For most of the roughly 20,000 people who attended this year’s annual Maine Flower Show, the event is a few hours of diversion as well as inspiration for the fast-approaching gardening season.

For the people who organize the show and create its display gardens, though, mounting the show takes far more time than the four days that the event itself lasts, and some of the beautiful plants they used won’t live to see another day. Held at Thompson’s Point in Portland for the second consecutive year and produced by the Maine Landscape & Nursery Association, this year’s Maine Flower Show ended last Sunday. Landscapers and horticulturalists started building the 12 display gardens at least a week before the show opened its doors, and that doesn’t count the time they spent planning the gardens.

Brian Fairfield of Maine Stonework in Kennebunkport, for example, brought in seven other wallers and one gardener to assist him in building his display garden. Together, they worked three long days to create a massive and impressive 6-foot-tall stone wall, framed in part by blooming lilacs. The structure was made without mortar, with each stone placed by hand, and it was so strong that Fairfield had no qualms about setting his 5-year-old daughter on top of it for a Facebook photo. The dramatic wall – along with mossy stone paths, and four free-stone raised beds that were neatly planted with herbs and vegetables – was one of the hits of the show. It was one of two gardens that tied for the Best Use of Natural Stone award.

That wall was solid. Had it been built outside on someone’s property, it could have stood for years (although its back, pressed up against the sides of the Flower Show tent, wasn’t finished the way a wall in a true landscape would be). But after the show ended, it came down.

Tulips, daffodils and hyacinth fill a garden bed bordered by a granite wall in a display by C.M. Nichols Landscape at the Maine Flower Show at Thompson’s Point.

Had he charged a client for the stonework, Fairfield estimated the bill for labor and material at $40,000. But an advantage of a Maine Flower Show garden that is dependent on stone is that the stone is still perfectly usable after the show. “These stones are going to my next project,” Fairfield said.

The garden created by Terrapin Landscapes, also of Kennebunkport; along with Pierson Nurseries of Biddeford and Dayton; and Terrence J. DeWan & Associates, landscape architects in Yarmouth, also used masses of stone. A fat cantilevered stone created a table where I sat to have my lunch on the Friday of the show, and at the back of the garden, several moss-covered boulders created what looked like a piece of Maine’s rockbound coast. That garden won six awards – including a tie with Maine Stonework for Best Use of Natural Stone. It also took home awards for Pollinator Plants; Maine-grown Plants; Trees and Shrubs; Best Design; and for most closely reflecting the show’s “Rooted in Maine” theme.

Dale Pierson, a founder of Pierson Nurseries, estimated the retail price of the plants alone came to $10,000. Because the plants used for the display were brought into bloom early and then lived inside at the flower show for a week or more, unlike rocks they’ll need time to recover their strength and health.

“We’ll be able to re-use some of them, but definitely not this year,” Pierson said, who – credit where credit is due – added that his son Jake oversaw the nursery’s display garden. Some nurseries, he added, lack the space to pamper the plants used in the show back to health, so they end up in the compost heap.

Ranunculus flowers of varying colors intermingle in a display by Gnome Landscapes at the Maine Flower Show at Thompson’s Point.

The non-plant parts of at least two of the display gardens this year were constructed at the builders’ headquarters, disassembled and reassembled at the show.

The Best-of-Show-Award-winning garden of Maine Heritage Timber Frames of Lisbon Falls and Campbell’s Landscape & Design of Topsham would have taken four people a couple of weeks of steady work to build, Ken Voorhees of the framing company said, and the cost of the framing work alone – which can be reused – was about $15,000. The garden also won the award for Best Use of Precast Stone. It featured a timber-frame structure over a lavish outdoor kitchen, complete with grill, counter and refrigerator, as well as a kitchen garden and a well-coordinated mix of shrubs, annuals and perennials that was both colorful and understated.

Excepting the annuals, all of the plants in the exhibit will be re-used, Katey Campbell said, either for clients of the 5-year-old company, or, failing that, at the new home she and her husband and partner, Zach Campbell, are building.

Nick Cloutier of Willie C & Sons Landscaping in Topsham also created a kitchen garden, which included a huge compass rose made out of stone. That project also was built offsite, taken down and reassembled at the show. The crew numbered each brick so they could be sure of correctly re-creating the design at the show.

While the garden didn’t win any awards, Cloutier said many showgoers told him they liked it, and his business got leads on future clients.

“This is a project people could actually do at their own home,” he said of his display garden.

Another popular garden, if not an award-winner, re-created Portland Harbor, including a miniature Fort Gorges. It was built by Seabreeze Property Services in Portland. Seabreeze employee Shai Levite said he was offered $2,500 for a preserved part of an old ship used in the exhibit, and saw a lot of interest in buying the model of the fort, too. The bridge in the Seabreeze project was especially popular with youngsters and photographers. “They climb up there and get a great view,” Levite said.

The People’s Choice Award went to Billy Goat Landscaping of Kennebunk. Its garden featured brightly flowering annuals spilling out of the back of a vintage beat-up pickup truck. A garden label explained that the display was designed to open the imagination and show the sort of landscape children playing in the Maine woods might stumble upon. Billy Goat also won the award for Best Use of Annuals.

TOM ATWELL is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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