Boston's Gardens & Green SpacesI stopped by the Boston Flower and Garden Show on Wednesday. Apart from the inherent philosophical difficulty of having a show about plants inside a windowless convention hall, the flower show was pleasing, and sometimes puzzling.

Pleasant Feature #1Oh, but it smelled good! We crossed the road on the second floor and rode the escalator down, descending into the show’s perfume. Oh, that was nice.

Pleasant Feature #2: The Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s “Blooms” exhibits are endlessly fascinating. These horticultural competitions are scattered around the show, and take some searching out; the bonsai exhibit is near the entrance, while the clubs’ bay windows are in a hallway near the rear rest rooms, and the flower arranging and individual plants are off in obscure banquet rooms. Take the time to search them out. New England is rife with plant fanatics who, with no outdoor outlet during our six months of winter, do strange and amazing things with materials that may not even look like plants.

Blooms’ stars  include window displays by the New England Carnivorous Plant Society (don’t get too close!), the Cactus and Succulent Society of Massachusetts (which occasioned a discussion with my children on the difference between thorns and spines), and the eye-popping Camellia Growers Group; the Amateur Horticultural competitions’ lithops (plant as pet rock!), rat-tail cactus, forced witch-hazel, and prize-winning cymbidum “Mini Flake”; and the silly, exciting flower arrangements, which this year involve neon-green Slinkies, what appears to be a shell casing, silver spray-painted palm leaves, and a ticking clock worthy of that crocodile that ate Captain Hook.

Pleasant Feature #3: Chickens! The Trustees of Reservations wins the Mr. Green Jeans award for bringing in a coop full of chickens and a bee expert to share with all us plant-worshipers. Staffer Meg Connelly held several suprisingly calm hens up for show-goers to pat very gently, and explained various aspects of their behavior. I think my children spent more time petting the chicken than they did looking at the rest of the show.

And now, the puzzles.

Puzzle #1: Why were there so many giant stone heads on display? Buddha heads, Easter Island-style heads, Egyptian heads–almost every large display had a head in it somewhere, staring with those blank mineral eyes at the dawdling crowds. It was a bit creepy, and made me long for a non-threatening garden gnome.

The most intriguing head, to my mind, was a mosaic Buddha face set into a small boulder by Rock Art Studios of Carlisle.  The proprietor, Jay Bearfield, was on hand to explain how he created his displays. Bearfield has an eye for color, and his Buddha’s serene shadings were fascinating.

Puzzle #2: Does every garden need to have a fountain? Some water-features looked like laundry sinks, some were spreading puddles. I realize that this year’s theme was “A Feast for the Senses,” and that water affects most senses (it makes sounds, you can touch it, it looks pretty). But those senses can be filled by other means as well. I’m not asking for wind chimes, mind you. Perhaps a buffalo? (But not a water buffalo.)

Puzzle #3:  Must we eat cake? The grand innovation for this flower show (apart from the fact that it exists, unlike the 2009 Flower Show that didn’t) was the decorated cake display. It’s pretty. In my book, though, a feast includes more than dessert. Plenty of people are concerned about food and horticulture in Massachusetts. Where’s the rest of the feast?  Where are the Massachusetts agricultural products, the community farms, the Food Project rooftop garden that’s producing thousands of pounds of produce each year?  Sure, the Trustees of Reservations brought a few hens in, but they weren’t even cooked.

Puzzle #4: Where are all the flowers? This is the most confounding conundrum of all. At times, it seemed like this production ought to be called the Boston Foliage Show. There weren’t any of the flashy in-your-face we’re-gonna-MAKE-it-spring displays with a gazillion tulips here. Everything was quite elegant.  Strangely, some displays were oddly lit with red gels that made it harder to see the few colorful flowers that made the cut.

As usual, there was an odd assortment of vendors. If you’ve always longed for an artificial metal palm tree hand-crafted in Andover, Kansas, go to the Flower Show and live your dreams.