At either end of the garden season in Chicago are two large trade shows– the Chicago Flower and Garden show in March, and the Independent Garden Center Show in August.
The Chicago Flower and Garden Show is a public exhibition. Constrained by the need to stand up to crowds numbering 40,000 or more, and a definite tendency to dumb itself down to the broadest possible constituency, it’s characterized by unimaginative plantings, miles and miles of brick walkways, and improbable water features that might conceivably surround some awful McMansion, assuming the types of people who live in McMansions have even the limited imagination (not to mention the cash) needed to install large water features.
The “marketplace,” where you might think to find interesting consumer goods for gardeners, will have the occasional display of airplants, bulbs, and garden gloves, but also, I kid you not, mattresses, wheelie carts, and boom boxes. Despite it being in and theoretically about gardening in Chicago, it has a definite suburban feel.
The Independent Garden Center show is a trade show, not open to the public, featuring goods and fixtures to sell at garden centers. While there are a good number of marvelous vendors of plants, seeds, gloves, tools and the like, there’s also a lot of what I call “landfill”– garden trinkets and tchotchkies that owe more to fad than to necessity.
Neither is really geared to gardeners like me.
Occasionally, the Flower and Garden Show will feature an exhibit like the one Peterson Garden Project did this past year, with a recognizably urban sensibility, and a scale that an actual human being with a normal sized yard and budget might have; or the mini-prairie restoration of a few years ago that showed a “timeline” of how to restore a landscape that has been taken over by exotic invasives.
Seldom will the needs of edible gardening be addressed; even outside the trade shows edible gardening remains the bastard child of the industry– not hip like urban farming, or school-tie respectable like roses or lilies, urban edible gardening doesn’t seem to have the clout or the profile to make it into the world of garden shows.
I like flowers a lot. I’ve devoted half my garden to them. I am proudly a “gardener;” I’m not a farmer, even though I grow food. The scale is a garden scale, a family scale.
Where is the trade show, the shop, the focus, for edible gardeners with a small urban yard, or a balcony? For gardeners like me?