"I'm enjoying every moment," said Rosemary McDermott, a retired lawyer from Rocky Ridge, Md., who hadn't been to the show for 30 years but couldn't resist "Springtime in Paris," this year's theme.
The preview drew 9,000, which the Horticultural Society said was a record. The show opens to the public Sunday and runs through next Sunday at the Convention Center.
Annual attendance ranged from 210,000 to 265,000 during the last 10 years, raising about $1 million a year for PHS's "greening" programs. According to a recent report by the tax and audit firm KPMG L.L.P., the show also pumps about $61 million into the regional economy each year.
On Saturday, the preview crowd checked out the competitive classes, the floral and landscape displays, and the more than 180 vendors. One thing most visitors seemed to agree on: There's more room to walk this year, starting at the entrance to the show.
"Definitely more room for walking. I like that," said Nancy Sicoransa from Newtown Township, who comes to the show every year with friends.
Another new thing: Exhibitors can promote themselves with signs and videos. Previously, they sat outside their exhibits, answering questions and handing out business cards and pamphlets.
Stoney Bank Nurseries in Glen Mills, whose exhibit "Rooftop Paris" is one of the showcase gardens in the front of the show, has a 25-square-foot screen embedded in the back of its display.
Owner Jack Blandy said in an earlier interview that the change "signifies the realization that exhibitors can't remain in the show if there's not some kind of economic benefit to their business out of it."
Some grumbled about the change, considering it too commercial. But Kelly Shenk, a fifth-grade teacher from Galloway Township, N.J., said she found the Stoney Bank video "inspiring, not tacky. It's tastefully presented, and, let's face it, these businesses need financial backing and support.
"More power to them."
The Stoney Bank exhibit, with its rooftop kitchen, created a buzz, as did a few others: "Underground Paris" by the American Institute of Floral Designers, a depiction of Paris' catacombs; "La Vie en Rose" by MODA Botanica, modeled on the life of French chanteuse Edith Piaf; "Urban Graffiti Shadow Art" by Michael Bruce, scavenged household items artfully playing with light and shadow; "Le Tour de France" by J. Downend Landscaping, a whimsical riff on French culture and cuisine; and "Phantom of the Opera" by Celebrations Design Group, a moody take on that classic.
At every Flower Show, one exhibitor seems to pop onto the scene in a big way. This year, that could be first-timer David Fierabend of Groundswell Design Group in Hopewell, N.J.
His exhibit is called "Monet's Allée." Visitors walk through it on planks made from old barn siding. On either side are water-lily ponds containing fish and colored pebbles made from recycled automotive and industrial glass, and rows of fiberglass trees.
The "leaves" are green walls, and the branches drip "rain" into the ponds. It's dark.
"Very dramatic. It's sort of magical," said Paige Cottingham-Streeter of Washington, a newcomer to the Flower Show who had just walked through the allée.
Another new feature of the show is the Floral Showcase, which highlights floral designs and designers from the region.
This is another of the changes instituted by Drew Becher, who became president of the Horticultural Society in 2010 and wants to give greater emphasis to the cut-flower industry.
On Saturday, Leslie Miklos, a florist from Mickleton, fashioned a hand-tied bouquet with floral products made by Oasis, a sponsor of the exhibit. The products, including a gold wire for tying stems, were available for purchase at a stand near the Floral Showcase.
"I like to arrange flowers for myself, and that wire is really great. I'm going to go buy it right now," said Melissa Molinini of Devon.
Saturday's Major Awards
Best in Show
Showcase Garden, Floral: Jamie Rothstein Distinctive Floral Designs, "Le Salon des Fleurs"
Showcase Garden, Landscape: Burke Bros. Landscape Contractors Inc., "Timeless Paris"
Display Gardens: Floral-Schaffer Designs, "An American in Paris"
Display Gardens, Landscape: EP Henry, "Chez Henri: Dinner and a Movie"
Invitational, Landscape: J. Downend Landscaping, "Tour de France"
Plant Societies: American Orchid Society, "It's Always Spring in the Orchid Conservatory"
Nonacademic Education: American Horticultural Therapy Association, "Liberte Egalite Accessibilite"
Academic Education: Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades, "A Garden in the Bayou"
Awards of Distinction
Showcase Garden, Floral: American Institute of Floral Designers, "Underground Paris"
Showcase Garden, Landscape: Michael Petrie's Handmade Gardens, "La Toile du Jardin"
Display Gardens, Floral: Flowers by David, "Reves de Fleurs"
Display Gardens, Landscape: Waldor Orchids, "Vacherot and Lecoufle"
Invitational, Landscape: Mark Cook Landscape & Contracting, "En Fin de Journée" (At Day's End)
Academic Education: Delaware Valley College, Ornamental Horticulture and Environmental Design, "Post-Industrial Agriculture and Urban Art"
Nonacademic Education: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region III, "Botanique Naturale"
Plant Societies: Delaware Valley Fern and Wildflower Society, "L'Art des Fougères" (A Study in Green)
Delaware Valley College, Ornamental Horticulture and Environmental Design
Philadelphia International Flower Show
When: Through next Sunday.
Where: Convention Center, 11th and Arch Streets.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, and 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: Online and at selected retailers they are $25, $20 for students ages 17 to 24 with ID, and $15 for children. Tickets at the box office are $30 Sunday, $26 weekdays, $28 Saturday and next Sunday, $20 for students, and $15 for children.
Contact staff writer Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.