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Chicago Flower and Garden Show: Through the Looking-Glass

The hanging crystals above the entry fountain are suspended from a bare dead tree painted lime green (which looks a lot cooler than it sounds, but was impossible for me to capture).

I told myself this year that I wasn't going to take as many photos as I did last year. I even forgot to bring my tripod, but that didn't prevent me from snapping over 50 images. Getting into the show before the crowds made it all the more tempting. Rose Rankin, who writes for, among others, Chicagoland Gardening Magazine, joined me for the day. (Her account of the show will be on the magazine's blog, but you should also check out her personal gardening blog, Ramble on Rose.) She aided and abetted the photo-snapping frenzy. Mercifully, I will post only the highlights.
Garden shows always have a theme (I guess it makes it easier to come up with display ideas), and this year's theme for the Chicago Flower and Garden Show is "Cultivating Great Performances." The "Shakespeare in the Garden" display falls under this theme, with these lavish costumes.

As a practical gardening idea, this metal sculpture works better.

The "Miss Saigon" display was difficult to photograph, as the lights were dimmed to simulate an evening on the backyard deck, but I did get this cool image.

How much fun is this? A fountain with dry ice* in it.

The photo also shows the nifty idea of lights embedded in the paving. I'm not sure how practical that is, especially if you want to have solar-powered lights. It's far more subtle and attractive than the harsh glare of spotlights.

I can't choose my favorite garden, as I'm torn between two very different displays. The less practical one is actually more adaptable to my garden than the more practical one, which makes complete sense in a Wonderland sort of way, as it is "Alice's Wonderland." I'm a huge fan of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass," maybe almost as much as fellow Chicagoland blogger Diane McCarthy. (Check out the sidebar of her blog The Garden of Live Flowers to see what I mean.) Back when I got paid to write, my computer's screensaver was the quote "But I don't want to go among mad people" from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." I'm also a big fan of surrealist art, so imagine my delight when I saw this:

I've just decided I need to do this, or something very like it in my garden. It's a brilliant way to frame a view. On the other side of the looking glass is the rabbit hole, with a view to the Queen of Heart's croquet lawn, complete with pink plastic flamingos.

The Red Queen

presides over this fantastic patio with plexi-glass(?) hearts and spades embedded into it.

The queen's body is made up of a vertical planting, one of the big trends from last year's show.

The big trend from this year show is vegetables as ornamentals (oh, the burden of being a trendsetter!),

lettuce and parsley with snowdrops and hydrangeas

specifically red cabbage.

here in a large urn

I fell in love with cabbages as ornamental plants last spring at the Chicago Botanic Garden and intended to plant some somewhere this year. At this year's show, red cabbages were everywhere, especially in my other favorite garden, Spring Awakening, a French potager.

This wonderful garden would be easy to adapt to a full sun space that doesn't have deer visitations.

It's a great example of how to combine edible and ornamental plants.
In the garden of Good and Evil,

I liked the utilitarian trellis (looking like the base of a cell phone tower) used to support climbing plants. (Yes, there's that red cabbage again.)

A few other noteworthy things: in the Arthritis Foundation Enabling Garden display,

raised beds and a raised cold frame, great ideas for when we get too old to kneel down, as we hopefully all eventually will (even the Rolling Stones disregarded their statement "hope I die before I get old"); succulents in containers

and rebar as low fencing

in the Chicago Park District's replica conservatory.

The Chicago Botanic Garden brought a collection of bonsai trees that should not be missed. This year's show seemed more crowded than last year, with long lines outside some of the display gardens in the afternoon. The list of seminars sounds wonderful, but I was able to make only one, expert Mark Zilis's presentation on Hostas. Before hand, I talked with him a bit about his new book, "The Hostapedia" (my review is here). He must have thought I was a complete Hosta newbie when I pronounced it "Hoe-sta" instead of the proper "Hos-ta." I've been calling them "Hoe-stas" since my mom planted them and pronounced them that way 10 years before Zilis had heard of Hostas, and I'm not about to change now. I like the way it sounds, and I'm quirky that way. I will start pronouncing plantaginea "plant-uh-Jin-ee-uh" however. (See how much you can learn at garden show seminars?) It was much more enjoyable merely to attend the show rather than be a speaker like I was last year.

wood and stone sculpture

If you go to the show, make sure to stop at the Cobrahead booth and say hello to Geoff and Annaliese.
(edited 3/8/10 After talking with a friend who has a pond, I believe the smoke effect was caused by a fog machine, not dry ice.)

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Chicago Flower and Garden Show: Through the Looking-Glass + work