Displays of brilliance everywhere at Flower Show

Horticultural Society members view the "London Fog" display by Flowers by David of Langhorne at the preview. The group hopes an extra day for the show will bring bigger crowds.
Horticultural Society members view the "London Fog" display by Flowers by David of Langhorne at the preview. The group hopes an extra day for the show will bring bigger crowds. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 03, 2013

For the first time, it's possible to walk into the Philadelphia Flower Show to the tune of "Love, love me do," walk around to the strains of "All you need is love," and head for the exit with "You say yes, I say no" floating out the door with you.

The British-themed 2013 show - "Brilliant!" - isn't a Beatlefest by any means, but the spiritual presence of the iconic Brits is unavoidable. Which seemed just fine with the mostly boomer crowd at the Convention Center on Friday.

They were the lucky attendees of a private preview of the show, which opens to the public Saturday at the center and runs through March 10.

Besides music by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and bands people of a certain age will be unable to identify, the show has a number of other memorable features, as related by show-goers in random interviews.

There are still cellphone photographers every few feet, but visitors loved the wide aisles and long vistas. This is a big change from the narrow paths that caused crowd-clumping in front of the entrance and major exhibits.

"I love the new open aspect. It's so spacious," said Mary Kemp of Trenton.

The verdict on the new million-dollar Hamilton Horticourt for plant competitions was also unanimous. "It's huge and incredible," said Gina Dilley from North Jersey.

The pavilion was underwritten by the philanthropist Dorrance Hamilton, whose plants are regular winners at the show. It is no larger than the old area, but soft LED lighting, new infrastructure, signs, and videos - and smart staging - give the impression of greater space and organization.

And there was near unanimity that while there may not be as many exhibitors as there were back in the day, the 2013 roster is pretty impressive.

In fact, there were lines outside "Jack," an edgy interpretation of the legacy of Jack the Ripper in 19th-century London. The exhibit was designed by Bill Schaffer and Kristine Kratt, who made headlines in 2012 by getting married in the middle of the Hawaii show.

Visitors made comments such as "This seems like a gruesome topic for a flower show," but the line kept moving. Through the darkness it went, past the upside-down red roses interspersed with tiny twine nooses, on to the bed of thorns and other grim scenes, and out into the show again.

All is not edgy. The show is known for its over-the-top floral displays, and this year does not disappoint. There are mammoth urns, troughs, and vases filled to bursting with supersize orchids, lilies, hydrangeas, and roses.

And more roses.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the show and uses the more than $1 million it raises for greening programs, made good on its promise of beautiful English-style roses. They're everywhere - big, silky, and many-petaled, in extraordinary hues.

The show runs an extra day this year, meaning two full weekends and the week in between, which seemed like a no-brainer to most folks. The 2012 show drew 270,000 people in eight days, making it the largest event last year at the Convention Center (followed by the auto show); with a ninth day in 2013, who knows?

And there are no dancers or singers this year, breaking a six-year streak. Instead, video entertainment is projected every hour onto the 38-foot-tall Big Ben that is the show's central feature.

Animated hands twirl around the clock face, and images of Twiggy, the Rolling Stones atop a double-decker bus, and many others pop and twirl, heads bobbing, in Monty Python-style craziness. Set to music, of course, by the Beatles and friends.

Penelope Watkins of Willistown Township, who grew up in Sussex, England, enjoyed every bit of it, which was a common reaction from the agreeable preview crowd. She was different from the rest in one respect, however.

She (blessedly) refrained from describing the show named "Brilliant!" as brilliant.

"Outstanding," she called it.


Want more Flower Show coverage? Read posts from Virginia Smith's "Kiss the Earth" blog on Entertainment, C1. Also, visit www.philly.com/flowershow for photo galleries and more.


Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or vsmith@phillynews.com.

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