February 22, 2010

Deconstructing a Vision

What took three and a half days and two dozen people to build was dismantled in a few hours this morning. Paul Miskovsky’s exhibit at the Rhode Island Flower Show (and, for that matter, each the other entries) was reduced to a gigantic pile of dark brown mulch by a small crew and some large pieces of equipment.
A flower show exhibit is a transitory dream. It is intended to exist for a few days, then to disappear, leaving only a pleasant memory of what was. If it is executed properly, a landscape exhibit will please almost everyone who passes by it. Many will pick up the brochure outlining the exhibitor’s credentials. Some will linger, hoping to speak with the garden’s creator. And a few will be sufficiently moved by the landscaper’s vision to say, ‘let’s talk…’.

Landscaping is Paul Miskovsky’s livelihood. Shows such as the just-concluded Rhode Island Flower Show and the upcoming Boston Flower & Garden Show are an important facet of his business. No one wakes up one morning and decides that they ‘need’ to scrape their property bare, re-contour the land and install a series of garden rooms. Instead, they visit friends’ homes and see things they like or they go to shows and get stopped in their tracks by a stunning exhibit. Miskovsky’s vision was indeed capable of causing jaded flower show-goers to backtrack, circle the exhibit and begin talking excitedly to one another. (It took the blue ribbon for best large landscape at the show.)

When Betty and I arrived at the show late Sunday afternoon, we found Paul in discussion with a couple whose appearance and demeanor intimated that, if they elected to start a landscape renovation, it would be a serious undertaking. We gave Paul a wide berth until his conversation with the couple ended with a smile and a firm handshake. It was, I hope and expect, a ritual that occurred many times over the show’s four-day run.

When I arrived this morning at 9 a.m., the garden still looked as it had the day before. But in less than an hour we had stripped the exhibit of more than a hundred campanula, twelve dozen painted ferns, and ten dozen tulips. The campanula, still in glorious full bloom of blue and white bells, were unceremoniously sheared of their tops and placed in boxes. They and the ferns will go into greenhouses either for clients or for the Boston Flower & Garden Show in March.

Also in that hour the stunning tropicals that had enlivened the two patio scenes were placed into climate-controlled trucks to return to the greenhouses where they have wintered.

Next came the grasses, ground covers and small shrubs. It had taken nearly a day to install them. It took less than an hour to remove them and load them in racks on one of Paul’s large trucks. Before noon, the exhibit looked like the accompanying photo - stripped of everything but its trees and hardscape. We took a break for pizza, then tackled the task of tying up the branches of trees so that they could lay flat in enclosed trucks. Paul’s full-time crew were handed the assignment of pulling out the stone wall that encircled one patio and the dozens of bluestone slabs that comprised the two seating areas.

The first section of kickboard came down around 1 p.m. Paul, manning one of his beloved Bobcats, rode over hills of mulch to begin retrieving more than a dozen trees located around the 900 square foot garden. Before 2 p.m., it was all done. The garden sprang from a pile of mulch last Sunday; eight days later, it returned to that same mulch, now enriched with some fifty bags of compost used to top-dress the exhibit.

Larry LeCain, a fellow volunteer, told me as we moved rocks that it seemed sad to see the garden come to an end. I respectfully disagreed. Paul’s exhibit was a kind of Brigadoon experience; an ephemeral event that was made all the more special because it was so deliberately transient. It was created to provide enjoyment for 35,000 people in the middle of a bleak season. For a few hours, those people could shed their winter coats and smell spring. Even tough New Englanders deserve that kind of a break. It was a pleasure to be a small part of helping to provide it.

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