Flower Show continuing until Sunday

Photo credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
Photo credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
Photo credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
On Fido Friday, March 8, from 5-8 p.m., guests can bring their dogs to the Flower Show. Photo credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
Photo credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

By Donna Zitter Bordelon

This week, the Pennsylvania Convention Center is host to a venerable institution – The Philadelphia Flower Show. Time to give winter-weary residents in the Philadelphia area an early taste of spring. The Flower Show is the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s biggest fundraising event and has featured in its programming since the Society’s inception in the late 1820s.

This year’s show features a variety of displays intended to reflect the theme of “United by Flowers.” Both professional florists and hobbyist plant growers (very serious hobbyist plant growers) compete to win the show’s prestigious prizes.

Some of the most elaborate displays were the work of professional florists for whom victory may provide a competitive edge to their business. An eye-catching display near the entrance, “America in Bloom,” was a huge flowered map of the United States. The colored pattern of the flowers on the map was intended to show plant hardiness zones. But it was the map’s brightness and large scale that probably grabbed most visitors’ attention.

In a nearby exhibit, the American Institute of Floral Designers displayed a series of showcases highlighting flowers from specific parts of the world. I especially liked “Hawaiian Serenity,” a homage to the “diversity of lush vegetation and flowers in unique ecosystems” in the tropical rainforest of the “Garden Isle” of Kauai. Also impressive was “The Windmill,” a colorful floral rendition of an old-fashioned Dutch windmill, as well as “Frosty Niagara,” in which the famous falls in winter are reimagined as cascading bands of icy blue and white flowers.

“Circle of Color,” a large display of tulips by longtime show participant Jacques Amand of London, England, supplied a welcome burst of color.

Several local high schools and colleges created interesting displays. W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences included an old tractor and other artifacts of human habitation in a display that seemed to portray them being slowly reclaimed by nature, down to the blades of grass growing out of the top of the exhaust. Temple University’s thought-provoking display provided an environmentally informed vision of the city’s Pennsport neighborhood. Somewhat less impressive was the U.S. Geological Survey Team’s Interagency Bee Lab presentation of pictures of bees with what appeared to be some unscientifically labeled specimens. There was literature providing the government’s recommendations for planting bee-friendly gardens, but the vast majority was directed to gardeners in other parts of the country.

In the PHS Hamilton Horticort, plant growers of all levels of experience compete in a judged contest of the best plants in numerous categories. Prickly cactus, billowing sedums, eye-catching orchids, “Grand Old Plants” and miniscule miniatures attracted visitors’ close attention to their details. Whoever managed to cut their ivy into a Scotty dog and a turtle did good work.

Beyond the Horticort were aisles of shops and vendors that make their appearance at each show.

The highlight of the Flower Show should be the outpouring of color provided by flowers, reminding visitors that a vibrant spring is coming soon. Several of the displays that I mentioned fulfilled this aspiration. However, they seemed too few and far between. There seemed to be fewer professional exhibitors overall, considerably more empty aisle space, and a surprising lack of flowers or sufficient numbers of flowers in too many of the displays. One trash-strewn display of seemingly random plants intended to represent the “ditches and embankments along our roadsides” was unfortunately too true to life. Displays featuring herb gardens might provide interesting ideas for gardeners, but they do not make impressive floral displays.

In years past, I always marveled at the show’s entrance. I wasn’t the only one. There was always a traffic jam of bedazzled showgoers looking up and out and around at what was essentially a vast canopy that surrounded you with colorful flowers. This was the WOW moment. This year I also said WOW but for a different reason. Subaru, formerly a main corporate sponsor of the Flower Show, was absent this year, as was Pennsylvania’s state store system, which had added gin “blossoms” to the show by providing attendees with abundant tastings of many varieties of wine and liquor. Without these features and with the overall lack of flowers, this year’s show left much to be desired. ••