Gardeners are a self selecting population. Yes, they are often a little on the quirky side, but by and large it seems like they’re the nicest folks. Don’t be lulled, however, into thinking that plant people are all sugar and spice and everything nice.
Look closely and you’ll notice that competitive glint in their eyes. Gardeners, like the rest of us, like to win.
Competitions are a longstanding horticultural tradition, going back at least to the mid-nineteenth century. Attend any plant society meeting, from rhododendron, to rose, to rock garden, (all of which have Philadelphia chapters) and you’ll soon notice that ribbons and awards play a large part in the proceedings. The biggest stakes of all are at the Philadelphia Flower Show, where amateurs and professionals alike vie for the coveted Best in Show.
The City Gardens Contest has been sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society since 1976, and is one of the most charming of its kind. Entries come from literally every zip code in the city, usually about 300 altogether. Contestants compete in categories such as urban farms, combination vegetable/flower gardens, and to see who has the greenest block in town.
This year’s awardees were just announced, and there is a first place winner from our part of the city. The Fountain Street steps in Manayunk connect Umbria St. to the towpath and Schuylkill River, and community gardeners there have created a beautiful terraced garden. The plants are mostly native varieties that are known for their high wildlife value. When I went to check it out I shared the garden with butterflies, bees, and fantastic giant spiderwebs.
If you garden, are you finding yourself a tiny bit tempted to enter the 2012 contest? You have time to think about it, but it can’t hurt to take a look at the entry form. If the last time you won a ribbon for anything was more than 20 years ago, maybe it’s time for another crack at it.