Published in the Toronto Star, March 12, 2016
Some said that it could never be done. Others believed that it could. No one thought that it would grow and thrive for 20 years! Such are the sentiments around this years’ edition of the venerable Flower and Garden Festival, Canada Blooms.
When the idea of a world-class event of this kind was hatched almost 24 years ago by Kathy Dembroski, then president of the Garden Club of Toronto and Tony Di Giovanni, Executive Director of Landscape Ontario, there were many nay-sayers. The idea was too big for many to grasp. Alas, Canada Blooms turns 20 this year and for the thousands who have worked at the festival, donated time, energy and talent to it over the years the time has just flown by.
Canada Blooms is a not-for-profit organisation that, for all intents and purposes, should never have gotten off the ground. It does not make money. It is a huge undertaking which depends on the generosity of more than 1,500 volunteers each year and is run on a shoe string budget with 3 full time staff members. So, how does it survive? By the shear will and passion of those who are drawn to volunteer.
Now the largest event of its’ kind on the continent, this year’s edition is a beauty. Here is a brief summary of what you can expect today through next Sunday, March 20th:
1. The Toronto Flower Show. The Garden Club of Toronto hosts the largest flower and horticulture competition in Canada. Local and international competitors are featured – be sure to bring a camera. Most of the international designers have exhibited at World Association of Floral Artists events elsewhere. At ‘Blooms this year, well known designers have come from Bermuda, Barbados, the U.K., Ireland, Australia and the United Sates (not to mention Canada!) This juried show-within-a-show sets a standard for other shows of its’ kind around the world.
2. Ontario flower growers have increased the space that they use to showcase the latest in new flowers and flowering plant varieties by over 2,000 sq. ft. Look in the main hall for an eye-popping display, many flowers and plants are available for sale. You can purchase and arrange for pick-up when you are ready to leave.
3. Floral Alley. 6 professional flower designers are showcasing their interpretation of ‘Life of Celebration’ focusing on six events in a person’s life. Bayview Flowers are promoting and selling two new introductions: Piccolini, a mini gerbera that will look great on any sunny windowsill and Queen, a kalanchoe (a long lasting flowering plant) with eye-popping colour. Suffice to say that if you like flowers (and who doesn’t after a long Canadian winter) you will love the Floral Alley.
4. Master Gardeners. Bring your tired, your weary and worn out plants. No, I exaggerate. Bring pictures of them, including any that you have questions about and be sure to visit the Master Gardeners who are available every day of the 10 day festival to help you. We underestimate the contribution that this fine group of hard working volunteers make to the festival each year. Sometimes all of the colour, fragrance and garden-design inspiration overwhelm the folks who sit under the Master Gardeners banner eager to answer gardening questions. Be nice and bring one an ice cream on a stick.
5. Speakers. Canada Blooms has become famous for providing a host of speakers on most any topic that you can name, related to horticulture. You will find popular names like Frankie Flowers, Paul Zammit, Tara Nolan and Penelope Beaudrow. Be sure to attend today, Saturday, March 12 at 11:00 am as Denis Flanagan and I open the festival with a 30 minute overview (again on Monday and Tuesday). There are over 200 hours of free seminars/presentations. They are educational, informative, practical, inspiring and entertaining. Pick your spot and note that there are no less than 3 theatres/venues where speakers are featured.
Note that, including the Feature Gardens, there are over 220 trees, 1,200 shrubs and evergreens, 2,600 flowering plants and 5,000 flowering bulbs. Bring your camera. And a pair of sunglasses (kidding!) Many of the trees and shrubs have been forced into full and glorious bloom early just so that you can enjoy them at the festival.
I recommend that you plan your day around what you really want to do.
Learn? Carve time out for (over 200) seminars.
Shop and buy? Check out the newly expanded ‘’Garden Marketplace’.
Eat? Lots of places to sit and indulge (hint: go early to avoid crowds).
An Inside look? Sign up for a guided tour. $40 for a morning tour and $55 for an evening tour Wednesday the 16th.
Workshops? There are many. Costs vary from $25 to $55.
Canada Blooms fills the Industry Building and Heritage Court, while the National Home Show consumes the rest of the Enercare Centre, Exhibition Place.