There are a number of areas in the Flower Building that are beautifully eye catching for fair goers to admire. Some of the highlights of the Flower Contest include displays of landscape gardens by local nurseries and greenhouses, the Bonsai display’s, having 72 floral designers from garden clubs across New England, and encouraging exhibitors to enter flowers that aren’t on the entry form to add variety to the show!
The elegant atmosphere is fitting, considering the flower competition’s early history. The Fair offered premiums for flowers as early as 1852 but it wasn’t until the 1880s that the competition really blossomed. The Fair began offering premiums for a wide variety of flowers, like dahlias, asters, calendula, roses, petunias, and phlox, as well as special arrangements like the best “parlor bouquet” and “hand do.”
It was around this time, the late 19th century, that Topsfield and surrounding towns became home to wealthy magnates of industry who built sprawling country estates on magnificent tracts of land—estates that included elaborate gardens and greenhouses. Over the decades, a spirit of friendly competition rose up among the estate’s caretakers and gardeners. They began competing over who could grow the most beautiful lilies, gladiolas, and begonias and more of the day’s fashionable flowers, says Peter Gibney, past superintendent of the Flower Building and Essex Agricultural Society board member.