Garden Design: Architecture and Decor
Look twice at the hardscaping and architectural features of show exhibits. When you see a gardenscape you like at a show, look more closely to see if there are any individual features you can adapt to fill a need in your garden.
While this al fresco kitchen is surely beyond my means, I can never have enough comfortable seating, or enough planting space. I really loved the stone benches backed by planter boxes, although creating one from stacked stones seems overly ambitious. However, I also liked the look of the stucco used on the other side of the exhibit. Putting those ideas together, I'm thinking that I could build a bench-planter from cinder blocks and then stucco its surfaces. If you've already got a bench you love, this exhibit might inspire you to finish it off with a cushion and pillows for a more elegant look.
This pergola design caught our eye because of its irregular shape. It wouldn't have occurred to me to build one that didn't have a rectangular footprint, but this would work brilliantly in a small, oddly shaped nook. Another demonstration garden used pavers to create a small, perfectly circular pathway, setting off an accent piece. A small card on the pathway told us this feature would be easy to recreate, as the pavers were available as a kit.
Look at the layout of pathways and patios in exhibits you find inviting. I'm drawn to informal exhibits with winding pathways with unknowns around every corner. Exhibits like that cram a lot of garden interest into relatively small spaces by avoiding straight pathways and direct sight lines. That's an idea you can take home to make the most of whatever garden space you have.
Garden Décor: Color Combinations and Decorating Schemes
Flower shows are great for getting ideas about colors and textures that work well together. The container plantings at the show were spectacular and often enormous, but in many cases you could imagine downscaled versions looking wonderful on your own patio. Just remember that you may have to do some substitution to get a similar effect. Specific plant combinations from the show are often not possible in an actual garden setting.
Other designs may not be really practical in a home version. However, when you see an idea you love, make a note of it. You may find a way to adapt some aspect of it to your home or garden. We admired a modern wall of flowing water studded with orchid blooms. I'm not sure how to achieve this formal design in a smaller, more maintainable way. But now I'm looking twice at vertical tabletop fountains.
A glowing golden room studded with sunflowers drew the interest of many flower show attendees. Vases of upright forsythia branches lined the walls to set the stage for a spectacular central arrangement of cherry blossoms illuminated by gold uplights. It wasn't a room I would want in my home, but I could imagine creating a similar effect for a reading corner, with sunflower-stenciled walls, a gold-shaded lamp over a simple upholstered chair, and a tall vase of ever-lasting pussy willow stems.
Garden Accents: Statues and Fountains
It's almost impossible to visit a garden show without deciding you must find a way to work more accents and decorative features into your own garden design. The Italian theme of the 2009 show translated to statues and fountains galore.
Many of the water features at the show were very simple, despite their enormous size. Even if you don't have room for a fountain the size of an Olympic lap pool, a simple rectangular trough with a trio of water spouts would be a great garden addition. On a smaller scale, salvias or liatris could be substituted for these big spikes of delphiniums, echoing the vertical fountains.
Successfully incorporating such a feature into a gardenscape involves more than simply finding a stable place to plop it down. Focal point pieces can seem like an afterthought unless they're integrated into your garden theme. A statue of St. Francis feeding the birds suits an informal, woodland setting, while a classical Greek bust would be more at home among formal trimmed hedges. Additional architecture such as a wall or an arch can work to elevate and frame a special piece.
Urns and planters provide wonderful accents to draw your eye. Not only do they set off the plants they contain, they also bring attention to the surrounding plantings. Notice how containers are placed in show exhibits. Large urns and taller planters work well to accent corners or define the curve of a garden path. Detailed, formal urns are most effective by themselves or placed in pairs to flank a pathway or other feature. Simpler containers can be grouped together, preferably in odd numbers.
A huge event like the Philadelphia Flower Show provides endless inspiration for garden design, garden décor, and garden accents. Find an exhibit you love, and focus on a feature that makes it work. Then downsize that idea, and bring it home!
If you go
The 2010 Philadelphia International Flower Show will run from February 28 through March 7 (Sunday to Sunday), with a "Passport to the World" theme. There's plenty of parking around the convention center, or you can take a bus there (look for special promotional tours). Weekdays are less crowded, of course, but the crowds do thin out after 3 or 4 in the afternoon even on weekends.
Don't miss the great food court area across the street! If you've never had a genuine Philly cheesesteak, it's a must.
Photos by Jill M Nicolaus. Move your mouse over images and links in the article for additional information.