Snow was on the ground and a chill was in the air as people made their way indoors for the first day of the Outdoor Living and Landscape Show on Friday at Century II. It was perfect weather to go looking for an early taste of spring, on display at the show in blooming tulips, baby ducks, tomato plants and deck chairs.
But drought was also on people’s minds, as memories of the past two harsh summers collided with visions of fresh spring landscapes.
“Everyone is getting worried about the lack of water,” said Jeff Laing, irrigation manager for Countryside Lawn & Tree Care. People have been asking him about digging a well, he said. Even then, “I have wells going dry every week out east,” he said of his customers.
The show, which continues Saturday and Sunday in Expo Hall, is a good tonic for drought, too, as gardeners can find ways to save water and experts who can answer their questions about planning for another growing season. There are 130 vendors, educational booths, seminars and garden displays.
“I come to see how they arrange their plants, because I have no imagination,” said Barbara Ruby of Wichita, admiring one of the garden displays.
Jean Wade of Severy said she was planning to buy a rain barrel after talking to Peter Daniels of Wichita Rain Barrels. She figures there will be water restrictions added to drought.
“I have flowers all around my house. … With that, I can water whatever I want.”
Daniels said that people have an “aha” moment when he tells them that 1 inch of rain on a 1,000-square-foot roof adds up to 623 gallons of water. The rain barrels he sells hold 50 gallons. He said that he cycled through all four of his rain barrels at home twice, watering his trees and shrubs, just from February’s moisture.
His mother, Claire, said she was impressed by the story of one person who stopped by the rain-barrel booth and reported that melting snow was falling into her rain barrel and filling it up.
The influence of dry weather could be seen in the many gorgeous and creative planters of succulents at the show – rubbery-textured plants that come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and don’t need much water.
Edibles are also to be had, in containers of lettuce mixes that can be harvested over a couple of months, extension agent Bob Neier said.
Gardeners can also find onions sets, seed garlic and potatoes, elephant ears, cabbage and cauliflower.
Cool-Wave pansies were fragrant at the Hesston Plant Co. booth, where you could also buy little succulents gathered together in vintage tool-box trays, and Tom Thumb pea plants already bearing blooms and pea pods. Megan Greenway of the company said that the pea plants were heirlooms that could be placed outdoors during the day even in this weather and that stay small enough to remain in their pots.
Carol Needham walked around in short sleeves as if the weather were already warm. “I don’t like coats,” she said. So it wasn’t a surprise that she loved the tropical plants such as shiny heart-shaped anthuriums – in red and white – in Scenic Landscapes’ display garden, as well as another, hardier plant that was drawing a lot of attention: a Winterfire redtwig dogwood, its bare orange stems intensifying into red near the tips. Needham was with two friends who have worked with her for years at the Eisenhower Center in Abilene. The three women make a day trip to Wichita every year for the show.
Seminars are also part of the show, many of them dealing with drought-related topics. (See the schedule in the Gardener’s Almanac on Page 2C.) Near the stage, wheelchair-accessible garden planters are on display at the Extension master gardeners’ booth, along with instructions for how to make one, and lots of information on gardening. Garden clubs are represented in the corner beyond the stage.
There are many things other than plants to find at the show for the outdoors – barbecue grills, fireplaces, decks, fences (visible and invisible), furniture, screened rooms, flagpoles and flags, statuary, wind socks and wind chimes, fountains, lightscaping, blown-glass garden art, playground equipment, swimming pools, hot tubs, pergolas and patio covers.
Keith Gregory, a sculptor from Willard, Mo., who uses a chain saw to do his work, is demonstrating his craft outside the doors of Expo Hall. Indoors, Mike Dwyer of Loveland, Colo., has bronze sculptures for sale.
Steve Schaack of Wichita is on his second career, building outdoor furniture out of repurposed cedar fenceboard and redwood decking – including a Coleman cooler sunk into a stand, with a shelf underneath, for $199, and a large-size Jenga game with its own cabinet.
David Jessup, the Green Collar Guy from Nederland, Colo., is selling colorful handmade planters, bowls and birdbaths made of concrete and other ingredients and inlaid with tiles of glass and ceramic.
Nancy Methvin of Chase County hadn’t made it to the Outdoor Living and Landscape Show last year, which was its first year. The old Wichita Garden Show, which was much larger, shut down in 2011. Methvin felt the relative smallness of the new setup but recognized the perennial beauty of a garden created by Hong’s Landscape, colored with gold and burgundy coral bells, red and green Japanese maples, yellow forsythia and purple azaleas.
“We like seeing the different suppliers, and it gets us in the mood,” Methvin said. “That’s the main reason we come.”
Laing, the irrigation manager of Countryside, was hoping for brighter things, even if it might not have people thinking of sprinkler systems.
“I’m ready for a normal spring,” Laing said. “Rain and thunderstorms.”