On a chilly Friday in February, New Englanders fed up with winter were welcomed with fresh flowers at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show. People were so excited about a taste of Spring, that police circled the streets trying to control the traffic and crowds.
Inside, a woman sold carnations next to a self-playing piano as waves of sensory details seeped through the glass doors from the main floor. The aroma of freshly baked mac and cheese goodness from a food vendor mixed with the delicate fragrance from the rose garden display, giving the air a sweet and savory scent. On one side there were massive displays for the Landscape Design Competition, each one the size of someone’s yard, some with ponds and pine trees. The other side held the floral design competitors.
The show attendees were everyday Joes and Janes, ranging from children to seniors. There were young children trailing their moms, and students from the local F.F.A., Future Farmers of America Association. Since I last visited the convention with my F.F.A. class five years ago, there has been an increase in diversity among the vendors. There were no longer only options for floral designers and garden enthusiasts; now, vendors sold lawn service and John Deer tractors. Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory sold cocoons; bee keepers marketed organic beauty products; vendors sold home décor, land birdhouses big enough for the whole flock, and lawn ornaments, from the classic gnomes to a life-size Virgin Mary.
Next to handcrafted clothing and clocks, was local Middletown business Lyman Orchards. The orchard is known for their famous apple products: beer, pie, apple fritters, and apple cider. There was a sign advertising their youth golf program.
“Vending at a show like this introduces people to the brand who are not familiar with Lyman,” said John Gherman, who works at their general store. “We have so many different events going on, we have great golf courses, and we sell homemade apple pies.” Gherman was dressed in jeans and a black polo shirt. Lyman’s goal was to attend events like this one.
“We are not trying to sell stuff. We’re just trying to get the public familiar with us. We are thinking about going to the one in April, the Health and Beauty show. It is not common for us to get out. In the booth we did doughnut tastings. It’s one of our most popular; we went through twenty-five thousand.”
“It’s a great show,” he said. “Our goal is to attract new customers who have not heard of Lyman. Touch base with some regular clientele and introduce some new programs like junior golf and the C.S.A. Program, which is an Ag program where you get food share for eighteen weeks from June to October.”
Laura Soll is the media coordinator of CT Flower Expo. She handles press and venders, and also coordinates events. “The landscape competition was judged Thursday night. These were landscape designs made from people and companies like CT Rose Society, Earth Tones, and Aquascapes of Connecticut who spent their time and effort putting together a landscape scene for the show.” Soll wore a plaid, loose-fitting gardening shirt with blue jeans. She had been rushing to get the place ready for the big day. “This show has been running for thirty-eight years, it is helpful to have people like the CT Rose Society. Margaret Bercovitz worked closely with the Suffield F.F.A. to gather this year’s rose flowers.”
Margaret Bercovitz is a member of CT Rose Society. Bercovitz is a petite, grey-haired woman in a white colonial dress paired with a hat. Perfect attire for an afternoon stroll through the garden.
“This year was the first working with Suffield F.F.A. In the past, I reached out to the programs for roses not yet budding. I am very grateful for Suffield F.F.A.,” Bercovitz said. Her design included red, white and pink roses. Laura LaFlamme, the floral teacher and Suffield F.F.A. director, contacted Bercovitz and even offered to let her use the greenhouse to grow roses over the winter. They were also vending at the show. The friendly students had spent the day wrapping corsages to give out to the community to raise awareness for their program.
The theme for the floral design competition was A Night in Paris. Upon entering this part of the show floor, there were benches with pink, small umbrellas to make you feel like you were entering Paris. There was also a giant, hand-sculpted statue of the Eiffel Tower. There even were floral designs inspired by George Seurat’s famous Paris portrait, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the La Grande Jatte. Each was stunning.
Members of Connecticut’s Garden Associations sat in booths. Garden Associations participated in competitions like floral photography. The photographs were posted on black felt walls which made the colors pop. It was similar to an art gallery. Other competitions included table arranging, kitchen design, and jewelry design.
If you wanted to take a break from the exhibit hall you could head to the third floor of the convention center for demonstrations and informational panels. These panels were led by experts in the field: Bob Buettner on floral arranging, Amanda Morris on backyard chicken farming, and Steve Walowski speaking about organics 101: organic approach to lawn care. It was a full program.
The Connecticut Flower and Garden Show brings communities together, not just floral designers or gardeners, but families and friends, and people who love organics, homemade crafts, and lawn care. It has something for all creative, handy people. Even F.F.A. alumni return to see what they used to love to do. I left with fresh produce on my mind, and fifty dollars’ worth of organic balsamic vinaigrette, eagerly waiting next spring’s show.
Tessa Stack is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine.