February 27, 2013

"Do You Miss It?"

I remember February 27, 2012.  A year ago this morning, I left my home in Medfield, Massachusetts and drove 45 miles to Raynham to check on the progress of several hundred pots of tulips being forced in a greenhouse.  From Raynham, I drove another 40 miles to Cape Cod, there to see with my own eyes how badly a whitefly infestation had ravaged some flats and gallon-pot containers of annuals and perennials.  From Falmouth, I drove 90 miles to Wellesley to inspect the painting of staging and to meet with the indefatigable Clark Bryan to discuss budgets.  I then drove 10 miles home to deal with several dozen emails relating to a dinner for out-of-town judges.

I relate the above because, for the past week, there hasn’t been a day – and sometimes several times a day – when someone has asked, “Do you miss it?”

My answer is always, “Yes, and no.”

Joanne Caccavale
creates an Ikebana
For three years, I was the Chairman of Blooms! at the Boston Flower and Garden Show, an ungainly moniker for the person running the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s many activities at the giant mid-March flower show at the Seaport World Trade Center.  I fell into the job because I possessed the four critical bullet-point skills enumerated in the job description.  Not necessarily in order of importance, I possessed a passing knowledge of horticulture, I understood project management, I had a lot of free time on my hands, and I was willing to do the job for free.  I might add that nobody else wanted the honor.

Mass Hort had imploded in 2008.  The organization announced it had no cash and a mountain of debts.  In one day, the organization laid off 70% of its staff.  Then came the electrifying announcement that the 2009 New England Spring Flower Show was cancelled.  This was an organization on the verge of extinction.

I had been in Mass Hort’s peripheral orbit because of Betty’s work as a Master Gardener (in Massachusetts at the time, Master Gardeners were essentially indentured servants to Mass Hort) and I had helped build exhibits at three flower shows.  When Mass Hort put out a call for volunteers to mount a not-quite-a-flower-show event called ‘Blooms!’ in Boston’s financial district in 2009, I offered to help.  The next year, after The Paragon Group, an events company, announced plans for the 2010 Boston Flower & Garden Show, I was asked to run Mass Hort’s activities.

Displays of amateur horticulture
are at the heart of the flower show.
Paragon had agreed to pay Mass Hort a fixed amount of money to stage ‘amateur horticulture’, a term broad enough to encompass the judging of plants, two judged flower design competitions, Ikebana, plant rooms, a day of speakers and a Mass Hort exhibit.  My charge was, using volunteers and donated materials, to create a credible presence for Mass Hort while spending as little money as possible.  The mission was accomplished thanks to hundreds of volunteers and heroic efforts by Mass Hort’s staff.

I had a simple goal:  get people to
come into the exhibit, relax, have
their picture taken... and become
Mass Hort members.
I was asked to reprise my role in 2011.  Mass Hort’s presence expanded to include a photography competition, a book store, and miniature gardens.  The Mass Hort exhibit expanded in size.  So did my time involvement.  What had been a thousand-hour project in 2010 became more than a thousand hours in 2011.  But thanks to that ever-growing cadre of volunteers and that wonderful staff, it was another great show.  And, in addition to the funds retained by Mass Hort, membership swelled.

I had been given a free hand during those two shows to organize and run Mass Hort’s activities as I saw fit.  As planning for the 2012 show progressed, change was in the air.  Many suggestions were offered to ‘improve’ Mass Hort’s exhibits, many of them well not well thought out.  I accommodated those that made sense and rebuffed those that I knew from experience would not work.  There came points when those differences boiled over into public display.  By the time the 2012 show opened, I knew it would be my last one.  Two days after a very successful show ended, I informed Mass Hort that I could not and would not return for 2013.  At that meeting, I was shown a plan for a new, large Flower Show Committee structure that would make all decisions about Mass Hort’s involvement.  There would be no more one-man bands.  My era had passed.

Shirley Minott, in front,
whose two-sided floral
design blew away the
What do I miss?  I miss the people and their dedication.  Three days before the 2012 show opened, one of my floral design demonstrators had a death in her family.  I called a gifted designer by the name of Shirley Minott.  She promptly agreed to fill in and then put on a display that drew standing applause.  Two days later, Shirley was entered in the most difficult class of the floral design competition; a two-sided display.  I had the pleasure to watch her create her design, and then the experience of seeing the judges’ reaction to it.  Shirley’s design swept every major award.  And, just two days earlier, she had agreed to drop everything to help a friend in a time of need.

The photography competition. From
the start, it was a class act.
I miss the passion of the small cabal that midwifed the birth of the photography competition.  Beth Hume, Arabella Dane, and Vicki Saltonstall started with a blank sheet of paper and created a show that drew stunning entries from around the country.  The result was photography on a par with that of the Philadelphia Flower Show, the gold standard. 

I miss the ‘we can make this work’ attitude of committee chairs.  People like Julie Pipe and Yvonne Capella (and their predecessors, Maureen Christmas and Joyce Bakshi) worked miracles with small budgets for the two floral design divisions and produced outsized results.  Their determination to deliver quality should be studied by business schools.

I miss the zeal of the plant societies and their desire to educate the public. People like Wanda Macnair, Art Scarpa, Pat Beirne, Ellen Todd and Martha Clouse are treasures.  Listening to them is a treat; working with them is memorable. I miss the near-mystical quiet as Ikebana designers go about creating their spare designs.

The 2012 Mass Hort garden.  It was
simply stunning.
I miss the thrill of watching an exhibit rise from a bare concrete floor to fully-imagined garden in three days.  My wife, Betty, designed and shepherded three such displays, aided by a crew of skilled volunteers like Paul Cook, and professionals like Paul Miskovsky.

And I miss working with Garry Edgar and Carolyn Weston of the Paragon Group, who have a palpable understanding of the place that ‘the flower show’ has in the hearts of New Englanders; who understand the need for profits but who are not driven solely by a requirement to maximize revenue per square foot.

And, while I pleased to have back the 1200+ hours of my life that went into last year’s show, neither would I have traded it for the world.  All that I’ll not miss is the politics.

1 comment:

  1. ....but the politics is the FUN part Neal!