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Stories will bloom at Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Chicago Flower & Garden Show is under way at Navy Pier. | Provided Photo

It’s a sight and a feeling that Chicago Flower & Garden Show owner and director Tony Abruscato can never seem to get out of his head.

And he wouldn’t want to, even if he could.

“There is nothing like rolling up that door on the first day of the show and seeing a thousand people there who all seem to take a long, deep breath in unison,” said Abruscato, having just accepted the colorful delivery of 400 azaleas minutes before our phone conversation. “You literally can hear an audible gasp from the crowd. It’s the best part of the show for me.”

Chicago Flower & Garden Show
When: Through March 18
10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand
Tickets/info: www.chicagoflower.com

Indeed, it’s has long been one of the best parts of the event for generations of Chicagoans, who flock to the annual show for their first chance to inhale some spring fragrances into their winter-weary lungs.

“This is one of the fullest shows I’ve ever helped produce,” explained Tu Bloom, who is working alongside Abruscato to help style this year’s show. “In terms of sheer numbers, I would have to say we have 1,000 or more different varieties of plants this year, many of which are locally hearty plants. The Senetti fusion magenta really have caught my eye this year along with the Fruit Punch/Cherry Vanilla Dianthus carnation hybrid that will be featured in the kid’s activity garden.”

This year, things will look a tad different, right from the get-go.

“We have a whole new entrance to the show which we hope will give attendees a new perspective this year, where they can literally see more than 20 gardens from the east,” said Abruscato, of this year’s “FLOWERTALES: Every Garden Has a Story to Tell” layout at Navy Pier. “Every garden will truly also have a story attached to it. Attendees will be able to literally step into the theme of the gardens.”

Partnering with Bernie’s Book Bank, the Chicago non-profit organization whose mission is to increase book ownership among at-risk children, the show will feature gardens that depict how flowers, plants and gardens play a crucial role in the stories of our lives. The book-themed display gardens and vignettes that use books for inspiration will showcase the breathtaking beauty of hydrangeas, azaleas, tulips, edibles, small spaces, water features and urban design while connecting with well-known children’s books such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Harry Potter” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

“Of all the themes we have ever done I feel like the builders have gotten more involved with this one than ever before,” added Abruscato, of the show, which will run five days this year and feature gardens created by additional garden builders such as Lizzette Medina Landscape Management, Aquascape and Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. “Every garden will tell a story, which we hope will hit a nerve with everyone, including our young visitors. We want to cultivate that next generation of gardeners and we want then to be excited as everyone else.”

That excitement certainly has been felt by a number of landscape companies, who have already spent much time creating a garden that figuratively tells a story.

“We did not make this garden easy on ourselves,” says Phil Rosborough, president, and co-founder of Rosborough Partners, who will present the “Garden Trilogy” garden. “Not only did we want to promote everything we could surrounding Benny’s Book Bank, but we also wanted to include everything we could into the garden itself, including flowers and retaining walls. We are hoping that it not only elicits an emotional response, but that people actually are able to engage in it.”

And not only engage, but become informed on topics such as organ donation, which serves as the backbone of the “Sights and Sounds to Delight Your Senses: Leap Into Spring” garden vignette, based on the children’s book, “The Frog and the Toad are Friends,” and supported by organizations such as Donate Life and Eversight.

“There will be signs throughout the garden that will have a story or a picture of a person that has been involved with or has been touched by organ donation in some way,” explains Steve Shapiro, director of philanthropy at Eversight. “I think the images and all the gardens themselves will be more powerful than the words.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.