Sunday, May 4, 2003

New home good for flower show

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

You'd think by Thursday, when the last clay pot was carted away from Coney Island, the new site of last week's Cincinnati Flower Show (its 14th), staffers would prop up their feet. You'd be wrong.

"Actually, we don't get to relax because we are all gardeners. So we leave here and hit our own gardens. It's like seeing a new baby," says Mary-Margaret Rochford, president and director of shows, and surely one of the biggest green thumbs with a farm in Clermont County.

"It's time to get the veggies in, and the staff is putting in all the stuff we bought at the show. We're some of the best customers."

We caught up with Rochford - zipping around Lake Como in a golf cart, cell phone still fully charged - to ask about the outcome of the show blessed this year, for the first time, with two things that have detracted from its enjoyment in the past - parking and sunshine.

"The tide has turned," she says, after 13 seasons marked by showers, sometimes shivers, even snowflakes.

"It was absolutely the best weather," warm and dry enough to move many of the 55,000 visitors to plop down in the grass when the hundreds of lakeside benches filled.

"We're going to give Jimmy Buffett a run for the money," she says, referring to the singer's Riverbend crowds.

And the flower show parking, which was nearly non-existent at the previous Ault Park site?

"We wanted everyone to come through one beautiful entrance, but the bottom line was we needed three beautiful entrances," she says.

By Sunday, the show's biggest day, entrances were added at the east end by River Downs, along Kellogg at Coney's main gate and in the southwest parking lot.

The other problem was that people enjoyed the lakeside setting so much, they didn't leave.

"One gentleman, quite frail in a wheelchair, said he wanted to get over to see Moonlite Gardens one more time where he'd danced as a young man," she says.

"We didn't realize there were so many people with good memories of Coney. People didn't just come, look and leave. It was so relaxing they sat down and stayed - for lunch and dinner, four or five hours."

Her 2004 "to-do" list for the show includes more food stations, more entrances, more seating, if possible, and a "golf cart decorated with flowers for me," so nobody can snatch it.

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