A handsome, modern "insectary" panel affixed to the outside of the cottagey dining area in the display built by Olivine Landscape.

Unable to get up to Seattle this past weekend for the glorious Northwest Flower & Garden Show, I joined a friend who was heading to the 2011 Portland Spring Home & Garden Show at the Expo Center in Portland. And I’m glad I did. (Thanks, Shelby!) I was pleasantly surprised by the relaxed vibe at the Portland Spring H&G Show (at least in the garden area), and there were some great plants available at better-than-retail prices.

The plant sales area was separated out from the main show floor where all the home-related products and services were set up. We mostly stuck to the plant area where we chatted with orchid experts, hip young dahlia enthusiasts (apparently no longer an oxymoron) and the creators of some nicely-orchestrated, sustainability-themed display gardens. There were also American Rhododendron Society and Portland Orchid Society display gardens, with well-labeled plants to admire up close and personal, including the magnificent, tropical-looking, giant-leaved rhododendron, Rhododendron macabeanum.

Oddly, the plant vendors are not listed separately on the show website’s plant sale page so I had to wade through a list of hundreds of show exhibitors to find the vendor list on line. But while I was there, I visited Old House Dahlias, Sedum Chicks, One Green World, N&M Herb Nursery (no website), and Out In the Garden Nursery, among others. Out In the Garden again had fantastic deals on flowering hellebores in small pots. Seed-grown hellebores are best purchased while in flower so you know what you’re getting and it was easy to pick through dozens of colors and forms to get exactly the hellebore of your dreams. No fancy doubles at that price but lots of very pretty and variable singles.

My two gripes are the same ones I always have about garden shows: too much bark dust showing through the displays and no frigging light! I felt like a carp swimming through murky pond water in places – I jotted a note to self on my calendar: "bring flashlight next year". That’s just not right.

We did make a quick pass through the rest of the show… for me, it was mostly to gawk at solar panels, on-demand water heaters and a greenhouse. But there were also kittens and puppies… danger zone!

Pictures can be seen if you click on the "slideshow", above.