Where the Flowers Bloom

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“If you smelled one flower per second, it would take approximately one week, four days, 13 hours, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds of constant sniffing to get through the whole show.”- Director Maury Ryan, says about this years Rhode Island Flower Show.

Take a moment to imagine a lawyer. Just a stereotypical lawyer, all wrapped up in some expensive suit, briefcase in hand, his/her cold, calculating eyes scanning the horizon for the next big legal bonanza. All logic and no emotion, really.

Now plop that same lawyer in a field of flo

wers. Tulips, maybe, or wild dandelions. Make him/her bend low to the ground and breathe deep the earthen aromas. Imagine a corner of the briefcase hitting the ground as the lawyer kneels down to stick a hand into the dirt, feeling the grit catch beneath his/her perfectly trimmed nails. An awkward scene, yes? Two distant worlds colliding to create an unexpected visual experience.

But it’s that exact sense of unexpectedness that Maury Ryan, both a lawyer and the show director for the Rhode Island Flower Show, seeks to create, year after year, at the convention center. And he’s sort of a judicial and horticultural genius.

“The show began about 20 years ago,” says Ryan. “It was started by someone who eventually went on to work with Down East, the magazine. He started the show out west, in San Francisco, and then had the opportunity to do it here. Eventually he left for the magazine and I took it over about 12 years ago.”

Now, one would imagine that someone with a blooming career as a lawyer would only take on the responsibilities of an annual flower show if they in fact loved flowers, right? Like really loved flowers. Planted them all around their house and gave them away as birthday gifts, that kind of thing. But no. Ryan simply chuckles when asked about his love of flowers and says, “I’m a master gardener, though I’m not a great gardener, but I do like flowers.”

Plenty of people like things, though, without going to such extreme lengths as taking up the mantle of mega-convention maestro. (Hell, plenty of people love things without doing the same.) So why run the flower show? What, for Ryan, is the point?

“Every year is a challenge. It really has little to do with what my interests are from a horticultura

l perspective,” he admits. “It’s the challenge to have the best flower show we can put on.” He goes on to compare the Rhode Island Flower Show to the one in Boston, which runs from March 12 through 16, claiming that his show has more space for activities, lectures, demonstrations and so forth.

And the comparisons continue:

“The Philadelphia flower show is a week later than ours, and that goes for 10 days. The Boston flower show is a week after that. There’s another flower show in Connecticut on the same day as ours. We have a better show than they do, and they’re about the same size physically as we are.” He quickly adds, “But we do talk to the other shows, and we’re friendly.”

Friendly or not, Ryan seems to be out for flower show blood, and he clearly spends much of his time analyzing and improving each of the Ocean State’s flower conventions.

“We are the largest indoor event in the city of Providence, and we’re the largest event at the convention center. We take the entire thing over. Our gardens have grown [each year]. Our marketplace, it’s one of the largest of all the flower shows in New England. We are certainly the largest acting garden show in the area.”

Can you just picture his chest swelling with each statement? This guy really loves his convention. And that love shines through in both the presentation of the show and the way in which the show is vetted for quality. For example, Ryan does not put up with artificial flowers. No, sir, he nips that problem in the bud.

“We try to not have artificial flowers. One of the gardeners may have an area that they want to cover, so they use fake flowers. As soon as we find that out, we get rid of the flowers. All of the flowers must be real. The flowers have to be in bloom by the time they’re at the show, or just after the show begins.”

To put that statement in perspective, Ryan claims that this year’s show will boast one million flowers, in addition to 80 yards of mulch, 100 tons of boulders, and “enough grass to cover a football field.” If you smelled one flower per second, it would take approximately one week, four days, 13 hours, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds of constant sniffing to get through the whole show. That’s a crazy amount of real, living flowers stuffed into one convention center.

And on top of that, industry professionals from around the country come to the show to speak, present leading ho

rticultural information, and provide an all-around informative experience. So not only does Ryan have to worry about flowers blooming on t

ime, he also has to accommodate such flower-power celebrities as the Beekman Boys, Ellen Ecker Ogden, Roger Swain, Warren Leach, Melinda Myers and others.

“I’m especially excited for the famous Beekman Boys,” Ryan says. “They’re one of our principal speakers.” (For the unaware, the Beekman Boys have a reality TV show about running a farm, and they also won the 2012 Amazing Race.) “They should be a lot of fun.”

So that’s it, right? That’s enough for Maury Ryan’s plate. Successful lawyer, flower show director, competitive event planner — the list couldn’t possibly go on.

But it does!

Even while the Rhode Island Flower Show is still in its planning stage, Ryan must set some part of his attention toward the annual Great International Spring Beer Festival. Because, you know, he’s also the show director for that, too.

“That originally came about because of a client of mine, years ago. We came up with beer can trading cards, and that eventually evolved into putting on a beer fest. We were really the firsts of the beer fests. And back then, craft beer wasn’t really in full swing at the time, other than Sam Adams. So that evolved, too.”

There’s more:

“We also produced hard cider, probably seven or eight years ago. It was called Lovecraft Draft Cider.” When asked if he enjoys Lovecraft’s work, he casually remains neutral, neither a raving cult worshipper nor a literary snob. “I’m always busy,” he adds with a laugh.

And that, this writer must admit, may be the understatement of the year. Without a doubt, Maury Ryan oozes passion for personal projects, a fact evident by the annual success and growth of the Rhode Island Flower Show.

So whether you casually enjoy the smell of fresh cut flowers in a vase or daydream of a field full of bright, blooming flowers, there is something for everyone to experience at this exquisite show.

Maury Ryan has most definitely seen to that.

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