2012 Canada Blooms and Toronto HomeShow Possible Merger — Attendance/Quality Down — iCanGarden.com

March 27, 2011

Art Drysdale

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.


Setting the record straight  on the future of Canada Blooms

Editor's note: Canada Blooms show manager Gerry Ginsburg announced plans to co-locate the festival with the National Home Show in 2012.

By Tony DiGiovanni CHTR
executive director

It is very important to realize that we are not selling Canada Blooms to the Home Show, nor are we partnering with a for-profit show. This must be made very clear. The shows will remain separate. They are simply locating in the same venue and same date. 

Each show will advertise its own event, issue its own tickets and have its own entrances. However, the Canada Blooms ticket will allow visitors to enter into the Home Show, and the Home Show ticket will allow visitors into Canada Blooms.  

The original vision for Canada Blooms was a charitable, community-based, world-class event that showcased the very best in horticulture and floriculture. Proceeds then and now are used for legacy garden projects. It is not a business and cannot operate as one. It must be able to mobilize and benefit communities and generations. It must infect all visitors with a desire to contribute to their community and environment. It must reflect the core values of community stewardship, volunteer participation, contribution, celebration, education and pursuit of excellence. 

We wanted to unify the professional and amateur horticultural communities by bringing together all those who had a passion and enthusiasm for gardens, flowers, plants and green space in a grand celebration meant to create an unforgettable impression on visitors. We strive to reach out and stir each visitor's emotion. Our sincere desire to fulfill this goal is behind our motivation to negotiate a co-location arrangement with the home show. The proposed relationship will enhance both events.   

Here are the five main reasons we are co-locating with the National Home Show: 

  1. Locating Canada Blooms and the National Home Show in one location will make it one of the largest events in North America. The size, scope and added attendance will generate enough energy and resources to enhance and improve the gardens and floral displays. We will also generate enough revenue to contribute to community-related horticultural projects, thus fulfilling our legacy mandate.  
  2. The co-location agreement will allow each organization to focus on its respective strengths. Canada Blooms will be able to focus on education, gardens, floral arts and community building/contribution.  The Home Show will focus on the marketplace, business aspects and logistics. This will allow Canada Blooms staff to focus on the festival part of our event. They will have much more time to go after sponsors, develop grant proposals, liaise with bus tour companies, and develop creative partnerships with other cultural events. 
  3. The co-location arrangement will give Canada Blooms the opportunity to raise awareness for the societal benefits of horticulture and floriculture to an entirely different audience. The demographic profile for Canada Blooms is 75 per cent women, 35 to 55. The audience for the Home Show is younger, first-time homeowners with more males comprising its demographic. This complementary mix will benefit both shows.  
  4. The co-location will allow Canada Blooms to revert to a "garden and floral" presentation area.   All non-related exhibitors will be directed to the National Home Show.  
  5. Co-location is good for visitors and exhibitors. Visitors will be able to get into both events with one ticket.  Exhibitors will generate more revenue because of increased attendance. 

Landscape Ontario supports the relationship between Canada Blooms and the Home Show because it will accelerate the vision to produce a world class garden and floral festival that contributes to the community. I still remember Kathy Dembroski's comment before the birth of Canada Blooms.  She wanted Canada Blooms to be a gift to the community. We do too.  

The following questions and answers will add further clarity:

Will the Canada Blooms brand be diluted?

No. The Canada Blooms brand will be strengthened. The quality of the gardens and floral displays will improve. There will be a separate entrance, separate marketing and separate tickets. The integrity of Canada Blooms as a world class, non-profit festival will be maintained and enhanced. The vision and core values will remain the same.  

Will Canada Blooms be moving to a ten-day show?

Yes. The original vision of Canada Blooms was for a ten-day show. This was copied from the Philadelphia Flower and Garden Show. This length of time presents logistical issues with respect to the flowering plants and volunteer forces, however, Philadelphia has been operating for over 100 years as a ten-day show. We will learn from their experience. A ten-day show also has many benefits. The increased exposure will allow many more people to benefit. We are also looking at strategies to accommodate those exhibitors who may not be able to run ten days, so five-day options are being looked at.

Are you concerned that Canada Blooms will be perceived as a for-profit home show?

With this co-location arrangement, the business aspects of the show will disappear. We will look much more like the festival that we truly are.   

What do you hope to achieve with this co-location?

We hope to strengthen Canada Blooms so that we can focus on spreading our message of "societal benefit." Currently, the majority of people plant gardens for aesthetic reasons. However, those of us in the nursery and landscape industry know that plants, gardens and green infrastructure improve quality of life in many other ways. Living green infrastructure provides economic, environmental, lifestyle, therapeutic, recreational, spiritual, tourism, health and community benefits. Canada Blooms can help the public become more aware of the benefits of green space.

What about logistics of building gardens and setting up floral displays?

It will certainly be a challenge to build gardens at the same time that the National Home Show is building the Dream Home. However, with proper planning and more time added to the build, we should be able to simplify the process. In addition, Canada Blooms will locate in Hall A, which is slightly larger than the current Hall B. There are also dedicated loading docks in Hall A.