Pat Scace spent many an hour playing in her parents’ florist shop in Waterloo. She never dreamed that someday she would run one of the biggest flower shows in the St. Louis region.
“My mom always said, ‘People who work with plants are happy people,’” she said. “And she was right.”
Scace, 54, who now lives in Columbia, is chief designer for Gardenland Express Holiday Flower and Train Show at Missouri Botanical Garden. Each year, the 5,000-square-foot display attracts 40,000 visitors in six weeks.
Some people go to see the 2,500 potted plants, known for their colorful, seemingly perfect leaves and blooms. Others enjoy the G-scale model trains that chug along 600 feet of track, past miniature homes and businesses.
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“It’s a long-time tradition for a lot of people,” said Katie O’Sullivan, MoBot’s senior public information officer.
This year’s show focuses on Mexico, where poinsettias are native. Scace’s merry band of volunteers built a courtyard with adobe-style facades and a fountain. Mexican music plays overhead.
Roughly 2,000 poinsettias include red, pink, white, yellow, even orange and lime green. All were grown in greenhouses on site.
If you can grow a poinsettia in St. Louis, you can grow anything. They’re known as a problem plant. Insects love them. Diseases love them. The right amount of light and water is crucial.
Derek Lyle on the challenges of growing poinsettias
“We have 15 different cultivars,” Scace said. “Some of them are grown as single stems (making them taller), and some are grown as pinch plants (making them fuller). When you pinch them, they create more bracts.”
The daytime cost of Gardenland Express is $5, plus the regular MoBot admission of $12 for adult non-members.
This year for the first time, officials are allowing free admission to the show for people who have tickets to the nighttime Garden Glow, which costs $16 to $18 for adult non-members.
“We know that more people will be able to see it, and it adds to the value of the Garden Glow ticket,” O’Sullivan said.
Scace’s grandfather, Charlie Diehl, owned Diehl’s Nursery in Columbia. Her parents, Leroy and Ruth Diehl, operated Diehl Florist in Waterloo.
Scace’s favorite place as a girl was under the wrapping table, where she played with paper scraps and shipping boxes. As a teen, she waited on customers and delivered flowers.
“If you’re in the florist business, you are entrenched in the community,” she said. “You experience life’s major events with people — births, anniversaries, holidays, funerals.”
Scace studied landscape architecture at University of Illinois and floral design at the American Floral Arts School in Chicago before working as assistant to MoBot’s supervisor of floral display from 1990 to 1995.
If you’re in the florist business, you are entrenched in the community. You experience life’s major events with people — births, anniversaries, holidays, funerals.
Pat Scace on growing up in a Waterloo florist shop
Scace then taught at Southwestern Illinois College, wrote a couple of textbooks and did contract work until 2005, when she returned to MoBot to take the supervisor’s job. She’s responsible for all indoor flower shows, including Gardenland Express.
“It’s floral design on a large scale, and it incorporates my background in construction from landscape architecture,” she said. “It’s a great blend for me.”
Scace’s partner for Gardenland Express is another metro-east resident, Derek Lyle, MoBot’s senior nursery manager. He grows all the flowers that she needs in nine of his greenhouses.
This year, that included begonias, chrysanthemums, kalanchoes, cyclamens and hibiscuses. But poinsettias are the most finicky.
“If you can grow a poinsettia in St. Louis, you can grow anything,” said Lyle, 30, of Edwardsville. “They’re known as a problem plant. Insects love them. Diseases love them. The right amount of light and water is crucial.”
Lyle mowed yards in middle school, sold Christmas trees in high school and worked eight years at Creekside Gardens in Collinsville before starting at MoBot as a grower in 2010.
Now he’s a poinsettia expert. He orders rooted cuttings in January for delivery in July. Timing, spacing, cleanliness and attention to other details are vital.
“We must make sure that the entire greenhouse is sterile, including benches, the irrigation system, pots, soil, everything in the structure,” Lyle said. “That prevents any outbreaks of pests.”
For more information on Gardenland Express Holiday and Flower Show, visit www.missouribotanicalgarden.org or call 314-577-5100.
At a glance
- What: Gardenland Express Holiday Flower and Train Show
- Where: Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd. in St. Louis
- When: Daily through Jan. 1, 2018
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.
- Admission: $5 during the day with regular MoBot admission of $12 for adult non-members (free for 12 and younger); free with purchase of nighttime Garden Glow tickets, which cost $16 to $18 for adult non-members ($3 to $10 for children)
- Information: Visit www.missouribotanicalgarden.org or call 314-577-5100