It’s Garden Show Time! (Or How To Say “Yes, Those Are Real Alligator Heads” One Thousand Times Without Completely Losing It)


After months of feverish preparation and frequent night terrors, the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show had arrived. Somehow— even though I hate to ask people for anything–I sweet-talked a slew of volunteers into helping me pull this thing off.

You get two and a half days to build your show garden. On the first load-in day, all of the other garden creators showed up with their fleets of fancy company trucks and large crews of experienced, uniformed workers. We, on the other hand, showed up with a graffiti-covered U-Haul, a handful of horticulture students, coerced members of my family, a couple of landscape contractors, and a whole mess of nervous energy.

Each garden gets its own “staging” area out in the parking lot, where you dump all of the stuff that goes into your garden. As I looked around at all of the other areas, my heart sank. They were filled with beautiful boulders, stacks of expensive flagstone, and gorgeous water features. My area, in comparison, looked like a garage sale gone bad.  I attempted to stay calm.

The next two and a half days were long, exhausting, and adrenaline-filled.

Here’s a short photo montage of the set-up process:

HERE'S WHAT WE STARTED WITH. I COULDN'T BELIEVE HOW NINE MONTHS OF NONSTOP WORK WAS ALL GOING TO FIT ON THIS TINY PATCH OF CONCRETE.

CREOLE COTTAGE GOING UP, AND BRICK FLOORING GETTING MARKED OFF

GARDEN STARTING TO COME TOGETHER

WAS ALL OF THIS CRAP GOING TO FIT?

IN DIRECTING MY CREW, I HAD TO BE SUPER BOSSY. I SWEAR THAT'S NOT HOW I AM IN REAL LIFE. I SWEAR.

And then, at noon on day three, it was time for us to clear out and make way for the judges. I turned on the New Orleans jazz, set the faux tealights to flicker, and went home to clean up and get ready for the evening’s reception. I fell in love with this garden, and was excited that it all came together even better than I imagined. I was on fire with anticipation at how it would be received—by the judges, and the public. I was baring my soul to the gardening world, and I felt very exposed–but really, really proud.

OVERHEAD SHOT OF THE COMPLETED GARDEN. I LOVED HOW THE BRICKWORK TURNED OUT. THE GLAZED TILE INSETS ARE MADE FROM RECYCLED TOILETS.

CLOSE-UP OF CREOLE COTTAGE AND MOSAIC SUCCULENT FOUNTAIN WITH GATOR HEADS (YES, THEY'RE REAL, DAMN IT!)

FRONT OF GARDEN SHOWING REBAR FENCING WITH MUSICAL NOTES AND CRAWFISH

It was a huge relief to find out that the judges and the public liked my garden almost as much as I did. The garden took home five awards, including a judge’s gold medal. Attendees voted my garden their favorite. I was interviewed twice on television–which, thankfully, I never watched: my daughter told me I looked “terrified,” and my husband said I looked like “a deer in headlights.” The garden was a great hang-out spot during the five-day show run. People didn’t breeze through it; they sat down, brought in their glasses of wine, and grooved to the jazz. It pulsed with positive energy the whole time, which was precisely my goal, all along.

Now, (YAY!) the garden show is here again (March 21-25), and I get to experience the magic all over again, this time as a (relieved) spectator.

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4 thoughts on “It’s Garden Show Time! (Or How To Say “Yes, Those Are Real Alligator Heads” One Thousand Times Without Completely Losing It)

  1. Unbelievable imagination, expertise and display of plants in a theme. An outstanding display of your talents. Glad to hear you did bring home five awards. You certainly deserved it. Well done. Have you thought of another project??? Perhaps an Italian theme garden? Thank you for sharing your garden at the garden show. Greatly appreciated.

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