By Pat Munts
The winter this year in Eastern Washington has been long and hard. The snow started early in December. As we approached the end of February, it was still here and still coming down. Beyond the semicircle of bare pavement in front of my garage is a foot of snow and slippery ice, burying everything. I am trapped in my little circle of bare concrete, desperately needing to get out in the garden and see green plants and warm dirt!
Desperation leads to desperate acts. And so it is this and every year since 2003. It’s time to pack up and head to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. It is a 300-mile journey from my home in Spokane along I-90, across the wide open Columbia Basin, and then over Snoqualmie Pass. At an elevation of 3,500 feet the Pass, as locals call it, is not forgiving this time of year. But such is the pull of green plants, the smell of flowers, and the sound of birds.
The past few years my friend Linda has joined me on this trek to the unfrozen side of the state. There are so many cool things happening at the show that it needs to be shared with a like-minded friend. We plan our escape so we arrive at the Snoqualmie Pass in the early afternoon when the snow and ice on the road are likely to have melted. Then it’s into Seattle before the rush hour starts. We stocked up on water and snacks and made sure there is $50 in the tire chain box in case we had to pay the chain guy at the pass to put them on. We arrived in Seattle in time to enjoy the view of Elliot Bay and the sunset over the Olympic Mountains from my friend’s family’s house. Our long day ended with a fresh seafood dinner, wine and good conversation on the waterfront.
The next morning Linda and I were up early heading to the Washington State Convention Center. If you want a space in the parking garages, you have to be there before 10:00 AM. We found our way to the show entrance and there it was – the sweet smell of flowers and the sound of birds chirping as we walked into the exhibit hall. This is what we came for even if the flowers are forced and the bird song is from a recording. There is hope that spring will return!
This year’s show featured twenty three display gardens designed and built by some the region’s best designers and landscape professionals. This year’s theme was “Taste of Spring.” The Garden Creators did an amazing job of blending together flowers, shrubs, trees, hardscape materials and artwork into little niches of spring glory. The Founder’s Cup for the best-in-show garden went to Jefferson Sustainable Landscape Management and Avid Landscape Design and Development for their Mochiwa Mochiya Garden. It was a marriage of “Asian and American cultures, with the ethos of the American barbecue infused with a new level of opulence.” Beyond the beautiful display gardens, the show always features a full slate of educational and DIY seminars on a broad range of topics. This year the list included seminars that wove together lively visuals, illustrating cutting-edge advice and experiences from garden designers, horticulturists, and authors from around the country. On the DIY Stage, experts presented practical demonstrations of container gardening, pruning, and home décor.
This year’s show saw the return of “Garden Wars: Season Three” hosted by Joe Lamp’l, producer and host of PBS’s Growing a Greener World. The competition pitted garden celebrities in a friendly but seriously dirty competition to create 10 by 10-foot gardens in a short span of time. This year the organizers expanded this with the new “Container Wars,” pitting garden celebrities against each other to see who could create the three best container gardens in an hour. Needless to say, the dirt and plants were flying in the Garden Wars Arena. The winners of each day’s competition were awarded $1,000 to donate to their favorite charity.
Last but not least was the shopping! After taking in the seminars and the gardens it was time to wander through the hundreds of booths looking for that perfect garden ornament, tool, plant, piece of jewelry or gourmet food you couldn’t live without. Our shopping list this year included ‘Grosso’ lavender, heathers, and mason bee nesting supplies. Never mind that after we got home the plants would have to live on the deck until the ground thaws. We seriously considered buying some funky clothing and art works but managed to keep the credit cards in our wallets. However I couldn’t pass up a painting of a breaching killer whale for my daughter who is stuck living in Texas far from her Northwest roots.
I capped the day off with our annual GWA Connect gathering. About 75 of us gathered in the media room for drinks and a lot of visiting. We had folks from as far away as Vermont and California which made the conversation that much more lively. Many thanks to Jeff Swenson and Barry Bartlett of the show management team for arranging for the bar and comfortable meeting space.
During our get-together the dean of our Northwest garden writers, Ed Hume asked for a round of introductions to put names and faces together and find out what people were
doing. We also celebrated two lives lost in the past few months from our Northwest gardening family: Dr. Sarah Reichard of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens and Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty. They will be missed.
Then it was time me to rejoin Linda and return to the snowy side of the state. We left behind the blooming camellias and green lawns and headed back over Snoqualmie Pass to my little patch of shoveled concrete.
As I write this nearly two weeks after the adventure, the snow is coming down once again only this time it’s not sticking to the ground! There is hope.
Meet the Author
From her base in Spokane, Washington, Pat Munts writes about gardening and natural history east of the Cascade Mountains. Pat shares her gardening adventures in a weekly column for the Spokesman-Review. She also writes for The Inlander and has served as Eastern Washington editor for Master Gardener Magazine. On the national level Pat has written for GreenPrints and The American Gardener. In 2015, she wrote the Northwest Gardeners Handbook (Cool Springs). In between writing Pat also serves as the small farm and urban agriculture coordinator for WSU Spokane County Extension. She served as GWA Region VI Regional Director from 2007 to 2016.