This week, Children’s Fairyland will have a major presence at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show in San Mateo, representing Oakland’s Pollinator Posse. Park horticulturalist Jackie Salas will give out seeds that we’ve grown behind our puppet theater. Volunteers have helped us pick and sort the seeds, which are guaranteed to attract bees and which kids will be encouraged to place in little packets that they will then decorate.

Oakland Flower show

“Fairyland is all about magic,” says Jackie. “And so is watching a seed sprout and grow into a plant or watching a butterfly float past your face as you sniff a flower.” She’s understandably proud of the fact that our whimsically planted 10-acre garden is organic, that we’ve been certified a Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, that we use Bay-friendly landscaping and gardening principles, and that we hatched over 200 monarch caterpillars last year—and given them to the Posse to raise.

Many people don’t know that many of Fairyland’s beloved sets had their premiere at a garden show. The California Spring Garden Show—held in what was then called the Oakland Auditorium (now the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center)—was a spectacular annual display that ran from 1930 to 1978, closing only during the war years 1943 through 1945. Our participation probably was no surprise given that one of Fairyland’s creators was prominent local nurseryman Arthur Navlet. By way of comparison, the Oakland shows drew over 100,000 people; the upcoming San Francisco Show anticipates a crowd of 40,000 to 60,000.

For many years, the California Spring Garden Show was produced by Navlet’s good friend, the landscape architect Howard Gilkey. Gilkey is best known as the designer of Oakland’s Cleveland Cascade, the grounds at Highland Hospital and the original duck pond on Lake Merritt; he also did early design work for the Woodminster Amphitheater.

Navlet particularly appreciated the creative themes that defined the show as a whole. One year the theme was “Enchanted Forest”—perfect for Fairyland.

Three Fairyland sets that we know were first presented at the show in the 1950s were the Post Office (now our arts and crafts area), the Crooked Man, and Mistress Mary. After their appearance at the garden show, they were moved to our location in Lakeside Park, where they were structurally fortified to withstand the love of millions of kids over the years. Our Wonder-Go-Round—the Alice in Wonderland-themed ride—was also first seen at the garden show.

Fairyland’s resident historian, puppetmaster Randal Metz, notes that there is precedent for introducing theme park sets at public expositions. At the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, Walt Disney unveiled Great Moments with Mister Lincoln, It’s a Small World, and the Carousel of Progress—attractions that were later relocated and expanded at Disneyland.

Two developers have bid on the chance to refurbish and reopen the century-old Beaux Arts landmark auditorium where the California Spring Garden Show was held for so many decades. Hopefully some of the rich history of the building will be recognized.

In the meantime, come visit us from noon to five at the Pollinator Pavilion at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 18-22.  We’ll be creating a bee hotel, playing with a bee bot, and hanging out with the Luna Moth Princess. Kids under 16 are admitted free.

I want to promote the grounds that we share with our local and East Bay visitors to the greater gardening audience of the Bay Area,” says Jackie.

We think that Fairyland creator Arthur Navlet would approve.

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