Reflections on a Trip to New England Grows

It's the largest horticultural industry trade show in New England, with more than 300 exhibitors, 13,000 visitors, and dozens of educational sessions. You might say it's the horticultural equivalent of the village that's required to raise a child--the mix of sellers, buyers, and experts who each play a role in what we see on any city, town, or suburban street.

This was my second trip to the annual event, which is always held in Boston in February. The first year, I was simply overwhelmed at the number of products, services and ideas represented in once place during a three-day event. In this second visit, however, some deeper thoughts have added a tinge of complexity to my awe.

New England Grows is a comprehensive collection of industry participants. While some booths were full of the floral forms and colors that a show devoted to growing might cause you to expect, these were not the majority of exhibitors. Many of the booths were dominated by dayglo orange and metallic green, spaces to show the "big iron" that does the heavy work before anyone can plant the "cake frosting," as I once heard it called. About 25% of the New England Grows' floor space is devoted to trucks, earthmoving equipment, tree-rigs, gang mowers, chippers and shredders, and a host of equipment I couldn't easily identify. Other exhibits are devoted to items we'd never see in the finished landscape--nursery pots, growing systems, greenhouse parts, bags of growing media, fertilizers, irrigators, and so much more.

I can't help but contemplate how much of it has to be deployed before we get the visual reward that landscaping represents. The plants, trees, shrubs, and other growing material are but a small part of what goes into the making and maintenance of our built environment. I came away with a renewed appreciation for the many disciplines that contribute to attractive outdoor spaces--but also with a renewed appreciation for the importance of leaving as many spaces as possible undisturbed.

As Cornell professor Frank Rossi offered during a turf seminar at New England Grows 2012, “When you eliminate a few mowings and allow the grass to grow a bit taller, you not only save money and time, but each gallon of gas you save eliminates about 20 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere.” For more on how "less is more" when it comes to lawns (and other growing spaces), look for my upcoming blog posts.