Flowers are in full bloom and the sweet smells of azaleas, roses and tulips waft through the air. It may still be winter outside, but inside of the Rhode Island Convention Center, spring has sprung.
The 2012 Spring Flower and Garden show opens to the public tonight, and gardeners, landscapers and designers have been busy since Sunday bringing in enough mulch to cover two football fields, more than 100,000 fragrant blossoms and nearly 100 tons of patio and wall stone. But the planning that goes into these displays started long before this weekend. Some designers, like Robert Matthews, started planning their display one year ago.
Matthews, the chairman of the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscapers Association's (RINLA) 2012 display, has been a garden designer for seven years. This is the first time in the association's 20 years at the show that Matthews has been in charge, and he's taking his leading role seriously.
"I've been working 12 hours a day every day since Sunday," he said. "I've worked full-time, volunteering my time, for the past few weeks."
Matthews didn't even stop working to talk to the Beacon.
"We need something here," he told his workers, instructing them what to add and where.
Matthews and association members have created a 2,000-square foot garden that includes a cottage, a bridge and water elements. The theme of this year's garden show is "simple pleasures," and Matthews said there are many simple pleasures throughout the RINLA display.
"There's a mailbox with a handwritten note in it," he said, "which today, is a simple pleasure."
The display also features bird feeders and the sounds of birds chirping, and the garden has more than 30 cut trees in addition to the live greenery.
RINLA isn't the only organization that's been putting in long days at the Convention Center this week. The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation in collaboration with Tranquil Water Garden and Earth and Water Landscapes has created a "Garden of Hope" to raise breast cancer awareness.
The Garden of Hope contains 1,300 pink and white tulips, two waterfalls, 23 different types of trees and a variety of other flowers. But the main feature of the garden is the more than 300 ribbons with names of breast cancer survivors and those who lost their battle with the disease. The names were collected via social media sites, but those who attend the show can create their own ribbons in honor of loved ones.
"We're expecting thousands of ribbons," said Craig Marciniak, the Garden of Hope designer and owner of Tranquil Water Garden. "This will be a growing garden."
Marciniak and Joseph Mack, owner of Earth and Water Landscapes, started work on the garden Sunday afternoon and were putting finishing touches to the creation Tuesday afternoon. Unlike some displays that he has worked on where plants, earth, stone and all the electrical equipment needed to power lights and pumps is moved in and then out of the space, Mack said he feels he is building something greater.
"It feels good to be working on this one," he said.
This is the first time the Garden of Hope will appear at the Flower Show, but it will be recreated again in the fall for the annual Flames of Hope Waterfire.
Flower show veteran, Warwick's YardWorks, was putting the finishing touches on their garden earlier in the week. They started brainstorming their concept in the fall but nailed down their plans just over a month ago. The theme of "simple pleasures" inspired them to create a forest scene.
"We thought about the simple pleasure of taking a walk in the woods when you were a kid and hearing the soft crunch of the leaves under your feet," said Jan Irwin, YardWorks' project manager.
Last year YardWorks won the "Best in Show" award, and they hope to take the title again this year.
"It becomes a challenge," said Irwin, who has been working on the show for YardWorks for five years.
This year their display is 1,200 square feet and includes trees like cedars and birches. A centerpiece to the garden is a stone pillar with water bubbling from its top and gently cascading down its sides.
Ensuring that the trees and plants are in perfect condition for the show isn't always a simple task, and typically takes months of preparation. Because the flower show happens in the winter, and not the spring, the gardeners must force their plants into early bloom, explains Kenneth Quaranto of Warwick's KDQ Landscapers. Quaranto assisted in the construction of the RINLA display, delivering scores of the pines that form a backdrop to the garden. The process is done through controlled temperatures and conditions in a greenhouse, but the unusually warm weather has made things especially tricky for the gardeners, who have had to watch their plants more closely than usual.
Despite the months of preparation and tireless hours spent at the Convention Center during the week of the show, the gardeners agree that the publicity they gain from the show is well worth the effort.
"It's great exposure," said Irwin. "It shows people what we can do."
The Flower Show provides organizations with a stipend based on the square-footage of their gardens, and gardeners often borrow goods or get donations from local companies. After the show, organizations try to sell or reuse the items used in their displays.
"It's a really amazing process," said Irwin. "To think there was nothing in the Convention Center on Sunday morning at 7 a.m. and from Sunday to Tuesday we've built a farmer's wall and a blue stone patio. And by next Sunday it will all be gone."
The Rhode Island Spring Flower and Garden Show runs tonight through Sunday at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Advance tickets are $16, adult $18, senior/student/evening $15, group $13, and child $7. Tickets are now available at www.flowershow.com.