PHILADELPHIA— Flower fanatics and gardening geeks have made the Philadelphia Flower Show the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural show in the United States. This year the annual show runs March 3–11 with the theme “Wonders of Water,” a celebration of horticulture and water.
An estimated quarter of a million visitors will experience the event over nine days, according to statistics provided by the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (PHS), the show’s beneficiary. No less than 4,000 plants of more than 165 varieties are part of this year’s entrance garden, making it one of the most diverse displays in its history. And it is a long history; the show launched in 1829.
Spread out over the city’s convention center, the show invites visitors into one of our planet’s most varied ecosystems: the rainforest and its vital role as a natural water filtration system. Scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences are on the show floor to provide visitors with information about the various stages of the water cycle in a rain forest: precipitation, flow, and collection.
Visitors are immediately transported to a re-imagined jungle as they enter the exhibit floor under a canopy of exotic flowers. These are displayed on bamboo scaffolding amid the cacophony of exotic bird songs and noises. Overhead, a suspension bridge of 3,500 feet of rope and a 25-foot cascading waterfall are accentuated by vividly colored plants, flowers (orchids, heliconias, and anthuriums), and plenty of large, leafy bushes and trees. Visitors meander through walkways lush with climbing vines and groups of rainforest’s indigenous trees that then open onto another waterfall, a multi-level fall, cascading into a pond.
Dozens of eye-popping floral displays, designed and installed by floral and landscape designers and gardening clubs, illustrate the water theme. Some of the standout exhibits:
Hunter Hayes Landscape Design’s melting mountain of dry ice, surrounded by spring bulbs like daffodils, crocuses, and tulips.
Waldor Orchids uses orchids and tropical foliage to mirror the diversity found in a saltwater paradise in its “Under the Sea” exhibit.
Schaffer Designs’s “Watercolour” is an imaginative blending of three art forms: a mural, flowers, and sculpture, using local muralist Ryan Beck’s abstract 1,280 square-foot mural for a neon-colored, intense floral display.
Flowers by David’s “Cascade” exhibit is inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s home in western Pennsylvania, but focuses on the cantilevered patio structures surrounding the house.
Each year, world-renowned competitions in horticulture and artistic floral arranging are held. All entries to the exhibit must first pass strict criteria, and then entrants’ exhibits are judged on design, horticulture, visitor experience, and other unique qualities, such as cultural perfection (vigorous health and well-formed), distinctiveness (noteworthy in size and appeal), bloom (quality and quantity), fruit (quality and quantity), maturity (size and appropriate foliage), difficulty (challenging to grow), and rarity (seldom grown or exhibited).
Other Exhibits and Activities
Other floral-inspired exhibits spread throughout the floor are the miniature, doll-house size exhibits of flower arrangements, as well as a jewelry corner where high school students, using dried flowers and other foliage elements, make and then show their creations. There is also a front porch floral display area where exhibits are installed in spaces the size of small front porches and decks.
Tours, seminars, and demonstrations about gardening, arts and crafts classes and the perennially popular butterfly exhibit are a few of the daily activities, in addition to the marketplace where fresh flowers, plants and souvenirs are sold.
Proceeds from the flower show support the PHS’s efforts to transform lives and communities through horticulture and greening projects across Philadelphia.
Next year’s theme is announced as soon as the last stem and faded blossom is swept off the convention floor.
Isabelle Kellogg is a writer and public relations consultant in the luxury sector, with a passion for diamonds, jewelry, watches, and other luxury products, including travel.