May 25, 2018
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Revived Bangor Garden Show draws thousands of visitors

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — It may have taken some willpower on this sunny weekend, but any area gardener who spent a few hours at Bangor’s Garden Show — instead of actually gardening — went home with a spring bouquet of seasonal inspiration and information.

The popular event, back this spring after a one-year hiatus from its nearly 20-year presence in the city, attracted 7,316 gardening enthusiasts from throughout eastern Maine and raised money to support operations at Bass Park, home of the city’s auditorium and civic center.

“We’ve been needing to replace some hedges,” said homeowner Lois Weeks of Hampden, who was strolling through the show Saturday morning with her husband, Charles. The couple typically attends the garden show each year.

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Thanks to one of eight display gardens at the show, Lois Weeks said, her old hedges are likely to be supplanted by a showier look — the glossy leaves and fragrant flowers of the versatile magnolia plant.

“I’ve always called them tulip trees, but that’s wrong,” she said. Weeks said she hadn’t known before coming to the show that showy magnolias, often associated with gentler Southern climates, could survive in Maine.

For Charles Weeks, this year’s garden show was a distraction from the seasonal chores at hand. In previous years, the event has been held earlier in April, he said.

“It has always been something to do during cabin fever season,” he said. For him, this year’s later date, combined with the mild winter and early warm weather, meant the show was “competing with being out in the garden itself,” he said.

The garden show has been an annual crowd-pleaser since 1991, when it was established as a major fundraiser for Keep Bangor Beautiful, a nonprofit organization responsible for promoting recycling and cleaning up litter and graffiti in the city. Keep Bangor Beautiful disbanded last year and the garden show was not held. But this year, the show was reorganized and revived as a municipal function.

This year’s event was more compact than shows in years past, but still featured about 50 vendors and exhibitors as well as a demonstration area and a small-scale farmers market.

Each display garden was limited to a 16-by-16-foot square instead of the free-form and nearly unlimited space available in previous years. The “do more with less” ethos produced a creative range of themed gardens, including a moon-lit bonsai garden, a woodsy planting of pine and rhododendron rimming a granite-lined stream, and a sleek urban garden featuring a polished-stone patio flanked by formal roses and close-clipped shrubbery.

Other displays included a fanciful rendering of a scene from “Alice in Wonderland,” featuring a bubble-blowing caterpillar atop a giant toadstool, and a “recycled garden” designed by the University of Maine Horticulture Club that featured graceful rebar saplings tipped with deep-blue Riesling bottles.

In addition to booths featuring sod, seeds, flowers, fencing, fertilizer and fieldstone, garden show vendors offered up goods such as pottery, jewelry, bird feeders and herb-scented soaps as well as salsas, cheeses, chowder and hot sauce.

Bass Park Director Mike Dyer said this year’s event attracted a steady crowd, despite the alluring spring weather outside. Although this is the first time the garden show has not spilled over from the auditorium into the adjacent civic center, he said, vendors represented a good cross-section of related industries and businesses.

Future garden shows are likely to focus more on gardening products and landscaping services and less on condiments and other comestibles, Dyer added.

But for 15-year-old Adam Davis of Trenton, decked out in a black hooded sweatshirt and lime-green high-top sneakers, the show provided a tasty distraction on a lazy Saturday morning.

“I didn’t really have anything else to do today,” he said, heading for the hot-sauce sampling table of the W.O. Hesperus Co.

The Portland company’s Canceaux Sauce — a concoction of four kinds of red chilis, fresh garlic, vinegar and cane sugar — recently took first place in the Cajun Hot Sauce Festival in New Iberia, La., home of the familiar prototype Tabasco Sauce. The Hesperus Co.’s Bar Harbor-Que sauce contains blueberries and a hint of seaweed.

Davis, who said he likes his hot sauce plenty hot, caught a ride to the garden show Saturday morning with his mother. Assuming his interest would wane before hers, he planned to do a little skateboarding in the nearby park after making the rounds of the sample tables and other exhibits.

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