Reliving those Home Show Moments

“Selling the Illusion” . . .

Indoor Waterfall

A while back I got into a Blog conversation with Kim over at Blackswamp Girl(great name) about Home Shows and the views, and the gardens, and a little of what goes into creating a look to capture those in attendance.

Having done many a home show in earlier years, I had remarked to Kim about our goals has “displayers” . . . it’s to “sell work”. It’s not to motivate, illuminate, or inspire the homeowner to run out and put the same thing in their backyard. it really isn’t about being a “idea factory“.

Contractors and Designers want to design/install work. It’s about another form of marketing. Now I/we all know that some homeowners will copy/borrow/steal vignettes they see at these Home Shows . . . it’s part of the Home Show Game we all play. We can easily deal with that-no problem.

Hopefully the time, energy, effort, creative process, and money put in will pan out in the end. In some cities and show designers/contractors are compensated to put in a display, that may be as little as comping booth space to actual money to defray cost of building/displaying/manning the display.

This all varies on the size, scale, reputation on the actual show itself. I would consider Chelsea being the #1 show.

The reality is most guys I know hate, and I mean hate doing these types of shows. If it is not real hate, then it is usually real dread. There is usually a lot of time and energy involved in putting the display all together. Then the worst part comes . . . the actual show and the questions. The questions are the worst part, by far.

A lot of people want something for nothing. They start asking stuff about their yard as though you are actually standing in their with them looking at the same brown spot they asked about at last years show(hey, some people are just unforgettable).

One of my other favorites is the homeowner who balks when I/we explain we charge fees . . . actual fees to do work.

We’ll Bob in booth #223 said he’d look at our yard for free and do a design for free. Why can’t you be like Bob.

Over and over; brown spots, the scab on unidentified trees, the mysterious fungus, the guys who just got laid off somewhere doing “design work” for free-it never stops. This is how it is in most Home Shows across the U.S.

The waterfall at the top of the story was built by me for a show I helped with in 2001. The last time I worked a booth.

I was the waterfall/pond/fish guy, so my weekend sort of went like this:

  • My fish are sick.
  • The herons ate my fish.
  • My fish disappeared . . .
  • My fish died . . .
  • Why did both my plants die?
  • I want a pond without algae.
  • Why is my water green?
  • Will you come out and find my leak?
  • I cannot see my fish . . .
  • My pond water is scummy, why?
  • My pond stinks . . .
  • My pond is black . . .

Aaaaargh, that was it. It would take a lot to do that again. Now I would help the right person design/build a display . . . but the questions.

Flower show Waterfall

Another from the show of the other waterfall, this was the right one of a double falls. At one point we actually did have a problem with this one leaking and had to shut down this side-bummer it was. But, the show must go on. Hardly anyone remarked of it being off, which surprised me.


Addendum: I do not know a “landscaper” named “Bob” who gives his work away.

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


  1. What a timely article.
    I’ve been thinking about doing another display garden for the S.F. Garden show for a few years now and just when I feel I am ready to make the plunge something inside of me says
    ” what the F is wrong with you , are you into S+M or what ? ! “.

    The last time I did the S.F. show was back in the days ( late 80’s early 90’s ) when it was known as a cutting edge GARDEN ART installation venue.Since that time the show has been sold to a Seattle based Production Company and the display gardens are geared more towards marketing garden designers and less about innovative cutting edge horticultural entertainment.
    Every now and then the S.F. show still gets some excellent cutting edge design work ( after all, this IS San Francisco ) , but for the most part the display gardens are rather pedestrian in design.

    There is a group of S.F. designers and organizers who are working diligently at getting a NEW garden show together for the fall of 08.
    The emphasis is on cutting edge innovative design, no ho hum been there done that kind of garden exhibits.
    The bar is being set high , like it used to be back in the days when the S.F. show was held at The Fort Mason Center.
    I am really looking forward to seeing if this group can pull off this new show.
    It will most definitely NOT be your garden variety event.

    I’ll keep you posted .

    Fall of ’08, fall . . . . one of the best times to visit S.F., keep me posted. I woulda thought being left coast, Calif., and S.F. you would have been putting on a cutting edge show all the time. it’s too bad about it becoming a marketing thing. Anywhere in the country . . . they get boring quickly.

    Oh, and i am glad I got to you in time so you could remember what it was like!

  2. Would those folks looking for free design work go to a contractor with a plan for a new house they scrawled on a napkin based on a conversation with an architect they met in a bar? I know enough about design (garden, print, web) to know I don’t know much about design. But it’s something everyone thinks is easy, they can do for themselves, and they shouldn’t have to pay for it.

    Dear readers, I did not pay for this endorsement for the profession of Landscape Design but it is acknowledged and accepted.

    This whole argument goes to my sidebar note on this being one of the most mis-understood professions . . . still-today. As long as guys “give it away”, “barter it away”, “downplay the process”, and put “install above the design phase” . . . . it’s not going to change.

    If one of the bigger guys in town doesn’t charge for design, then most others are “afraid” to “very afraid” to charge for the design. So there becomes an expectation that it should be “free”. Especially by a large percentage of the crowd that rolls though the typical Home Show across the U.S.

    Now about the bar napkin . . . uh, ah, well you see . . . it’s like this-some of my best work was initially, uh . . . “drawn, scribbled, jotted down” on the aforementioned bar napkin, and it’s . . . oh, nevermind.

  3. Rick, I smiled (most often at the same time I was nodding in sympathy) through your post. Any show is a lot of work, but all that setup… all the lugging… all of the questions… argh!

    The questions get to me sometimes at the garden center where I’m working part time, too. My favorite so far has been this: “I bought some iris in a package last fall at Home Depot. I just found them back… how should I plant them?” (Seriously, you could have just not said “at Home Depot” when you were calling an independent garden center, dude.) And all of the guys in the lawn & garden part complain about people coming in and getting their advice, then walking out the door empty-handed but knowing what they’re going to go buy at a big box store.

    People want the benefit of the knowledge, and the artistic eye… but they don’t want to have to pay for it. Is it part of our consumerist society that people only seem to value “things” anymore instead of talents?

    Well put . . . and I appreciate the problem at the Garden Center. I hear all that and more from folks I know on the retail side of our industry.
    As to the design/artistic question . . . if you look at man’s history design and creativity have always been under-appreciated, unappreciated, and under-valued.

  4. im building an indoor rock pool with a waterfall, in the center of a round garden what ideas do you have im letting my parrots fly free in here not looking for fish or anything like that just an idea on how to set it out its 2 floors in volume, waterfall flowing down one side into a pool for myself to swim in want it very green and bird friendly


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