Attack of The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show (*Or How I Created a Show Garden And Lived To Tell About It: Part I)

Rejoice garden lovers! The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show is almost upon us. You are probably overjoyed and giddy, right? But me…? It gives me sweaty palms and an irregular heartbeat just thinking about it.

Yes, I love the S.F. garden show and look forward to it every year (like lots of other plant-lovin’ peeps from around the country). But the reason for my gut-rolling reaction is deeper than that: two years ago I shocked myself by saying “yes” to creating a five-hundred-square-foot display garden for the show. I can’t help but relive the experience when this time of year comes back around.

Flash back to nine months before the 2010 show: I scheduled a meeting with Kay Estey, the show’s producer. I nervously presented her with my concept plan for a teeny, tiny 50-square foot, New Orleans-themed “pocket garden”. I guess she liked my little idea, because she then asked if I would consider turning it into a full-on, juried show garden. As in, one that was to be front and center on the show floor, judged by a panel of industry experts. Uh, come again?? The thought of designing and building a whole garden space that would be one of the show’s featured gardens, walked through by thousands of people, and, holy crap, judged…ohmygod. I felt sick all the way home. Yet I knew what my answer had to be.

I had no clue what I was doing. Designing a garden for a show like this is not like designing a regular garden. A show garden has to be more theatrical, more over-the-top, more everything. No one comes to garden shows to see boring stuff they could see on a stroll through their ‘hood. To make matters worse, I had no one lined up to help me build this thing. I naively thought that I could ramshackle this sucker together myself. What an idiot. I was dead.


I started to obsess about it. I mean freakishly obsess, and not in a good way. I started sleeping an average of three hours a night. The rest of each night was spent rolling around, wide awake, drenched in sweat, nerves taking over: “I’m going to fail miserably and everyone will see what a shitty designer I really am.” And the nightly, “What the hell was I thinking?” Or I would be awake thinking of stuff to include, of what needed to still get done, of problem-solving. At any rate, I lost a lot of sleep in those nine months. Did I mention that at the time, I was also in college finishing my second degree, running a design business, and managing a household of teenagers? I’m getting queasy just remembering the logistics of it. Ooooooh, shudder.


The one comforting thought that I had through the process was this: I was madly IN LOVE with the little garden that I was envisioning. I imagined an enchanted courtyard space at twilight, one that was firmly Californian in nature, but resonated with the soul of New Orleans. The city is pure magic to me. I love the paradoxical nature of the place–the absurdity, the grit, the kitsch, the funky architecture, the soulful food and music, the celebration of life, the preoccupation with death. I appreciate even the dirty, ugly parts of it. I knew that if I created a garden that I was head-over-heels for–my soul’s true garden—then at least I was making something that would enjoy. If other people enjoyed it…well, I guess that would be cool, too.