August 15, 2011
By Mark Cullen

mark cullenNow that everyone knows Canada Blooms and the National Home Show will co-locate, it is an excellent time for us to reflect on the purpose and goals of the number one gardening event in the country.

When visitors to the 2011 edition of Canada Blooms strolled through the entrance, they were wowed in a very big way. The monstrous feature garden created by the members of Landscape Ontario was a creative wonder.  

The wow factor at Blooms is no mistake. It was part of the vision in the very beginning of the venerable festival of flowers and gardens in 1996. In an effort to learn more about the pedigree of the festival, I talked with two of the founders of the event, Kathy Dembroski of the Garden Club of Toronto and Tony DiGiovanni, LO’s executive director.  

Here is what I learned:

Volunteer driven

To suggest that Canada Blooms is unlike any other consumer show that you have ever attended would be an understatement. Truth is, it is not defined as a show at all, but as a festival. It is a celebration of the very best that the Canadian flower and garden industry has to offer. The original goal, after all, was “to produce a world class flower and horticulture event,” according to Dembroski.  

The contribution of 17 feature gardens is made on a volunteer basis by the members of Landscape Ontario. Landscape contractors, designers, landscape architects and even landscape maintenance companies contribute time, materials, creative expertise and of course a host of plants. It’s all brought together in a collection of modern, cutting-edge gardens coordinated under one theme.

As Tony DiGiovanni likes to point out, if they were to remove all of the assets at Canada Blooms that are installed and maintained by volunteers, the admission fee would only cover the cost of the venue (Direct Energy Centre).  

During the first edition of Canada Blooms in 1996, there were many worried organizers. DiGiovanni says that he did not sleep the night before the event opened, as he was afraid that no one would show up. He reflects, “It was overwhelming and outstanding. The first show was at Toronto Congress Centre and exceeded all expectations. Traffic on the 401 at Martingrove ground to a halt, and radio traffic reporters were telling people to stay away due the congestion. Once the public made it through the entrance something magical happened. Their moods immediately changed as they walked through the gardens. They were delighted by the fragrance and beauty.”

It turned out that Canada Blooms was an opportunity for the green industry to demonstrate the benefits of their work.

Canada Blooms fulfils a dream

The ultimate success of Canada Blooms is the bringing together of many diverse groups. Owned jointly by the Garden Club of Toronto and Landscape Ontario, the professional and amateur volunteers number in the thousands. Everyone is proud of what is accomplished each year by working together. Competitors helping competitors.  

Thousands of trees and shrubs are forced into bloom ahead of the natural blooming cycle, just in time for Canada Blooms. This past spring there were over 15,000 flowering bulbs in bloom.  

What is the future?

When Kathy Dembroski and Tony DiGiovanni look into the crystal ball 15 years from now, they see great things. As DiGiovanni says, “Currently people plant gardens for aesthetic reasons. However, there are economic, environmental, lifestyle, therapeutic, recreational, spiritual, tourism, health, wellness and community benefits that are only beginning to dawn on a whole new generation of gardeners.

Canada Blooms can mobilize people across Canada to green their communities and leave a positive legacy for the future.”

In order to continue to thrive, the organization must remain volunteer-driven with a focus on the big picture. Canada Blooms must infect all visitors with a desire to contribute to their community and environment in a meaningful way. Stewardship, volunteer participation, celebration, education and the pursuit of excellence is the way to a successful future for Canada Blooms.”

A gift to Toronto

The original concept was to produce an event that would be a gift to Toronto, according to Kathy Dembroski. With more than a million visitors since its inception, over $500,000 given back to horticultural/social causes and countless volunteer hours and dollars invested over 15 years, it is time to recognize that the gift is not one that is exclusive to Toronto. Most of the visitors arrive from points outside of the 416 area. Over five per cent come from outside of the country. So Canada Blooms has become a gift to Canada.  

Credit for success

When asked who is responsible for getting Canada Blooms to this place in time, DiGiovanni turns to Dembroski and says, “It would not be successful without the full participation and support of Kathy and the Garden Club of Toronto.” She in turn looks to Tony and exclaims, “Only with the support of Landscape Ontario was our success secured.”

With attitudes like this, is it any wonder that this event has managed to climb to the top 10 of the heap in the world of horticultural celebrations. Canada Blooms has fulfilled the dreams of its founders and become a societal game changer.

For details of this year’s event go to