Flower Show's hits and misses

Susan Kafitz offers samples of chocolate chip cannolis at the Termini Brothers pastry stand at the Flower Show. ED HILLE / Staff Photographer
Susan Kafitz offers samples of chocolate chip cannolis at the Termini Brothers pastry stand at the Flower Show. ED HILLE / Staff Photographer (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 08, 2014

In interviews leading up to the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show, Drew Becher, president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society since 2010, told The Inquirer several times about his desire to "elevate the tone" of the show, which his organization produces.

With "ARTiculture," the 2014 show that runs through Sunday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, he did.

And so, this year's roundup of hits and misses will be surprisingly short on misses. It seems PHS got most stuff right this year.

We can't even fall back on those reliable standbys, "not enough seats" and "bad food." PHS more than doubled the number of chairs this year to 1,100 and added Iron Chef Jose Garces, a second Di Bruno Brothers concession, and Termini Brothers Bakery, which is rocking the Marketplace with free samples of chocolate chip cannolis.

You can still buy enough cheesesteaks, french fries, and, yes, cannolis, to get your dress size up. But you also have a decent chance of finding more adventurous fare.

More hits:

Theme. Blending art and horticulture is a natural, and by pairing exhibitors with museums, the show transcends the geography themes of recent memory. This production is intellectually and horticulturally interesting.

Colorful, too.

Information panels. Panels in front of the exhibits not only explain the designer's inspiration, but also include photographs and information from the museum partner about the artist whose work informs it. (I wish museums did more of this in their own shows.)

Entertainment. Recent years brought us Big Ben and Beatles, volcanoes and waterfalls, Eiffel Tower and light show. Compare those special effects to this year's entrance garden, a solidly textural display that serves as both stage and skyscraper for Bandaloop, an elegant aerial dance troupe from California.

Grand Hall Concourse. Last year, this hallway outside the show was a carnival midway of vendors shouting for visitors' attention. There are but a handful this year, and all apparently got the Emily Post memo.

More good ideas in 2014: Better lighting, more recycling, and moving the lectures and culinary programs inside the show. Last year, when these events were held in rooms along the hallway outside the show, attendance could be shockingly sparse. Now, talks and food demonstrations are full.

A few misses:

"ARTiculture." Unlike the topic and execution of the 2014 theme, the actual word leaves some of us scratching our heads. Like 2013's "Brilliant!", it doesn't telegraph much of anything. Say what you will about those geographic themes, there was no mistaking what "Springtime in Paris" was about.

Butterfly Experience. Things improved as the week went on when hundreds more butterflies were added to Room 202. A popular feature, at $3 a pop, but couldn't more be done to educate people about the importance of growing pollinator-friendly plants - and how easy it is?

The plants are right there, in planters on the floor in the "experience" room, but all attention - eyes and iPhones - are on the 'flies clinging to nets on the ceiling.

AWOL exhibitors. Before the Flower Show even opens, the exhibitors are exhausted. They've spent months designing, planning, growing, forcing, buying plants, then trucking them to Center City and over several frantic days, setting everything up.

It's not completely unreasonable that, once the show opens and the awards have been handed out, some of them don't care to hang around.

But these visitors have made the effort to support the show. Don't they deserve to meet the exhibitors, make a comment, ask a question?

Among the exceptions: Tom and Karan Snyder, who preside over the Netherlands American Business Association exhibit; they greet the public all week.

"If you're going to do the Flower Show, you should do it right from start to finish," Karan said.

David and Robin Heller of Flowers by David in Langhorne answer questions till they literally can no longer speak. And John Amand is a perennial fixture outside his Jacques Amand Bulb Specialists' display.

Answering questions is only one service exhibitors can offer visitors. Another, which speaks to a fairly common complaint about the show, is to provide fliers or videos with landscape ideas that translate well from exhibit to home garden.

Grand Hall. This space still doesn't know what it wants to be, although now people are actually stopping to look at the sculptures and artwork on display here.

Today's final word comes from Margaret Scott of Wilmington, 90, who's been coming to the Flower Show since 1950 and has a way of making our hits, misses, and gray areas in between seem pretty silly.

"I really love it every year because you know spring is only a few weeks away," she said, "and at this stage of my life, I guess I just enjoy everything."

Here's to 2015, then, when the show will pivot once more toward the unknown: Hollywood.


vsmith@phillynews.com

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@inkygardener

www.inquirer.com/kisstheearth

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