"People have been cautious about gardening in drought. In my mind, drought constitutes an opportunity to rethink the garden," says Chris Woods, the internationally known horticulturist and garden designer who is overseeing his first San Francisco Flower & Garden Show as its new director.

Woods and his colleagues did plenty of brainstorming on low-water gardening for this show, which opened Wednesday and continues through Sunday in San Mateo.

"Drought is not a limitation," Woods says. "Five regions of the world have Mediterranean climates like us. They have droughts, too. We have lots of choices, both native and (from) elsewhere, to garden pleasurably and properly."

Judges view "Vulcania: An Oasis for the Soul" by Clearwater Design, of Campbell, one of the most extravagant displays featured at the San
Judges view "Vulcania: An Oasis for the Soul" by Clearwater Design, of Campbell, one of the most extravagant displays featured at the San Francisco Flower & Garden show inside the San Mateo County Event Center in San Mateo, Calif., Tuesday afternoon March 18, 2014. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The event's Grand Allee, a 200-foot-long promenade leading to the show gardens, emphasizes drought-tolerant trees and ornamental grasses, and several of the 20 gardens focus on low-water and Mediterranean plants. (Besides California, the other Mediterranean-like zones include southern Europe, South Africa, Chile and Australia.) Succulents, which are featured in some displays, are just one part of the picture.

"There are thousands and thousands of plants that work better with low-water use," Woods says. "We shouldn't be celebrating the worst drought in years, but we can remake our gardens with a forward-thinking approach."


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The London-born Woods started his horticultural career at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In the United States, he turned Chanticleer, a private estate near Philadelphia, into one of the nation's best-known destination gardens. He came to San Francisco from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, host of Philadelphia's gigantic flower show.

It was love that lured Woods to the West. He met and married a woman who works in the East Bay. They reside in Fairfield.

Though the San Francisco show was on the verge of extinction during the recession, it was purchased in May by Sherry Larsen, of Fresno, who owns and produces several shows, and Maryanne Lucas, founder and executive director of the garden education program Kids Growing Strong.

Each March, about 60,000 patrons attend the five-day event, which is the third-largest show of its kind in the nation, after the 185-year-old Philadelphia International Flower Show and Seattle's Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

Through: Sunday
Where: San Mateo County Event Center, 1346 Saratoga Drive, San Mateo
Admission: $20 (discounts for groups available); www.sfgardenshow.com.