This is a case of the little engine that could. In 1999, the Garden Expo had a humble beginning. Organized by The Inland Empire Gardeners and held in the Northeast Community Center, it attracted 350 people who came to buy garden products from two dozen vendors.
Even though it was fun, club president ViAnn Meyer dreamed of transforming it into an event that would turn the Inland Northwest into a gardening mecca each spring.
Now fast-forward to next Saturday. The 10th annual Garden Expo will be held at Spokane Community College with more than 200 vendors selling plants and garden-related arts, crafts and products to an estimated 15,000 enthusiastic attendees.
“When we first started the Garden Expo, we had no practical business experience and didn’t really know what we were doing,” Meyer says. “It’s actually a little scary and it’s a lot more responsibility than we thought we would have, but we’re thrilled with the reception and support we’ve gotten from the community.”
The “we” Meyer is referring to is the 400 members of The Inland Empire Gardeners.
“Everybody is working really hard,” she says. “It’s definitely a group effort because they organize the show, grow plants and work on the displays.”
Throughout the 10 years of the Garden Expo, organizers have upheld their commitment to keep it free to the public.
This year’s theme – “Gardening Around the World: Floral Domination” – reflects the club’s activities this year, which include a slate of monthly speakers who will talk about their recent travels.
At the show, Barbara Murray will give a presentation on her travels to the gardens of British Columbia, France, the British Isles, Africa and New Zealand.
Far Reaches Farm, a new vendor from Port Townsend, Wash., does plant exploration in Asia and promises to bring a lot of unusual plants for gardeners to snatch up. Another new vendor, Killdeer Farms, specializes in more than 500 varieties of geraniums.
“The plants at our show are the big draw,” Meyer says. “Plant vendors are coming to Spokane with things you just don’t see every day.”
She has noticed how gardeners are starting up small nurseries and home businesses in order to sell their plants and products at the Garden Expo because it is an affordable venue.
Other types of plants you can expect to see include herbs, blueberries, daylilies and lily bulbs, vegetable seedlings, lavender, roses, irises, dahlias, lilacs, Japanese maples, hostas and perennials.
In addition to shopping at the booths, attendees will have their choice of four seminars: Murray’s photographic tour of gardens around the world; vegetable gardening; growing native plants; and a question-and-answer session with local garden guru Phyllis Stephens.
“Phyllis spoke at the very first Garden Expo and has spoken every year since,” Meyer says.
There will also be demonstrations throughout the day revolving around the topics of Japanese flower arranging, lavender, composting, and growing roses and blueberries.
Many local garden clubs and organizations will have booths to provide information on their clubs. They include the Friends of Manito, Spokane Rose Society, Inland Empire Water Garden & Koi Society, Spokane Lilac Society, Spokane Floral Association, Town & Country Iris Society and the Inland Northwest Garden Railroad Society. The WSU Spokane County Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer all manner of gardening questions.
After the Inland Northwest’s long winter and particularly sluggish start to the spring, the Garden Expo will provide local gardeners with a variety of ways by which to celebrate the start of a new gardening season.
“People bring their moms for Mother’s Day, sisters come together, friends, garden clubs from around the area, senior citizen groups, community groups from small towns – it’s truly a pilgrimage for gardeners,” Meyer says.
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