Philadelphia Flower Show blends art and horticulture

Friends Nanlee Hollis (left) of Medford, NJ and Ann Bagley (right) of Wynnewood watch the vertical dance troupe BANDALOOP perform aerial dance above the floor of the Philadelphia Flower Show's private preview for members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, February 28, 2014 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
Friends Nanlee Hollis (left) of Medford, NJ and Ann Bagley (right) of Wynnewood watch the vertical dance troupe BANDALOOP perform aerial dance above the floor of the Philadelphia Flower Show's private preview for members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, February 28, 2014 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
Posted: March 02, 2014

Every Philadelphia Flower Show has a vibe that gets communicated in a one-word answer to this question: What'd you think of the show?

Here's the word on 2014: Different.

In random interviews at Friday's preview for members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the show, visitors again and again described it that way.

This show is, quite literally, different.

The theme this year is ARTiculture, the nexus of art and horticulture, which is a complete departure from the themes of recent years. They were either all about geography (Hawaii, Paris, Italy) or had themes so vague it was hard to know what they were about (Destination Paradise, America the Beautiful).

But Friday's show-goers said this year's entrance garden - the oversize exhibit at the front of the show that attempts to crystallize the theme - is like nothing they'd ever seen.

What, no rose-covered arch?

The 2014 entrance garden consists of three oversize frames, the largest 30 feet high and 50 feet wide, with huge, mobile-like shapes inside and around them. The spheres and triangles are filled with fresh and dried flowers and grasses, colored stones, rugs of moss, and pieces of glass and fabric. They're surrounded, on the ground, by colorful plantings and vertical topiaries.

"It's so inventive. It's a nice change from the landscapes that have been here traditionally," said Kathy McCracken of Cinnaminson.

The show opens to the public today and runs through March 9 at the Convention Center.

In keeping with the idea of blending the worlds of art and horticulture, PHS paired its major floral and landscape exhibitors with more than a dozen museums in the Philadelphia region and beyond, everything from the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J., to the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, N.Y., the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Designers were asked to interpret a painting, an artist's body of work, a cultural or artistic movement. The result is a show that often resembles a museum or gallery.

On the floral side, MODA Botanica of Philadelphia attempted to translate Storm King's "man-made industrial structures in a natural setting into floral, organic sculptures in a man-made setting," said MODA's Armas Koehler.

MODA's abstract designs are mounted on nine platforms of different heights. Covered in Astro Turf, their surfaces represent the art center's 500 hilly acres.

"I don't have to do anything to make flowers beautiful," Koehler said. "I have to bring a concept to the table."

On the landscape side, Stoney Bank Nurseries of Glen Mills worked with the Brandywine River Museum of Art, creating a pastoral tribute to three generations of Wyeth artists - N.C., Andrew, and Jamie.

Marjorie Virgili of Society Hill thought the Wyeth exhibit was "very lovely," but found it oddly placed between the bright hues of the entrance garden and MODA.

Clearly, for all the compliments, this wouldn't be a Flower Show without complaints.

The much-awaited Butterfly Experience, an interactive, walk-through exhibit involving more than 1,000 domestic and exotic butterflies, disappointed Marty and Linda Spiegel of Swarthmore.

"There weren't very many butterflies," said Marty.

"Underwhelming," added Linda.

This year, PHS brought fragrant hyacinths back to the entrance garden, a feature missing since the show abandoned the Civic Center in West Philly for the Convention Center years ago.

"Can't really smell them," one visitor griped.

"The ones at the Civic Center were purple," her friend said. "These are white."

Even the entertainment - Bandaloop, an acrobatic aerial dance troupe from Oakland, Calif. - drew mixed reviews.

Jane Morris of Chalfont found the dancers, who are wired to the ceiling to allow them to tumble and twist and twirl out over the audience, "marvelous, unlike anything I've ever seen."

But Gwen Pease of Bethlehem, Pa., was dismissive. "I expected a lot more acrobatics up high. This was almost nothing," she said.

PHS members tend to have strong likes and dislikes. It remains to be seen how the general public reacts to ARTiculture over the coming week.

Another unknown is weather, which PHS cited as a reason attendance in 2013 was significantly lower than 2012. (A snowstorm forecast for midweek never actually showed up. Neither did a lot of visitors.)

PHS spokesman Alan Jaffe said Friday that if the forecast of six to 12 inches of snow Sunday evening into Monday comes to pass, the show would be open.

And the crowds? Not a problem.


FLOWER SHOW

The Philadelphia Flower Show continues through March 9 at the Convention Center, 12th and Arch Streets.

Read The Inquirer's coverage at www.inquirer.com/flowershow

Hours: Saturday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; March 8: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; March 9: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tickets: (in advance) $27, $15 for children, $20 for students; (at the box office) $32, $17 for children, $22 for students.

Information:www.theflowershow.com


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