Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Newport Flower Show: Anticipating Extravangance

There's nothing more extravagant than when one flower show advertises via an exhibit at another flower show. Or so this is what I thought when I took in the Newport Mansions exhibit at the Boston Flower and Garden show in March.  The display featured a life-size representation of Amy Vanderbilt, hostess of the mansions, surrounded by colorful shrubs, hundreds of blooming bulbs, stone sculptures and a delightfully detailed table setting. The figure's long, trailing coat and dress were made entirely out of plant parts, using a technique called "florage". As I craned around her, attempting to capture the display with my camera, I noticed handfuls of other show-goers doing the same. It wasn't long before I had to make way for others, and since then I've seen many photographic renditions of the scene online.

I was glad to have been there. Seeing the display filled my hunger for rich displays of fine horticulture. Or so I thought. When I received a press release this week about the upcoming Annual Newport Flower Show, that thought was swiftly extinguished. I wanted more! The report announced that Bartlett Tree Experts would be recreating "one of the most celebrated creations of the Golden Age of American gardens"  on the front lawn of the mansion. This refers to the Blue Garden of Beacon Hill House. Although a quick search in my garden references revealed no information about the Blue Garden, it seems to be a crystallized gem in Newport history. That's what throttled my curiosity about the mansions at Newport, and a summer flower show I had never considered before.

Located in Rhode Island, the mansions themselves are a popular destination for history-loving Bostonians who want to get a glimpse of America's first enclave of luxury resorts. The flower show is hosted in the mansions every year, and this year's theme is "Entertaining Newport Style".  Having never been to any historical resorts, I can only imagine what this means. Perusing the show's offerings online helped me fill in some of the blanks. Entry themes in the horticulture, design, and photography divisions include interpretations of the period's fetes, feasts, dresses, jewels, sports, and luxury imports- all using plants. Historic details such as gas lights, even the occasional daybreak-post-party swim at the beach have not been over looked.

My definition of extravagance and luxury has been known to end at outdoor furniture with cushions on it, and maybe some gin and tonic at hand. (And if I'm being totally honest, I'll tell you that I only bought my first real outdoor furniture last year, and I don't yet have any outdoor cushions!) From this perspective, sipping a G&T on my new plastic wicker and looking over my patio garden, it's easy for me to be satisfied with the luxury of the moment. But when I close my eyes, I can now see the outline of a woman whose garments are made entirely of plants, rising out of a garden of jewel-like blooms. . . and I think, possibly, my idea of extravagance may soon be shifting. . .

Coming soon, on July 24th, 25th and 26th

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