Not Really A Recap Of This Year’s S.F. Flower and Garden Show

The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show was last week, and, oh yeah, baby—I experienced a glorious week of parties, plants, and all things right with the world.

The main draw of the garden show, is of course, the display gardens, and we were treated to some yummy stuff this year.

As someone who’s designed and built one of these things before, I fully appreciate the time, effort, and energy all of these gardens represent. But I have to admit I have a special place in my heart for the gardens that provide an authentic, transportive experience.

A few of the displays were “kitchen sink” gardens, and lacked restraint and cohesiveness. Some displays were a bit one-dimensional—their sole purpose to provide a marketing opportunity and show off the handiwork of the landscaper’s crew. Most of the gardens had at least a couple of priceless take-away ideas. In fact, I snapped a ton of photos, for future reference for my landscape design clients.

There was one garden however, that I didn’t take many photos of. Instead of tooling around the space, snapping pictures, I simply went in and experienced it. The garden, called “Savanna!” was about as complex as my pug’s brain: in other words, it couldn’t get any more simplistic. But somehow, this garden affected me more than all the others.

HERE'S A PIC I TOOK OF "SAVANNA!" DURING THE INSTALLATION. THIS PIC SHOWS THE TUNNEL EFFECT THAT THE GRASSES CREATED.

The garden, designed by meadow guru John Greenlee and built by Rock & Rose Landscapes, was more than the sum of its parts. I was smitten with the grass and snake-inspired sculptures by Marcia Donahue (I really geek out over everything she does). I also adored the savanna/nature sounds emanating from hidden speakers. But what really got me was how I felt in this garden.

At the entrance to the garden stood a small carved driftwood sentry, lit from the interior by a warm, glowing light.

WAY MORE FABULOUS THAN YOUR RUN-OF-THE-MILL PATH LIGHT.

You had to enter and walk this narrow space single-file, which meant that this was a quieter garden than the rest. People had to wait to gab about the garden after they exited, and the imposed silence added to the garden’s inherent contemplative feel.

Once you stepped all of the way into the garden, you felt like you had left the Event Center,  and had shrunk to Alice In Wonderland proportions. The tall grasses and bamboos formed a lofty cathedral archway over the path; the effect was somehow both imposing and sheltering. For the few minutes that it took to walk the path, the garden became a protective shroud, a momentary buffer from the crowds that buzzed all around. I ended up walking through more than a few times.

GRASSES, RESTIOS, AND KNIPHOFIAS MAKE MY HEART GO PITTER PATTER

I felt that this garden was bold in its simplicity. Even the plant material was subdued: the grasses, restios, and bamboos had a monotone, almost “weedy” look to them. We designers know that the general public tends to get all excited for color and flowers–hence the gutsiness in choosing this more subtle palette.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am in the middle of a serious meadow-fetish, so it goes without saying that I’m in love with John Greenlee and everything he touches. Maybe that biased me. Regardless, “Savanna!” was an outstanding addition to this year’s show, and for me, is the one garden that I will remember.

ARTIST MARCIA DONAHUE CREATED THE WONDERFULLY SUBTLE AND QUIRKY SCULPTURES FOUND DOTTED THROUGHOUT THE GARDEN

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