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Coronado Flower Show to celebrate 100 years of beauty

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Coronado is bursting with bountiful blooms — and the city and its partner, the Coronado Floral Association, are eager to share the spring blossoms with San Diegans during the Coronado Flower Show’s centennial festivities, with the theme “100 Years.”

Next weekend, April 23 and 24, the city will again stage its beloved communitywide event at the traditional venue, Spreckels Park, after a two-year pandemic-forced hiatus.

This year’s event is centered around the centennial celebration, which has also inspired the individual floral design competition themes.

Everyone, no matter their residence, is encouraged to submit their entries to the show and attend. Many show entrants and volunteers come from outside Coronado and from throughout the region. That includes this year’s show chair and president of the Coronado Floral Association, Diana Drummey, a retired Coronado police sergeant who lives in La Mesa and has participated in the show for over 20 years.

Visitors of all ages walk through a tented flower show.

The Coronado Flower Show, which is billed as the largest tented flower show in the U.S., fills Spreckels Park. The event includes a beer and wine garden.

(Andrew Levacy)

Organizers expect over 1,000 exhibits of plants and cut flowers, floral, tabletop and petite designs, picture boxes, men’s creations, educational exhibits, youth designs and botanical art and photography. About 39 accredited flower show judges from the region will judge the exhibits.

The show is open to the public, with a $5 admission fee, and runs from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

“This year, we’re focusing on the 100th anniversary. Everyone who’s over 100 gets in free. (Coronado resident) Tom Rice, who participates in the men’s section and is celebrating his 100th birthday, will be welcoming people at the show,” explained Drummey.

Succulents put on a show.

Succulents put on a show.

(Leslie Crawford)

In speaking with the flower show’s current, past and future chairs, one word crops up repeatedly: community. All stress the importance and value of the show as a unifying force for Coronado, both in its origins and in its continuity.

A tablescape adorned with flowers and china has prize ribbons for its "tea for two" design.

Visitors can browse tablescape ideas, like this winning “tea for two” design.

(Leslie Crawford)

“It’s an event put on by the people and for the people and shows we have pride in the community and the floral arts,” said Sara Stillman, next year’s show co-chair and incoming president of the CFA. “Inclusivity is so important.”

The flower show was founded in 1922 by English immigrant Harold Taylor, a renowned photographer known for his iconic early images of Yosemite, who became the Hotel del Coronado’s resident photographer.

Taylor, “founding father of the Coronado Floral Association and the Coronado Flower Show, wanted to create an event to bring the community together. His love of horticulture provided the theme and his love for Coronado gave him the motivation to launch a lasting legacy,” explained past show chair Leslie Crawford in her history of the show, published on the Coronado Historical Society’s website.

The turbulent 1922 era offers parallels to our current times and a popular horticulture-centered community event can provide the same soothing, unifying response, Drummey pointed out.

Windows are framed in ivy that grows on a wall and have flowerboxes filled with blooms.

In advance of the flower show, local residents gussy up their front yards for the Home Front Judging and to prepare to welcome off-island visitors.

(Leslie Crawford)

“We’re coming out of a pandemic, just like 100 years ago. At the time there was controversy in Coronado, just like today. After World War I, the city needed uplifting,” she added.

The answer then, as now, was to emphasize the city’s floral traditions.

“How can anyone be upset when you see beautiful flowers?” she asked.

In advance of the floral extravaganza, local residents gussy up their front yards while businesses, condos, apartments and schools embellish their storefronts and facades to prepare to welcome off-island visitors. In a tradition that began soon after the show’s founding, 150 volunteers walked the streets April 8 through 10 for the Home Front Judging, recognizing and rewarding these exceptional efforts to beautify the city.

Past Home Front honorees include this cottage-style entry with vivid blooms.

Past Home Front honorees include this cottage-style entry with vivid blooms.

(Carvill Veech)

“The goal is to make the whole town look great. Individual efforts are rewarded, but the intent is for the whole town to puff up with pride,” explained prominent floral designer Carvill Veech, a longtime Coronado Flower Show volunteer and master judge. Veech is also a former show chair and multiple winner of Home Front Judging awards for her ever-evolving garden. Her garden, like many on the island, reflects the migration to more water-wise plantings from the traditional Coronado emphasis on roses and English country garden-style flowers.

The friendly competition remains popular with local residents.
“The Home Front Judging is fun and a real incentive to get outside in the spring. We all start working weeks earlier,” said Mary Danaher, who’s lived in Coronado over 30 years and was delighted with her award. “This year had more energy than ever. It gives the community a sense of unity for a common goal and sense of pride in the beautification. It’s really a sweet old-fashioned custom we all love participating in.”

Another Home Front honoree reflects the growing trend toward waterwise landscaping.

Another Home Front honoree reflects the growing trend toward waterwise landscaping.

(Carvill Veech)

With so many people discovering the joys of gardening during the pandemic, flower show organizers are encouraging newly minted gardeners from throughout the region to explore the floral exhibits, meet and exchange tips with fellow enthusiasts and even submit their finest horticultural efforts for judging.

It’s easy to enter the horticulture competition, with no preregistration or reservation required, unlike the floral or other design competitions, Veech explained. You don’t need to bring your own vase for cut flowers, since the show provides many appropriate floral containers for exhibitors to use. It’s essential, she stressed, to read the submission instructions and rules in the show schedule carefully.

“You have to be meticulous in exhibiting your flowers and choose only those at the peak of perfection,” she said. “The form, color, maturity and condition are most important, along with the grooming and staging of your exhibit.” If a leaf is torn or spotted, remove it, she recommended.

After two years in a pandemic, the return of the Coronado tradition is heralded as an opportunity for uplifting spirits.

After two years in a pandemic, the return of the Coronado tradition is heralded as an opportunity for uplifting spirits.

(Leslie Crawford)

The show’s top award-winning horticulture exhibit may be a rose — Coronado’s most popular flower — or it may be a cactus, succulent, orchid or anything else, Veech added.

To be eligible for a top prize, you must include the botanical or binomial name of the plant you’re exhibiting, specifying its genus and species. And be sure to give yourself plenty of time to submit your entry, she advised, since parking can be tight and lines of entrants long.

“If you’re too late to enter it into the judging, it will just be put on display,” Veech advised.

To enter the design competition, the designer must have an advance reservation and, following the show’s rules, interpret the designated theme, which changes annually and varies by section and class. Arrangement entries are limited in number to about 70 overall, because of space.

A man studies the plants, including wildflowers, in a horticulture exhibit.

The show’s top award-winning horticulture exhibit could be any type of plant.

(Leslie Crawford)

“For the floral designs, judges are looking at balance, contrast, color and depth,” explained Drummey, herself an experienced flower show judge.

But the show is not all exhibits and judged competitions. On Saturday night, after the show closes for the day, a team of volunteers transforms the tented area into a decorated party venue for dining under the stars. The festive event, called The 1922 Club, benefits CFA’s programs. This year’s theme, “Through the Looking Glass of 100 Years,” recalls the show’s founding.

Incoming show co-chair Stillman took over organizing the fundraiser in 2018, co-chairing the event with Colby Freer. The two millennials reinvigorated the benefit with a fresh vision, new enthusiasm and focus on fun, Drummey said.

Orchids and their astonishing variety are also a popular draw at the Coronado Flower Show.

Orchids and their astonishing variety are also a popular draw at the Coronado Flower Show.

(Leslie Crawford)

Stillman is excited about the return of the flower show and guiding the show into its next hundred years.

“There’s a spot for everyone, not just to visit but to enter the show. It’s so rewarding,” Stillman said. “We hope you’ll be able to come on down. Community is what’s definitive about the Coronado Floral Association.”

Coronado Flower Show details

The Coronado Flower Show runs April 23 through 24. Hours for the show are 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, at Spreckels Park, 601 Orange Ave., Coronado.

In addition to over 1,000 horticulture, design, photographic and educational exhibits, the show features live entertainment at the bandstand, food, a beer and wine garden and shopping opportunities.

Admission to the show is $5 person per day, and free for children under 12, Coronado Floral Association (CFA) members and, in honor of the centennial this year, anyone over 100. Tickets are available at the gate.

A woman stands by a selfie station with a hashtag for the flower show.

Even a century-old tradition finds ways to reinvent itself. Guests can make use of a selfie station in between the floral displays, photography, live entertainment, food and shopping.

(Leslie Crawford)

Organizers recommend planning about an hour and a half to enjoy the exhibits, plus extra time to grab a bite to eat and a beverage at the beer & wine garden.

Allow plenty of time to secure free, on-street parking — and be sure to enjoy looking at local gardeners’ beautification efforts while searching for parking and walking the several blocks to and from the show.

Alternatively, show organizers recommend taking the ferry and walking from Ferry Landing or using public transportation (MTS 904 bus travels from Ferry Landing along Orange Avenue), taxis or ride-share.

Connected with the show are two additional events open to the public:

  • On Thursday, April 21 at 1 p.m., at the Coronado Public Library’s Winn Room, the library and CFA will host “Tea with the Spreckels,” with the roles of Lillie and John D. Spreckels performed by actors Debbie Mathis Watts and Tom Dolan. Tickets are available at cplevents.org. The public will also be able to meet the “Spreckels” at the show on Saturday.
  • On Saturday, April 23, CFA will host its celebratory party, The 1922 Club, with the theme “Through the Looking Glass of 100 Years,” under the flower show tents in the park from 6:30 to 9:30. The event is for ages 21 or older and tickets are $100 per person, with all proceeds supporting CFA’s programs. Limited tickets may still be available at purplepass.com/the1922club. Guests are encouraged to dress in period attire.

Those wishing to submit entries must follow the rules laid out and bring their entries at the times designated in the official show schedule, available online at coronadoflowershow.com, along with the latest show updates.

Sours Larson is a San Diego freelance writer.

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