Pull back the curtains of the renowned Chicago Flower & Garden Show, and you will find a year-long production in the making headed up by the son of an arborist with a passion for bringing gardening and botanical interests to the city. Tony Abruscato is the man behind the show, but also heads up Chicago Gateway Green, the not-for-profit keeping our highways beautifully landscaped, and its annual Green Tie Ball Fundraiser.
How did you take the reins of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show?
I was in the community-banking business and began sponsoring local events as a way to connect the bank with its customers. I liked the programs so much that I left the bank and began working at the events company. In 2006, I had the opportunity to produce the Chicago Flower & Garden Show and loved everything that it represents. So, in 2011, I formed Flower Show Productions and purchased the rights to the show.
What does it take to put on this event every year?
A tremendous amount of planning and sales are involved in organizing the annual show. The Chicago Flower & Garden Show features upwards of two dozen garden displays, 80-plus educational workshops, 30 chef demonstrations, a kids’ activity garden with nine free activities each day, and a home and garden marketplace with 85-plus booths.
Our team meets year-round with builders, growers, suppliers, and nonprofits to secure the hosts of each exhibit, workshop, and program. Each garden is built by local landscape architects/ contractors. A major part of the show is corporate partnerships, which also drive attendance.
We also work year-round to bring new plant material and exhibitors to the show. Then there is the actual physical production of the show at Navy Pier. That requires seven labor unions, 1,300 tons of sand and soil, and construction over 11 days. The show runs for nine days and then requires three days to take everything down—that’s 23 days of production. The Chicago Flower & Garden Show is the oldest, longest running show in Chicago.
What is it about gardening that attracts so many people, even city dwellers?
Gardening is inherent to civilization; it provides a food source, beauty, and health benefits. There is a great sense of accomplishment when something you planted grows and flourishes. Gardening transcends generations and can bring families together, whether in the garden or at the dinner table. City-dwellers can enjoy gardening through containers, small spaces, and community gardens, and reap the same satisfactions.
This year’s event will celebrate the city’s culture, arts, and culinary scenes. What do you love most about Chicago?
What I love most about Chicago is that it is a gardening town, from leading the nation in victory gardens more than 70 years ago, to the planting beds along Michigan Avenue and even along our expressways. Chicago truly has the best of all worlds; the art, architecture, and culture of a large metropolitan world-class city, while embracing the friendliness and values of the Midwest.
For someone who has never been to the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, what would they find most surprising about the event?
If someone has never been to the Chicago Flower & Garden Show they can expect to be “wowed,” inspired, and educated on how or what they can do within their own green space. Most people who have never been think it’s their grandmother’s prize rose on a table. But what people will be greeted by is brick-and-stone assembled gardens with the sights and scents of thousands of blooming flowers, trees, and shrubs, not to mention outdoor kitchens, fire pits, and koi ponds. We have free activities for kids and make-and-take workshops. So, the Chicago Flower & Garden Show is not just something to come and look at. It is an experience to be enjoyed over several hours.
The 2017 Chicago Flower and Garden Show runs March 18-26, 2017 at Navy Pier. For more information, visit chicagoflower.com.