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Macy's Flower Show Q&A with Dale Bachman


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Macy's Flower Show 2014

Photo by Adam Bettcher for Macy's

I’ve been attending the Macy’s Flower Show as long as I can remember—in fact, back when it was called Dayton’s Flower Show. Taking the elevator up to the eighth floor of the downtown Minneapolis department store on (or near) the first official day of spring has always been a welcome reprieve to the still-unmelted snow that typically lingered in the middle of March. This year, we’re lucky enough to have 40-degree temperatures, but the grass has yet to regain its green vigor and the trees have yet to bud. We’re living in a world of brown and beige—that is, until we step foot into the botanical wonderland known as Macy’s Flower Show.

Over the years, the shows have spotlighted different locales around the world: Brazil, India, England, and Holland among others. “Art in Bloom,” the theme of this year’s show, explores various art movements through floral arrangements. This year’s show also takes a futuristic leap with the incorporation of technology, including pixel-mapped projections and a custom app that allows visitors to snap photos of the exhibit on their smart phones and add a filter that transforms them into painterly, digital works of art.

While the exact varieties of flowers will depend on the year’s theme, each show features varieties of trees (like quaking aspen, birch and dogwood), evergreens and shrubs, flowers (like red amaryllis, blue hydrangea, and several varieties of daffodils and tulips), vines and ivy. While some of the species highlighted in the annual, free show are exotic, some of the plants at this year’s show—such as conifers, evergreens, Japanese tree lilac, flowering cherry trees, and roses—are hardy enough to plant in Minnesota. And for those who enjoy floral-infused cocktails, the Oak Grill on the 12th floor of Macy’s will be serving floral cocktails during the run of the Flower Show.

Macy's Flower Show 2014—Photo by Adam Bettcher for Macy's

I chatted with Dale Bachman, CEO of the family-run floral and garden center Bachman's, about the show’s history and what to look forward to at this year’s show.

Q: Can you tell me a little about Bachman’s history with the Flower Show?

A: We started in 1965—a florist from San Francisco was doing the show that year on the main floor and needed some help, so Bachman’s stepped in to lend a hand. In 1966 I believe is when the auditorium was constructed and the show moved upstairs. There was also one show in 1960 that we helped with, but we were involved with putting it on certainly from 1966 forward.

Q: What is the creative process that goes into putting the show on every year?

A: In the case of this year’s show, the Macy’s team comes up with the theme, and we start to talk about how that’s going to be expressed with flowers and plants. The earliest work we do is to order in the bulbs for hyacinths and tulips a year before because they come from Holland and we have to plant them in the fall, and then we force them to bloom in the greenhouse. We do a masterful job of tricking these plants to bloom this early in the season. By December, (Macy’s Flower Show’s longtime scenic director) Jack Barkla does the floor plan for the show. Once the holiday show comes down in the auditorium, the artist that Macy’s works with strikes that show and starts construction. Our work here in the auditorium started last week; we start by moving 200 cubic yards of planting soil up eight floors into the auditorium. Once that soil is in place, the larger pieces are placed. We try to keep it cool to keep the plants lasting as long as we can, though we do a change out with some of the plants halfway through the show.

Macy's Flower Show 2014—Photo by Adam Bettcher for Macy's

Q: What does it take to put on a show of this size?

A: The team of artists working on the show is incredible: set designers, carpenters, painters, prop masters, and we have a tremendously talented team at Bachman’s. The lead person who takes Jack’s floor plan and expresses it in flowers is Kelly Hooper. For this show, we’re deconstructing works of art. We have representations of famous works of art on display, and in a garden bed below the art we’re expressing those colors in flowers and plants. It’s really given us an open palette of plants to work with. In past, we try to work with a geographic group of plants to work with, but this show gave us a lot of latitude to work with. It’s a little bit like theater

Q: What are you most excited about with this year’s show?

A: I think the thing that’s exciting is this is a show that we’ve never done before, especially with respect to the technology. We have Jasmine in the show, which is extremely fragrant. We have some really fun green plants—lipstick palm with a touch of red in the front, and flamethrower palm which has a red stem. We have black velvet orchids to work as our black paint. Medinilla, and as well calceolaria, are plants we haven’t used before. We also have some plants that are named after artists: Picasso’s Paintbrush, a croton plant—it’s crazy, with multicolored yellows and reds.

Q: Can you speak more to the technology piece of the show?

A: One of the gardens we have , it essentially looks like a large picture frame and is filled with hydrangeas, which serve as a canvas, and famous artworks are projected onto the canvas of hydrangeas. Something we have as a part of that is pixel mapping technology. It allows us to project onto a 3D surface without the image bleeding onto the ground. It’ll be geometric and floral patterns projected onto a statue of David.

While the Macy’s Flower Show opens Sunday, those we attend Saturday evening’s Taste of the Oak Grill Dinner at Macy’s Oak Grill Restaurant will have the opportunity to get a sneak peek of the show as well as a four-course meal paired with four different wines for $35. For more information and tickets, visit macysrestaurants.com. Macy’s Flower Show runs March 22–April 4 at Macy’s, 700 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., free. Visit macys.com for more information including details on special events taking place during the run of the show.

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