Warm Welcome – A Newcomer’s Look at the Northwest Flower Show & Garden Festival

Choice Landscapes, “Celebrate and Reflect” – Gold Medal Winner – Photo by Anne Reeves

 By Anne Reeves

As a new girl in the Pacific Northwest, the garden learning curve is steep. It’s exciting to move to a more temperate zone (from 6a to 8b) but my new-construction house means my garden is truly a blank slate. When I left my 19 roses back in Michigan, I didn’t know that the deer devour roses here. Uh oh.When I asked for some offshoots of a friend’s holly to grow for holiday decorations, she said “Careful what you wish for.” Though everyone raves about hellebores, I’d never seen one before I arrived. And when I asked a Master Gardener about the beautiful yellow shrubs on the hills around Seattle and the lady said “Here’s a tip: Those are Scotch broom and you don’t like those. They’re invasive and many people are allergic.” Okay.

Where can I start learning about my new turf? The 2016 Northwest Flower & Garden Show. My experience with the GWA began in the show’s press room. As a blogger since 2007 and a flower enthusiast, I was thrilled to cover this famous show. I have self-published 3 books that highlight my love of flower arranging, gardening, edible flowers, and floral portraits.  My mission as a writer and photographer is to break down the barrier between busy American women who get their information and inspiration through their phones and the “you-need-to-know-a-lot” world of flowers.

I was carrying one of my magazine bags (the Rose issue) and it caught the eye of Marianne Binetti and Mary-Kate Mackey. We all started talking and the next thing I knew, they were introducing me to everyone in the press room (loads of GWA members, of course) and encouraging me to come to the GWA Connect Meeting the next night. I met Kylee Baumle, Jenny Peterson, Barbara Wise, Grace Hensley, Christina Salwitz and a whirl of members who echoed a message of “I’m so glad you joined!” They were supportive of my work and how I fit into the new definition of garden communicating.

It’s two years later now and I feel like I’ve found long-lost cousins. We speak the same language and love the same things. I walk into the Washington Convention Center for what is now called the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival, and I am back at a botanical family reunion, hugging those I’ve gotten to know better through Facebook and introducing myself to names I only know on-screen. It is fantastic.

From my perspective, the NWFGS covers the intersections of all the things I love. Cakes that look like birch trees; air plants arranged like wallpaper and blown glass vegetables that add visual vitamins to any kitchen. It is impossible not to be inspired.

I started my week on Tuesday with the media tour hosted by Marianne Binetti.  Trying to absorb and photograph each of 16 grand show gardens in a manner of minutes is difficult. We all appreciate Marianne’s insight and coaching to keep our lenses focused on the important elements and story-telling details. This year’s theme was “Garden Party,” a celebration in honor of the Northwest Flower & Garden Show’s 30th year. Built by some of the region’s best designers and landscape professionals, these show gardens are a breath of fresh air.  The outside is brought indoors. Green grass, blooming trees, water flowing, camellias flowering and a carpet of bulbs in bloom – it is the reassurance of spring that we all need in February.

West Seattle Nursery “Wabi-Sabi: Embrace Flawed Beauty” Founder’s Cup (Best in Show) and Gold Medal winner – Photo by Anne Reeves
Pine Creek Nursery booth – Photo by Anne Reeves

The first full day of the show, I walked every inch of the floor with my mom. We admired the show gardens, searched for seeds, investigated a vertical aero-growing system and bought beeswax candles. When we stopped for lunch, we shared a table with a woman volunteering at a Rose Society booth in the Garden Resource area of the show. She encouraged me to come by and meet members at the various garden clubs and then attend meetings to find a group that suits me. She wants me to be able to meet with other gardeners year-round.

Vintage Garden Market booth – photo by Anne Reeves


Another fun part of the show is the Vintage Garden Market—booths crammed with upcycled and vintage items, often planted with primulas or violets. Charming and fresh, this section of the show inspires us all to work with what we have to create meaningful and storied displays in our home.

Thursday began with an informal Tweet-Up, linking social media with garden blogging, networking, and swag. The house lights were up and the phones were out. After leaving our mark online, I concentrated on the vendors in the Marketplace area, where French linens, Victorian greenhouses, and glass garden art proved that the show had something for everyone. After lunch, I had a chance to hear Debra Lee Baldwin’s seminar about caring for succulents in the Pacific Northwest. The breadth of content covered in the seminars is staggering and more than half of the speakers are GWA members. I think it’s wonderful that attendees can learn as much about design and the use of color in the garden, as they can about shade, drainage, and soil pH. Pick a class, any class.

Gina Thresher and Jon Robert Throne Photos by Anne Reeves


Floral Wars with Chris Sabbarese and Debra Prinzing – Photo by Anne Reeves

That same afternoon, I was pleased to sit in on a session of Floral Wars. Gina Thresher, AIFD took on Jon Robert Throne, AIFD in a healthy floral design competition. Presented by American Grown Flowers, Floral Wars was hosted by GWA Past President, Debra Prinzing of SlowFlowers.com. Debra answered questions and encouraged the designers to share tips and tricks during their speed rounds creating a bridal bouquet, grand foyer arrangement and trendy floral crown. Thank you to Chris Sabbarese of Corona Tools for sponsoring Floral Wars and attending the matchup. The crowd loved this event and we all left with a greater appreciation for texture and scale in floral design.


GWA Region VI Connect Meeting 020918 – Photo by Kirk R. Brown

And then suddenly it was Friday and time for the GWA Region VI Connect Meeting, where 40 of us met during a break in the GardenPRO conference. I was greeted by the effervescent Mary-Kate Mackey and immediate Past President Kirk R. Brown, who made sure that I met even more members: C.L. Fornari, Donna Balzer, Dawn Hummel, and Byron Jones. I introduced myself to Ed Hume and when he heard that I write about finding delight, he invited me to come see his garden this spring. I’ll be there! The meeting was bookmarked by two great action items proposed by Mary-Kate. “Take this large sticky note and write down something horticultural that you’re proud of from this last year and stick it on the wall.” After we had chatted a while and had eaten our sack lunches, Mary-Kate read a few of the stickies’ messages aloud to recognize the accomplishments. “Who got a photo on the cover of a magazine?!” A joyful member raised their hand. “Hooray! That’s fantastic!,” as a round of applause erupted in the room.  “Who got an agent?” Another happy hand went up and a rousing “Good for you!” from Mary-Kate and more applause, made the whole room feel proud of themselves. On that high note, Mary-Kate asked the group, “What could the GWA as an organization, do for you? Write down your ideas, anything at all, and post them on this other wall.” It didn’t take long and large orange sticky notes started dotting the wall. Mary-Kate suggested that as we posted our own suggestions, we should read the other ideas and put a dot sticker on ideas that we liked. This interesting exercise let people feel heard and also let the group weigh in (dot power!) with the ideas that were most important to them. Bravo, Mary-Kate. You maximized a very short meeting and let the members have their say. The meeting was part social, part planning and very productive. The GWA members may be like-minded, but their professional needs are likely very different. From my perspective, we did far more than connect, we grew.

May you all have a wonderful growing season ahead of you and may the internet connect us like far-flung cousins until we meet again. And the next time you see me at a GWA Connect Meeting or the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, please say Hi!

#GWA2018 #GrowGWA #meetGWA

Meet the Author

Anne Reeves is the author of the blog “Moments of Delight,” which is filled with the 9beauty of everyday life. Since its inception in 2007, she has written over 2,400 original posts. She published her first book Moments of Delight in 2008.  Her second book, Paris: Delight in the City of Light is a visually inspiring travel guide published in 2011. Her most recent book, Finding Delight, encourages readers to live a life where hobbies and travel collide with friendship and collecting. Anne is currently working on her next book, New Girl’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest.

Anne lives near Seattle, Washington, with her husband, Dan.


Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GardenComm members.

2 thoughts on “Warm Welcome – A Newcomer’s Look at the Northwest Flower Show & Garden Festival”

  1. Wow! What an amazing article! Informative, interesting, funny, inspiring! I feel as if I were almost there. Thanks for the in-depth, behind-the-scenes scoop.


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