Flower and Garden Show Ushers in Spring

Winter will fade into the background and spring will kick into high gear the weekend of March 19 and 20 when the Hagerstown Community College Alumni Association holds its 11th Annual Flower and Garden Show.
The popular local event begun over a decade ago by a volunteer group of alumni in the hopes of raising funds to support the college. Previous fundraisers had included more small-scale projects like selling popcorn at the Mummer's Parade. The Flower and Garden Show proved to be a more profitable event. Last year it cleared $40,000.
Money raised from the show in past years has been used to improve the institution. "Some of the funds were used to help build the amphitheater on campus," says Lisa Stewart, HCC Alumni Coordinator. The amphitheater was constructed for the 50th anniversary of the college in 1996. The building project cost approximately 1.3 million dollars to complete and the Alumni Association assumed that debt. The Flower and Garden Show helps each year to pay some of that off.
The show is a community event that allows people to "go home with knowledge they didn't have before," says Shirl Grattan, Chair of the Flower and Garden Show. This year there will be 86 exhibitors in the event, filling the campus Athletic, Recreation, and Community Center, better known as ARCC. There is a waiting list of vendors hoping to gain a spot in the 48,000 square feet of space that is available.
Vendors who are taking part range from experts in lawn and garden equipment to experts on wild bird products and nearly everything in between.
Visitors to the show will not only get the chance to learn about what they see, but also to buy the products. "The show is a nice blend of exhibits as well as an opportunity to purchase items," says Grattan, who also recommends utilizing the event as a great place to get gifts for Easter and Mother's Day. Products available will include windchimes, jewelry, and a huge variety of beautiful flowers.
The ARCC will be filled end to end with colorful floral displays the entire weekend. The participating vendors will transform the building in only a few hours of preparation. "It looks like orchestrated bedlam on Friday," says Grattan, referring to the time used by the vendors to prepare.
Some vendors wait until the last minute on Saturday morning to bring their fresh cut flowers to ensure the best quality. Grattan and Stewart agree that as a good as the ARCC always looks on the Friday night before the show, it never fails to look even better on Saturday morning.
Each year, Denny Warrenfeltz imaginatively decorates the lobby according to the show's theme. The theme this year is "All Creatures Great and Small". The display that Warrenfeltz will create will have items in it that can actually be taken out and purchased. He will restock all throughout the weekend.
The Flower and Garden Show is not an event intended just for looking. "You can walk in and come out with ideas," says Stewart. Vendors will be more than willing to talk to people and answer any questions that might arise. Stewart tells vendors who participate in the show to look at it as part of their advertising budget. People who come to the event want to smell and experience the options they have available for their home gardens. Many people actually purchase items at the Flower and Garden Show, and they will remember what they see there.
Many businesses that participate will have customers for years to come as a result of the exposure from the Flower Show. Stewart has many people call her after the fact asking about a particular vendor's location and products. "The exhibitors will get visited afterwards," she says. "It's a win-win situation."
Over the years Stewart has received feedback suggesting that people enjoy this event more than ones held in cities such as Philadelphia. The friendly knowledgeable experience of the vendors weren't able to tell people about the variety that was showcased in their displays. At the Flower and Garden Show, exhibitors can answer all questions. "There is an expert at every booth," she says.
Another big difference between this show and the one held in Philadelphia is the cost to visitors. Admission to the Flower and Garden Show is $4 and parking is free. In Philadelphia, admission is $26 per person and there is a parking fee. Also, it could cost up to $19 to buy food for on person there. Stewart points out that here, "people can go to their car and come back in," while elsewhere they would have to pay to reenter.
The Flower and Garden Show has "a street fair feel to it," says Stewart.
None of the floral displays looks the same and although the building is full, it is not overcrowded. Grattan and her husband Jim lay out the floor space to make sure that there is space for disabled people using walkers and wheelchairs to be able to comfortably move around. "We could probably make the aisles small," Grattan says, "but then you would start to compromise the show."
It is not a problem for people to stop and chat with a friend they see. "Where else do you get that?" asks Grattan. She has often seen people unwrapping their packages to show each other what they bought and enjoying the general friendly atmosphere of the show.
Each year at the show there seems to be one item in particular that everyone has to have. Grattan recounts that one year that item was a collapsible rake and another year it was sticks with bugs at the top. She recalls standing on the upper level of the ARCC and looking down only to see "all these little bugs floating around."
She predicts that the hot item this year will be butterfly nets, which will be available from at least one vendor. She has also seen wooden crickets with moving legs to stick in a garden, and she immediately thought, "I want some of these little wooden bugs!"
The Washington County Council of Garden Clubs has a table setting display at the show. Each club interprets the theme in its own way and them showcases it. These displays can give visitors ideas for their own homes. The various Garden Clubs are responsible for a lot of gardening throughout the community. Grattan points out that people see gardens around the area but they don't realize that the Council of Garden Clubs takes care of them.
There are quite a few memorial gardens on the campus of HCC. Stewart reveals that the Alumni Association is starting a garden club on campus and that they are looking for community volunteers. They predict that there are those in the area who like to garden but don't really have the space anymore. "Maybe people live in an apartment now but they want to get their hands dirty again," she says. Friends of HCC Gardens are looking for people to get involved and improve upon the gardens on campus.
There will be a few raffles that visitors can take part in at the Flower and Garden Show. One will be for a handmade one of a kind quite with a Dresden plate pattern. Another is "such a unique raffle to win," says Grattan, as it offers up to 40 hours of volunteer time in the winner's garden. Four volunteers will work for ten hours at one lucky person's home, providing that it is within 50 mils of the campus. The volunteers will weed, trim, mulch, and there will be a pizza party for all involved at the end of the day.
The show is a community event that will have something for people of all ages from children to seniors. "Anybody who comes will have a good time. If you want to see springtime, come to the show," says Stewart.
The 11th Annual Flower and Garden Show will be held on March 19 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on March 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults and children 12 and under are free. For further information call 301-7901-2800, extension 346.