May 15, 2013
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO executive director

Tony DiGiovanniCanada Blooms is a subject that stimulates discussion and generates varied opinions. Toronto Gardens bloggers Sarah and Helen Battersby recently started a wonderful discussion about the past and future of Canada Blooms. Thirty-two people responded. You can find the posting at

I could not resist adding my own historical views to the conversation.  

Landscape Ontario was one of the founding members with our wonderful partners, the Garden Club of Toronto (GCT). When Kathy Dembroski (from GCT) came into the LO office almost 20 years ago with the idea of starting a world class flower and garden show, the vision for the event was to showcase our passion for horticulture, gardens, floriculture and design at the very highest levels. Kathy and I went down to the Philadelphia Flower and Garden Show and spent a day with the show manager who generously revealed their entire process including budgets. Philadelphia was the model.

Both LO and GCT agreed on the following principles and goals. Canada Blooms was to be owned by the entire horticultural community. It had to remain a non-profit event. It had to be a celebration of our passion for plants and gardens in order to inspire, educate and stimulate the public. It had to stretch the imagination. It had to provide a welcome respite from our long winters. It had to provide positive emotional experiences that would be remembered for a lifetime. It had to be volunteer driven. Proceeds from the show had to be used for community-related horticultural projects that would magnify and enhance the principles and goals. Canada Blooms had to raise awareness for the societal benefits of plants, gardens and green space. I still remember Kathy saying that Canada Blooms must be a gift to Toronto and Canada.

Fast forward 20 years. Canada Blooms has touched millions of people. It has contributed over $600,000 to community-related horticultural projects across Ontario. It has stimulated ideas that have been replicated in gardens and communities across Canada and North America. It has educated thousands about the benefits of plants and green spaces. The Canada Blooms experience has had a small part in enhancing many lives.

I am always amazed and inspired by the strong opinions about Canada Blooms. Garden enthusiasts care about their Canada Blooms. The community ownership feeling is very strong. I am also touched by how many new visitors to Canada Blooms still experience the ‘wow’ that we jaded enthusiasts used to feel. I spent 10 days observing many smiles as visitors walked the festival. Canada Blooms makes many people happy.

What is the future?

The main challenge faced by Canada Blooms is financial. It takes a great deal of money and energy to keep the show at the level we all want. The present business model does not make sense, but if we focus on only the business model, the festival is compromised.

Many of the comments in the blog tell me that the future of Canada Blooms must be guided by the principles and purpose that were laid out in the beginning. Canada Blooms must raise awareness for the economic, environmental, lifestyle, therapeutic, recreational, spiritual, tourism, health, wellness and community benefits of plants, gardens and green space. Canada Blooms must mobilize people across Canada to green their communities and leave a positive legacy for the future. Canada Blooms must remain volunteer-driven. It must inspire all visitors with a desire to contribute to their community and environment.

As my friend Tim Kearney often says, “Money comes in different ways.” I am convinced that we must clearly articulate the original purpose and vision of Canada Blooms in order to attract the sponsorship support (all of us included) required to keep the festival at an inspirational level. Canada Blooms must be fuelled by a passionate, contribution-oriented horticultural community focused on enhancing lives and leaving a positive legacy.


Occasionally my articles for this magazine are too long for the space available and the editors are forced to eliminate some words. Most of the time, they succeed in making my articles much better. Sometimes the editing process changes my meaning and leaves out important information. This is what happened in last month’s article. In my article about the Landscape Ontario Canada Blooms build, I wanted to specifically give special recognition to Paul Doornbos and his contribution to the Landscape Ontario garden. I also wanted to highlight how illogical it is for members who have no hope of personal gain to make huge contributions because of their passion and dedication to the industry and LO community. Instead, the editing process eliminated the most important point and changed the meaning.

Here is what was printed in the magazine: “During the building process, I was struck how illogical it all was. There were hundreds of individuals working 15-hour days in the midst of dust and diesel fumes while creating amazing displays, only to take them down ten days later.”

Here is what should have been printed: “I was struck at how illogical the Landscape Ontario garden build was. As an example one of the Project Managers Paul Doornbos is from the Upper Canada chapter far from most potential clients. Many of the other team members were in the same boat. Clearly their motivation for subjecting themselves to such an intense project was fuelled by their deep care, pride, enthusiasm and passion for the industry, association and community.”

Important suppliers

Last month, I also neglected to mention and thank two very important suppliers to the Landscape Ontario garden at Canada Blooms and to Canada Blooms in general. These two suppliers  are so fundamental to the success of Canada Blooms that without them, the show could not be staged. Thank you to Gro-bark for its incredible contribution over the last 16 years. The bark mulch frames the beauty and creativity of the gardens and gives the show a finished look. Thank you to Dufferin Aggregates for the sand that acts as the foundation for each display. 
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at