PHILADELPHIA—We ran into the Queen, a Beefeater, heard tunes from the Beatles and James Bond-movie-theme songs, as we meandered through eerie Moors and border gardens galore at this year’s Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) Philadelphia Flower Show. The floral fantasyland is the country’s oldest indoor flower show; 2013 is its 185th year.
Celebrating Britain’s centuries-old tradition and passion for gardening, the PHS developed a partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society for this year’s show. It features British experts and landscape designers, including presentations by Mark Lane, Gardens Manager at Buckingham Palace.
For this year’s theme, exhibitors had a go with kitchen gardens, rock gardens, landscaping, tabletops, roundabouts, topiaries, Mad Hatter tea parties, Harry Potter, The Yellow Submarine, umbrellas, even the Crown Jewels and the terribly British “fascinator”—an elegant floral headpiece worn by ladies to special occasions—as subjects and inspirations.
Two years ago, it was the tour-de-force of Paris, and last year it was the pyrotechnics of Hawaii. This year’s proliferation of colorful blossoms, especially English-style garden roses (the ones which actually smell), compete with a lot of green (as in lawns), vertical vegetable gardens, and ground cover, which makes this a slightly more monochromatic flower show than in the past.
The macabre Jack the Ripper interpretation that uses hundreds of red and pink rose buds and thorns stuck into walls and ceilings did leave us feeling a bit cheerless. Then we came upon the 38-foot-tall Big Ben installation with hedge rows, flowering bushes, and a small waterfall.
It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite exhibit, but this year’s spacious layout makes it far more pleasurable to explore the designs and snap photos for future reference and to share with friends on social media.
Starting from the entrance of the flower show, Royal Palace gates and an allée of birch trees leads visitors to the digitally enhanced rendition of Big Ben which acts as a backdrop for a sound and light show.
Among the standouts from the dozens of exhibits are uber-creative MODA Botanica’s “Fog on the Moors.” An interpretation in a vertical sense, the “fog” is Spanish moss, eucalyptus, and ferns intertwined with bubble wrap and shredded white paper hanging from 6-foot high panels.
For the moor, it’s heather, Black Magic Vanda Orchids and Scotch Broom scattered on the floor. You walk between the panels and experience the moors.
For its “Crown Jewels” display, the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) was really clever with floral artistry, from a rose bedecked throne to historic jewels, crowns, and a sepulcher.
Robertson’s Flowers created an enormous roundabout called “A Proper Hodgepodge” composed of five iconically British eras and themes: a 1960’s Mod gala, a wartime potager, a Royal tea party, and a storybook wedding.
“A Tranquil Garden Comes to Life” (EP Henry) features formal boxwood hedges bordering beds of flowering perennials surrounding English statues, cherry trees, and a reflecting pool with fountains.
The exuberant “London Fog” exhibit (Flowers by David) is the one most like a Broadway show set design, with full-size, open umbrellas hanging from the ceiling over a misty pond.
Citing the PHS’s City Harvest program, a vertical garden of kale and collards with a sculpture of artfully decorated wheel barrels, highlights how urban gardeners can use innovative techniques for growing food in challenging spaces.
While the grander schemes provide the “wow” factor, equally exquisite are the miniature exhibits which are comprised of diminutive displays of works of art created by art classes, students, and garden clubs. This year, everything from arrangements, jewelry made from dried plants and seeds, pressed plants, vied with floral hats, dresses made from leaves and twigs to fascinators and miniature window boxes and hanging gardens. These are all judged by a panel of distinguished gardeners and horticultural experts.
Plant lovers and art aficionados will enjoy the Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators’ exhibit at this year’s show with a collection of more than 50 carefully selected paintings that feature daffodils, peonies, hellebores and other flowers found in Great Britain.
If you’re unable to escape to Britain this season, then a side trip to Philadelphia to visit “Brilliant” is the perfect prelude to a spring. Seminars, classes, book signings, tastings, and floral events round out the show which runs through Sunday, March 10, a day longer than last year’s show (www.theflowershow.com).
Isabelle Kellogg enjoys reporting on culture and travel.
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