Where roses are pink and themes are green

BEIRUT: Like a child still tugging on his uniform tie as he dashes out the door, The Garden Show & Spring Festival opened at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

As the first visitors muddled their way in past an entrance staff still getting their bearings, exhibitors frenetically unpacked boxes and organized displays for the ninth edition of the annual event held at the Beirut Hippodrome. But the last minute scramble to preparedness did not distract from what promises to be a highly successful ushering in of the summer season.

The highlight of the opening evening was the unveiling of the Beirut Rose, a bloom cultivated by the French rose producer Meilland in tribute to the resilience of Lebanon’s capital city.

With each stem bearing five to 25 flowers and each flower comprising some 75 to 80 petals, the Beirut Rose is a jaunty, romantic-looking bloom, far less stiff and formal than its highly bred cousins. Moreover, the rose is 100 percent disease resistant and blooms continuously from June through December, embodying the tenacious nature of its namesake city, which has resurged from conflict and tragedy time and again.

The flower appeared to be an immediate hit, with the launch ceremony’s attendees eagerly sniffing the lightly scented Bengal pink blossom. Those who wish to procure the plant for themselves can do so at the Garden Show (at the price of LL20,000), while the flower will also be available all over the world through Meilland’s catalog.

Meanwhile, the Beirut Rose will officially take root in the city Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m. when a planting ceremony is due to be held at Martyrs’ Square in Downtown.

The capital’s own flower may have dominated affairs Tuesday evening, but there are plenty of other attractions at this year’s show.

With some 225 exhibitors this year, visitors are invited to find inspiration for their gardens among the specially planted garden displays and the multitude of nursery and outdoor furniture stalls; sate their hunger while listening to live music at a food court with an extensive array of options; or explore their creativity at handicraft workshops – Nivine Mattar is offering classes in making papier mache flowers and painting pots, while on Thursday and Friday one can design one’s own hat at La Chapeliere.

The five-day event also boasts a large “Kid’s Village” this year, offering games and activities. An animated performance with an environmental quiz incorporated into it is free of charge, as is entry in a drawing competition.

Other activities, including cycling, ice-skating, a climbing wall and face painting, must be paid for. Staff Tuesday suggested the area is suitable for children aged 3 to 15, but given the diminutive size of the skating rink and bicycles, it isn’t obvious how it caters for anyone aged above 12.

Elsewhere, exhibitors are actively promoting this year’s theme “The Green Attitude”: Smart Waste is showcasing its latest creations in garden furniture and tableware, while ME Green is taking the opportunity to display the first eco house in Lebanon.

Having last exhibited at the show in 2010 – that time to raise awareness about wind turbines – ME Green is back this year with a Bulgarian-built house that runs exclusively on natural, free energy sources, Soumy Risk explains, as behind her a team of workers furiously paints the dwelling’s interior walls green. How enthused a Lebanese audience will be for such homes remains to be seen, but Risk is expecting many visitors over the coming days.

Other exhibitors claim to have more whimsical motivations for participating in the show. Bechara Hitti, the owner of Bright Animals, a canine education business, says he took a stand at the event as “a fun way to celebrate my birthday.” On Wednesday, in addition to providing information on the correct care and training of dogs, Hitti will offer visitors to his stand wine. You might wish him a happy birthday in return.

The Garden Show and Spring Festival 2012 runs May 29 until June 2 at the Beirut Hippodrome from 4-10 p.m. daily.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 30, 2012, on page 2.




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