The Cleveland winter is being transformed into a pretend but sensual spring at Cleveland's I-X Center, where the Great Big Home + Garden Show gets under way Saturday through Feb. 10.
Landscapers from throughout the area are busy designing replicas of 17 U.S. landmarks, many of them framed around gardens. They include such icons as the Biltmore Estate, Central Park, Napa Valley, Longwood Gardens and Fallingwater to give visitors ideas about where they might go this summer as well as how they might design their own home landscapes.
When showgoers enter this year's Garden Showcase, they'll be engulfed in the fragrance of daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, azaleas and other spring flowers forced into early bloom for the show.
Win tickets to the Great Big Home + Garden Show
"We're forcing our own plants into bloom instead of relying on someone else to do it," said Dave Richards, horticulture instructor for 25 juniors and seniors from Auburn Career Center who are putting together a garden patterned after the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. Gardens there are known for their spectacular springtime displays of azaleas, dogwood, red bud and other native American plants.
Richards first became acquainted with Callaway Gardens about 15 years ago, when his sister lived in Georgia and they visited the 13,000-acre garden, resort and preserve southwest of Atlanta. The English Gothic-style Memorial Chapel is perched next to a small pond in which its fieldstone surface and stained glass is reflected.
The horticulture students are working with 20 juniors in the school's Construction Tech program to build a replica of the chapel. Auburn Career Center serves juniors and seniors in the Riverside, Painesville, Fairport, Madison, Perry, Kenston, West Geauga, Kirtland, Berkshire, Cardinal, Chardon and Newbury school districts.
Forcing plants into bloom months before they are due calls for a careful balance of light, humidity, heat and nutrition, the horticulture students have learned.
Richards said students all get tickets to the show and enjoy observing the amazement of showgoers when they learn the Auburn Career Center garden was created by high school students, not professional landscapers.
Although the school has contributed a purpose-built garden to past shows, every year is different.
"This year they're learning how to install natural stone," Richards said.
Building a water feature such as the pond they'll install also has its challenges.
"It's a lot of work, but such a great benefit to the students," he said. "It's a highlight of their year."
Class members work side by side with landscapers in the Pattie Group, so the experience is far beyond a classroom exercise, he said. Most graduate as Ohio certified nursery technicians, so jobs are possible right out of high school, though most go on to specialized programs and college degrees.
Bob Hill, instructor in the Construction Tech program, said graduates of his program are actively pursued by unions who want to place them in apprenticeships.
"When they begin the program they all think they want to be carpenters," he said. "But after they've been exposed to the various trades they discover there are hundreds of job possibilities, from plumbers to electricians and stone work."
Beyond the candy for the senses in the Garden Showcase, local exhibitors bring to ticket holders ideas and opportunities to shop for home improvement contractors, lawn and garden equipment, and home decor, along with products and services bringing inspiration for practical transformations at home.
Wander the spaces in the fully constructed 4,000-square-foot Idea Home. It's Tuscan in style, with a dining room overlooking a wine cellar, and a kitchen island seating eight. A separate Dream Basement has theater seats, a wet bar, exercise room, game room and even a steam shower.
Daughter Stefanie and mother Loretta Paganini will tag-team with other chefs from the International Culinary Arts & Sciences Institute in Chester Township for daily 30-minute cooking demonstrations. Matt Fish, owner/chef for Melt Bar and Grilled, also will share his takes on comfort foods several times during the nine-day show. The Loretta Paganini Cooking Stage is shared this year with the Main Stage, so showgoers won't have to go far to switch between gardening and cooking demonstrations.
Want to learn about making pierogi or bread? Catch chef Tim McCoy's demos at noon and 6 p.m, Feb. 7. Interested in knowing more about how to incorporate healthy quinoa in meals? Catch Stefanie's presentation at 2 p.m. Sunday. Loretta, just back from Florida, will share some of her food finds from Sanibel Island at 11 a.m. Feb. 10.
Find the complete schedule for all the cooking shows at www.greatbighomeandgarden.com.
Back this year are the Celebrity Designers Rooms, custom designed by exhibitors with help from local radio and television personalities. Seminars on a variety of gardening topics will be offered at The Petitti Garden Stage, where outdoor furniture and plants will be available to purchase. A KidsZone will showcase the world's safest trampoline along with swings, slides and basketball hoops for youngsters.
Best of all for many who arrive in pickups with shovels and wearing boots at the 6:30 p.m. closing Feb. 10. That's when products and plants used for displays in the gardens go on sale to those willing to haul them away.
2013 Great Big Home + Garden Show
Cleveland I-X Center near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 4 through Feb. 8
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 9
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 10
Tickets: $14 adults at box office; $11 adults online, Home Depot and AAA locations; $10 seniors 65 with ID Monday through Thursday at box office; $5 children 6 through 12