October 22, 2012

The Grandest Flower Show-
"The Philadelphia"
Part 1- The Spectacle

For the last 5 years, I've had the honor of judging horticulture entries at the Philadelphia Flower Show. It is the grandest flower show in the New World, exceeded only by the Chelsea Show in London, and some of the Dutch floral exhibitions. The "Philly", as it is known locally, is held in March in a massive convention hall that covers 15 acres. The first impression as you walk into the hall is to gasp at the sheer magnitude of the show, the size of the exhibits, and the stunning complexity of the entire affair. Some of the landscape exhibits are larger than my backyard, yet the exhibits have been set up for less than a week. As your eyes scan to the distant walls, you see great display rifts of flowering bulbs, venerable hanging plants that have been well tended for many decades, and the Marrakesh that is made up of hundreds of vendors selling their garden wares. There are hundreds of plants entered for judging, evaluated by judges from around the country. The entries range from miniature alpine gardens the size of a baseball to formal topiary trees to myriad succulents, ferns, flowering bulbs, and the iconic tulips, jonquils, and Spring annuals.     

Everywhere on the streets in the local vicinity, you see people walking with bunches of flowers and flowering plants purchased at the Show, or people walking to the show as if it were Mecca. The Show is the largest attractor of visitors to Philadelphia in a given year, and the attendance is almost equal to the city's population ! The show is a truly a destination attraction, and the visitors' reactions are interesting to watch as they ogle and photograph the overwhelming displays of plants.       

Main entrance feature, 2012

The show has been staged for over 140 years, likely making it the longest running flower show in the New World, exceeded in longevity only by the Chelsea Flower Show. The "Philly" has morphed over the ages, as have almost all flower shows. The competitive entries for judged plants have decreased, where landscape displays and the vendor's markets have increased. In the years I have judged the competitive entries in several classes, I still marvel at the grandest specimens of some plants I have ever seen. One of the grand champions every year is an impressive Clivia miniata of giant dimensions, movable only by several strong people or a small forklift.

One of the grand landscape displays

The overall impression one gets as you enter the show is awe, followed by a sense of wonder at how the show is staged in less than 10 days from a flat concrete floor, followed by a sense of urgency to see everything as fast as possible. The show is enormous and diverse and overwhelming, but cool, fragrant and exciting at the same time. It is truly a destination to see at least once in a lifetime. I have the honor of seeing the show before the public is admitted as well as working with some of the finest plant people in the business and art of horticulture.      

It is no small feat to get these dazzling plants to flower at this early time of the year. It takes months, if not years, to stage and groom and schedule plants for flowering in the late winter months. To get the flowering bulbs to the show in show-quality shape is an awardable feat unto itself. The artistry, talent, logistics, and costs of staging these displays is commendable on the parts of the vendors and artisans who show their work. If you wish to visit one of the grandest shows in the free world, visit the Philly, in the chilly month of March. The visual and fragrance overload is worth the price of admission alone. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens    

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