Inside the Garden Show: Helping With a Show Garden

It was loud when we arrived with our ladders and buckets. Back-up beeping echoed through the cavernous concrete hall. They let us drop off our painting supplies inside, so I drove our old Subaru right up onto the show floor, among the giant trucks and front-end loaders.

My wife and I were at the Washington State Convention Center to help build the Arboretum Foundation’s display garden for the big Northwest Flower & Garden Show, which opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday. I’d never really helped before, but this year they asked Susie to design and paint the backdrop for the plantings, so I signed on to assist.

The build started on Saturday, and as soon as the raw plywood wall was up, we popped the lids on the paint. Through Saturday and Sunday, we rolled and brushed, standing back and eyeing the results, fending off the garden creators who wanted to get those ladders out of the way so they could shovel in the sawdust and move in the plants. I didn’t blame them. But our part needed its time.

A Seattle Times videographer, Lauren Frohne, “embedded” herself with the team who was designing and building the garden. See her results in the linked video.

Led by Bob Lilly and Phil Wood, the team was building platforms and bringing in plants large and small, from cedar and cherry trees to trays of tiny succulents. They placed the potted treasures carefully, fussing over the angles, teasing the blooms out of the leaves, poking tiny flowers up through rolled-out sod.

I love the design for its realness. Titled “Picture Yourself on Azalea Way,” it evokes the Washington Park Arboretum’s most famous strolling path. Although it’s clearly a fantasy, put together and bloom-forced for a five-day show, it is a showcase of many of the plants that you would see if you actually took that stroll.

As they always do, the Arboretum Foundation designers have inserted a subtle teaching message into their beautiful creation: here’s a garden you could have at home. Kudos, Bob and Phil.

You won’t see us in that video, because the garden is all about the plants, as it should be. But look beyond the plants to the backdrop, a green-and-black canvas upon which the flowering palette is spread. I’m proud of the effect, which is especially effective if you see it in person, under the dramatic, subdued lighting.

The garden has been awarded a bronze medal, but I’m still seeing green. And scraping a little of it from under my fingertips.

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