If you ask the average student at UConn what they know about horticulture most likely you will get an unclear response. Today, a large part of society has developed a true disconnect from agriculturally related fields. Trees and plants, including ones we eat, are often taken for granted and are often under appreciated. The field of horticulture deals with the art, science, and business of growing plants. It is an industry that encompasses the cultivation of plants for both food and ornamental purposes. In Connecticut, agriculture has very mature roots. Much of the land was farmed for vegetable production in the days following settlement. At one point in time the State was a large producer of cut flowers before the market was driven south. Currently, Connecticut still boasts a large green industry, with over half of the State’s traded agricultural commodities a result of the nursery and ornamental plant industry. In today’s time the major itself at the University is very trade-oriented with a direct connection to the community.
The ornamental horticulture industry is really focused on aesthetic, visually attractive, practical, and functional characteristics. Plants truly do serve as visually appealing pieces whether they are in a landscape, on your window sill, or even in a parking lot. Because of this reason, the best reason to showcase a product is not ‘let me tell you about..,’ but instead it is ‘let me show you.’ And in an effort to reach a broader customer base visually, the plant show was born. Flower and plant shows have really grown to become a horticultural tradition. The Philadelphia Flower Show was first held in 1829 by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and to this day remains the nation’s largest and longest running horticultural event.
This February, the Connecticut Flower Show was held at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford for the 35th time under the theme “In the Spotlight.” The four day show has grown to encompass over 300 booths filled with horticultural vendors, countless hours of educational seminars, non-profit and learning exhibits, floral displays, and over an acre of traditional landscape competition exhibits. This year, the Horticulture Club at UConn was invited to construct a 700 square foot display garden. The Club had historically participated in the flower show for many years but had taken a break for a few years until 2016. With none of the current members having previous experience with working a flower show, it truly proved itself to be a learning opportunity.
Because the event is held in the middle of February, not naturally during many plant growing periods, it required careful planning and some strategizing. Many of the deciduous and herbaceous plants had to be forced, which is the process of forcing a plant to grow during an unnatural time. The Club started planning the display and collecting plant specimens in early autumn. Plants were purchased from local garden centers and nurseries within reach of UConn. In early January, just before the start of the spring semester, most of the club’s perennial plants were brought into the greenhouse so that they could be full of color for the show. In a few short weeks the boring black pots started to show signs of lush growth. Hostas poked through the soil, heucheras showed their brightly colored leaves, and hellebores set their flower buds.
Construction of the display began during Valentine’s Day weekend, almost a week before the Show was set to open its doors. In total the Club spent over 25 man hours transporting supplies to Hartford and constructing the landscape. The landscape was designed to depict a realistic park and backyard setting that a show viewer would be able to construct alone. In total the display featured over forty species, including several cultivars of heuchera, hosta, and phlox, as well as four different species of trees. The king and queen of the landscape were a six foot Fraser Fir and an espaliered pink crabapple. The crabapple espalier put on a magnificent flower display and was voted ‘Best Trained/Shaped Specimen in Show’ by the landscape display judge committee.
In addition to the landscape display, Horticulture Club staffed a 100 square foot booth during the entirety of the flower show. Club members distributed information about the University and the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources and over 500 plants which they propagated themselves. Overall, the Connecticut Flower Show was deemed a great success by the Horticulture Club. The show really allowed members to develop a connection between educational principles and the industry itself. And it provided an early taste of spring!