‘Going Wild’ For Sustainability At The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show


The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, now in its 30th year, just wrapped up another outstanding exhibition last weekend at the San Mateo Event Center. This year’s show featured large-scale garden installations by top landscape designers, hundreds of individual plant and floral displays and over 200 exhibitors demonstrating the newest in gardening gear, green horticulture and art for the garden.

In a nod to the growing trend in creating ecologically friendly and sustainable gardening practices, the theme for the show was “Going Wild.”  Clearly demonstrating that beauty needn’t be sacrificed to environmental consciousness, the show offered an abundance of ecologically sound, attractive and workable designs. These included a wide array of innovative ways to conserve water and energy, recycle materials in the garden and blend edible ornamentals into the landscape.

The show also made frequent reference to urban environments, recognizing that public spaces providing interaction with nature are becoming increasingly important.


Bustling with activity, the show occupied two gigantic spaces, the Expo and Fiesta Halls. A floral exhibition, presented in the Flower Pavilion of the Expo Hall, is one of the annual attractions. This year’s display was hosted by The American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) and showcased the creative talents of members of the California Garden Clubs, Inc. (CGCI), a federation representing over 20,000 gardeners and floral designers from across the state.


Artfully capturing nature’s transition from winter to spring, the interpretive displays featured bright flowers and fresh foliage combined with colorful fruits and vegetables. The arresting designs were complemented by coordinating table settings, organic “vases” and other textural materials.


Every year, the centerpiece of the show is the large-scale garden installations known as the Showcase Gardens. Located at the back of the Expo Hall, they are designed to teach and inspire people on how to create beautiful and sustainable gardens. Each garden creator must submit a Statement of Intent for their display. The participating designers represent the top gardening, floral and outdoor-living displays relevant to San Francisco and the Bay Area.

This year’s thirteen installations incorporated over 4,000 rare and unusual plants and showcased a diverse set of landscape design styles. The eclectic displays ran the gamut and included informal cottage gardens, refined urban retreats, low-maintenance meadow landscapes, xeriscapes and sublime outdoor spaces.


The “wild” theme took center stage in the middle of the room, home to a large rolling “hill” of daffodils, pink-blooming azaleas, smooth grey stones and other interesting native species. Rising from the top of the colorful mound was a 15-foot representation of Mother Nature in all her glory. Streams of colorful flowers, unique foliage and branches trailed wildly behind her.

The computer image for Mother Nature was created by Los Angeles 3D artist Meats Meir, who also designed  3D sculptures for National Geographic, the Stars TV show, ‘Black Sails’ and the MTV Movie Awards, to name just a few.(Photo courtesy Meats Meir).


Among the thirteen Showcase Gardens, the wilder side was well represented by designers Max and Joanne Nagaele of Foothill Design.  Their eclectic display, entitled ‘Growing An Artful Garden’ depicted an urban garden and featured a tiny orange-painted cottage and vintage potting shed.  A blended garden of flowering shrubs, fragrant herbs and ornamentals created a scenic tableau.

Asparagus ferns (a close relative to the vegetable), variegated Japanese sedge and green leopard plants encircled a copper “flower” fountain in the middle of the display. In a corner of the garden on a pedestal, a multi-layered cake, made of thyme, seed pods and soil completed the whimsical picture.


Garden designer Andrea Hurd of Mariposa Gardening & Design and Dig Coop’s collaborative design entitled ‘Living Waters’ arose out of concerns about California’s drought and the need to collect and manage water in the garden. The centerpiece of the exhibit was a large living stonewall that led into a beehive-shaped fountain made of dry-stacked stone. Tiny streams of water trickled over the curves of the wellhead, providing a soothing, natural sound.


The designers explained that the fountain was part of a closed loop system that re-used gray-water and rainwater to minimize water consumption. While conserving water, it also provided irrigation for a lush and sustainable garden.

In an unusual blend of technologies, the fountain was designed to function as a rainwater catcher that supplied a toilet and washing machine. The gray-water from the washing machine was then pumped into a “living fountain” that captured and cleaned it before sending it out again into the garden via a drip irrigation system.


Designer Iftikhar Ahmed and Treeline Designz’ “Room is a Garden- Garden is a Room” paid tribute to long forgotten garden management practices as well as his family’s 350-year history as custodians of the famed Shalimar Gardens of Lahore, Pakistan.

The tranquil garden was encircled by elegant raised planters filled with unusual flowers and succulents. Inside the enclosure, narrow three-color pavers and geometric forms composed of stones and plants provided multi-layered visual interest. Imbued with symbolism and fragrance, the artful design included a resting place composed of off-white chairs nestled under a small tree from which delicate strands of blue lights cascaded into the garden.


Academy of Art University students Eric Arneson and Nahal Sohbati collaborated with a group from the school’s Landscape Architecture program in San Francisco to win the Golden Gate Cup for “the most overall meritorious exhibit.” Entitled ‘Sublimation,’ their display clearly demonstrated that xeriscapes don’t have to lack interest or color. Said Arneson,

“We focused on celebrating the wonderful variety of textures and forms that can be found in low water plants.”

Through innovative combinations of drought-tolerant succulents, the group showed how gardens can conserve water and still contain lush greens and a wide variety of colors.


Drawing upon the contrast between heavy and light, the unusual exhibit was composed of an otherworldly wire structure embellished with stones and cages filled with rocks. Natural-toned ropes formed peaked arches overhead, while inside a curved row of thick, upright wood beams delineated the elliptical space. Lush plantings of interesting succulents, air plants, grasses and other unusual vegetation surrounded a patio made of sand. (Photos courtesy Avery Hu)

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In addition to the Showcase Gardens, one of the most popular exhibits each year is the Bonsai exhibit, held in the Fiesta Hall. Presented by The Bonsai Society of San Francisco, this year’s display included a wide variety of intricately manicured miniature trees, many of which were decades old. Bonsai masters were also on hand to demonstrate their art and to answer questions posed by the exhibit’s many admirers.

Here is a sample of some of the bonsai specimens that made up the show.

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In addition to the outstanding displays, the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show featured many workshops and classes given by industry experts on floral design, photography, beekeeping, homesteading skills, and landscaping with succulents and insects, to name just a few. The speaker schedule was curated by Garden Tribe, which offers online gardening classes.

Also new this year was the opportunity to purchase the rare plants used in the showcase gardens at the close of the show.



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