July 8, 2010

March 20, 2010

I knew that Martha Stewart was coming to Canada Blooms 10 days before. I broke the news on gardentoronto.ca only to find the next day that it had brought more traffic to my site than any other story I had ever written. This was huge.

I had seen her in person once before, long ago, at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. By coincidence, if it wasn't in the Direct Energy Centre, it was in the building next door. I remembered that she had an entourage of about 7 people. At that time there weren't any crowds or photographers around her.

I knew that this would be an excellent opportunity to get some great photos for gardentoronto.ca. My experience photographing Prince Charles, coincidentally in this same building, had taught me a lot. Anticipate where the subject is moving to and get there. Allow them to walk towards you while you snap your photos, and then again, anticipate where they are going, and get to that spot. (For me, walking backwards doesn't work.)

One rule is, “don't block where they are going.” Another rule is, “you can't be shy if you want to get good photos.” And remember, photos of the back of someone don't count.

Martha was coming to Canada Blooms to promote her new line of products for Home Depot. I figured that they would make sure that there would be a lot of photographers.

I knew her agenda. It had been published on the Internet. She was supposed to start her walk-about at the Home Depot booth at 11 am. I figured this was great because I could photograph her for an hour then head to the Garden Writers Luncheon. The Luncheon is notorious because every big garden supplier brings product for the garden writers to trial. I brought a hockey bag because I know it would be filled with swag.

As I'm waiting, someone tells me that the plans have changed. She won't be doing the walk-about. I figured, before you panic, go and check with Home Depot. I head over to the Home Depot garden instillation and ask the man in charge. His eyes get wide like saucers. “Just a sec.” He gets on his mobile phone and speaks with his boss. “No, no, She is going to be here for noon, not 11.”

It looked like I was going to miss out on most of the luncheon. But still, getting these photos meant far more to me than all the free swag. As I waited in the Home Depot booth I notice a familiar face, Eileen Koteras Elibol, from WNED TV, the PBS Station from Buffalo. I introduced myself and we become fast friends.

Eileen Koteras Elibol

I informed her of Martha schedule and pass some time taking her photo. I think to myself, “This will be great. I told everyone that I was going to bring Martha Stewart to the luncheon. I can walk in with Eileen and tell everyone, Here's Martha!” We could all have a good laugh, because everyone from the Toronto area would know who Eileen actually is.

Eileen Elibol, WNED

I think Eileen in a simple way identifies with Martha. (Martha Kostyra vs. Eileen Koteras) Martha's mother was born in Buffalo. Both are Polish American girls. Both work in television, Eileen had her own cooking show once.

I gave Eileen a spare lanyard for her WNED pass and we both explain to the Home Depot people that we are press and should be allowed to stay. Eventually they ask us to leave shortly before Martha arrives.

I tell Eileen, “That's okay, I know where she is coming from.” The closest entrance to the Home Depot booth is from the underground parking. She must be coming from there.

And there she was. Unfortunately, the hall was dark. Flash photography doesn't work in large spaces and no-flash leads to blurry images. But it was worth trying.

Martha Stewart and Annette Verschuren

My in-laws always say that Martha looks like a Krakowianka. “She looks so much like the girls of Southern Poland.” I think part of her ancestry is from the Galician area of Poland, which is in the far south.

One thing that you will notice about Martha Stewart if you see her close up is that her skin is radiant.

Martha Stewart

Below she is leaving the Home Depot Garden Installation with Annette Verschuren, President Home Depot Canada/China, on the left, and Frank Turco, behind her. Behind Frank you can see Eileen. Martha was busy taking pictures and you can see them on themarthablog.com.

Below you can see Annette and Martha leaving the Landscape Ontario Feature Garden.

Annette Verschuren and Martha Stewart
Annette Verschuren, Frank Turco and Martha Stewart

I figured now was the time to get some better close ups.

Martha Stewart, Martin's Booth

While I was standing relatively close to her, I said in a rather loud voice, “Martha, are you going to the Garden Writers Luncheon?” She looked up, then over to Annette Verschuren, and then carried on with what she was doing.

Martha Stewart, Martin's Booth

Suddenly, a couple of girls from her entourage were on to me. “Who are you photographing for?” was their first question. I told them I was photographing for gardentoronto.ca. (I must admit, I do have a good URL. It never ceases to impress.) I asked them if Martha was going to make an appearance at the Garden Writers Luncheon. I told them that there was going to be about 70 garden writers (in reality, closer to 60) who would be very interested in what she had to say. Without an answer they run off again.

Annette Verschuren, Martha Stewart and Michel Gauthier

I continued to photograph. Before I knew it the girls were back. “Home Depot will be sending a press package with all the information.”

Sometimes I amaze myself. I laughed at them and said, “Come on! Big companies, like Fiskars and Proven Winners are there giving out free samples for people to trial. Do you honestly think anyone is going to look at your press kit, let alone write about it.” And off they run.

Martha Stewart at the Artemesia Daylilies Booth, Canada Blooms 2010

Here Martha is speaking to Joe Bertand of Artemisia Daylilies.

If you want to see Martha's photo of Joe's daylilies check her website themarthablog.com.

Martha Stewart at the Artemesia Daylilies Booth, Canada Blooms 2010

Suddenly I hear a man's voice call out from Martha's Entourage, “Where is the Garden Writers Luncheon?”

“Straight down the hall and to the left, Room 105!” I call back.

At one point I rush through the crowd to the Luncheon room and tell the Garden Writers that Martha is on her way. Someone from the Canada Blooms office has the same idea and rushes in after me asking everyone to take their seats. Not a chance!

On my way back to see the progress of the group heading toward the luncheon I finally get the chance to photograph Eileen with Martha. I think I have an instant friend for life, or at least a free tour of WNED TV in Buffalo, if I ever have a chance to see it.

Martha Stewart and Eileen Koteras Elibol

Into the luncheon she comes with her group, and I close the doors behind them. My friend Laura Grant is in the photo below in the purple turtleneck.

Annual Winter Meeting of the Garden Writers Association at Canada Blooms

Martha was introduced to Veronica Sliva, National Director, Garden Writers Association.

Annual Winter Meeting of the Garden Writers Association at Canada Blooms

My friend Laura pushes me in there and says, “Your always taking pictures of other people. Get in there.” She takes my camera and snaps our photo.

Annual Winter Meeting of the Garden Writers Association at Canada Blooms

There were several other people who were taking pictures. Barbara Phillips-Conroy, Sarah Battersby, Donna Balzer and Gayla Trail all posted photos on the Internet.

If I had to do it over again I think I would have taken the initiative to introduce more of the people who were there. I would have done it in groups such as, “These are the people with garden radio shows, and these are the people with garden books out this spring, and these are the garden bloggers...” But hindsight is always 20/20.

Martha spoke with us for about 15 minutes. It was really nice of her to do. It was really casual and friendly. I think most of the people who were there will remember it forever. Certainly all other Garden Writer luncheons will be compared to this one.

After this Martha left to finish her tour and then have some lunch.

Eileen Koteras Elibol and Laura Grant

I stayed at the luncheon until 2:00 and snuck out during a break to photograph Martha's presentation on the Grey Power Stage.

Photographers were allowed to sit in front of and below the audience. While I was there I met a Ryerson Journalism student, CiCi Fam.

Mark Disero and CiCi Fam

Over CiCi's shoulder you can see Michael Penney of Canadian House & Home. Mr. WILL-W, WaterlooHeather and Ashley Minnings, Canadian Gardening online, were also covering Martha's appearance for their blogs.

Here are a couple of videos that were shot by others that day.

Martha Stewart on the Grey Power Stage, Canada Blooms 2010

If the Canadian Press clip above doesn't play on the yahoo.com website try The Globe and Mail video archive.

I love the photo below. This one shot made all the work, running around, worth it. I consider it an iconic picture of Martha. The angle, her calm yet assured stance, her radiant expression, and the unmistakable “Power” from the Grey Power sign make this a once in a lifetime image. It is as if she is rising from a sea of tulips. Click on the photo to see a close up.

Iconic picture of Martha Stewart on the Grey Power Stage

After this Martha left the building to continue on to a Home Depot store to see how her new product line was being displayed.

I returned to the luncheon to pick up my swag and then head home.

The next day I had to return to Canada Blooms to photograph Anna Pavord, writer of the new book Bulb. I had spoken with her publicist and we figured that this would be the easiest place to meet. I ran into someone from the Canada Blooms staff that I knew and he said, “People aren't happy with your behaviour yesterday.”

“What?” I was in shocked.

“They didn't appreciate your behaviour. They would have expected it in the United States, but not in Canada.”

First, I was shocked, and then I was insulted.

I can only assume that Home Depot wanted her to be photographed. Why else would they have put her in the bright orange apron?

Most of you who are reading this right now are American, but I think both Canadians and Americans were insulted here. Was he saying that Americans are too pushy? Or was he saying Canadians are expected to take bad pictures. (What? Is the back of someone's head, or a picture of them chewing or talking good enough for Canadians?)

And then I realized, she was never scheduled to go to the Garden Writers. I went over someone's head to make this happen. That must be why someone is angry.

Life is funny. When you are a child of immigrants you never quite fit in. You can't relate to the old world and you are always made to feel slightly like an outsider in the country of you birth. But when I met my Horticultural and Garden Writer friends I knew I had found “my people.” And if stepping on a few toes is what I have to do to bring some happiness and excitement to “my people”, well then, toes are going to be stepped on.

The reality is that this bothered me all day. It sat in the pit of my stomach like indigestion. He wouldn't tell me who had said this so it nagged at me.

Later, I went home and checked my email. Someone new was following me on twitter.

I realized one thing pretty quickly. I don't think it was Martha that was angry with me, because there she was, following me on twitter.

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If you are hosting a garden related event in the GTA and would like it covered in gardentoronto.ca or would like to place an e-poster about it on our Events Calendar, just contact me. I am always delighted to promote anything gardening in Toronto.

Mark Disero

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