Changes in bloom at Philadelphia International Flower Show

At the Flower Show's Hawaii Village, Johnny Gordines discusses tropical plant care. The village, in the show's Grand Hall, also features hula dancers, musicians, and crafts.
At the Flower Show's Hawaii Village, Johnny Gordines discusses tropical plant care. The village, in the show's Grand Hall, also features hula dancers, musicians, and crafts. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 09, 2012

As we near the end of this year's Hawaii-themed Philadelphia International Flower Show, it's time to take stock:

Fazed by the maze. Based on random interviews, the completely new layout - intended to keep the event fresh, interest high, and visitors on their toes - is bombing with quite a few longtime show-goers. They can't find their favorite exhibits and don't like change for the sake of change, and they're saying so to volunteers from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which sponsors the show. But guess what: Lots of other folks haven't noticed a difference, don't care, or don't mind at all. Vive la change!

Veggie Nation. The show was slow to catch the veggie wave, but it's way caught up now. Vegetables are positively primo this year. PHS' own exhibit spotlights a nifty lettuce wall and heirlooms of all kinds, mixed with beautiful ornamentals such as love-lies-bleeding. Veggies (and fruits) are also central to Williamson Free School's colonial kitchen garden and the Camden Children's Garden's tropical exhibit.

Do sit down. It's the oldest gripes of all that keep popping up in conversation.

"There's no place to sit," says Jane O'Reilly.

"When you first go in, it's so crowded," says Bill, her husband. "People just stand there and won't move."

The couple - he's a retired office manager, she's a "retired mom" - had just claimed a coveted spot on a low wall in the Grand Hall, at the end of a long corridor connecting the show entrance to Market East Station. They were part of an Easton Hospital bus trip to the show, which runs through Sunday at the Convention Center.

Complaints such as the O'Reillys' have topped all others for years, which is what prompted PHS to try to address them in 2012.

Audience benches were added in the Designer's Studio, where the floral competitions are held, and the new cafe has 64 seats, where, of course, you pay for the privilege of using them. But you still see plenty of people sitting on the floor, and on ledges, steps, and low walls around exhibits that say "no sitting."

Straight shot now. Some aisles in the show have been reconfigured, opening up whole sections for easier passage. And in what many consider a no-brainer, aisles in the Marketplace have finally been realigned. They go east-west now, like the show's. Very nice!

Beam me up, please. Traffic around the Central Feature remains problematic. Here's where the dramatic design, flashy light show, and techno music - along with narrated story line, eye-catching waterfall, and hula dancers - are supposed to, literally, stop visitors in their tracks as soon as they walk in the door.

When it happens, they stay a while. It may be a pain for the O'Reillys and others, but it's no surprise. Actually, a fixated crowd is not a terrible problem to have at a show - unless you're working your way through it.

The Man, Woman, and Children Cave. Room 204B, the Man Cave, has been outfitted with a cash bar and munchies, flat-screen TVs, tables and chairs, cushy seats with drink holders, and SugarHouse Casino table games with hostesses in very short shorts. But sometimes men are in the minority.

"We just wanted to sit down and women are allowed in here. Actually, there are a lot of women here," says Ellie Bogle of Feasterville, who is sipping white wine with her husband, Bill. He's enjoying fries and a beer.

There are children in the Man Cave, too, and people without children in the Family Lounge (203), and all sorts of folks in the PHS Members' Lounge (201A), prompting some to wonder: If places to sit and rest are such an issue, why doesn't PHS just make more lounges available to everyone?

The woo-hoos have spoken. In the far right corner of the show, the new Designer's Studio is hosting spirited flower-arranging competitions and solo demonstrations that are a huge hit. Some hard-liners scoffed at PHS president Drew Becher's campaign to bring a reality-TV mind-set to the show's floral sector, but the "studio" audiences are large, the clapping (and woo-hoos) are loud, and there's actual education going on.

Absolute Hawaii. Hula dancers, musicians, crafts, and tropical plants, many featured in the Hawaii Village in the Grand Hall, prove that even a production as fantasy-fueled as the Flower Show can be rooted in, and enhanced by, reality. And may we mention here that those who are performing or selling or representing Hawaii at the show are dazzlingly gracious.

Philadelphia, take note.

Bill O'Reilly certainly did. "People are very discourteous," he says, speaking of the folks who stand in one spot at the show and grow roots.

Pineapple permutations. Maybe those people are just transfixed by what they see. That's certainly the case in the pressed plant material classes. Located near the Designer's Studio, this little gem of a category draws scant attention from the outside world but a lot inside the show. Three deep, people press ever closer to examine the tiny flowers, stems, and petals in framed scenes depicting rain forests, beaches, sunbonnets, and other tropical themes.

Here's a special one: the youth class, for exhibitors 18 or under, who interpreted the hala-kahiki, or pineapple. Children from preschool to 10th grade contributed stick figures with pineapple heads and wide smiles and assorted other pineapple creatures, including a perfectly pocked SpongeBob SquarePants.

It's all so charming, it suggests a new Flower Show feature: a SpongeBob Lounge for 2013. Come on in, everyone, and rest a spell.

See previous Flower Show stories, photos, and Virginia Smith's blog at

Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or

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