Is it the Fate of Canada Blooms

to be “Merged” With Toronto’s National Home Show?
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

March 27, 2011

A sample floor plan for a combined National Home Show with Canada Blooms in March 2012 as presented to Marketplace exhibitors last Sunday at the show. Photo courtesy Garden Making magazine.

According to senior members of Landscape Ontario, the Horticultural Trades Association (the 2,000-member group that, with the Garden Club of Toronto, founded Canada Blooms back in 1996 [with the first show being held in 1997]), the show is “one of the best flower and garden festivals in North America.” Landscape Ontario has, for the past several years, been the primary driver of the show although the Garden Club of Toronto still stages its own area of prime horticultural and flower arranging displays. Their area, annually, could be said to be right at the apex of the displays of that type in any of the shows certainly in North America, if not the World. And, I have seen pretty much all of them!

As to the overall show itself, I guess I would agree with that observation (“one of”) but in the last several years, the quality of the show has been dropping significantly each year. One of the worst, with its totally un-nspiring entrance garden (trash in receptacles mixed with a few Gerbera blooms), was in 2007 when there were hardly any well-forced trees and shrubs either. Landscape Ontario blamed that disaster on the freakish ice storm that hit the city just as the show was being installed. I was not so sure that the ice storm was entirely to blame!

Then, a year later in 2008, I did not see a whole lot of improvement—in fact a couple of steps backwards in a few areas. One of the comments I made back then was: “I do think that one of the things Canada Blooms needs is a garden or two designed and constructed by long-time members of the association, which would help to show some of the newer, younger landscape contractors a few of the ‘tricks of the trade’ and that would surely improve the gardens and get them back to the standards of old.”

That show made me make up my mind I would not bother to attend at all, and advised Gerry Ginsberg, the general manager, that I would not be coming east, and not to put my name on the speakers list. I have not seen the show since that year.

As to this year’s show, I have read and heard totally mixed reviews. One horticultural friend said, “Probably the best in years. The gardens are expansive with a good selection of forced plants. Garden Club of Toronto competitions are excellent and the commercial booths are of a much higher standard without the many flea market type booths of years past.”

On the other hand, one attendee said, “I have had several unrelated conversations in the past few days with ‘serious gardeners’ and industry members and all were disappointed in this year’s Canada Blooms. Some of the common comments were ‘not too many plants available’, ‘lots of trash & trinkets’, ‘display gardens a far cry from what was built a few years ago’, and ‘display gardens difficult to enter, confusing layout’.

And, they get worse than that even!

On top of all that, while the attendance surged last year, the first year of the show changing venue to the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place, from the downtown Metro Toronto Convention Centre location, it dropped badly again this year. And, obviously as many of the attendees noticed, there was a distinct lack of large gardens. In fact, Landscape Ontario had such a bad sign-up for big garden stagers, they decided to put in one huge 900 sq. metre garden (10,000 sq. ft.) to which a huge number of member firms contributed supplies, materials and labour on individual sections. Landscape Ontario should be congratulated for not only conceiving this garden, but also for the planning and scheduling that went into it. But, from what I am reading/hearing, it did not succeed in pulling them out of the fire—at least not large-garden wise.

One additional comment I read was the almost total lack of well-known garden personalities making presentations at this year’s show.

All that I have written here so far this week, I planned to write as early as last Sunday, as I had heard from a great number of people who had viewed the show.

Then came the big announcement!

It was mentioned at the Garden Writers Association luncheon on Saturday, and was likely part of the gossip of the show earlier as well, but the official announcement was made by Paul Olsen, a senior Landscape Ontario representative on the show’s Board, on the closing day, Sunday the 20th. He said that although no deals had been signed yet, the Board was entertaining a proposal to co-locate the 2012 Canada Blooms with the National Home Show. This would be a big change, creating a 10-day show from March 16 to 25 in 2012.

Although I have only discussed the topic with one Landscape Ontario ‘official’, it is obvious association likes the idea because its members would be able to construct feature gardens at the show that would be on display for a longer period of time and be seen by more consumers. Securing leads for new clients is a primary motivation for landscapers involved in Canada Blooms. You also have to keep in mind that the folks who grow the plants that are featured in the various gardens are a minority within the Landscape Ontario organization—a topic I have been ‘yacking about’ since about 1972!

The most-often-heard complaint is similar to this one I received by e-mail last Sunday: “Looks as if CB will be going with the Home Show next year. Mentioned ten days. Toronto Botanical Garden have difficulty to manage what they have now and I cannot see them going ten days. It will become too expensive for several people in the market place. Volunteers are not easy to get so they will be stretched in this area”

However, while agree with all of those observations and other similar ones, I have to disagree overall on the length proposed. First, consider the venerable Philadelphia Flower Show which now runs eight full days every year and their Marketplace is sold out long in advance, with a waiting list of ‘qualified vendors’.

Even the World-famous Chelsea show now goes 5½ days.

I admit, it would not be easy for garden installers, volunteers, and commercial exhibitors, but it is done else-where. And, keep in mind, Toronto is a much larger city than Philadelphia.

My main concern would be the probable dominance of the ‘horticultural/gardening interests’ by the ‘Home’ interests. The proposal presently being considered (and which obviously needs considerable tweaking) is to occupy the Direct Energy Centre and the older Ricoh Coliseum complex at Exhibition Place. In the accompanying sketch (photo courtesy Garden Making magazine) the proposed Canada Blooms area is shown in green at the left (the old Hall A) with CB’s Marketplace pushing back into the Ricoh Coliseum. The balance of the building would be National Home Show areas.

Some years ago, the National Home Show changed their dates from late March/early April (always included Easter weekend) to mid-February. Likely one of the factors behind that move was the elimination of the company’s old “Metro Home Show” then held in mid-January. Now the U.S. producers have decided they are better to be late rather than early in spring in Toronto! And, they find themselves up against the Canada Blooms show which pretty much excludes them from having the dates they want. So, they have decided the answer is to combine with Canada Blooms and try to make everyone happy.

But, can that happen? I don’t see it being a good business plan, but then maybe they should try it for a couple of years and see what emerges!

Good Luck to all.

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