Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

I went to The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show expecting to see inspiring display gardens filled with the kind of plants which make me envious of those lucky enough to garden in California. You know…succulents and tender Mediterranean plants…things we can’t put in the ground up here in Portland, Oregon.
I was half right. There were several inspiring gardens, but for the most part the plant palette was really nothing out of the ordinary. Heck, there was even a garden full of the most basic of Pacific Northwest staples Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Bamboo!

I had long suspected that my discontent with the display gardens at the Seattle and Portland shows had at least a little to do with the plant choices, but this show proved that’s not necessarily the case. Well designed “modern” display gardens can inspire with or without fantastic plants. However, as my friend Scott recently pointed out, in the absence of plants a gardener can mentally fill in the space with their preferred plant palette, it’s easier than mentally personalizing a garden filled with Easter egg tinted flowering bulbs and colored twigs.
I am only posting pictures of the gardens that made a positive impression on me, I’ve got so many photos why waste your time on the unfortunate? Of which there was plenty: dragons and a junkyard of metal debris, tiny lights that made a garden look like a bag full of glitter exploded, the usual conifer and rock waterfall look, and of course an Italian-esque outdoor kitchen nightmare…sort of a Sopranos meets the Brady Bunch affair.
Thus far you’ve been looking at pictures from “Serenity Lounge” designed by Envision Landscape… “This garden implements the sounds, textures, sights and emotions of a coastal creek and transposes them into a small suburban backyard, serving to mask the urban noises and surrounding architecture.”
I would be happy if they could pick up this whole garden and plop is down in my back yard. Of course I would have to transplant all of my plants into it for it to truly make me content.
This next one was nothing but pure fun…
“Urban Habitat” designed by the School of Landscape Architecture at the Academy of Art, SF… “Urban Habitat is a dual-use parklet that is designed to provide a public place for citizens to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of the city around them, while allowing for participation in activities such as gardening. This parklet embraces the recycle and reuse of urban elements such as “dumpsters” to provide planting areas, seating, while also acting as “urban art” canvases for graffiti artists.”
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I loved it.
Ceanothus trees!

One small issue though…rocks like this are a twisted ankle waiting to happen. I watched countless people try to walk through the display and remain upright. I was wearing flats and still had a tough time. Don’t do this at home or especially in a public space, besides they are expensive!
Next up is “PLAnTFORM” designed by the School of Architecture & Landscape at Arizona State University…”PLAnTFORM introduces a new approach on using available space to create a garden setting in urban and suburban environments. It capitalizes on the function and science of roof gardens and transforms it to be used by gardeners as a landscape on a usable plane.”
Yep, loved the planting boxes!
And especially the little waterfall…

I'll admit I didn’t read up on the design intent behind each garden until after the fact. I like to see what impression it makes on my before I know what I’m “supposed to see.” So imagine how surprised I was to hear that this…
Was inspired by the Occupy Movement...huh?

“Dynamic Reflection” by French’s Waterscapes, LLC & Mariposa Gardening & Design..."Dynamic Reflection is a public gathering space, dedicated to the community. The garden is inspired by the way the Occupy Movement has brought people from across the globe to fight for justice and equality in their own nations. The garden is a tribute to those who have used public spaces to gather in peace and in unity. It is a space where people have come together to build the leaning flagstone wall, in collaboration."

I do know I loved the stacked stone walls, and upon chatting with the fellow standing by the garden he seemed to still be excited by how it all turned out. I asked if they’d built it offsite to make sure it all came together and disassembled and reassembled here. Nope. They built it right here for the first time, impressive!

You could even walk up on the top of the garden...
“SAVANNA!” by Rock & Rose Landscapes and Greenlee & Associates was one of my favs simply because as you walked through it you forgot you were in a suburban “Event Center.” It was marvelous! Of course that enclosed dim space within also meant getting decent photos was nearly impossible.

Here’s a little of what they have to say… “Take a walk on the wild side. Refreshingly new and exotic, yet a home in our climate, the sub-tropical, tall-grass Savanna is an exciting addition to the Bay Area garden palette. Stroll through rustling reeds and gargantuan grasses, and be alert to the sounds and the smells, the textures and the colors, the drama and the mystery.”

The Marcia Donahue sculptures definitely added to the experience.

“La Vie En Vert” by Outdoor Environments… “Serenity surrounds you; the peaceful sweep of the pendulum, the lovely green of the palms.”

Okay I admit I kind of thought the pendulum was fun, but I wouldn’t want it in my garden. I would however take the rectangle pavers…

The beautiful Dasylirion longissium…

And I’m a sucker for a lawn and paver checkerboard too…

“Windows” by McKenna Landscape… “Each of us sees the environment from our own point of view, our own window. This garden offers a new window through which to see landscape design in our back yards. A unique melding of an eclectic, vintage style with modern lines to keep it fresh and comfortable.”
Wine as a garden prop will get me every time, however I do like my tables to be dry, this one doubles as a water feature.
Behind the window (which is hinged) are books, so you can properly enjoy this little corner of the garden.
Finally a couple of walls in other gardens that I really liked, I believe this one is made from the metal uprights used in construction which would usually be hidden inside a wall?
Here I love the wooden strips weaving over and under the bamboo.

And here a tree weaves through metal panels. Maybe not terribly realistic for the long term but it looked good.

In addition to the large display gardens there were also several smaller ones, my favorite was “Hortisculpture” by Michelle Derviss (of the fabulous blog Garden Porn). Michelle was at her booth when we visited and I was SO excited to finally meet her after following her design adventures for years.
She used her own plants in the design…it was kind of like getting to visit her garden.
This raised bed garden seemed to be inspired by Ivette Soler’s The Edible Front Yard as it mixes fabulous ornamentals with beautiful veggies!
And look there are even succulents!
I also got a chance to see and touch the famous succulent pallet table that Far Out Flora’s Megan and Matti designed and built. I couldn’t get a good overall shot of it because so many people were gathered around it! (oh and I got to meet Matti earlier that morning, hard at work at his day job at Flora Grubb Gardens, yes his smile really is that infectious in “real life”)

Okay time to wrap this up before it becomes my longest post ever! One last stop, the plant vendors…

While the display gardens at this show may have been more to my liking I have to say the plant shopping area was a bit of a disappointment, the Seattle and Portland shows had them beat by a mile. Still, there was Succulent Gardens
So many beautiful things!
I would have bought one of these Dudleya pulverulenta or Chalk Live Forever had I not already purchased a smaller one at Cistus Nursery a couple of months ago.
I wanted this Echeveria agavoides 'Lipstick' too…
But bought this smaller one…
And I couldn’t (and didn’t) pass on a Dyckia choristaminea 'Frazzle Dazzle'

Love it! I also bought this small Grevillea at the Sierra Azul Nursery booth. I can’t tell you what it is for sure (maybe a G. lanigera?) because somehow between my driveway and house I seem to have lost the label. Sad.

There is one other fabulous plant that I took home from the show; it was a gift from Denise of the blog A Growing Obsession. Not only did I finally get to meet her but she so kindly shared a pup of her Agave pygmae ‘Dragon Toes’…

Isn’t it just Agave perfection? She also brought me a pair of New Zealand Purple Ricinus (Castor Bean) seedlings and a baby Euphorbia mellifera. The way most Euphorbia grow it will probably be a shrub by the end of summer.

Speaking of Denise be sure to click on the link above the Agave photo to visit her blog and see MB Maher’s photos from the show, they are dreamy. Need even more? Visit Bamboo Succulents and More where Gerhard shares more great photos and opinions!


  1. Merci beaucoup pour ce reportage

  2. It was great reading your thoughts about the show. We are in complete agreement as to what we liked and didn't. I'm glad you took many photos of the gardens both of us enjoyed; I made the mistake of spending too much time at the displays I did NOT like in a futile attempt to understand them.

    Like you I didn't read up on the various gardens until after the fact and the reference to the Occupy movement escaped me, too. If they were inspired by it, fine, but I would never in a million years have guessed that from the final product (which I liked very much).

    Agave pygmae ‘Dragon Toes’ is a new one for me. Is it commercially available?

    1. Yes I can't remember where Denise said she bought the Agave but it was a commercial nursery I'm sure.

  3. Thanks for showing us all the stuff you liked! I'd like to go to the San Francisco show next year. Do you happen to know what that big one is in Michelle Dervais' garden? I love that little window with the books behind it! I've seen that water table in a few other blogs, and I can't help thinking it is weird and impractical.

    1. The big Agave? It's only a guess but I'd say maybe Blue Glow?

      Upon looking at my pictures my husband said "looks like fun, maybe we should go next year"...you could have knocked me over with a feather. So maybe I'll see you there!

    2. Loree, if you go again next year, let's definitely meet up!

  4. Wow! it certainly looks like quite the garden show. It's amazing the amount of creativity that goes into something like that. I find that so inspiring! I soo would love to have a summertime nap in that cabana in the La Vie En Vert garden. As for the agave pygmae dragon toes is epic!!

    1. Wouldn't a little sleeping pavilion like that just be wonderful? Ah yes...

  5. I saw photos of this show on other blogs before but its interesting to hear your take on the show gardens and plants showcased (and your photography!).

    I totally agree with what your friend Scott had said, gardeners can easily 'customise' an area much like a blank canvass and work around existing/imposed hard landscaping. Whenever I visit garden shows I view displays on different perspectives and often imagine some of them devoid of plants and just focus on the hard landscaping.

    1. Ya I thought twice about whether or not to post about the show since plenty of others have but then decided what they heck, if nothing else I'll appreciate being able to look at the photos sometime in the future...

      At the Seattle show in particular I had a hard time focusing on the hard-scaping because the gardens were so stuffed with plants, some of them bad. Plus there you couldn't walk through most of the gardens which for me is a real drawback.

  6. It was fun to follow your links and see the show through several sets of eyes...even peek at a few of the WWTT's.

    1. Oh yes...there were definitely WWTT's to see...

  7. How very cool...they REALLY go all out down there! Of course, I adore the Savanna display...all those grasses...SWOON! I love that feeling of being enveloped in plants taller than me...so wonderful. I really like that first design as well (although as you said, imagining different plants). Those floating box planters are too cool...although I shudder to ask how much an installation like that costs!

    1. Do you read Kelly Kilpatrick's blog Floradora? While she liked 'Savanna' she also mused "if this was my garden, I'd be afraid my neighbors would show up with lawn mowers in the middle of the night. With the complete dominance of fine-textured grasses it just felt a bit weedy. There I said it. I don't think most home owners are ready for this look. I'm not"


  8. Nice post, and am glad you did, since I might blow off posting on it, and you said it well. But maybe I'll post on ones I liked that you didn't mention, then refer them to danger for the others. The chainlink garden you showed I missed, somehow!

    1. Thanks! And yes...please just move right on to posting photos of your trip to Phoenix! The chainlink garden was right behind the ASU garden, against the wall.

  9. "Italian-esque outdoor kitchen nightmare…sort of a Sopranos meets the Brady Bunch affair." Ha! Loved your account of the show, Loree, very fair and honest. And thorough! I got a bad case of show fatigue almost instantly this year, so am seeing lots of stuff I missed. The 'Dragon Toes' is a tissue culture agave from Kelly Griffin at Rancho Soledad, a wholesale grower that supplies SoCal nurseries. Not sure how far north he goes.

    1. You know which one I was talking about right? What was with all the Citrus just sitting around the garden like it was some wacky Easter egg hunt!?

  10. Nice review Loree, and way better photos than my crappy selection--which I didn't even try to post.

    Regarding the vendors, I wish you had had a chance to visit in the Good Old Days, back at the Cow Palace. I bet there were at least 20 to 30 percent more vendors: the orchid peeps had their own hall, as did the Bonsai-ers. Many more plant sellers. I'm sure there are business who fell prey to the economy (along with the show itself) and we can hope that as we recover , so does the show.

    1. I too wish I could have visited when the show was at the Cow Palace, I've heard such fond reminiscent tales about it then.

      I heard many reports of the plant sales being up here at our show was well as in Seattle. Hopefully that helps...I'm looking forward to this weekends HPSO sale as another economic indicator.

  11. I saw Gerhard's post about this show earlier -- it was fun seeing your different views of the same gardens.

    I don't think I've ever seen a display garden that I 100% love, but many have elements that are great. The Savanna garden is like that -- I love many aspects of it, but some details I can do without. Great inspiration though!

    1. And inspiration is what it's all about right?

  12. The spare style of the gardens you show is very appealing to me. I really liked the various paver effects, and the water spouts are clean and attractive. Makes me want to pare down my garden to simpler forms and spaces...but then where would I put all the plants? Surprising that the plant marketplace was not as good as the northern shows, but you did all right anyway - that Echeveria agavoides 'Lipstick' has gorgeous color!

    1. Yes I do like my plant selections and it was nice to not be tempted everywhere I went...after all plant sale season is just begining here at home!


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