The World's Fair of Flowers

By Dobrzynski, Judith H. | Newsweek International, April 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

The World's Fair of Flowers


Dobrzynski, Judith H., Newsweek International


Byline: Judith H. Dobrzynski

It's time for the Floriade again, Europe's once-a-decade floral bonanza.

From April 5 through Oct. 7, all roads will lead not to Rome but to the Netherlands, where the little-known city of Venlo--which lies in a self-described "region of flans, asparagus, mushrooms and beer"--is blooming like never before. There, a floral extravaganza called the Floriade is expected to draw 2 million visitors (20 times Venlo's population) this year to a site that not so long ago boasted wheat fields set amid evergreen, birch, and oak trees, some 5,000 years old.

Now it's a 164-acre park, filled with 2 million new plants and designed to attract flower lovers from around the world. "We started five years ago," says John Boon, the landscape architect who masterminded the transformation. He left the forest undisturbed, except for adding paths and benches. But the fields have been planted, each with a unique look, theme--like "relax and heal" and "green engine"--and color scheme. In the international zone, about 40 countries, including Pakistan, Tunisia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Bhutan, will exhibit. China is making its first appearance. Even Burma will be there. "They have a lot of problems with their water, and they want help," says Paul Beck, the Floriade's managing director. Ninety commercial exhibitors will also be on site.

What if you're not enticed by the prospect of seeing pretty flowers? The Floriade has other attractions: performances by acrobats and musical groups, street theater, brass bands, light shows, an open-air theater, and a cable car that soars 30 meters above the park.

The Netherlands stages the Floriade, the largest flower expo in Europe and maybe the world, just once every 10 years. This particular world's fair of flowers cost [euro]250 million to [euro]300 million, says Beck, including all the infrastructure and two new permanent buildings.

And it's not just about tulips, the country's symbol. "It's everything," says Debbie Van Bourgondien, who calls herself "the Bulb Lady" (that's trademarked) and who with her family owns Dutchbulbs.com in Virginia Beach, Va. She has gone to the last three Floriades. "If you are looking for the latest trends in gardening, the latest varieties, you'll find it there," she says. This year, there are 1.8 million bulb plants, 190,000 perennials, 18,000 shrubs, 15,000 hedges, 5,000 roses, and 3,000 newly planted trees of 250 species, plus fruits and vegetables. At the last Floriade, held in 2002 about 10 miles from Amsterdam at Haarlemmermeer, Van Bourgondien recalls being charmed by all the new miniatures on display. "I now have pots of miniature hostas around my patio," she says.

Lee Buttala, a Connecticut resident who went to the 2002 Floriade, is another fan. "You see trends like ecological responsibility and planning with preservation in mind, and at the same time the Dutch pay attention to the beauty and the display," says Buttala, who has since become the preservation program manager of the Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit devoted to preserving great American gardens for the public. …

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