Water features play starring role at indoor garden shows

When you attend an indoor garden show this winter, notice how people react to the water features and water gardens. Water can play a starring role in your garden, too.

Courtesy of Mary-Kate Mackey
At an Oregon garden show, two narrow jets of water arced high into the air and disappeared into the opposite pool, fascinating onlookers.

I’m crazy about indoor garden shows. One of the fascinations for me is how water plays such a performing role in the display gardens. Bringing nature indoors combines agricultural sleight of hand — How do they get all those flowers to bloom at once? — and design theatricality, right at the time of year when we need to be inspired.

Here in Eugene, Ore., I’ll start the season by attending the Good Earth Home Show, dedicated to all things green and sustainable.

My professional interest in garden shows was piqued a few years ago, when I wrote (with Kathleen Brenzel) about the Seattle and San Francisco display gardens in our book "Sunset’s Secret Gardens — 153 Design Tips from the Pros."

I got a greater understanding of how these shows work when I traveled around the country to speak.

Last year I gave two talks in Atlanta at the Southeastern Flower and Garden Show. The year before, I presented a writing workshop for the Garden Writers Association in conjunction with the grande dame of all US shows — the Philadelphia International Flower Show.

The allure of water

But it wasn’t until I went to a local show in Oregon last year that I really understood the strength of water’s charisma.

At one display garden, I amused myself by watching those who were watching water. Duckworth’s Nursery of Eugene had put together a stunning bank of foliage and flowering plants gathered around a patio with two basins of water. But it wasn’t the plants that drew in the people.

Two narrow jets of water arced high into the air and disappeared into the opposite pool. Easy — with a computer program that accompanied the pumps — and captivating to everyone who passed. [See photo above left.)

I wrote down some of the comments:

  • “Look, Fred. We could do that in our yard.”
  • “Hey, mom, the water’s flying.”
  • “It’s like a little tiny Disneyland.”
  • “How do they do that?” Many variations on that theme.
  • “Whoa, baby. I’d love to have that at home.”

A few raucous comments were not suitable for prime time, but I was struck by the mesmerizing command of that simple water feature.

What water can do for your landscape

It’s not like folks hadn’t seen one before. Many people talked about fancy dancing water shows they had experienced in other places. But here, the average show-goer stopped for almost five minutes, watching the leaping arcs repeat, and commenting when the pattern changed. They talked to their friends. They talked to the strangers at their elbows. It was a wonderful example of how water attracts.

Show garden creators rely on the allure of water because it evokes the natural world and brings the perfect theatrical touch to any garden, indoors or out.

Water features are not just a gardening fad — they’re an integral part of an effective design. So when you’re planning changes in your own garden, now's the perfect time to find a show near you, and get inspired by how designers are using water.


Mary-Kate Mackey blogs regularly about water in the garden for Diggin' It. She is co-author of “Sunset’s Secret Gardens — 153 Design Tips from the Pros” and contributor to the “Sunset Western Garden Book,” writes a monthly column for the Hartley Greenhouse webpage and numerous articles for Fine Gardening, Sunset, and other magazines. She teaches at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism & Communication. To read more by Mary-Kate, click here.

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