Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Philadelphia Flower Show Fever

I look forward to the Philadelphia Flower Show every year. It brings a splash of color to what is usually a drab winter, heralding the beginning of spring. It’s one of those things that my mom and I like to do together. We like to discuss the exhibits and what we like or don’t like about them. I always go equipped with a small notebook and pen to jot down new plant names or ideas. Surprisingly, I am not one of those people who bring a camera, though. Those are the people that get on my nerves! They’re standing there trying to get the best shot while everyone’s waiting for them to move out of the way. That is the big disadvantage of the flower show — it can be very, very crowded. So crowded sometimes that it’s hard to see the exhibits. I am a member of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, have been for years, but I’ve found the member’s previews are no longer the best time to go. Just too many people anymore.

It is impossible to see everything at the flower show. Maybe if you had an entire free day you could do it — although you’d probably suffer from what I like to call “visual overload” and fry your brain. I really wish you could go back another day to see what you weren’t able to see the first time. I would love to attend some of the lectures, yet I never seem to have the time. I always make time for the main exhibits and smaller exhibits, like the front porch and window box displays. I also make time to see the work by the very talented Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators. Then of course there’s the huge amount of vendors, which I’m always too exhausted to really spend much time perusing. I like to check out the vendor list online ahead of time so I know if there are any specific ones I want to visit. This year I know I want to stop at La Contessa’s booth. She has lovely handmade jewelry. Some of it is too big and bulky for my taste, but the smaller pieces are gorgeous and one of these days I’m going to buy something. Last year it was so crowded I could barely get in the booth to see what was there. For a preview, check out her website: Another favorite vendor was Common Folk Herb Farm, with their wonderful handmade loose tea blends, however they stopped coming the past couple of years:

For many years my favorite exhibits were by Styer’s. The brain behind these exhibits up until 2008 was Michael Petrie. Mr. Petrie is truly an out-of-the-box thinker. His exhibits have that “wow” factor and tend to stick in your memory. I had the pleasure of hearing him give a short talk on his approach to gardening at Longwood Gardens. The all day “symposium” was called “Ideas for Impact” and featured four great speakers. What struck me about Michael Petrie was his rules-busting approach: don’t do what you think you’re supposed to do, what is typical or expected of a garden, or what you read in books — instead, do what you want. Who cares if other people don’t like it, it’s only important that you like it. Your garden should speak TO you and ABOUT you. Really look at things and look at them differently. Imagine what they could be, not what they are at first glance. Be creative and have fun. His exhibits do just that. Some memorable Styer’s exhibits:

• In 2007 he did a prehistoric garden, complete with dinosaurs and a smoke-filled bog.

• In 1998 he used colorfully painted gardening tools to create whimsical sculptures.

• In 1997 the exhibit incorporated tires, of all things, to create planters and sculptures.

• One of my absolute favorite exhibits was in 1995 when he used various sized pots and pieces of pots to create a magical display.

No, my memory is not as good as that. I didn’t remember the years, although I do remember the exhibits. I cheated and looked at Mr. Petrie’s website: In 2008 Michael Petrie formed his own company called Handmade Gardens. He still displays at the flower show and his work is still remarkable. However, I hate to say it, his best work was when he was with Styer’s. Boy, I hope he never reads this. Yeh, like that would happen. No one reads this! Not even my mom!

This year’s Philadelphia Flower Show theme is Hawaii. It runs March 4-11. I’m looking forward to seeing what the exhibitors do with that. I’m expecting a lot of tropical plants, which will be fun to see. Check out the flower show website for more information: For a sneak peak, ABC will be airing their usual flower show preview this Saturday at 7pm.

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