Historically, Atlantans have looked forward to a yearly flower show during the gray days of February to enliven the drizzly, post-groundhog winter and to whet the appetite for spring planting yet to come.
With roots in the 1930s, the Atlanta Flower Show grew to become the Southeastern Flower Show, a mammoth undertaking that drew tens of thousands of visitors and was staged at convention centers such as the Georgia World Congress Center and the Cobb Galleria Centre.
Organized by the Southeastern Horticultural Society, somehow the show outgrew its container, and after the 2013 event it disappeared.
“The last several shows have lost money or just broken even,” Caroline Leake, the society’s executive director, told Atlanta Magazine in 2015.
Now, after a long hiatus, there is good news for gardeners and horticulturalists. The Atlanta Botanical Garden plans to mount a revival of sorts, and next year will stage a reduced version of the floral extravaganza.
It will be called the Atlanta Botanical Garden Flower Show, and will be Feb. 23-25 in 2018.
“It’s the right time and the right place,” said Mary Pat Matheson, president and CEO of the garden, “because it’s so important to continue to offer competitive shows where the art and science of horticulture and floriculture can be presented and celebrated.”
In the past the juried show has had hundreds of thousands of square feet of indoor space to display acres of landscaping. But the Atlanta Botanical Garden has limited area under cover, so some things will change.
“We don’t have that vast amount of space, there won’t be huge areas covered with bridges and hardscapes,” said co-chair Mary Katherine Greene. “It will be smaller.”
Greene said a small group of landscape designers will be featured, but competition in that area will not be open to the public.
Instead the show will focus on the three other areas of competition: floral design, horticulture and photography.
“We wanted to make one that is sustainable and will come back year after year,” said Greene, a longtime participant in the original show. While the Southeastern show moved from venue to venue and sometimes failed to cover costs with revenue, this show will be at the same place each year, and will have the support of the botanical garden and its retinue of volunteers, Greene said.
Said Matheson, “We are really not doing the old flower show at all. This is not bringing it back. This is a new approach.”
The Atlanta Botanical Garden’s earliest volunteers were active in the Southeastern Flower Show, and have often heard visitors to the garden ask about resuscitating the event. “Even people unrelated to the garden, like my bug man, will ask me, ‘When are y’all going to have a flower show?’” said Greene,
The theme at next year’s show will be “Ingenue: A Toast to Georgia’s Film Industry.”
The organizers expect some pent-up demand and some excitement. “The garden clubs that participate are thrilled,” said Greene, a Buckhead native and a member of the Peachtree Garden Club. “They love the competition, the camaraderie of it.”
The competition is open to the public in all categories except landscape design, and division classes will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration information will be available in the fall on atlantabg.org
The floral design category offers competition in the art of flower arranging. Horticulture competitors strive to propagate the most perfect example of a given species. Participating photographers are given much leeway in their contest, but they must include a growing thing in the image. The show will also present a well-known speaker.
Matheson said past flower shows were easily derailed by bad weather and cost overruns. “Doing it with all these great volunteers means it will be sustainable, and we can bring it into the future,” she said.