That cultural accuracy translates into real Hawaiian hula dancers and drummers in traditional dress. It means feather-workers and flower-weavers demonstrating their ancient crafts. And it means dishes like Maui fish stew and green papaya salad in the show's new restaurant.
That's the plan, anyway, and it differentiates 2012 from other years by a few degrees. While most Flower Shows include flourishes of reality, the productions are typically steeped in sentimentality and popular stereotypes.
The 2007 show, Legends of Ireland, for example, showcased a youthful troupe of heritage musicians and dancers from the Aran Islands, which proved very popular. But for the most part, the exhibits - and vibe - were heavily infused with faeries, leprechauns, enchanted castles, and forests.
Horticultural Society efforts to get real with the Hawaiian theme have been guided, to a large extent, by Kainoa Daines, sales director for the Oahu Visitors Bureau in Honolulu.
Daines - whose maternal grandfather was from Wilkes-Barre, served as a soldier in Pearl Harbor in 1943, and, after the war, married and settled in Hawaii - has had a huge influence on the show. He has reviewed designs for the central feature and surrounding "showcase gardens," entertainment options, menus, banners, and signs, "anything with cultural tones to it."
'A real story'
Including punctuation. Most Americans - Hawaiians, too - don't use so-called diacritical markings, such as the 'okina, an open quote mark that aids in the pronunciation of words like Hawai'i or O'ahu. Tourism promoters prefer that the markings be used, and they should be in evidence at the show.
"My message has been let's have a little fun, but let's tell a real story," says Daines, who attended the Kamehameha Schools for native Hawaiian children and, over the last decade, has undergone a kind of cultural awakening. He's now studying traditional hula and Hawaiian language, experiences he believes have immeasurably informed his professional mission.
Daines praises the Horticultural Society for "being very open to our suggestions and direction." For example, early plans called for a volcano in the show's main feature to erupt amid "natives cowering at the bottom of the volcano," a scenario Daines called "cheesy."
"We can do the fire, but Hawaiian culture is not boring. Let's tell a real story," he says. "We can make this fun and still culturally appropriate." Cowering natives were out.
A different hula
Lemheney, who visited Hawaii three times in the last year to prepare for the show, believes cultural authenticity will greatly enhance its appeal. But it may bring surprises, too. "The hula may not be what people expect. Hawaiians are very proud," he says, citing their distaste for the cartoonish images of lightning-fast hips and coconut underwear. Ironically, those images were cooked up a century ago by island officials trying to boost tourism.
"Now we're trying to fix that," says Daines, who will attend the show as a "cultural ambassador." He also intends to visit his Pennsylvania relatives while he's here.
Bottom line: The Flower Show is a show. "The purists will probably disagree, but I don't look at plants like they're in a museum. You have to give people a total experience," says Lemheney, who came to PHS in 2003 from Disney.
The 2012 experience includes a few changes.
Horticultural Society president Drew Becher says that, after surveying show visitors in 2011, and listening to exhibitors and others at a three-day "flower show summit" in November, he has tried to address long-standing complaints by adding more seating, updating signage, unclogging the aisles, adjusting the lights, and grouping vendors by theme.
"We want to have the Flower Show and PHS be more open to hearing complaints about what doesn't work, so we can make it work for you," Becher says.
For the first time since 1996, when the show moved to the Convention Center from the Civic Center in West Philadelphia, the main feature is to the right of the entrance to A Hall. It's always been directly in front of visitors as they walk in, which tends to encourage impenetrable scrums; now, the crowd can walk in, hang a right, and keep on going.
Which will be a bit of an adventure because, in the interest of keeping visitors engaged and on their toes, there is an entirely different floor plan. "People say, 'I don't come every year, because the show doesn't change dramatically,' " Becher says. "We have to make it exciting and different every year."
With so much change, it may be time to embrace the aloha philosophy. This simple Hawaiian greeting, like the culture it embodies, is actually quite subtle and complex: Alo means share in the present moment; oha translates into joy, ha means life energy.
On with the show.
The Philadelphia International Flower Show opens to the public next Sunday and
runs through March 11 at
the Convention Center, at 12th and Arch Streets.
Contact staff writer Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or email@example.com.