind. Spring has arrived, even if it’s only indoors.

The show will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

At 5:30 p.m. Sunday in Building 3, Cumberland County Master Gardeners will hold a live auction of some of the plants and other items from the show.

The Master Gardeners will have a silent auction from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Building 11.


Staff Writer Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at [email protected]