International horticultural ideas apply on Martha’s Vineyard

Strawberries in dozens of mouth-watering varieties were displayed in raised beds in the House of Taste pavilion at Floriade 2012. — Photo by Anthony Higgins

As a tourist, I have yet to develop the capacity to “speed-bomb” the sights, my visual cortex and processing centers functioning out of sync. So it was with the spectacle of Floriade 2012, the world horticultural expo in Venlo, Netherlands, which runs through October 7. There was a great deal to see, yet I was without the luxury of time. If you go, plan to spend the night in the area and return the next day. Otherwise it is impossible to do justice to the tremendous amount and variety that is offered at Floriade 2012.

We took the train from Santpoort-Zuid diagonally across the Netherlands to reach Venlo on the southwestern German border, passing through such cities as Utrecht and Einhoven. Train service provided by the Dutch Railways is very frequent and efficient. Residents have access to numerous sorts of deals that make using the rail system attractive. We purchased one-day, steeply discounted tickets at a Blokker chain store.

Crossing the Netherlands in this fashion, an ongoing sight was the extensive allotment gardens arranged beside the tracks. Major shipping canals, industrial development, residential housing, farmland, and extensive glasshouse arrays flashed by.

The press packet emphasizes that the area around Venlo ranks as one of the major concentrations of horticulture in the Netherlands. “If the neighboring region of Niederrhein [Germany] is also included, then the Floriade park is situated in one of the largest contiguous horticultural areas of West-Europe.” This is Big Business for the Netherlands, and makes the Floriade an important showcase-adjunct to it.

A short bus loop brought us from the train station to the Floriade venue. The route was lined with the packing and distribution centers of the agricultural economy of the Venlo area. We walked across an imaginative bridge into the Innovatoren plaza. This arresting high-rise and the surrounding venue are to be repurposed into a sustainable business park in leafy, green surroundings at the conclusion of Floriade.

Choosing where to start was bewildering, so instead we went into a café, got coffee, and studied the map. It showed that five major themes had been chosen to demonstrate how horticulture can enhance the quality of life — Environment, Education and Innovation, Relax and Heal, Green Engine, and finally, World Show Stage. It was so hard to decide, knowing the choice would eliminate something magical!

The spacious central boulevard bisecting the expo is lined with hedged idea gardens that have been produced or sponsored by businesses and design firms. Many interesting specimen trees, products of the Dutch nursery industry, were used inside and between the idea gardens. Of special appeal were the many unusual beech cultivars and trees of Asian origin, such as Pterocarpus, which we do not normally see here.

We were lured into the World Show Stage with its international pavilion gardens: many were elaborate and striking, such as the traditional Chinese garden, others modest yet full of interest, such as the Bulgarian pavilion with its emphasis on scent and attar of roses. I was taken with the ultra-modern Belgian pavilion with its demonstration of dune gardening, what we would call native planting here.

We stopped for buttery fresh herring with chopped onions along the way to Education and Innovation. The extensive House of Taste (Huis van de Smaak) yielded more food in the form of abundant supplies of greenhouse fruits and veggies for the sampling. It also contained maquettes demonstrating the functioning of geothermal, solar, wind, and biofuels in reducing the carbon footprint of Dutch growing. Hydroponics play a role in this mode of production, as well. An outdoor planting of dozens of strawberry varieties in full fruit demonstrated the characteristic differences in that important crop.

A walk through the bamboo garden outside the fabulous Tropical Treasures glasshouse was an interesting guide to variation and utilization of bamboo varieties. The glasshouse itself showcased more exotic orchids, bromeliads, and what are known as “tropicals” in the trade. We made our way to the innovation-in-horticulture pavilion of the Dutch government, meant to symbolize a giant bean seed (sprouting ideas: for city gardening, schoolyard learning, and ingenious growing/production).

For more glimpses of the astonishing Floriade spectacle, the following link has many images and text that were assembled earlier in the spring, closer to the opening date, featuring, not surprisingly, glorious Dutch bulbs —

By this time it was time to return to North Holland. We made our way back to the entrance plaza enumerating to each other all the exhibits we had been unable to take in. Sigh.

Back in the home garden

It is time plan for fall now. This may require ordering seeds by mail as most local supplies are now low. Plan to sow peas (regular and mange-tout), carrots, beets, radicchio, and greens such as kale, spinach, lettuce and arugula. Previously used areas of gardens may be fertilized, top-dressed with compost, even sown with a fast-growing cover crop such as buckwheat, to add something back into the soil before producing the garden’s next phase.

Gardeners are all looking for maximum storage life for crops such as squash, onions and garlic. Proper curing is critical. After harvest, cut a stem of garlic to gauge whether it has been cured: if there is green in it, leave the pulled plants to cure a while longer. When the stems are fully whitish (no green) cut off the tops, leaving about two inches for hardneck, and trim roots neatly. Leave the rows where onions and garlic were planted free of allium crops for the next couple of years.

Polly Hill Arboretum

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