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Green Acre #466: A Floral Flop?

The Philadelphia Flower Show featured a few spectacular window boxes. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

THERE WERE many happy faces at this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show. Was I the only grinch? Let’s get to the good stuff first.    

Creative re-use was a major theme. A shipping container nestled in a riot of greens and tulips was converted into a delightful dining room. A TV armoire from an earlier era, when sets were deep and bulky, was transformed into a colorful garden shed topped with a green roof and painted butterflies and hummingbirds flitting about. A couple of rubbish-filled vacant lots were transformed into wildflower rambles. And a do-try-this-at-home archway made from mismatched picture frames painted gold and ebony provided support for climbing vines. 

A plant-filled terrarium at the Philadelphia Flower Show. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Several gorgeous table settings bloomed with stunning flower arrangements—including a few with flowers forming umbrellas over the china and crystal. 

There have always been competitions at the show, for things like orchids, azaleas, miniatures. But other than a few spectacular flower boxes and one breathtaking urn, piled sky-high with blossoms and trailing greenery, there were too few fantasy competitions. 

Where were the high-wire acts of yesteryear (a/k/a pre-Covid)? Gardens where roses jostled tulips, and pansies might rub shoulders with mums. Gardens with flowers that have no business blooming together, impossible for the amateur to replicate, there for the dazzle. 

This garden shed at the Philadelphia Flower Show was once a TV armoire, from the era when TVs were bulky things. Note the green roof. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

One from a decade or so still haunts me. It could have been Savannah—Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil comes to memory—the scene after a party on the terrace of one of those wonderfully decadent homes with a frilly wrought-iron balcony strung with moss, overlooking up-ended wine glasses, tipsy tablecloths, the surroundings flamboyant with vines and flowers.  

This year the emphasis seemed to be on entries from garden clubs and schools and included some strangely funny categories. “Plants Grown in Artificial Light in an Office,” for example, included an award to a rather small tradescantia, the most stupidly easy plant on the planet to grow.  

Well, not everyone got a prize at the Philadelphia Flower Show. At least Baby, LittleBird Stephanie’s daughter, Monica, hopes not. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

There were far too many plants growing in teacups, which seems to be a thing, and too many plants that looked as if they came directly from a grocery or garden center.  I have several at home that coulda been contenders. Oh! The ribbons I missed out on. 

Almost everyone that entered got a prize, as if this were nursery school. No hurt feelings! My favorite was “Plant(s) Grown on a Stuffed Form.” Note the parenthesis around that “s”: There was only one entrant, a foam block stuck with a few green sprigs. It won third prize. Third prize is quite a feat when there’s only one entry. 

Here’s looking at a bunch of mirrors transformed into a garden arbor. Creative re-use was a major theme at the Philadelphia Flower Show. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

I spoke to several people at the show; reactions were mixed. Two friends who’d traveled from Allentown, Pennsylvania, that morning said they loved it, though they felt there were more vendors than flower displays this year. Another woman, from Virginia, looking at a flower arrangement said, I can walk into Trader Joe’s and re-create this for 40 bucks. The lighting is also very weird.

I’ll second that. Several areas looked as if they had no direct lighting at all. 

Kathy Jentz, editor and publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine, co-author of The Urban Garden, who was a guest speaker at the event, and a far kinder gardener than I am, messaged: It is very hard to be everything for everybody I commend PHS [Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, creators of the show] and all its volunteers for all the hard work they do. She was particularly pleased with the roster of speakers and the revival of the educational component. Not including or referring to myself, of course!  

I think a lot of people go with weird expectations and they also don’t read the signage, so they don’t get a lot of the conceptual flower art, she added. And there I was, wishing for more.  Kathy’s podcast review can be heard here.

We haven’t cut back on any production elements for the Show post-Covid, said Grace Savage, media contact for the show, in an email. If anything, this post-pandemic world has challenged us to be even more thoughtful and intentional about continuing and growing the areas of the Flower Show that work well and deliver a great experience for our guests. 

She took mild issue with my feeling that there were fewer major exhibits than usual and apologized for my disappointment: The 2024 Flower Show featured over 30 major floral and garden exhibits—designed by a crop of world class designers, all of whom are making headway within the garden and horticultural industry.

Which does sound like they’re not quite there yet. 

The Hamilton Horticourt, where I’ve focused my snippiness, is for non-professionals, she said. It features primarily houseplants and other designs that are more achievable but still inspirational. Anyone, she added, regardless of experience level, can participate.  

Perhaps people don’t want to see what they can’t replicate? I hope not. So what, you can’t make it, or have it. The flower show should always be a not-to-be-missed field of dreams. May it be so again next year.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your take.

A “vacant lot” at the Philadelphia Flower Show was brought back to life with wildflowers and brambles. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.



One thought on “Green Acre #466: A Floral Flop?

  1. Nancy G says:

    We haven’t been to the Flower Show in years, but I remember one particular one. I think the theme was flowering bulbs, and it was spectacular. So wonderful, in fact, that we promptly purchased two dozen assorted flower bulbs and planted them. Of course, only a few showed up, and of those, fewer actually had flowers. My black thumb hasn’t changed color since then. Sorry this year was a disappointment.

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