Sometimes everything falls into perfect harmony. Like a safecracker opening a massive vault, the management of America’s best and largest flower show pulled off a huge score, as much a tribute to departing president Jane Pepper as to the maturing skills of the recently appointed Sam Lemheney, the show’s director. And perhaps it augers well for the new president Drew Becher. In any case, The 2010 Philadelphia Flower Show is an exceptionally welcome spring pleasure for the public—and I suggest you go this weekend if you haven’t yet. It is worth every penny. Besides, the funds go to the worthy cause of greening urban landscapes across the state. Consider the ticket cost an investment in beauty.
Certainly, beauty is abundant to a degree unusual compared to years past. Two reasons: the lighting was improved and the show’s theme was ideal for a flower show—Passport To The World, resonating with gardens both past and present. Since the show touched every region of the world, it was never boring. In fact, it was uniquely stimulating. A great theme is a powerful tool for designers.
Highlights include a perfect South African exhibit that included a transcendently beautiful giraffe, impressive lion, fantastically constructed parrots and an astonishing series of African tribes. The American Institute of Floral Design in Baltimore won “Best In Show” and “People’s Choice”—well-deserved slam-dunks. This exhibit is the best I have seen in many years.
New Zealand might lack a bit of uniqueness in their native cultivar selections, but way more than makes up for it with a lush and deeply satisfying display of plants, shrubs and trees that perfectly captures the nation’s strong garden spirit. New Zealand should be on every gardener’s “bucket list”. The highlight, to me, was the large, exotic, hot-water and bright bronze sculpture of a weird lizard-like fish amidst the intense plant displays, all perfectly well lit.
I admired the playful work of the folks at Schaffer Designs. They created my favorite last year, an undersea Mediterranean god’s fantasy world, like a hallucination of your favorite 1960s Italian restaurant grotto. This year they tackled the Arctic with “Polar Fantasy”, a multi faceted and dynamic design with a thoughtful nod to climate change. However, the design’s the thing here—and Schaffer pushes the florists’ materials envelope like no one else at the show. It’s both beautiful and strange—a great combination.
Another favorite was Irwin Landscaping of Hockessin, Delaware’s “Atlantic Highway—Maine to Florida”. My kind of small exhibit: dynamic and fun. The theme is a softball to the Irwins, who bash it out of the park. It features a hilarious lobster with Italian pepper claws (they do look like them), and a crazy alligator x fisherman hybrid with an amusing shrimp on the line. Terrific!
B+ exhibit area displays include Outerspaces of Paoli, Pennsylvania’s simple, elegant and sexy spa; Doylestown’s Mark Cook Landscaping and Contracting’s perfectly proportioned azaleas set about an oddly twisted garden shed that looks like an empty fairytale foster home for trolls. Ponds and Gardens of Limekiln (Glenside, PA) make a droll beer garden come to life, edged appropriately with many cultivars based upon the great plant collectors of early 20th century Germany. The pond adjacent to the “bierstube” does not fit well, but everyone else likes it, so there you are.
Solid “B”s include Moda Botanica’s shipping containers—a daring treatment of the cutflower trade’s ubiquitous but unknown world: the flowers’ journey from field to shop. It is well done here, overdone there, and superb in one inspired section: a winding lattice-like “escape” of brilliant scarlet/orange edged gloriosa lilies scampering through the rough looking graffitied, box-car-like exhibit. Indeed, like the gloriosa lilies, the entire display gives new meaning to the phrase “over the top”. Check it out.
Another solid “B” was the seductive bamboo grove by Michael Petrie Handmade Gardens, he of the strange and wonderful painted trees last year. Intentionally dark, in a dark hall, the hidden cultivar displays set beneath the handsome bamboo are sensational, but difficult to see with the weak flashlights provided in plastic buckets at the entrance. The “night” effect was, therefore, a bit flat. Could have used an LED full moon overhead. I wanted to like it more but my eyesight is not quite good enough, especially after becoming adjusted to a well-lit show.
No mention of the main exhibit hall is complete without Jane Pepper’s “well-wishes” display from her native Scotland. Sweet, whimsical and made with love, it is a delightful and uplifting design, meticulously well executed, and a fitting testament to a classy professional and great leader of the PHS for 29 years.
In the “middle” area, where non-profits mingle with judged specimen displays and both surround a new, deluxe PHS information, display and question desk, the stand-outs include The Mid-Atlantic Horticulture Therapy Network, with their simple, clear and well-staffed booth; Camden City Garden Club’s excellent plant displays and Campbell’s Soup tank (ha ha); W.B. Saul High School’s strikingly handsome Statue of Liberty; and Temple/Ambler’s excellent, informative and interestingly constructed urban ecology exhibit. Finally, Bartram’s Garden at the Fairmount Park’s display showed the many Philadelphia native’s greatest treasures from his exploration trips.
The flower and plant judging areas include some spectacular Begonias this year, as well as Clivia and a few breathtaking Cacti and Orchids. All of the entries were very well grown—a tough job in this unusually dark, harsh winter.
Very little, alas, was new in the Market Place. Hand-made honey soaps and artisanal vinegars are no longer new. Potpourri drives this dog off his gut-wagon every time, and I also walk briskly by what I call the “angst sculptures” of shiny, happy families.
On the other hand, there are several local rare plant nurseries, such as Agro-Plants, and something called the “Texas Tomato Cage” nearby Landreth Seeds’ booth, and a wide and deep table of mainland Chinese knick-knacks like those I used to see in Chicago flea markets as a boy. I felt nostalgic. I am an old-fashioned Chinatown junkie, so to speak. I could swim down a river of cheap little wooden toys.
Also, it was nice to see our friends at Cobrahead Tools and duBarry of Ireland boots, my favorite leather Wellingtons and a bargain, believe me.
Last, but not least, the Samba dancer was so good she gave me a wild case of vertigo.
Can’t wait for next year!
If you haven’t gone, GO. It lasts through tomorrow and all day Sunday.