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Natural Awakenings Chicago

A Chat With Tony Abruscato: Director of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Feb 26, 2014 12:36PM

The Chicago Flower & Garden Show, presented by Mariano’s, blooms from March 15 to 23 at Navy Pier, in Chicago. The theme of the 2014 show is “Do Green. Do Good,” which exemplifies the longtime spirit of the show, as well as the vision of sustainability moving into the future.

Tony Abruscato is the show director and president of Flower Show Productions, Inc. He bought the show nearly three years ago and has continued to build the event to showcase the Midwest’s dynamic floral, garden, landscape and culinary industries. An avid gardener, Abruscato displayed an early penchant for all things green, thanks to inspiration from his late father, Mario, who was an arborist.

How is the Chicago Flower & Garden Show not only an annual harbinger of spring, but an icon of the Midwest?

People might be surprised to learn that this is actually the longest-running event in Chicago, with roots dating back to 1847. Back then—before Abraham Lincoln was president, before the Civil War and just 10 years after Chicago was incorporated as a city, the event was known as the Chicago Fruit and Flower Show.

Fresh fruit was a big deal to the people who lived here then because they relied on locally grown produce for nourishment. One of the things I like to say is that just as fruit was relevant in 1847, we are looking to do something similar with this generation of the show, making it relevant to people’s lives and interests. I find it interesting that today’s community gardens, which we are spotlighting and supporting through the show, have come full circle, and people are again working together to grow and enjoy their own foods. Likewise, we’re seeing sustainability go to the next level now, with things like vertical vegetable gardens and plant walls.

What are some highlights of the 2014 show?

As the presenting sponsor, Mariano’s will have an active role and strong presence throughout the show, presenting the Garden Gourmet cooking stage and expanding its floral market with fresh flowers, gardening and greening-related products for visitors to purchase. Mariano’s is also our partner in ensuring yearlong support of the, “Do Good. Do Green.” theme, as we team up with the not-for-profit Peterson Garden Project and its “Grow2Give” program.

Overall, when I look at the schedule of activities for the 2014 show, there are so many interesting and dynamic things going on every day. For example, we’ve completely redesigned the entrance garden, bringing in a beautiful, artistic, wire-framed pergola that is being built and shipped from Great Britain. I’m also looking forward to our retooled seminar series, because we have more how-to workshops on designing gardens and landscape spaces and growing your own food. In addition, we’re bringing in some large, landscape design/build companies from the Chicago area, as that industry really takes off here.

This is the third full show in your role as president of Flower Show Productions and show director. How is the process of growing the show akin to planting a garden, cultivating it and watching it grow and thrive?

That’s one thing that we have found as we continue to advance the show forward:  it’s a process, and it truly is like creating a garden or landscape. There are a lot of different moving parts to this event that go on behind the scenes all year long, whether it’s finding speakers from all over the country or working with the city’s top chefs through the Garden Gourmet series or the sheer logistics of bringing in 1,800 pounds of sand to Festival Hall at Navy Pier. At the same time, we’re working to manage and share trends as an integral part of what we offer.

The first day of spring falls within the show’s run on March 21. Are you finding that after an exceptionally cold and snowy winter in the Midwest that people are more eagerly anticipating the first signs of the season?

We have definitely found that people are yearning for the first blush of spring. The show has traditionally been held the previous week in March, so the fact that it is one week later this year and falls within the first day of spring is exciting for us—we are looking forward to kicking off spring in colorful, memorable style!

Ultimately, we hope to inspire everyone, whether they are expert gardeners, would-be gardeners or people who just enjoy looking at colorful flowers. Whether they are 4 or 40, we hope that show visitors will be inspired to learn something new and then feel motivated to try it at home.

The Chicago Flower & Garden Show, presented by Mariano’s, runs March 15 through 23, at Navy Pier, in Chicago. A full schedule of seminars and speakers is available at Win free tickets at