May 28, 2002
Show time:
Potsdam’s National Horticultural Show aims to please

By Marius Ois

The week-long Canada Blooms show is long behind us, and we are looking forward to attend the next garden or horticultural show. The Floriade in Boskoop, Holland comes to mind. But let’s not stop there, as the avid garden show enthusiast will find many other worthwhile and internationally acclaimed shows to visit throughout the year. I had the opportunity to spend a few days at the end of April in Potsdam, Germany to experience the grandiose BUGA National Horticultural Show (

The concept
The BUGA is held every two years and is hosted by a different city. It is a national show, attracting visitors from the entire country, as well from Europe and beyond. Many years of planning precede this event. This is not a weekend show, but lasts 170 consecutive days, from April to October. Held in Potsdam, the historic capital of the Prussian Kings, this year’s BUGA covers an area of 73 ha, with an indoor exhi­bition space in a 15,000- m2 hall. There are also various venues and side show locations throughout the City of Potsdam, i.e. the BUGA is not an isolated event, but is celebrated on a city-wide basis for the entire duration of the show. A $150 million capital budget and $50 million operating budget, as well as public and corporate investments have allowed the organizers to put up a show of an enormous scale. The site, the former troop exercise field of the Prussian Kings, was last used as a tank training area for the Soviet army until 1989, and is within sight of the famous Sanssouci Palace and Park. After the closing of the show in October, 60 ha will remain as a permanent park, becoming an integral part of the city’s park system, while the rest of the area will be developed for housing for a population of 17,500. The exhibition hall will also remain as a permanent show piece to host a variety of horticultural events.

     Two-and-a-half million visitors are expected to attend, however, this number may climb, as previous BUGA Shows have attracted up to eight million visitors. Besides good weather, the success of such a large show is dependent on early planning and cooperation of many important organizations and agencies. Three corporations were created to plan, develop and manage the BUGA Show. They report through a BUGA Commission directly to the City council. Many special committees contribute to make the event possible and to guarantee the smooth functioning of the show and the many associated events. The local and regional tourism boards, local and regional transit authorities, municipal works and parks departments and police department, all have been involved in organizing this event, and continue to remain involved throughout the show.

     An injection of $1 billion of state and federal funding towards the restructuring of the city has a lot to do with Potsdam being awarded the BUGA this year. In comparison, the City of Toronto anticipated and counted on a similar financial booster if the Olympic Games were held here. Thus, such a show not only is a local event, but is of regional and national interest with far reaching benefits for the horticultural community and local tourism, and has a positive impact on the city’s structure and its development.

     Accessibility to a show such as the Floriade or BUGA is of utmost importance. The Potsdam BUGA is close to the centre of the city. Its proximity to the existing transit system and a new dedicated high-speed streetcar line, which ends in front of the site’s entrance gates, makes the Show easily accessible by public transit. In fact, your admission ticket allows you to use all public transit, including the use of the intercity train that gets you in and out of Berlin, which is located “next door.”

A showcase of horticultural excellence
Other than being a major tourist attraction, the foremost task of such an event is to educate the public about gardening and landscape, and to foster appreciation and enjoyment of nature. It is a showcase of horticultural excellence. This, of course, benefits the horticultural trades and associated professions, suppliers and institutions. You cannot go wrong promoting “green,” with the condition that it is done well and with integrity. This is why the German national body representing the horticultural trades and professions is the major partner of this event, together with the host city. Through its many committees and representatives, it is fully in control of what and how the BUGA exhibits and shows are organized and conducted. This BUGA show has become an institution, not only for its organizers, but first of all for the public, which embraces every two years as a new act. This 26th BUGA show is proof, that this type of show receives enthusiastic public acceptance, and it appears it will, in its proven format, continue forever. A show of such calibre, lasting a full six months, demands more than stationary horticultural exhibits. Planners must be innovative, think of new ideas and must not be afraid to try the unconventional — an essential criterion for any big garden show. Furthermore, in order to have things happen throughout the running of the show, the visitor is offered never ending possibilities and new ideas in gardening, while the BUGA changes with the seasons. Tens of thousands of pansies greeted the earlier visitors in April, followed by 25,000 tulips, 1,300 rhododendron shrubs and 13,000 roses and summer flower displays through the summer. Besides these eye pleasers, there are many more displays and shows. The visitor can experience numerous themes and events such as the Biosphere in the large exhibition hall, where 20 different theme shows are presented during the duration of the show. The exterior offers special show gardens, residential garden examples, water gardens, hobby gardener’s association displays, allotment garden examples, horticultural training displays and children’s play areas, including water play, climbing walls and rollerblading courts. Each show element offers new and intriguing landscape concepts, such as crushed glass walkways, steel planters, steel or giant log retaining walls, engineered angular 2:1 grassed slopes, to name a few.

     Besides being a prime horticultural event, the BUGA is also considered a cultural one. There are 2,000 planned events on the program to be conducted on the show property and on the open air stage, and extend from philharmonic concerts and jazz, show bands to kite flying, brass band competitions, and international entertainers performing song and dance — shows within the show.

     The $15 admission for the whole day is minimal, considering what is being offered.

In retrospect
What is my impression and evaluation of this garden show after my very brief visit? Having enjoyed five similar shows in the recent past, I can say that every large horticultural event such as this has its own flavour and has left its very own specific impact on me. There is always something new and intriguing. There is food for thought, and one may agree with one aspect and applaud the effort and results, but may also question another. However, these shows have one thing in common: they always leave a positive and lasting impression. I consider myself lucky and blessed to have chosen a profession that is so much loved and revered by the public. For a student of horticulture, regardless of which branch, be it gardening, landscape architecture, maintenance, contracting, growing, supplying — and regardless of age — a visit to such large horticultural extravaganza is without question an education with lasting benefit. Besides — the whole experience was enjoyable.

     The question lingers — will it be possible to do something like the BUGA or Floriade here in North America? Why not? We do have a strong professional horticultural community, and gardening is still the public’s number one hobby and interest. Large municipalities are always eager to attract events that help to put them on the map. After all, Landscape Ontario’s Canada Blooms is now in its fifth year, because of its success. Examples such as this are aplenty, and prove that with the right planning, strong professional representation of the horticultural industry, good organization and sufficient budget, the possibilities are endless, and all efforts are guaranteed to bear fruit.

Marius Ois heads a landscape design and planning firm in Scarborough, ON.