Features and foibles of the Flower Show

Folks mill about Big Ben Plaza, the show's central feature.
Folks mill about Big Ben Plaza, the show's central feature. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 09, 2013

So here's a totally random take on Brilliant!, the British-themed Philadelphia Flower Show that wraps up on Sunday: a few flashes of brilliance, a lot of good stuff, some fumbles and, as always, awful food.

Ripping it up

JACK was the haunting treatment of "Jack the Ripper," by Schaffer Designs. There were long lines all week, with waits of up to 90 minutes. The Pennsylvania Convention Center had to put up stanchions to keep order.

There's wisdom here.

"If people want to 'see pretty,' there's a lot of 'pretty' at the show. This is floral art," said Bill Schaffer, who designed the "Best of Show/Floral" exhibit with his wife, Kris Kratt.

Let the games begin

Hamilton Horticourt is the $1 million pavilion for plant competition. It's cheery, spacious, and superbly lit. The interactive videos are fun; the signs identify and explain; and the plants are beautifully staged.

Even noncompetitors can appreciate the Horticourt. Where else can you see plants with names like Pachystachys lutea?

Head this way

The chance to design these $10 DIY floral fascinators - also bracelets, combs, barrettes and wands - drew crowds of women to the Make & Take Room. Some made two and three at a time, and paraded them around the show.

Humor at the flower show: Excellent.

Have a seat, not a bite

There is one show feature that is neither funny nor excellent: The food. Even the tuna fish is gross.

But here's good news: There's more seating this year, some intentional and some not.

The Convention Center added tables and seats in the third-floor cafe, and the walls around Big Ben Plaza, the show's central feature, were just the right height for sitting.

But that was not as it was intended.

"[The low walls] are a design element. We try to discourage sitting on the exhibits," said Alan Jaffe, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the show.

That was news to folks like Mary Farley of Hammonton and her friend Amelia Rumpf of Winslow Township, who plunked themselves down on a wall the other day.

"They really need more chairs around here," Farley said, "and if they don't want people sitting here, put a sign up. We're not sitting on the plants."

So people took full advantage, as they did on the low walls in the Grand Hall, which houses the shopping venue called English Village.

Which means there's been a lot less grousing about seating, a perennial flower show pain, at Brilliant!

This leads one to wonder: Why not include seating as a "design element" in 2014?

Project this

Some grumbled about the video projected onto Big Ben. One disgruntled woman delivered her verdict with a succinct "TV!"

There also was a lot of bobbing and swaying and singing along. Audiences often applauded, and some of those clapping were actual senior citizens.

"It was cute," said Edward Rutecki, 78, a retired auto technician from Townsend, Del., who, incidentally, was sitting on a low wall near Big Ben.

Speaking of the English Village

Blimey, what a strange mix: Daughters of the British Empire, Welsh Group Tours, Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe, Langhorne Carpet, Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits, and DiBruno Brothers.

You know: Ye Olde DiBruno Brothers.

Leave me alone

Walking through the Grand Hall Concourse is to feel like Desirable Demographic on Parade. The route is lined with people vying for your attention - cruise planners, banks, tourism outfits, home remodelers, Green Mountain Energy, and SugarHouse Casino, where you're invited to play Plinko - winners get a canvas tote; losers, a pack of wildflower seeds. Think about that: Seeds are the booby prize at a flower show.

One day, as the crowd headed for the show, the Green Mountain Energy rep called out, "Do you care about the environment?"

"Yes," one man replied. Then he saw who was asking. "Leave me alone," he barked. "I'm here for the Flower Show."

Let me in

This year the show opened to the public on a Saturday, adding an extra day. That brought first-weekend attendance to about 54,500, compared with 30,000 to 35,000 in years past, when the public wasn't let in till Sunday. Just wondering: Why did it take so long to do this?

Elbow room

And finally, a shout-out to PHS for widening the aisles of the show - and for a fab exhibit with a funky wheelbarrow sculpture and a wall made of kale and collards.

Kudos, too, to Organic Gardening magazine, sponsor of the Garden to Table events featuring local chefs. They were nicely hosted and every member of the audience received a goody bag of garden stuff and samples of truffle popcorn.

The 2014 show theme is ARTiculture, the nexus of fine art and horticulture. Toss in a little truffle popcorn and I'm there.

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

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