San Francisco Flower & Garden Show makes leap ‘from Bauhaus to Greenhouse’ |

San Francisco Flower & Garden Show makes leap ‘from Bauhaus to Greenhouse’

It was with a moment of hesitation that I invited my wife, Felicia, to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show which runs through this weekend.

In past years, the complexities of ranch life (the cow to milk, her horseback riding classes, routine chores) interfered with her accompanying me on this trip. This time our two Jersey cows are mommies-in-waiting, and not being milked. The horseback riding lessons have been re-scheduled.

I knew in advance Felicia would be awed by the magnificent display gardens in the Cow Palace’s main arena, and that she would be equally entertained by some of the talks on various garden topics.

What gave me pause was the “Marketplace” with 360 commercial vendors, each one more intriguing and tempting than the last. Last year, even “Mr. Non-shopper” came home with a plug-in water fountain for the wall of our back deck, a very fanciful wooden pitchfork, a hanging ornament (with a horse as its center piece) that shimmers as it turns in the breeze and several other goodies. And we’re in the process of “sprucing up” our garden for a rehearsal dinner for my youngest son’s nuptials in May.

With that in mind, I had premonitions of a cautionary telephone call from Visa, saying, “We’ve noted an unusually high amount of activity on your card.”

We did not bring the pickup truck, as this would have provided room for say, a gazebo or small greenhouse ( I suspect a hobby greenhouse is in our future). Interestingly, though, I spent more money in the marketplace than my wife!

But if you’re visiting on Sunday, the last day of the event, I think a pickup truck or van would be a good idea for bargain hunters when vendors slash prices on plants and products. Be sure to visit the Hidden Springs Designs display (booth 2145, Petal Plaza) of Rob Matthews and Leslie Guinan, two artisans from French Corral who have combined stained glass into extremely imaginative benches and wall hangings.

Insofar as the display gardens themselves, they are somewhat reduced in grandeur from last year and the prevailing colors were green and gray, but they are a gold mine of ideas and imagination. The theme of the show this year is, “Where Gardens Meet Art” and the exhibitors have done a masterful job of design and creativity, with a heavy accent on using recycled materials.

Felicia was particularly entranced by the “Beneficial Mushrooms in your Garden” display by the Mycological Society of San Francisco.

And what I thought was the most impressive waterfall in the show was created by Clearwater Aquatic Gardens, of Auburn. I overheard a visitor at the “Waterfall Fantasy” display asking, “What would it cost to put this in my back yard?” And the answer was, “About $20,000.” I thought it would be more than that. Fantastic!

Another highlight of the show are the seminars, sponsored by Sunset magazine, with speakers like Nigel Colburn (from England, and one of the show’s judges) who is very entertaining and informative. Don’t miss his talk, “The World is Your Garden” on Sunday morning.

Among the 13 educational programs offered today are such subjects as “Garden Make-Overs” by Kathleen Brenzel of Sunset magazine and “How to Start Tomatoes and Other Seeds Indoors” by Renee Shepard of Shepard’s Seeds.

Adding to the fun are educational flower arrangements, a great bonsai and viewing stones exhibit, the plant market, (including “Hot Plant Picks” displayed by the California Horticultural Society), the Orchid Market (with 20 vendors) which overwhelms the senses, and “Dirt Mama’s Lil’ Gardens” which are 78 tiny gardens created by Bay Area school children.

Don’t worry about having to lug your purchases all day long, as there are two convenient places to check packages. And the one in Meadow Market allows you to drive your car up outside and save the long walk through the parking lot.

Once again, show organizer Duane Kelly and his staff have transformed the sadly outdated and shopworn Cow Palace into a gardener’s dreamland.

Open today from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and tomorrow from 9 a.m .to 6:30 p.m., admission is $20 for a full day or $13 for a half day (after 3 p.m.); children (4-11) are admitted for $7. Parking is $8 for a full day. The Cow Palace is at 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City. For complete details call (800) 829-9751 or go to on the Internet.


Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, a trained master gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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