Tuesday, April 18, 2006

To Joan deGarmo, the annual Leesburg Flower & Garden Festival is a step back in time.

A few streets in downtown Leesburg, Va., will be closed Saturday and Sunday to make way for rows of tented booths and thousands of avid and beginning gardeners, shoppers and festival enthusiasts.

The street closures, along with music coming from the courthouse lawn and clowns strolling through — some on stilts — give a historic feel to the event, says Ms. deGarmo, who will be at the booth for Main Street Landscape Inc.

“It’s a way to be able to walk around historic Leesburg without cars,” says Ms. deGarmo, vice president of design for the Haymarket landscaping company, which installs patios, walkways, stone walls and water features, among other services. The company plans to display a miniature version of some of its products, including a patio with landscaping around it.

“It’s truly a garden show. Everything is garden-related, unlike some other home shows where they have gutters and mops and call themselves a garden show,” Ms. deGarmo says.

The 16th annual festival will take up two blocks of Market Street and three blocks of King Street with more than 130 vendors. Landscape companies, nurseries, greenhouses, farms, gardening groups and companies focused on leisure outdoor living will be selling and promoting gardening, horticulture and the outdoors.

They will sell fresh-cut flowers and live plants, trees and shrubs, and landscape displays will demonstrate their products. Garden sculptures and furniture, fountains, ponds and garden-themed art will be available, too.

This botanical paradise will take place rain or shine from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The shops and restaurants in the downtown area will remain open during the event.

“The event is a huge draw for the town,” says Marantha Edwards, tourism and marketing manager for the Leesburg Parks and Recreation Department. “The hotels fill up. It’s an important tourism opportunity for us.”

The parks department expects 40,000 visitors this year during the two days of the event, 5,000 more than last year, says Megan Granados, the department’s event coordinator.

The festival, which is the department’s largest event, was the brainchild of the Leesburg Downtown Business Association, Mrs. Granados says. As it grew, the association asked for the town’s help, she adds. The event originally included crafters and artisans, but as more and more businesses turned in applications, the parks department decided to narrow its focus to flowers and gardening.

“Every year, it gets better. We have more and more vendors to choose from,” Mrs. Granados says.

In addition, the visitors benefit, she says: “Most of the local nurseries come into one place, so you don’t have to travel around the county to get different annuals and perennials.”

For instance, the Loudoun County Master Gardeners will be selling tomatoes, peppers and herbs they have grown, along with a few annuals and perennials. The volunteer gardeners, who undergo training through the Loudoun County Extension Office, will staff a help desk set up to answer gardening questions.

“The Master Gardeners are passionate about gardening and horticulture, and they’re always excited to share their knowledge with others,” says Debbie Dillion, urban horticulturalist and Master Gardener coordinator for the Loudoun County Extension Office in Leesburg.

Typical questions the Master Gardeners get regard pruning, planting in a sunny location, and the recommendations for growing in Loudoun, Ms. Dillion says.

Plants such as forsythias, hollies and rhododendrons do well in the metro area, she notes. “Most plants do well here. It depends on their heat tolerance and cold tolerance,” she says, adding that at the festival, “People can pick up ideas for their home and garden.”

The festival is for the dedicated gardener, says Penny Stevens, owner of Garden Classics, a Warrenton, Va., supplier of teak patio furniture and decorative garden accessories.

“You’re going to find something unusual here, something different besides what the big chains carry,” Mrs. Stevens says.

Tony Allen, owner of Allen’s Sprinkler & Nightlighting in Ashburn, Va., started displaying his sprinklers at the festival eight years ago.

“It’s one of the best home and garden shows for the money in the state of Virginia,” Mr. Allen says. “The people coming get a better variety of suppliers. If you go to a lot of shows, you’re looking at the same things, a lot of things that don’t have to do with home and garden.”

Meadow Farms in Chantilly will have scaled-down versions of landscaping on display, including a garden pond with a waterfall and a patio with a fire pit, says Dave Reed, vice-president of Meadow Farms, which has 20 garden centers in the metro area.

“When we build a display, it will look like it has been there forever. The idea is to swear it’s been there forever, even though it’s in the middle of a town street,” Mr. Reed says.

The show, he says, is at a time of year when flowering plants are starting to bloom or are in bloom.

“It gives us a lot of choices,” he says about what can be offered for sale.

Outside the garden arena, the Flower & Garden Festival will provide continuous musical entertainment by national and local artists playing jazz, country, blues and calypso. For the children, there will be an area for hands-on arts and crafts, education and entertainment, plus a children’s garden courtesy of the Loudoun County Master Gardeners. Of course, there also will be food, provided by 10 to 12 vendors.

“It’s kind of like hometown. We pick up people from all over, but it seems the majority of people come from Loudoun County,” Mr. Allen says.

When you go:

What: 16th annual Leesburg Flower & Garden Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, rain or shine.

Where: Historic downtown Leesburg on Market and King streets.

Admission: $3 per person; children ages 6 and younger are admitted free.

Parking: Free parking is available at Ida Lee Park, located at 60 Ida Lee Drive, with a shuttle bus to the event.

Information: Call 703/777-1368 or visit www.idalee.org/parks/events/flowergarden/

Notes: Bringing pets is discouraged. Wagon rentals are available to tote purchases.

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