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Garden show at Century II is a spring feast for the senses

Letha DeMier and Nancy McReynolds got up at 4:30 Wednesday morning and drove from Joplin, Mo., so they could be some of the first people in line for the Wichita Garden Show.

A huge line of people snaked along the sidewalk outside Century II waiting for the doors to open.

Why?

"Because we are garden freaks. This is what we do," DeMier said.

"We plant flowers for people in Joplin. This is to give us some ideas. We want to smell something green and see things growing after this long, cold winter."

Walk into Century II and it is a pathway into a gardener's fantasy world — flowers, waterfalls, bulbs, swinging chairs and shiny new lawn tractors.

"Oh, if only I had money," one woman muttered as she saw the endless displays and gardens created for the five-day show.

There's the "Exploring America's New World" garden by Johnson's Legacy Landscapes, which honors the lush American frontier that explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark saw more than 200 years ago. The garden features a live golden eagle sitting on a nest atop a cliff.

And the "Giardino De Amore — Garden of Love" by Complete Landscaping Systems featuring an ancient villa complete with junipers, tulips, azaleas and life-size terra-cotta statues representing the four seasons.

The show has been a Wichita tradition for 43 years, said Alex Lingg, the show's manager. It typically attracts between 40,000 and 45,000 visitors.

The show, whose theme is "Gardens of the World," features nearly 200 vendors, educational displays, speakers and prize giveaways. The featured celebrity for the show's opening on Wednesday was Paul James from HGTV, the "Gardener Guy," who was on hand to answer gardening questions.

The Wichita Garden Show is all about tempting the senses. Walk past gurgling waterfalls with boulders and trees and smell fresh dirt, all the while feasting the eyes on the latest in gardening tools.

"It is the kickoff for spring," said Marty Johnson of Johnson's Garden Centers. "We started growing plants a couple months ago for it.

"With this winter, we think there is going to be so much pent-up demand for gardening. People will be coming to see what's new and itching to get out and do something."

For vendors such as Kim Bird of Kerb Appeal, a company that makes concrete edging, the Wichita show represents big business.

"We found this to be a our main advertising," Bird said. "Ninety percent of our business comes from this show."

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are often the slower days of the show. The weekend is when the brunt of the crowds attend.

"Come Saturday this aisle will be elbow to elbow, and people will be fighting their way through," said Keith Jones of the Horizon's Limited booth.

"Sunday, you will also get a lot of people coming because vendors are wanting to move products. There might be some deals. Absolutely."

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