Saturday, April 19, 2003

Bicentennial idea blossomed

Vision grows to center stage at Cincinnati Flower Show

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Susan Patten and her brother Joe Rahn with red verbena, white verbena and blue heliotrope.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Susan Patten had a good idea . . . albeit a small one.

Last fall, the co-owner of A.J. Rahn Greenhouses in Winton Place was browsing trade magazines, thinking about Ohio's bicentennial and the annual Cincinnati Flower Show, opening Wednesday at Coney Island.

She loved the idea of doing a "little" display around the theme of the Ohio barns being painted with the official bicentennial logo in each of the state's 88 counties. The artist is Scott Hagan of Jerusalem, Ohio.

She was toying with the idea of doing one of the 8-by-16- to 20-foot spots in the Grand Marquee, the main exhibition tent at the flower show.

It would be perfect - "sort of cute," she says - and manageable for the small staff of about 10 who have been keeping Cincinnati gardens filled with flowers since Rahn's grandfather dug into the business in 1890.

What: Cincinnati Flower Show, presented by Provident Bank
When: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-next Saturday and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. April 27.
Where: Coney Island, on the banks of Lake Como, Kellogg Avenue.
Tickets: $15 adults, $3 ages 3-12. Advance tickets ($11) through Sunday at Kroger and Provident Bank locations; by phone, 872-5194 or (800) 670-6808, or at
Miscellaneous: End-of-show sale of some props and plants will start 6 p.m. April 27.
After getting Hagan and his brushes on board, Patten, 53, let the flower show people in on her small plan.

They loved it.

Not only that, they wanted the exhibit to be the Spotlight Garden in the Grand Marquee, a big deal in such a prestigious show.

"I thought, 'There's no way we can do this,' " Rahn says. "I told them we were too small. We don't have a landscape division with the ability to move boulders and trees.

"I really wanted to do it, but I realized how much work it would be for Joe (Rahn, her brother and business partner) because he's in charge of production, so I initially said, 'no.' "

After a plea to reconsider and Joe's willingness to "go for it," the family greenhouse tackled a new space - a whopping 40-by-40-square-foot area.

  The A.J. Rahn staff started out thinking strictly red, white and blue annuals and perennials for its exhibit, but found they needed to add some other colors for interest. They stuck with old-fashioned flowers, such as daisies and geraniums, in keeping with the '50s farm theme.
  Here are some of the 2,500 flowers in the exhibit:
Red: Geraniums, verbena, salvia, zinnia, rose bushes.
White: Delphinium, coneflowers, cosmos, white verbena.
Blue; Salvia, blue ageratum, blue verbena, blue lobelia.
Yellow: Snapdragons, marigolds, yellow zinnia.
They enlisted landscape designer and author Ezra Haggard, 53, of Lexington, whom Patten met on a garden tour to Ireland a few years ago. They asked him to think of a farm from the 1950s with typical Midwestern trees and shrubs and the barn as the focal point.

Stonescaper John Fischer of John Fischer's Landesign in Dent signed on to do the heavy lifting of trees and shrubs. Haggard began sketching in late November while Patten and Rahn started flowers from seed, devoting one of their 30 greenhouses and parts of others to the exhibit's annuals and perennials.

"We pulled all the books down and got out everything red, white and blue," says Patten.

Meanwhile, Haggard centered the barn on his drawing board, added picket fencing and set to work to transform a 1,600-square-foot area into Ohio farmland.

"It is a flower show," he says "but a lot of (the exhibit) is going to be horticultural materials with Ohio plantings. A mural on one side dictated three paths to the (barn) structure."

Each path has an arbor flanked with Ohio Buckeye trees, forsythia and lilacs, clump serviceberry and spirea.

"Once I got that, the rest fell into place," Haggard says.

"We wanted to work in some farming heritage as well." he says, so he added a crop circle.

But instead of corn, it will contain rings of white cosmos, blue salvia and red geraniums.

Native crops of corn and soybeans were intended to flank the circles, but the soybeans were replaced with regular beans in keeping with what was grown in the '50s, Patten says.

A 2-by-6-foot animal water trough will be turned into a fountain on one side of the exhibit and a tractor will be pulling a cart with buckets of cut flowers. Window boxes, planters and border plantings all will be done in red, white and blue, with a little yellow and pink tossed in for interest.

One of the biggest challenges is getting the project installed in a week. That, and the vagaries of the weather.

Plants got a slow start in January and February because of the cold and lack of sun.

"It was kind of scary," Patten says. "You'd look at then in January and they were quite small. Four weeks later, they hadn't budged. But with the recent warmth, we should be fine."

Rahn's will staff the exhibit with two people to maintain and irrigate.

"We'll have a lot of flowering plants, as opposed to just trees and shrubs, so we'll be watering constantly.

"It's the biggest project we've ever done. We've always been in the main tent, but this is the first time we've been the main exhibit."

Right now that means 10-hour days for her and 14-hour days for Rahn, seven days a week. That's the price of thinking big, even if it didn't start out that way.


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Sculptors, 'open-air artists' spread their wings
Flower show tidbits
Events include teas and puppets
'Ask the Experts' schedule
Horticulture & History hook up
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