Boston — The pier's stately old warehouse suddenly bloomed with azaleas, roses, and crocuses. the main exhibits looked like Broadway productions with indoor water fountains, full Japanese gardens, and monkeys in a tropical setting.
In Philadelphia, a carrousel with topiary cut-outs included a whale and a Pooh Bear. A reproduction of the San Juan Capistrano mission in California, complete with four bells, was decorated with orchids.
These major flower and garden shows have thrived over the years while others across the nation, including those in New York, Seattle, and Chicago, have failed or have sprung up in smaller shows.
The 109-year-old New England Spring Garden and Flower Show in Boston last month drew an all-time record attendance of 130,000. The 66-year-old Philadelphia Flower and Garden Show has drawn more than 200,000 people for the last five years.
Both have remained flower shows alone. In short, they have not gove the route of other cities in which the flower and home shows were combined, with the floral presentation in second place. Home and Garden Show Executives, International, represents 26 shows here and abroad.
The decline in flower shows is attributed to rising costs such as rental of a display hall, labor, admission prices, financial supplements to exhibitors, and capital outlay.
"A show which attracts large crowds needs to be educational, competitive, and display oriented," says Charles D. Webster, president of the Horticultural Society of New York. "To put on a flower show this year, we would need $500,000 in advance capital. Nonprofit organizations such as ours can't afford that. We are in it to break even."
New York, which has by-passed its big show, had nearly 350,000 visitors in its prime. It still sponsors one-of-a-kind flower shows, as does Seattle, featuring everything from African violets to rhododendrons.
Chicago has a new botanical garden building and a 300-acre development where smaller shows are held throughout the year. but it is the big shows that explode the color and drama of large-scale exhibitions. The big shows let nurseries show their talent and imagination.
Earlier in the century, masses of cut flowers were brought in from the large estates. Now, nurseries put on the bigger displays, although garden clubs, school horticulture departments, and even amateur green-thumb exhibitors contribute as well and compete for prizes.
"In the old days, the shows were not so practical," says William J. Thompson, designer of the Boston show and horticulturist for the sponsoring Massachusetts Horticultural Society. "The estates would try to cram in as many cut flowwers as they could.
"Now, we only have a few estates with exhibits, but the nurseries are putting on their own displays. This year we had a full vegetable garden ready to harvest.
"The era of foliage plants is on the downturn," Mr. Thompson says, citing a trend toward flowering plants. "Last year, we had seven tropical exhibits; this year we had two or three." Philadelphia, however, is sticking to foliage displays.
Instron Corporation of Canton. MAss., became the first nonhorticultural company to put on a garden display in the New England show. Mr. Thompson says he hopes it will start a trend among companies to take the place of the large estates in the future.
Amateurs are encouraged to exhibit home-grown plants and flowers in most shows.
Colleges and high schools also contribute.