Ten ways the Northwest Flower & Garden Show blew my mind…

It is ironic that having grown up near Portland, Oregon and spending over 70% of my time commuting to Seattle for work over the last two years this was my first NWFGS. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip – I was in town to do my “Chicago Victory Gardens: Yesterday and Tomorrow” lecture for the P-Patch Organization and to have some meetings with Seattle Tilth. It was great timing that I could also spend a few days at the show.

Full disclosure – you know me! – I was in it for the edible/urban element. I wasn’t expecting much as flower and garden shows are usually landscape gardening focused. Was I wrong! As a matter of fact, the ten experiences I’m mentioning below changed my opinions in many, many ways. It is always great to learn, question your own assumptions and be inspired. The NWFGS did this for me and I believe The Yarden will be more interesting this year because of it. So here we go…

A few years ago I picked up Rosalind Creasy’s Cooking from the Garden at a garage sale benefiting Chicago’s Les Dames d’Escoffier. Not only was it an original edition but it had been owned by the revered Abby Mandel of Chicago Green Market fame. I have it on my nightstand and leaf through it often. I consider it a good luck omen and reminder of the great work people have done to encourage edible gardening, small farmers and a healthier local food system. And how there is so much more work to do…

Listening to Rosalind Creasy’s lecture Edible Landscaping: The New American GardenGrow Your Own Bountiful & Beautiful Garden was like a gardener’s version of visiting Mecca. Rosalind, literally, wrote the book on edible landscaping and we’re just reading it … her journey started 30 years ago traveling with her husband for work and observing how the rest of the world incorporates food gardening into all aspects of their lives. The result of her lifelong passion is a number of books that have lead the way for the rest of us to understand the value and beauty of growing our own food.

Diane Ott Whealy has always been a (s)hero of mine. Since The Yarden is focused on open pollinated, heirloom vegetables, Seed Saver’s Exchange has provided a lot of seeds and inspiration over the years. What you might not know is that in the late 80’s/early 90’s when I was going to college at the University of Oregon I volunteered for a (now defunct) environmental publication called Talking Leaves. Aside from influencing my passion for gardening, environment and community, my three years at TL also introduced me to Seed Saver’s Exchange. One day our editor brought me the yearbook – at that time a skinny, mimeographed document. I was hooked from that moment on. Today SSE has 13,000 members and the catalog is two inches thick. My how times change!

Since my own parents are such an inspiration to me, I loved how Diane’s lecture Demystifying Heirloom Gardening? Designing with Heirloom Flowers, Vegetables & Herbs (based on her new book Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saverstarted with the memories of her grandparents who were the inspiration for Seed Saver’s Exchange. She went on to describe how her life’s work has been driven by passion for gardening and a burning drive to save our cultural seed heritage. Maybe most applicable to The Yarden … Diane’s examples of integrating edibles and flowers has changed my mind about my 100% edible mantra. Don’t pass out, but this year I’ll be incorporating more flowers. It will be weird, but I’m going to do it! I’m particularly interested in Bee’s Friend. [You all can keep me honest on the flower incorporation as the season progresses.]

I first became aware of Teresa from her work co-authoring Grocery Gardening. You can read more about my thoughts on that great book here. She also has a charming blog Seasonal Wisdom that I like very much.

In her lecture The Allure of Edible FlowersHow to Grow, Harvest, Cook & Enjoy Edible Flowers I was again pleasantly occupied with a history-rich talk about not only edible flowers but how they’ve played a major role in culinary and medicinal life through, well, all of recorded history. I learned that the term “officinalis” is the Latin designation of a plant that was used for medicinal purposes. Bottom line – any lecture that uses the term “binomial nomenclature” and talks about Carl Linneae is ok by me. Super +++ geek points on this one!

Willi Evans Galloway has written a lovely book on edible gardening. Her lecture of the same name, Grow. Cook. Eat.Gourmet Vegetable Gardening Made Easy surprised and delighted me in many ways. The major takeaway from this – other than how amazing the photography in her book is – was how she encouraged us to use the whole plant whenever possible. Her thoughts on growing peas just for the shoots, eating broccoli rabe after it has flowered and consuming more of the entire plant were really interesting. I think I’ll be cooking in a different way this summer thanks to this great talk.

Now I’ll be less verbose and let the photos speak a thousand words…


As I mentioned before, the emphasis on edibles was refreshing. I got a lot of interesting ideas and got to talk to some great vendors including my favorite seed potato vendor Irish Eyes. Well, there was a bit more than talking. I got so excited about seeing all their stock in person I bought so many seed potatoes I had to also buy a cheap suitcase to get them home. I’m not proud.


My husband, Peter, stands strong on his no-chicken rule so I take extra joy in getting to see how people are building interesting and attractive coops. Hope springs eternal, right? Someday he’ll give in… (evil grin).


The reuse ideas at the show were surprisingly elegant and fun. I think 2012 is the “Year of the Pallet” and the NWFGS proved that. Being a Portland Saturday Market fan, I was happy to see Experienced Materials oil-drums-as-lighting at the show. I’ve been trying to think of a reason to buy one (or more) of these for years… It will come to me eventually. Some of our fantastic volunteers at The Peterson Garden Project did something similar to decorate our stage last year…

I love the ideas! Bottom line – reuse ideas = beautiful and useful. Time to go scrounging around so I can incorporate some of these concepts in The Yarden!


Here’s the best of both worlds – chickens and reuse! Some clever souls came up with a combo garden shed/chicken coop using an old VW bus. I had that line from the song Convoy stuck in my head the entire show “11 long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse micro bus” – and, yes, I am dating myself.


I guess every hobby needs a trend (or two)– terrariums and fairy gardens have been all the rage lately. I wasn’t too keen on either idea since I’m an (unintentional) houseplant killer, but these maritime themed terrariums were really lovely.


One of the best things about the show was the greenhouse vendors. I’ve wanted a greenhouse my entire adult life – and have been lobbying HARD with the hubby since we put The Yarden in 2007. It was incredible to be able to go into all the greenhouses and get the vibe. I’m not sure how anyone could order something like this online without experiencing it first. I really liked the Sunshine Gardenhouse and am happy to announce that, being the saavy negotiator that he is, Peter has agreed that we NEED ONE. [I know this is a ploy to get me off the chicken bandwagon but, hey, I’ll take it.]

So there you have it! A great few days that will influence me moving forward and hopefully some of these ideas will find a home in your garden as well.

LaManda JoyTen ways the Northwest Flower & Garden Show blew my mind…

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