Boston Flower Show: Lectures, Designs, Displays, Plants

I attended day three (Friday) of the Boston Flower Show this year. The show was presented, as usual for 5 days, from Wednesday, 22 March, to Sunday, 26 March, at the Boston World Trade Center in the Seaport. There were actually more interesting-sounding lectures scheduled for other days — “Nibbling on Natives in Your Backyard & Beyond,” “Growing and Using Edible Flowers,” “Growing Food in Urban Settings,”, “Superheroes of Our New England Foodscapes,” “Ecological Landscaping: New Trends in Landscape Design and Management,” “A Camel’s Garden: Planning & Planting for Drought,” “The Benefits of Botanical, Compost and Enzyme Teas” —  but Friday was the day that worked for me, and I looked forward to “Striking, Uncommon Plants and Awe-Inspiring Design Tips” by Kerry Ann Mendez, who lives in Kennebunk, ME, and particularly to “Permaculture Gardening: Learn to Work with Nature to Create an Integrated Ecological Design on Your Landscape” by Marie Stella, a landscape historian and designer who lives in an LEED house in Shelburne Falls, MA.


Mendez is a dynamic and organized speaker. Her slides are instructive and beautiful (and my photos of them in the odd lighting don’t do them justice). She provided the audience with a handout of suggested plants and some design tips (though the audience was so large that only about half those attending got the handout), and her ideas were genuinely different from the run-of-the-mill perennials and shrubs often recommended.


(I particularly like the Fine Line and had to take a photo of that slide. Here it is in my garden, in May 2015. I have only one so far, but I love the idea of using it in place of tall grasses for a longer season of display:



On the other hand, Stella’s permaculture talk was disappointing. I have no doubt that she walks the talk and has done great things with her property, and I liked her emphasis on experimentation. But the lecture was not a success, in my opinion.


To begin with, the topic advertised as the lecture title (“Permaculture Gardening: Learn to Work with Nature to Create an Integrated Ecological Design on Your Landscape”) was not the same as the topic of the actual lecture, which was “A Permaculture Perspective: Hydrology at Beaver Lodge.” Huh? There were many fewer in the audience to start with than at other talks I noticed that day, and more than a handful left within the first half-hour. I wasn’t clear what audience Stella had geared her talk for. I assumed that, given the advertised title, it would be mostly people who didn’t know much about permaculture and wanted an introduction. But instead of giving us the permaculture basics, she alternated between talking about her house and property — with emphasis on collecting, storing, and using water as sustainably as possible — and throwing up a few hard-to-see text slides of unclear permaculture principles and concepts (which she didn’t say much about), USDA maps and climate info,  and poor photographs of her yard, pond, and gardens.


The cute beaver in her beaver pond:


In contrast to Mendez’s dynamism, organisation, useful slides, and inspiring content, Stella’s lecture was disorganised, her slides did little to illuminate her words, and her scattered delivery confused me. It’s probably fun and instructive to visit and tour her property with her, but there are many other permaculture speakers who would have been better able to deliver an Intro to Permaculture talk with copious examples (and great photos) from their yards and lives. It was doubly disappointing because this was the only overtly permaculture module in the show — though there are talks featuring mushroom cultivation, soil, organics, native plants, etc. — and it would have been a great opportunity to inspire people to learn more.


On to the designs, displays, and plants! Of which, while I’m finding fault, there are never enough; I overheard a lot of folks noticing how few gardens and how many vendors there are at the show. That evening, I ran into a saleswoman at Copley Mall who had come to the show on Thursday for the first time, with her mother; they were both surprised to find that it was mostly things for sale, with the gardens taking up about 1/4 of the total show floor space. I don’t know how the show can incorporate more gardens, plants, and designs, but I think they should consider it, at least removing the vendors who have nothing to do with gardening, yard care, or flowers and who aren’t giving away or selling food and drink.


Unusually for me, this year I really didn’t have a favourite display garden. In fact, after all that railing about too many vendors, I actually thought Hudson Valley Seed Company had one the best displays in the main area, partnering their beautifully illustrated seed packets with the original artwork and the plant grown from the seed. A brilliant idea!

artwork and seed packet covers for Blue Jade sweet corn, Emerite pole beans, and Long Island Cheese pumpkin
artwork and seed packet art for stinging nettle and Shanghai baby bok choy seeds … and a woman whose clothes match the art!
Sweet Siberian watermelon art and seed packet
Nozaki Chinese cabbage watercolour, seed packet, and plant
Midnight Garden flower mix seed packet and owl art (night-blooming annual flowers: Candytuft, White Four O’Clocks, White Cosmos, Sweet Mignonette, Bishop’s Flower, Evening Scented Stock, Sensation Mixed Nicotiana)

Above, spotted trout lettuce art and seed packet (photo credit: T. Williams).

Bishop’s Children dahlia and lemon balm seeds, art, plants


Samantha’s Gardens and Jamaica Cottage Shop went in on a display together, with Samantha’s Gardens providing the plantings for Jamaica Cottage Shop’s tiny house, which could be toured. In fact, the first time I tried to get into the tiny house, the line was too long (extends much farther than shown),


but when I came back around 4:15, I got right in. The house, at 8×16 feet (128 sq. ft., plus two tiny lofts), was more like a sweetly decorated shed and felt very crowded with 5 people in it. Still, I managed to get up the stairs into the main loft to take a shot looking down at the main floor.


Below is the kitchen, bathroom, and stairs up:


And the dining table:


This is the view of the smaller loft from the larger one:


And the outside, including plantings, patio, window boxes, and a very large container garden:



Martignetti Enterprises, in Woburn and Amesbury MA, made the most of their small, narrow space allocation with a unique water table — water in the table and an intentional and quite large pool of water under the table, hence the flip flops, I think, because anyone sitting at the table would have wet feet. They also managed to fit a fire nook in.


(photo credit: T. Williams)



Heimlich’s Nurseries in Woburn, MA, had another interesting garden display this year. They were paying homage to their founder and had some of his poems printed and posted around the garden (I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of any) . What I especially liked about this garden were the juxtaposition of neon colours.

pond, pink azaleas, chartreuse maple, daffofils
purple hyacinths, pink azaleas, chartreuse maple, white rhododendrons ‘Milky Way,” weeping larch (I think)
weeping larch (I think), pink azaleas, umbrella pine (I think)
white rhododendron ‘Milky Way’ and salmon-pink azaleas et al.
hostas ‘Aureo marginata,’ pieris japonica ‘Bowers Beauty,’ salmon-pink azaleas, hellebore, white rhododendron, pink tulips
blazing orange ‘Tradition’ azalea with ‘Brown Sugar’ heuchera
gold-orange ‘Bloodgold’ Japanese maple with pink azalea
pink tulips, chartreuse heuchera, hellebore, salmon-pink azalea


Maine Stonework, in Kennebunkport, ME, went all out with their material, building a stone house everyone wanted to visit. I also liked their little bog garden inside a large stone slab, and their mosses, in particular, and the ferns, pitcher plants, and other boggy/woodland plantings among rocks and on logs, plus hellebore, muscari, and white cyclamen.



Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which hosts the show, supervises the floral design and ikebana competitions, the photography competition, the amateur horticulture competition, and also presents a display garden. This year, in keeping with the show’s overall theme of “Superheroes of the Garden,” they featured school gardens, garden mentors, and super plants. John Forti, the Mass Hort Society’s director of horticulture and education, and vice chair of the show, was on hand answering questions and talking about their display gardens. (Probably others were too but I recognise him from his time with Strawbery Bank in Portsmouth, NH. I would have loved to have heard his talk on Saturday on New England foodscapes.)

I took very few photos of the competitive floral designs (and none of the other competitions) but did like the idea of a steampunk design:

And I thought this one captured the superpower of “Invisiblity” well:


At the Mass Hort display garden, they showcased raised beds of edible plants:


squash, sweet potato, coriander, chard, among others
three sisters: corn, pole beans, squash

Here’s John Forti talking with attendees:



John Gray Stonework and Sculpture (Stratham, NH), with Pleasant View Gardens (Loudon, NH) providing plants, of course focused on Gray’s stone and metal sculpture, much of it whimsical, like the spitting Easter Island head. I’m partial to his heron sculptures.



Rutland Nurseries, in Rutland and Wellesley MA, offered a pavilion with pergola, with a little fire on the table inside, and a water feature:


I particularly liked some of their plants:

‘Black Tower’ elderberry (‘Nigra Eiffel’ Sambuca)
‘Rainbow’ leucothoe (which I love), with other plants
‘Montgomery’ blue spruce, tulips, muscari
a weeping winter pine tree  (with muscari, narccisus)
pink, red, orange ruffled tulips


GardenUp (Boston), I gather from their website and what I saw of their display, asks customers questions about their yard conditions and garden desires, and from the responses uses an algorithm to suggest appropriate designs; once the design is chosen, they deliver and install the plants to make it a reality.  The display featured computer presentations, design schemes (including for the shady border, below), plus plants and garden art.


I loved this bunny statuary from Aardvark Antiques, and the ‘Platinum Blonde’ lavender plant.



I didn’t take many photos of Oakwood Landscape & Construction (Millis, MA) or Liquid Landscape Designs (Westford and Carlisle, MA).

Three from Oakwood:

pergolapatiofirepitOakwoodLandscapeBostonFlowerShow24March2017 patiogrilldrinksstonehedgeOakwoodLandscapeBostonFlowerShow24March2017

(photo credit: T. Williams)

It’s possible this ‘Hosford’s Dwarf’ white pine tree, whose light colour and thick needle bundles I liked, also came from Oakwood; I lost track:


And here are a few of the Liquid Landscapes display:


‘Bloodgood” Japanese maple leaves
Cyperus altrenifolia (umbrella palm)


Some floral displays on the main floor:

floral mosaics and arrangements, Massachusetts Florists’ Coalition
more floral mosaics and arrangements, Massachusetts Florists’ Coalition
pink azalea bonsai, Bonsai Study Group
monkey floral design, Florists’ Invitational
Patriots’ jersey and floral football, Florists’ Invitational — “Living Legends” was their theme (photo credit: T. Williams)


There were chickens, native flower seeds, bee-keeping equipment, etc., in the urban homesteading pavilion:

Make-your-own native seed packet
chicken coop with chickens


Mass Wildlife offered their usual table of mammal pelts and stuffed mammals, with fact sheets on each. It’s sad to see, but they are so soft and soothing to stroke.

stuffed groundhog (aka woodchuck)
skunk, raccoon, coyote, bobcat pelts
coyote, bobcat, fox, squirrel pelts


Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association made the best use of the theme (“Superheroes of the Garden”), I think, with their stations asking “What’s Your Superpower?” They demonstrated and provided instructional information on composting, vermicomposting (with worms), raised bed gardening, wise watering and drought-tolerant gardens, etc.


drought-tolerant sedum/rock garden


And finally,

giant Crinium asiaticum bulb for sale


And finally, finally, not at the flower show but close by, at the Legal Seafoods Test Kitchen (LTK), which is a great place for lunch when attending the show, this adorable poster advertising their Easter dinner:


Featured image at top of page: display garden of Minuteman Regional Vocational-Technical School, Lexington, MA


  1. Hudson Valley Seeds- yeah!!! Why are we all so fascinated by tiny houses? I get the impression that, once having been inside one, most people feel that they couldn’t actually live full time in one. I, too, love the idea, but the 2 of us are feeling like we are just managing to fit in our 1150 sq feet. Thanks for the visit! We missed our show, as we were in TX that week.

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