Decline and Fail: The SF Flower and Garden Show

In 2014, I was, for six weeks, the (kind of) director of the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.I was  enlisted by John Greenlee  and the new owners and we worked hard to elevate the show to a standard befitting one of the best horticultural and landscape design centers in the world. I believe we did a good job given the restrictions and, let’s just say, personalities that were present .I will also pass on describing the emotional and logistical ups and downs of coming to a flower show just six weeks before it opened. It was a mess. I lost one friend who had a temper tantrum but I gained a couple of new ones. So it goes.

I went to the Show today. It is opening day. I went with as much of an open mind as possible. I had recovered from the miasma of 2014 and now…not my circus, not my monkeys. I wanted the show to be great. After all, the Bay Area has some of the best landscape architects, garden designers and nurseries on the planet. Evidently they were all elsewhere when it came to this year’s show.

In its heyday, the show featured 20 to 30 gardens. They were elaborate gardens, many of them excellent. Today there are ten gardens. I almost liked a couple.

 What I saw, as I entered the gates of the show, left me gobsmacked. Gobsmacked is a British slang word meaning extremely surprised or shocked; astounded. I will forbear on writing a lengthy criticism and let the photos speak for themselves.

The show entrance. Ten minutes before opening.
Part of the central avenue on opening day
A degree of minimalism beneath the ordinary
Bocce ball court. It helps the game if you don’t have a lot of plants obstructing the view.
The most developed garden by Treeline Designz and Succulent Gardens
The garden featuring this combination of Bromeliad and Agave won the Gold Cup. An award given for horticulture !
An interesting combination of hybrid Rhododendron and native American tipi









Author: urbanehorticulture

A native of England a U.S. citizen for the past 30 years, I have worked in the garden world as a director and designer for over 35 years. I am best-known for my groundbreaking designs at Chanticleer, an estate and “pleasure garden” in Wayne, PA, where I worked for 20 years. Career Highlights I started my gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England, where I was trained as a gardener. I worked in three other gardens in the UK, notably Portmeirion in Wales, Bateman’s in Sussex, and Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. At Bateman’s, I was responsible for the restoration of the 17th-century garden. I came to the U.S. in 1981 and was director and chief designer of Chanticleer in Pennsylvania for the next 20 years. I transformed a moribund private estate into one of America’s most exuberant, romantic and flamboyant gardens. Its glorious 47 acres have been celebrated by gardeners and horticulturists from around the world and, based on my designs, it continues to draw international visitors every season. After twenty years creating Chanticleer, I became vice president for horticulture for the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden and, in 2006, was appointed director of the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. While pleased to be in Canada, my heart yearned for California and in 2008 he was appointed executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. After a successful period in northern California, he returned to his home near Santa Barbara, CA where I operated my own design-consulting business. In 2012, I was lured back east by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (founded in 1827) and appointed director of its private estate and garden, Meadowbrook Farm. I was commissioned by PHS to design the central feature for the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show, the third major exhibit I have designed for PHS over the years. Among numerous other responsibilities, I have been a member of the board of the Fairmount Park Conservancy in Philadelphia and a founding member of the business advisory board for the Flora of North America Project. I have designed gardens in Chicago, northern and southern California, and throughout the Northeastern United States. I have also been a consultant to the Garden Conservancy and to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as serving on the horticulture advisory committee of Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California. I have been the Advancement Advisor for the Flora of North America Association and am now traveling the world researching, interviewing, and photographing for a book on gardens around the world. Books & Awards My n first book, The Encyclopedia of Perennials, was published in 1992 by Facts on File. I also contributed to 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die (Barron's Educational Series, 2012) and The Gardener’s Garden (Phaidon Press, 2014). In 2003, I was awarded the Professional Citation for significant achievements in public horticulture by the American Public Garden Association. In 2007, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded me its prestigious medal for Distinguished Achievement. I currently live in the Bay Area, California.

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The New Perennialist

Musings on plants, gardens, travel, food and sex. Mostly plants and gardens.


for people who want more than gardening from gardens


Uprooting the Gardening World

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