10 Reasons to See The Philadelphia Flower Show

It’s Flower Show week in Philly, and refreshed by the excitement of our electricity being restored after four days and the roof tarped against further storms, yesterday I decided to stop moping around in fourteen layers of fleece, shower off the pervading smell of wood smoke and un-cancel somewhat cancelled plans to grab a friend and head up to one of my favorite cities for one of my favorite flower shows.



So glad I did.

If you’ve been planning to attend the PHS Flower Show this year but have concerns about weather, you’ve still got time – the Show ends on Sunday, March 11th.  But if you’ve been on the fence about it… maybe I can persuade you with my somewhat unconventional top ten reasons for grabbing a friend of your own and heading to the Philadelphia Convention Center before Sunday.


If you’re a gardener, hitting a home and garden show
in March is second only to oxygen.

A show warms up the mind and heart, gets you talking plants, and provides a wonderful excuse away from the tedium of your normal workday. Spring is almost here. You’ll feel that truth from the moment you walk in until the moment you leave.



We live within driving distance of Philadelphia.
It’s sort of a no-brainer.

If you’re a gardener and flower-lover living within three hours of a world class flower show, it’s worth the drive to take the day off and immerse yourself in something that professional designers, gardeners, florists and horticultural students have been putting together for a full year.

Plus, if you have English friends who will not stop rubbing Chelsea in your face, or Seattleites who think that the Northwest Flower and Garden Show is where it begins and ends, it’s nice to have a bit of currency in your pocket to pull out during garden dinner parties.

A few tips if you choose to partake in oneupmanship: Use the word ‘darling’ liberally.   Wear an air plant as jewelry. Keep a couple of cutting-edge designer names on the tip of your tongue and compare them ruthlessly to one another.

i.e: “Did you see what Emanuella Williamson pulled off at The PHS Show this year?  Beat Bunny Guinness to a pulp darling. Fabulous!”




There’s always a take away.

Usually many.  Even with hundreds of larger-than-life examples of what you LOVE but you know you’ll never do, there are always a couple of garden, décor or entertaining ideas you just might try.

This year for me: cutting my newly downed ash and cherry trees into plate chargers, and turning one of my newly created stumps into a ‘stump fountain’ – consequently making me less bitter about the newly formed holes in my deck and roof.



A great theme: The Wonders of Water.

Somewhere in the back of every gardener’s mind there is a water feature waiting to be born.  It might be a full-on pond or just a small deck fountain, but the best way of transitioning that idea from the back of your mind to your garden (other than paying someone else to do it) is to walk a massive show floor filled with all the ways in which you are missing out if you don’t finally take the plunge.

Pun so intended, but I’m sorry nonetheless.




Access to great speakers.

There’s always a place to sit at The PHS Show and be dazzled by other people’s creativity playing out before you – whether it’s at the Designer’s or Gardener’s Studio on the show floor, or in one of the numerous conference rooms booked with fascinating speakers.

This year, Martha was there.  She’s got a new book out and a girl’s gotta sell it. Though I have been accused by mean-spirited friends of secret slavish devotion to this woman and her methods (which I adamantly deny – usually while tucking a fern frond into a napkin), I have to admit that it was nice to share some of the same oxygen with a cultural icon for a few moments.

Approximately 3,000 people were sharing it first – but that’s beside the point.


Yes, I know her face is obscured by a flower. But isn’t that just the tiniest bit apt?


A chance to see some of your favorite plants blooming
in completely unreal (but incredibly fun) combinations.

Yellow witchhazels with orange coneflowers. Pink hellebores with yellow snapdragons.  Miscanthus geometrically arranged in well-behaved eight-inch clumps. For gardeners and would-be gardeners, it pays to remember that the Philadelphia Flower Show is a flower and design show first, and a gardener’s show second.  Though it was originally created as a showcase for area horticulturists and gardeners (and gardeners can still enjoy the masochistic thrill of seeing other people growing plants better than they can in the Hamilton Horticourt), The Show is about making your heart start beating and your eyes start watering.

This may bother you.  I have serious gardener friends who make a point of missing it, preferring I suppose to stare at a few withering Daphne flowers within a sea of brown-grey that characterizes their own gardens right now.  I just don’t happen to be above a bit of witchhazel and coneflower to get my blood pumping and make me remember how much I love the color orange.


Glad I could see what might only play out in my imagination.


The Reading Terminal Market for lunch.

Food, baby.

Beautiful glorious food in all it’s beautiful, glorious forms.  Leave the parents desperate to find chicken nuggets for tired children at the Convention Center kiosks and head across the street to Reading Terminal Market where you’ll gasp at the incredible choices – lobster macaroni, melt-in-your mouth ribs, crepes covered in chocolate and cream, Philly cheesesteaks and Greek gyros.  My favorite is the little Thai place in the back right corner for a grilled salmon curry and a spot of Pad Thai.  You’ll know it by the line wrapped around the counter.


Vendors. So. Many.

Damn there are so many good ones too.  And even though I feel like I live at industry trade shows looking at new products at this time of year, there are always great ones that surprise me at the PHS Show.  This year I picked up bundles of handcrafted copper cattails for my soon-to-be pond (told you we all had one in us), a stick of dormant plumeria to go with my other stick of dormant plumeria, 17 plump lily bulbs for my cutting garden, and enjoyed talking to a witty bunch of handsome Australians about their innovative raised garden beds with moisture reservoirs and protective caging called “Vegepod.”

And not because they were witty and handsome either.



Alcohol is available.

None of us need a glass of wine or a beer to walk through a great show filled with plants, cool products and designer gardens.  None of us need a handful of copper cattails.  But after a lovely lunch at Reading Terminal and a chance to catch my breath, I happily forked over an outrageous amount of money to have the pleasure of doing both.

I don’t regret even one dollar.


It’s Philadelphia.

If you haven’t taken time yet to visit this exciting, vibrant city, and you live in the Mid-Atlantic, you are missing out.

Apart from the world class museums, markets, architecture, and restaurants, it just happens to be our founding city, and is filled with so many ways to explore and experience history, you’ll feel like a kid again (one who is interested in school this time around).

If you don’t have time to take time with Philadelphia this year, seriously consider spending a night or two during next year’s Show and plan on experiencing one of America’s best cities when the summer crowds are still months away.

For more information about The PHS Flower Show including hours, admission and accessibility, visit www.theflowershow.com.


By | 2018-03-23T14:40:18+00:00 March 7th, 2018|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.


  1. tonytomeo March 8, 2018 at 7:37 am - Reply

    This is the show that the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show was often compared to.

    • Marianne Willburn March 8, 2018 at 10:56 am - Reply

      I never made it to the SF Show Tony – so can’t compare them, but I haven’t heard great things from those who have gone in recent years.

      • tonytomeo March 9, 2018 at 3:27 am - Reply

        It is not what it used to be since 2009. I remember when it was a small but well done show many years ago in about the mid to late 1990s. Then it got big and spectacular, but not quite as well done as the smaller shows. It was certainly a lot of fun; just not quite as well done. I sort of lost interest after 2009, when the show sold to a rather cliquish group that wanted to appeal to a particular demographic that could not sustain the show. I do not even get press releases anymore.

  2. Brooke Beebe March 8, 2018 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    Lovely writing as usual. You may have convinced me to go next year. I went maybe 7 years ago and was sorely disappointed, but this time I’ll remember it’s design, not primarily a garden show. And Philadelphia is great fun, as you mention. Also loved your piece on “the boy” — it’s bittersweet, but they do come back better than ever. Adult children are great!

  3. Sara March 9, 2018 at 2:12 am - Reply

    I missed this year because the crowds are too much to deal with but I did enjoy the PFS for many years

    • Marianne Willburn March 9, 2018 at 1:31 pm - Reply

      Sounds like you need to head up on a snowy day – not that the drive would be fun, but the crowds are gone.

  4. Kathy Jentz March 11, 2018 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    The couple of exhibits I absolutely loved were two florist displays: the woodland wedding scene and the Falling Water. Always get some good take-aways for my own garden. Wouldn’t miss it!

    • Marianne Willburn March 11, 2018 at 10:22 pm - Reply

      Yes, the woodland wedding was out of this world!

  5. Candy Myers May 3, 2018 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    I think this show is the best. It was worth braving the northeaster storm, sliding on icy streets and being stuck on the train for 3 hours before I made it home. My favorite was the covered bridge & stream.

    • Marianne Willburn May 4, 2018 at 1:16 am - Reply

      Wow – you really had a hard time with travel! I managed to get in and out mid-week, and it really was a great show.

  6. Hi Petal May 18, 2018 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    It is really great articles! Hope to read more 🙂

  7. Memories May 25, 2018 at 6:42 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing these tips. It is very useful 🙂

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