Human Flower Project

Listen Up: SF Garden Show 2009

Some people want to see garden exhibits. But Georgia Silvera Seamans takes notes on the garden-show-goers’ commentary. Enjoy the spikes and snarks of her fine experiment in participant observation.

Field notes and all photos by Georgia Silvera Seamans

Five things I learned at the San Francisco Garden Show


• Orchids

Orchids are a big deal.  Orchids attract a lot of attention and verbal responses like “Ooh” and “Aah.”  I used the pedestrian entrance and once I got past the lobby, I was greeted by a large ORCHID banner and numerous orchid vendors.  On the way to the “Marketplace” building I overheard two women coo at a gentleman who was pulling a wagon filled with orchids – purple, white, and pink.  To be clear, they were ogling the orchids, not the man.


• WOW gardens

These are gardens with water works, larger than life sculptural features, and unusual plants.  The first garden I observed was Sound of Serenity, a “traditional Japanese koi garden, presented in a format for the modern American homes and gardens.”  The garden was designed by Ripple Effect Water Gardens and Eco-Systems Landscape Solutions.  I overheard a woman say, “Sheesh, this is beautiful!” 

Another WOW garden was Natural Elegance by Studio Replica and Wendy Owen Design.  The designers described the garden as “a naturally sophisticated environment incorporating nature’s own surfaces, enhanced by stylish sculptural elements and simple plantings.”  The sculptural elements were certainly eye catching.  The garden elicited this response from a woman observer, “Oh god, this is beautiful!” 

The Cool Living garden’s circular entry wall was definitely a dramatic feature.  The design—interesting in its own right—it also nicely frames the interior of the garden.

Unusual plants also elicit the WOW response.  Paradise Lost…And Found fit the bill.  Based on “journey from Hell to Heaven, or perhaps from Heaven to Hell,” the garden featured some spectacular plants like Araucaria araucana or monkey-puzzle tree, a coniferous tree with spiky leaves and a spiky trunk.


• No People in Photos

Whenever I stopped to take photographs, passersby moved out of my frame.  I rarely wanted this outcome.  I try to take photographs with people in the frame.  I think they add scale and depth to the object of interest.  Also, people are part of the environment.  I am not a professional photographer capturing objects for magazine editors and readers.  But even nonprofessionals tried to take photographs without the presence of people.  I observed numerous professional photographers (recognizable by their large and beautiful digital SLR cameras) taking photographs.  And all of them avoided including people in their frames.

• Some People Do Not Like Recycled Materials in Their Gardens

imageDespite our current Green Era of alternative fuels and recycling of even food wastes, some people don’t want recycled products in their gardens.  When I heard a gentleman remark to his young son, “I liked this until I saw the sheet metal,” I was intrigued.  We were looking at The Return of Paradiso by Quite Contrary Garden Design (the name of the company should have been a clue) and Raul Campos Landscapes, a garden created with “industrial salvage and technological” objects.  The sheet metal in question had been used to create a pond.  The man told me that at another garden show he hadseen a garden that incorporated recycled materials and he thought it looked awful (he used different wording).  This garden elicited other responses, more positive.  One woman remarked: “Look, isn’t this neat, kinda fun.”  Her response sounded like a question though, as if she were unsure she should like the garden.


• “Messy” Gardens Are Not Appreciated

There was only one garden that could have been classified as “messy” —where messy is defined as wild-looking, not cared for.  The songbird native planting area of Sing! by Mariposa Gardening and Design, a Berkeley design firm, was reminiscent of many Berkeley front yards: purposefully unmanaged (or at least, the aesthetic is to look unmanaged) flower fields.  I enjoy these Berkeley yards but not everyone does.  For example, my brother, who lives in suburban New Jersey, thinks these yards look messy.  A woman observer said snarkily of the Sing! garden,  “It’s got that Berkeleyite thing going on.”

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/25 at 09:13 PM


what a fun article!  i enjoyed reading it and wish i could have seen the “Berkeleyite” garden with my own eyes.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/26 at 08:55 AM

I loved this take on the garden show. I am also always interested in what people’s reactions to gardens are, and hearing the wide array of reactions is so fascinating. Wish I could have been there to see the repurposed stuff and the “messy” garden, since those seem like validations of my own aesthetic (or lack thereof, from another perspective). Thanks for this great post!

Posted by Karen on 03/28 at 12:46 PM
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