Color this Flower Show white

Posted: March 02, 2013

Inquirer staff writer Virginia Smith is writing over the coming week from the Philadelphia Flower Show. These posts appeared on her blog, "Kiss the Earth," at Read her stories at, and other Flower Show coverage at


It may be my imagination - been known to happen - but there seem to be an awful lot of white flowers at the show this year. Giant white hydrangeas. Lilies and mums. Roses and roses, great masses of them. Maybe they've been there all along and I'm just beginning to notice - and to think of them as a design element in the garden.

White flowers, especially fragrant ones, are usually associated with moon gardens, designed to light up the darkness. During hot summer afternoons, white can look awful. But in the morning and early evening, you can see the potential. I've grown moonflower vine, which produces a large, soft flower on a fence, and it never fails to draw attention. Maybe it's time to try other things.

Last week, I bought white tulips for the table. Maybe the first time. I usually go for yellow or pink or purple. The white ones look regal, a word not usually associated with my perennially under-construction household, but they ease the pain somewhat.

I associate white with weddings, funerals, religious occasions like Easter. It'll be interesting to see how white flora fares in the harsh Convention Center light. No religious experience, that.

Does this look like an English moor?

Didn't think so, but it may when you get to MODA Botanica's exhibit at the show, called "Fog on the moors." True to its reputation, MODA has taken a very creative approach. The silhouetted moors, which visitors will walk through, are white and gray up top and naturalized plants below. The designers are using eucalyptus, Spanish moss, heather, white mums, and hydrangea - lots of white flowers at the show this year - Scotch broom, heather . . . bubble wrap, hot glue strips, shredded white paper, and white plastic zip ties.

I know it sounds strange and not very evocative of anything other than a Staples garage sale. Actually, I liked it. I like what these folks do every year. They have fun, they're playful, and the results of their work are worthy of conversation.

I must have 100 zip ties at home. And speaking of shredded paper and bubble wrap, I can probably rustle up some of that, too. Maybe I'll make some foggy moors over the weekend. A family craft project.

Nothing says English garden like . . .

Nothing says cottage garden like delphinium, also known as larkspur. Are these not spectacular? I've always heard they're hard to grow, but judging from this display, they're worth a try. Found these at the Trevose Garden Club kitchen garden exhibit. This is one of those show categories you might not seek out, but it's worth a spin. I love kitchen gardens, and since I'm hoping to expand my edible-ornamental beds this summer, I'm paying attention to these.

The Trevose club chose "Anticipation" as its theme, as in anticipation of the new royal who will be born this year, and anticipation for the club's 90th birthday in 2013. (It even has a soon-to-be-90-year-old president!) The exhibit is set up like a baby shower, with champagne. How come I never get invited to baby showers with bubbly?

In any event, the ladies have put together a beautiful, practical little garden. Besides the delphiniums, it includes purple cabbage, several varieties of lettuce, and herbs such as sage and rosemary, and edible flowers like calendula. And I don't know about you, but the petunias I'm seeing ought to be named "Gonzo." Check out Trevose's lavender and dark purple collection. They're not hibiscus-size - yet - but they look grand to me.

They are NOT a helluva bore

I know people who used to call these gorgeous flowers "helluva bores." They're hellebores, of course, Lenten roses or Christmas roses, and you'll see a lot of them at the show. Which is a good thing. They're a fantastic plant. They bloom for weeks in winter, stay green, spread easily, and even make interesting cut flowers. They're attractive out of season, and they come in all sorts of colors, even black.

There's a lot of hybridizing going on, but so far, the colors are subtle, not loud, as seems to be the trend with perennials. And for all you folks with deer problems, hellebores are truly deer-resistant. It's too bad they aren't better known outside of the inner circle of garden writers and enthusiasts. How come the independent garden centers don't hop right on this?

I've been interviewing plant breeders and marketers of new introductions this week for a story down the road. To a person, they fault the trade for not educating consumers about the many choices out there, hellebores included. This topic also came up in interviews for the impatiens story I did recently. What to plant instead of the annual impatiens, Impatiens walleriana, which has been decimated over the last couple of years by downy mildew. (Interestingly, I did see impatiens at the flower show - but not much.)

Many gardeners are going to be caught flat-footed this spring when they can't buy, or are advised not to buy, their usual contingent of impatiens. Opportunity's knocking, folks. There are lots of alternatives out there, and more than a few horticultural types are secretly glad the ubiquitous impatiens is cooked.

Hellebores aren't a summer plant, though you'll find the occasional testimony online to that effect. But they are a winner for winter, right into spring. Look for them at the show. And be sure to take notes.

Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or Follow her on Twitter: @inkygardener.

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