The Philadelphia Flower Show brings the land of tulips here


On Thursday, inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, landscape architects and floral designers were putting final touches on their interpretation of what Holland looks like. 

Overwhelmingly, that means bridges and bicycles.

“It was one of first things we thought of when we considered what we would do for this show,” said Lauren Hillburn of Hunter Hayes Landscape Design in Ardmore. “It was the first thing that came to mind: bicycles, then tulips.”

For the annual Philadelphia Flower Show, opening to the general public on Saturday, Hillburn designed a bridge made of bicycles parts painted bright orange, spanning a pond with a kinetic water fountain made of – what else? – more bicycle parts.

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The theme of this year’s Flower Show is “Holland: Flowering the World.” Horticulture is one of the The Netherlands’ bedrock industries; it is the largest exporter of flowers in the world.

The country is also known for a vibrant bicycle culture, and — at least in Amsterdam, it’s largest city — for urban water canals.

The main entrance to the Flower Show — the splashy “wow” piece seen immediately as people enter the convention center hall — is a bridge enveloped by thousands of tulips, with bicycles locked to its railing.

One floral designer welded hundreds of bicycle parts together into a dense tangle and suspended it in the air like a canopy.

But Carrie Preston shows us that Holland is not just bridges and bicycles. The New Jersey native studied horticulture in Bucks County, then moved to The Netherlands where she has been working as a landscape architect for two decades.

“There are estates in the northern Netherlands where you have centuries-old meadows of naturalizing bulbs,” she said while setting up her landscape exhibit.

Naturalizing bulbs are tulips that can propagate themselves in perpetuity. They do not have the flashy flowers of the commercially farmed bulbs Holland is famous for — which can die off after a few seasons — but given the right conditions they can dominate a landscape. The exhibit Preston designed is structured like a formal, classic garden run riot with wild tulips, wrapped in a chain link fence laced with floral patterns.

“That’s the American twist on this very Dutch landscape,” said Preston. “It has a very symmetrical, classic architecture you would find on those estates, but we added chain link, which is very much the vernacular of the U.S.”

The centerpiece of the Flower Show is a geodesic dome that was designed for the Dutch government. For a years, the EcoDome was on display in Amsterdam to showcase design innovations and technologies developed by the Dutch for more environmentally sustainable living. It featured things like an air purification system and a passive cooling system of large panels of moss.

It was designed by Nico Wissing, who advocates that a Dutch garden should not be one made of tulips and water fountains, but rather one made of reclaimed material from wherever you happened to be.

“We are [shipping] a lot of products all over the world: stones from China, pebbles from India, tropical forest woods. We are not friendly to the earth,” he said. “If you want to make your own garden design, try to make [it] very close in balance with nature.”

The Flower Show opens to the general public on Saturday and runs through March 19.

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