Going for the green: Crowds, spirits bloom at GardenFest


Thousands of green-thumbed gardeners, and those with less than perfect horticultural skills, made their way to Riverside Park last weekend for the 20th anniversary of GardenFest: Nature’s Finest Marketplace hosted by the Garden Club of Indian River County.

Just as when GardenFest premiered in February 2002, providing a calming effect on a country devastated by the horrific 9/11 attacks, this year’s huge crowds were eager to immerse themselves in nature and put the pandemic behind them.

And the two-day show helped to do that in spades, offering attendees a massive flora fix with the sale of a vast variety of plants, palms, bushes and orchids, colorful and unique containers to put them in, and assorted ways to enhance their surroundings. Its educational component featured an Ask the Experts tent which provided informative gardening guidance.

“I always say if you haven’t killed some plants, you’re not a real gardener, and if you haven’t killed half your orchids, you’re not a real orchid lover,” chuckled Karen Vatland, GardenFest co-chair with Barbara Russell.

Among the 80-plus vendors were about 20 new faces, replacing others who had dropped out.
“We had some vendors who went online over the past two years and have developed a good online business, so they no longer do festivals. Festivals are expensive and they’re hard work,” said Russell.

Among the new vendors was ProEdge, a sharpener of knives and garden clippers.

“We had seen him at a huge show over in Saint Petersburg called Green Thumb and we thought it was a great idea. That’s something we’ve never done before,” said Russell.

“We have a bonsai vendor here which we haven’t had in quite a few years. For the second year, we have a guy who has planters in the shape of heads. We met him in another show and we said to him, ‘you belong with us,’” added Vatland.

Vinnie Parentela, owner of Gold Coast Landscape Lighting, is one of six vendors who have participated in the show since its inception.

“We beautify your landscape in the evening so you can take advantage of it 24/7, not just during the day. Security is a big plus, but the aesthetic value of lighting these beautiful properties at night is amazing, and so much fun. I love what I do,” said Parentela.

“Our best source of vendors is always other vendors,” said Russell. “Our existing vendors tell people how good the show is.”

The two also travel around to other shows such as those in St. Petersburg and Winter Garden, to cultivate new vendors and say hello to existing ones.

Commenting on the longevity of GardenFest, Russell said it’s the only one of its kind in the area.
“It’s an invitational show. We try to keep it green. We don’t have crafters, jewelry, T shirts, things like that,” said Vatland.

“We do have a new woman who has driftwood with tillandsia, and another lady out of Sebastian who paints bamboo that she collects and makes them into bamboo pots. We justify some of that under the idea that some of these people live in condos and they want things for their lanai.”

Funds from GardenFest and the sale of the club’s annual Christmas Ornament are used to provide scholarships, donations and beautification projects at numerous nonprofit organizations, as well as countywide landscaping projects that have enhanced the entire community.

Vatland said there are currently 220 Garden Club members who meet in nine circles, each offering a different day, time and program. Their annual Spring Flower Show will take place March 26-27 at the Garden Club.

For more information, visit gardenclubofirc.org.

Photos by Kaila Jones

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