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San Francisco Flower and Garden show dazzles, something for all

Anyone who considers themselves a gardener who is not totally jazzed by a visit to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show should perhaps consider taking up a new hobby.

On view at the Cow Palace in Daly City from now through 6 p.m. Sunday, the 22nd annual show literally has something for everyone to enjoy, from the tiny children’s gardens to the 21 innovative display gardens in the main arena to the hustling, bustling trade fairs in the side halls and the highly acclaimed seminars being presented around the rim of the arena.

“Living and Loving the Garden Life” is the theme of this year’s event – the fourth largest spring flower show in North America (after Philadelphia, Boston and Seattle) – that has proven, “Smaller is better.”



As show organizer Duane Kelly explains, the “footprint” of the show has been reduced to keep everything within the confines of the main Cow Palace building: “We’re constantly surveying attendees, and learned a major complaint – particularly among older people – was that there was too much walking when we were in the lower pavilion. They went home exhausted.”

(That meant moving the garden seminars into seating areas surrounding the main arena, which has the “plus” of being more comfortable and the “minus” of being fairly inaccessible to the infirm.)




But complaints, even from purists who sniff that some of the plant combinations would be impossible to successfully duplicate in the average garden, were swept away by compliments.

The “Best of Show” award went to a highly imaginative “Under the Sea” garden with an imaginative jungle of “unthirsty” cactus and succulents surrounding a dining room table where giant clams (each containing a football-sized silk pearl) serve as seats.

And one wonders if the nearby giant octopus with glowing red eyes will be the maitre’d for the fete.

Organic Mechanics of San Francisco created the imaginative setting “to promote environmental awareness. When life’s a beach, jump in the deep with both feet and enjoy alfresco garden entertaining with friends.”

While applauding the top choice of the international team of judges, many of my garden media friends gave their highest compliments to, “The Metropolitan Meadow: Driving Towards a Solution” created by ornamental grasses guru John Greenlee and partners.

A beautiful red and white 1955 Nash Metropolitan (which got 40 mpg when gasoline sold for 33 cents a gallon) sits in the middle of the grassy island display, next to a picnic basket brought by its owners. This is one of those gardens that demands you plant your feet in one spot to truly appreciate the craftsmanship and come to grips with the fact that all these plants weren’t here just a few days ago.

It artistically presents the concept that having a meadow or natural lawn – instead of a conventional one – in our home gardens can help us walk more softly on the planet.

My personal favorite, however, is, “A Prince’s Retreat: Gateway to a Persian Dream,” if for no other reason than the story behind its creation. With huge hammered copper doors created in Morocco to the elaborately carved and decorated Sultan’s throne to use of Marcia Donahue’s eye-catching “bamboo” sculpture and subtropical plants (have you ever seen a scadoxus before?) to the crisp clean lines of the setting, all it lacks are veiled dancing girls from the harem to capture the imagination.

But the show’s official program lists a totally different display in that spot on the floor.

Todd Pearson, of Living Green Plantscape Design in San Francisco, explains: “We originally had planned a very small display garden on the upper level, overlooking this one which was being created by horticulture students at Arizona State University.

But just six days before construction of the gardens was to start, they called the show’s producers and apologized that they couldn’t come! That would have left a gaping hole, so the show’s organizers asked if we could expand our display. Fortunately, we could.”

A note to bargain hunters looking for items when the show closes at 6 p.m. Sunday: Don’t bother asking the price of those magnificent copper doors. They’ve been sold for a home in Hawaii. (And wouldn’t it be fun visiting THAT place?)

An earmark of the San Francisco show is garden whimsy, this year epitomized in such displays as, “If Looks Could Kill: A Demonstration Garden of Poisonous Plants.”

Spectators are directed to a stairway that descends alongside a “compost coffin” and in that subterranean setting they find poisonous plants such as poison oak, nightshade, monkshood, crocus and water hemlock labeled with “toe tags” from a mortuary!

Major sponsors of the event are Sunset (touting the New Western Garden Book) and Smith & Hawken, whose lineup now focuses exclusively on fine English gardening tools.

It’s fun. It’s exciting. Go there.

One-day tickets for the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show are $20; Cow Palace parking is $8. To reach the site, take Highway 101 South from San Francisco to Highway 280 to Geneva and drive South to the parking area.

Dick Tracy is a former gardening writer for both The Union and The Sacramento Bee. He lives in Grass Valley.


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