In bloom: A preview of Macy's annual flower show

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March 19, 2014
By: Jahna Peloquin
Jahna Peloquin

Minnesotans are serious about their traditions. When Macy’s moved its annual flower show from the eighth floor auditorium to the first floor in 2006, some local garden clubs were reportedly so upset that they boycotted the show. 

Thankfully, it moved back to its original home in 2012. But the anecdote illustrates just how big of a deal the Macy’s Flower Show is to locals, especially after one of the toughest winters in 35 years.

The show offers a welcome reprieve from chilly late March weather — complete with 4,000 square feet of sculptural floral arrangements, stylized garden vignettes, elaborately painted backdrops and lush foliage, with flora and fauna sourced from around the world. This year’s show, “The Secret Garden,” features a landscape of three fountains, six sculptures, 24 truckloads of plants in nearly 120 varieties, nearly 200 species and several thousand plants. Highlights includes a large tulipiere, which is a decorative tulip vase originating in Holland, as well as some of the most hardy, Minnesota climate-appropriate plants and flowers seen at the show in years.

Putting on the show every year is a massive undertaking, requiring 3,000 hours of labor from more than 40 artists, florists, landscapers, carpenters and electricians; more than 180 cubic yards of soil; nine days to plan the display; and four days to take down the show (which takes place simultaneously in five Macy’s locations including Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia).

While the actual construction begins in January in the auditorium, immediately following the run of Macy’s annual holiday display, planning begins as early as the summer.

“In July and August, we start to order the bulb stock, like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths,” said Bachman’s CEO Dale Bachman, who has been working on and around the show since he was a teenager.

The show got its start, according to Bachman’s figures, in 1963 or 1964. “It was actually a fall presentation in the store titled National Roadshow,” he said. In 1965, the show moved to the spring season with an English gardens theme on the main floor. In 1968, it moved up to its current home in the eighth floor auditorium.

The overall concept of the show is the collective brainchild of producer Mike Gansmoe — a 25-year vet of the show —  along with Bachman and scenic director Jack Barkla, who’s been with the show for 30 years. “(Barkla) is a huge part of envisioning what it’s going to look like,” Gansmoe said. “He creates scenic elements worthy of a theatrical production, (while Bachman) brings it to life.”

Other key players include Bachman’s florist Karen Ortiz, who leads a team that creates many of the display’s show-stopping creations, like last year’s ten-foot-tall elephant sculpture. This year’s stunning centerpiece is a dress with a seven-foot-long skirt crafted from thousands of dried and fresh flowers, which takes inspiration from the artwork for Macy’s spring campaign.

“We have a great team of designers,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun. We all join in and get a lot of leeway to be artistic.”

“That’s the bottom line for us,” Bachman added. “It’s our pleasure to participate in the show for the length of time we have. It’s a gift to the community that I hope everyone takes advantage of. It only has a brief run, it’s free, and it’s a great reason to come downtown Minneapolis.”

Macy’s Flower show runs Sunday through April 6 on Macy’s 8th Floor Auditorium at 700 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, and is on view during store hours. Get more info at 612-375-2200 & macys.com/flowershow

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Macy’s Flower Show Fun Facts  

  • 65,000: number of people who visit the show during its annual two-week run.
  • 4,000: square feet comprising the show’s landscape.
  • 3,000: hours required to complete the show.
  • 180: cubic yards of soiled that is moved into the auditorium for the show.
  • 120: different varieties of plants and flowers featured.
  • 75: approximate number of plant varieties displayed during the event.
  • 65: average temperature, Fahrenheit, the auditorium remains to maintain the plants’ quality.
  • 40: number of artists, florists, landscapers, carpenters, visual specialists and electricians it takes to put on the show.
  • 24: truckloads of plants, flowers and soil hauled in for the show.
  • 8: number of weeks some flowering plants, trees and shrubs are cared for in Bachman’s greenhouses before they’re installed in the show.
  • 6: number of fountains in this year’s show.
  • 5: number of Macy’s flower shows taking place across the country each spring.
  • 9: number of days it takes to install the show.
  • 4: number of days to take it down.