Philadelphia Flower Show 2011

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“So what impressed you the most about the show?” I asked Steve, my husband.  “The crowd,” he replied.  When maneuvering our path through the hoards of people at the flower show earlier, Steve asked me, “How much were these tickets again?”  I responded, “$25 each.”  He then began to consider the amount of ticket sales in his head.

Later I read of a figure of $60 million.  This is not the revenue from the ticket sales, but represents the estimated economic benefit brought to the greater Philadelphia region, the host city of this spectacular flower show held in the Pennsylvania Convention Center.  I could not find the total number of attendees from the opening day in the local newspapers, but I did read this is the world’s largest flower show (something I didn’t realize earlier).  The ticket sale revenues benefit the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and all their efforts as a non-profit organization.  Many of PHS’s campaigns are highlighted by their President in a letter found in the program’s official schedule of events. 

But what impressed me most, beside the size of the event and the crowd attending, is the sheer proportion of the design elements, structures, and floral pieces you see when you first enter the main doors to the showroom.  This year, a replica of the base of the Eiffel Tower embellished with tiny white lights rises from the floor up to the building’s ceiling as if the tip disappears into the evening sky.  My guess is it is about 120 feet wide and 40 feet tall or more.  It is immense.  And it offers a sense of grandeur while inviting the anticipation of the display gardens to be seen on the rest of the show floor. 

My immediate response or reaction to the size of La Tour Eiffel was excitement.  I have a hard time putting it into words, but it makes you understand that this show is big.  I felt this way in 2010 the first time I attended the Philadelphia International Flower Show and saw fifteen foot high floral arrangements in giant urns staged inside huge wrought iron gazebos.  The same feeling occurred this year during my second visit to this show when I saw the tower.  I had to stop looking up however to avoid bumping into the people in front of me – plus I didn’t want to lose Steve in the mass of on-lookers. 

Soon my attention is captured by life-sized animal sculptures made from plant materials and flora.  A lion with its mane and tail made from ornamental grass flowering plumes, a peacock adorned with vivid red roses around its neck, and an ant head with bright lime-green mums.  Around the bend, with (unstaked) Delphinium as tall as me, is a black shiny grand piano stuffed with flowering bulbs.  Taking a couple of steps forward, I could see between blooms two people – artists, painting – in the distance.  There was a live model standing in a garden; an elegant woman in a safire blue dress, quietly posing as they painted strokes on their canvas.  Further down, a dark alley of trees; large trees with a canopy of vertical gardens above, and rain drops dripping below into a long square water garden.  It was designed with an evening feel as if you would discover this secret garden on a stroll.  These are just a few of the artfully thought out creations in the display garden section on the show floor.

As we continued to view each amazing feature by various societies, designers, florists, and landscape contractors, I could tell Steve was beginning to experience similar emotions as myself because he began to lead me through the exhibits and not follow.  This made me smile.  He was impressed with what he was witnessing, and as I had told him in December when we booked our hotel package for this trip, this is more than a flower show, it is about artistic interpretation.  It is meant (at least in my view) to bring out the emotions and senses of plant lovers or just first time visitors, such as Steve.  It also gets you into spring.

Many of the displays, all based on this year’s show theme, “Springtime in Paris”, were beyond the traditional landscape or garden exhibits seen at smaller shows of this nature.  For example, one display was a creation of shadow images, or silhouettes, cast on big white screens achieved by the use of various objects staged perfectly in the reflected light beams.  French ladies briskly walking in dainty dresses, and one soaking in a tub were remarkable tricks to the eye.  There weren’t alot of flowers here, but it certainly invoked the romantic spirit of a spring day in Paris.  Another separate display interpreted the ‘Water Lilies’ paintings by Claude Monet with a large canvas on the ground reflecting the painting’s images. 

As you exit the main display garden areas and enter the competition sections, pieces were smaller but not lacking in any way otherwise.  I especially enjoyed the white mannequin heads with coiffers styled by using botanical cuttings, pods, straw, Amaranthus, cypress, and other types of plant materials. Steve commented that one in particular looked like real hair!  These were created by garden clubs in the area.

About half-way through seeing the vendors in the marketplace section, the crowd was beginning to get to me.  Lucky for us, we had an easy access to our hotel room via a connecting skywalk (the reason why I selected the downtown Marriott, plus their package price for the room, breakfast, and show tickets was worth it).  We decided to take a breath of fresh air outside, rest our feet a bit, and discussed what we saw.  We returned to the show for the last hour and a-half for the best-viewing hour.  It was calmer then, but still busy.  We took that time to check out the award-winning plant specimens in the horticulture area.  Steve enjoyed these too.  I actually crouched on the floor to take a photo of a plant I hadn’t seen before, and noticed it had a first place ribbon.  The only bummer is my camera can’t handle the awkward lighting in these big exhibit halls, so the quality is not up to par.  It was a Serracenia x chelsonni entered by Randy Heffner of Aquascapes.

We finished off our day in Philly by taking a taxi to the Rittenhouse Square District for a night-cap at Tria’s.  As the pouring rain fogged up the taxi car windows, I could not see the city in the dark.  We were looking forward to visiting this place because it was a recommendation by a friend.  It is a wine, beer and cheese style bar.  On Sundays, they offer a special price for first tastings of the evening’s selected wine, beer, and gourmet imported cheese.  Of course, the wine of the evening was from France – how apropos!  The small-plate appetizers were just as tasteful as the beverages. Every bite was a combinations of flavors I had never experienced at any fancy cafe before.  This place was small, comfortable, trendy and the perfect ending to our springtime visit in Philly.

Before heading home, we completed it all with one last walk through the Reading Terminal Market the next morning where fresh and local foods and plants are sold.  I picked up one last plant purchase, an unusual Sansevieria cylindrica.  And some turkey sandwiches to go for the ride.  This is another place not to miss if you decide to go to the flower show.  It is next to the convention center and near the hotel.  Go to Dinic’s for hot roast pork or beef (a.k.a., steakcheese) grinders, but be prepared to wait in line for at least a half-hour during the lunch-time rush (worth it!).  That morning it was quiet at 9 am, and Dinic’s had bags of fresh bread lined up on the counter to prepare for the hustle and bustle of the day to come.

During our drive home, we were challenged yet again with our last crowd – the traffic of cars and trucks on highway 95.  As Steve drove patiently while I read articles about the show, he commented that he would return with me again next year.  But for those of you interested in this year’s, you still have time to go.  The show runs until March 13th.  See or visit where organized bus trips are offered to society members.  See also for the restaurant mentioned and visit my business Facebook page to see a video of the show’s entrance!  C’est magnifique!  Cathy T



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