Houseplanters of the World, Unite and Take Over.

The Chicago Garden and Flower Show was fantastic once again. The venue was huge, the exhibits were lush, and the vendors were varied and fun. I got to converse with Cactus Bill of Ted's Nursery, the dip people were there, there were even packs of seeds in the press room... what more could a girl want?

Of course there were the greenscapers exhibits, where businesses show off their talent for garden, patio, and "water feature" design with interactive displays. The Shedd Aquarium, Garfield and Lincoln Conservatories, and Chicago Botanic Gardens also had beautiful walk-throughs to showcase their conifers, tropicals, and bonsai, respectively. The theme/concept this year was something goofy having to do with the theater, but it was kept to a tactful minimum. We can't forget why we're here, after all... the wine tasting! I mean the plants, the plants.

Flowering Nymphaea (noid) amongst some floating Pistia (noid)

Unfortunately, the "New Varieties" exhibit was less than exhilarating. I was anticipating wild hybrid Aglaonemas from Thailand and psycho Asiatica-caliber ferns. But alas, the selection was limited to the Ball horticultural company's latest dabblings in coleus and petunias. If I sound a little disappointed, I am. I mean, Jesus christ, I love coleus, but who cares about ANOTHER new one? Let's get some tropicals up in this bitch!

To be fair, the majority of attendees at this event are likely gardeners of the... um... garden variety, and not houseplant freaks like you and me. So perhaps I'm not the target market. And I'll admit that Petunia 'Sophistica Collection: Lime Bicolor' was pretty neat; I would party with that Petunia.

Ball's Petunia 'Lime Bicolor:' you and me, chilling at the Holiday Inn. Bring your friends.

I was also thoroughly surprised by the amount of tropical houseplants that were displayed as landscape material. Indoor gardener that I am, each of my plants feels very precious to me, and I take pains to keep them alive year after year. So it seems a bizarre practice indeed to plant a yard full of tender plants for summer, only to pull them up and throw them out in fall. And what Chicagoan in their right mind would plant a yardful of tropicals? What are you gonna do, store 'em all in your garage for the winter? I know that ultimately these displays were only for decorative effect, but let's keep it real people. Achmeas belong in conservatories or in pots, not en masse between your sprinkler and your grill:

Phalaenopsis orchids and calatheas in your yard? That'll look good for about, mmm, eight days:

Aphelandras (they know that these don't spread, right?):

A battalion of Sanseverias and Campanulas. Now, Campanula can be grown as a houseplant or a perennial groundcover, but you won't be seeing those Sans again in spring. Not around here, mon frere!

Primulas and Clivias. Primula is another houseplant that is commonly planted outdoors in the yard or in patio baskets, and then discarded in fall. Clivias, though? What would Thalassa Cruso say? Probably "Balderdash."

And now, the story you've been waiting for with baited breath: The Houseplant Competition! I wish I could have been there during opening weekend to see the judging. It would have been a delight to see all of the entries, but the winners were still interesting. Each division had its own table; here we see winners of the "Non-Flowering Plants" division (what is that begonia doing in there?).

The Araucaria excelsa looked small but pretty for an eight-year-old specimen; the judges gave it 3rd place and recommended turning to improve symmetry. Although the growth pattern of Araucarias is radially symmetrical, it can be difficult to see in a small specimen, so the issue isn't worth dwelling on, in my opinion. Likewise, choosing the Malpighia pendiculata for first place (far right) seemed odd, although it was well deserved of the Youth Horticultural Award, since its keeper was only ten years old. The orchids were seriously underrepresented:

The Cactus division had a couple of cuties, including this Ancanthocalycium thionanthum, which was awarded second place. The judges suggested was aesthetically overpotted, and again, I have to disagree. Why go smaller with such unique specimens?

The real ass-kicker was this Bowiea volubilis, which took Best in Show. I have never even felt an inkling of desire over a Bowiea, having previously regarded them as nothing more than botanical curiosities. But this plant (which was nine years old) blew my mind. I daresay it was pretty!

So I think the message is pretty clear: next year, we take over the horticultural competition! Given all the garden bloggers that attend this event, we could really bring in the noise. I want to see gesneriad lovers getting in fistfights, and cactus nuts chucking gymnocalyciums. Mr. Subjunctive could give a lecture on zombie-gardening while we spitball the landscapers. Then, we storm the Botanic Garden exhibit and take the bonsai collection hostage until someone agrees to validate our parking. Garden Show Smackdown 2011: Rumble At Navy Pier.

Photo credits for this post belong to Boyfriend Assassin, who was kind enough to take pictures while I zipped around making glee-noises.


  1. I think the big tropical plant show to go to is the TPIE. Though it looks like you can't actually go unless you're commercially involved with tropical plants in some way. I would very much like to go, though.

  2. Oh, my, my, my...a plant lover's paradise! I can't see myself planting bromeliads outside, just to throw them out in the fall. That's eveil somehow. Especially aechmeas, which are my favourite plant in the world. Who would do that to such a precious specimen?

    Anyhow, looks like it was a wonderful flower and garden show.

  3. A couple of blocks away from my house someone plants bromeliads in their front garden bed. It looks kinda cool, until you see them turn to mush with the first frost.

    Did I know you were going to the show? It would've been cool to meet up with the rest of the bloggers that were there. Glad you enjoyed the seeds we left in the press room.

    BTW, it just dawned on me that nobody (that I've read at least) paid much attention to the ginormous night blooming cereus at the entrance of the Miss Saigon garden. I didn't think about photographing them until the show was over. Too bad they weren't in bloom.

  4. @ Mr.BrownThumb - I should have let you know that I was going to the show, it would have been great to meet you! Thanks for the seeds! Now that you mention it, I don't even remember seeing a cereus at the Miss Saigon garden... I must have totally missed it.

    Well, next Chicago garden event, I'll see you there!

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    Thank you


    Sorry if this is totally weird, we are just very excited.

  6. I just bought a bicolor petunia that looks similar to the one you photographed. It looks so beautiful I got it at Lowes - home improvement store. I dont see any recent posts by you. I live in LI NY area.