Dutch largest garden expo set to wow visitors

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The Dutch will this week throw open the gates to one of Europe's largest fairs – a once-a-decade gardening extravaganza that will feature displays from 35 different countries.

VENLO, Netherlands – The Dutch will this week throw open the gates to one of Europe's largest fairs – a once-a-decade gardening extravaganza that will feature displays from 35 different countries.

The Floriade 2012 exposition near the eastern city of Venlo will open to the public on Thursday and is braced for a rush of two million visitors – nearly half of them from Germany – expected over the next six months.

"Gardening is part of who we are, it's in our Dutch genes," said Wim van den Beucken, board member of the Dutch Horticultural Council (NTBR), one of the exposition's two main organisers.

This is the Netherlands' biggest event this year and will showcase millions of flowers as well as the latest techniques – locally and by 35 countries – on how to grow plants, organisers said.

"This show gives us a chance to show the world that we continously are looking for new innovation when it comes to gardening," Van den Beucken told AFP during a sneak preview press visit.

Visitors enter by passing through an impressive 70-metre (230-foot) entrance building, shaped from two white outer frames with a glass structure in the middle.

Beyond that, they will have 66 ha (163 acres) of garden space to explore – that's bigger than a hundred football fields.

Organisers estimate the average visitor will spend at least seven hours wandering through the exposition, taking in a sea of colour provided by more than 1.8 million bulb flowers and 5,000 rose bushes in bloom and 3,000 trees.

Floriade 2012 has also drawn on the latest technology, said NTBR chairman Nico Koomen.

At the exposition's Bee Pavillon for example, humans are instantly "transformed" into insects.

Guests enter a scaled-up version of a traditional bee-hive where they are handed a scanner, before being sent out in a special garden to "hunt" for pollen.

Plants are tagged with bar codes which are scanned in and at the end of the experience, visitors are told how much they have gathered as insects.

"We want to show people the life of bees, how important they are to us, and how difficult their lives are," exhibitor Jan Schrage told AFP.

Another innovation is the Dutch government's "My Green World" exhibition, situated in a specially built 15-metre (50-foot) structure shaped like a giant orange beetle.

Inside, visitors will see the latest in Dutch cultivation methods including the growing of plants indoors and under artificial lights. Here, "growers" are encouraged to manage every detail of the plant's life.

Some 35 other countries – including China, North Korea and Thailand – are also exhibiting their gardening prowess at the show.

The Chinese exhibition features a temple complete with dragons, a pond and surrounding wall – all made from building materials imported from China.

At the indoor Thai exhibition, workers are putting the final touches to a Bangkok-style tropical garden.

"We believe in the power of the flower," Thai consultant Manoo Posomboon told AFP as he oversaw the work.

Work for this event started as far back as 2006 and the whole thing has cost around 80 million euros ($107 million) to put together, the NTBR's Koomen said.

First held in Rotterdam in 1960, organisers for the last three Floriades – 1982, 1992 and 2002 – have been criticised for losses totalling millions of euros.

Organisers voice confidence that this year's event will not tuen into another financial disaster.

"We are not concerned," Floriade's head of communications Robert Bouten told AFP. "We won't run into red figures." AFP

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