Choosing a theme like “Holland: Flowering the World” gives the Philadelphia Flower Show a great opportunity to surprise and delight the public. After all, attendees already think they know what they’ll see when they walk through that bank of doors and onto the show floor of the Convention Center:
Bulbs, and lots of them.
Sure, there are bulbs (over 30,000 this year), but that’s just the beginning of a show that will open your eyes to the enormous horticultural achievements of the Netherlands. From the massive export market of plant material – which is second only to the United States – to the centuries old practice of reclaiming and repurposing land; gardening, agriculture, and a life in touch with nature are intrinsic to the Dutch experience.
To be able to experience all of this on a day trip makes us fortunate indeed.
Attendees are greeted by a full-size stone and brick canal bridge lined with Delftware tiles and enhanced by the urban container plantings that have made the cities of Holland famous for so many years.
Bicycles are everywhere – but not always as you might expect.
It is fitting that the backdrop of this extraordinary floral display celebrating the bicycle is the vast Ecodome, on the first stop of its inaugural journey around the world.
There are three guest designers here from Holland, and I had a moment to speak to one of them, Nico Wissing, about what he wants the American visitor to take away from his design. “Re-connection” he says. It really is as simple as that – connecting human beings to their outside spaces no matter what those spaces are (hmmm….sounds like a great new book out now, right?).
In Holland, those spaces are often small, urban and difficult, but through the clever, integrated use of re-purposed materials such as chunked asphalt pavers bedded in a grass pathway, or rain chains directing storm runoff into decorative channels, the gardener’s spirit is inspired to look beyond the ideal and create something perhaps even better, expanding on the human desire to create beauty and to nest. (Indeed, this concept is applied literally in a hide-away seating area.)
Wissing is also responsible for the concept of the Ecodome which anchors the show floor and highlights the theme of a country working hard to make a smaller ecological footprint on the world.
American designers have also captured the simple beauty of an afternoon stroll through an urban park, the Dutch abstract art movement, walled gardens, roof gardens, and running through all….an inspiring glance at spring unfurling.
The florist and grower displays take your breath away:
Or make you want to sit down for a quick escape:
One of my favorite “home grown” displays was that of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society, which created a treasured Dutch allotment with recycled materials…
And of course there is the plant nerd eye-candy for those of us who live for such things – the hundreds of award-winning entries from gardeners all over the region, bringing the very best of their plants to be judged in a competition that has been running continuously since 1829. How wonderful to see so many unusual plants in the peak of health!
The Show is not just about the exhibits of course. Opportunities abound all week to visit extraordinary vendors, see a favorite speaker, get great tips from the Designer’s Studio, shop in the bustling bazaar of the World Market, or just relax in the PHS Pop Up Beer Garden.
Children also have tons to do. The Butterflies Live! exhibit provides an interactive showcase of more than 1000 butterflies of 20 species fluttering overhead and landing on little hands trembling with excitement. There’s a Make and Take area where families can design their own flower crown or succulent garden, and a Railway Garden entitled “Holland in Your Backyard.”
Every year I always find a take-away idea at the Show. In fact, I find several, but there is always one that I photograph from several angles, run home, throw them in front of my husband and shout “We’re doing this!” This year’s fab idea came from the students at Temple University, Ambler and solves my “how am I ever going to come up with enough stone to build that retaining wall” quandary.
I’m sure the student designers at Temple would have me copy something far more innovative, such as their copper gutter turbine, but dead trees I have – thanks to the Emerald Ash Borer. Now I’ll have a retaining wall too.
And that’s what the Philly Flower Show does best – it provides an inspiration vehicle in the last (sometimes cruelest) days of winter that allows us see the world through the innovative eyes of a gardener, a world-class designer, an ecologist, or even a fourth grade student winning Best of Show in the Junior Competition.
The show runs from Saturday March 11th through Sunday March 19th at the Philadelphia Convention Center. More information on the show and its extraordinary 188 year tradition can be found here. Tickets available online or at the door.
With many thanks to Alan Jaffe, PHS Senior Director of Communications & Media, for partnering with GWA:The Association for Garden Communicators and other media outlets to bring a preview of the Show to the public.