Chestnut Hill resident readies for Philadelphia Flower Show

It’s too bad plants can’t look in the mirror.

“As we speak, exhibitors are polishing pots, grooming – trimming leaves, making sure all leaves are clean, etc. – and carefully placing top dressing on their plants to ready them for the show,” said Diane Newbury, a vice-chair of horticulture for the Philadelphia Flower Show, opening at the Pennsylvania Convention Center this weekend.

Newbury, a longtime Chestnut Hill resident who has been volunteering at the Philadelphia Flower Show for a decade, loves the annual scene of exhibitors arriving to install their plants at the world’s longest-running and largest indoor flower show.

Newbury, a lifelong horticultural hobbyist, has served in many capacities at the Flower Show over the years as well as entering her own plants in the competition. She calls the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s massive event a “well-oiled machine” for its coordination of hundreds of volunteer workers – not to mention the over 11,000 plants that make up the preliminary entries.

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Newbury has lived in the Northwest section of the city for over twenty years, but she grew in New York’s Hudson River Valley and appreciated her mother’s and grandmothers’ gardens from a young age. When she’s at home, it’s all about tending her roses, magnolias, boxwood bushes and countless other plants.

“I love to garden. I love to be in my greenhouse,” she said.

It’s a tough question for a garden-lover to answer, but roses just might be closest to Newbury’s heart.

“I have them crawling up my house,” she said, “anywhere I can stick a rose, anywhere there’s some sun.”

Newbury prefers so-called “antique” roses – 19th-century varieties that have fallen out of common use today. She grows them for their beauty, but also for their strong fragrance and natural resistance to disease.

“I love learning about plants,” she said, “it’s something I know I’ll do all my life, because there’s always a new plant to learn about.”

That desire to learn is one reason hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the displays on the Flower Show floor. This year’s theme, “Brilliant!”, may be of particular interest for American devotees of British drama. The show promises displays inspired by “centuries of British culture…from royal palaces to the dark and foggy streetscapes of Jack the Ripper,” along with notes of Lewis Carroll, charming cottages, and the cricket green, according to the Pennsylvania Horticulutural Society.

But Newbury says the show will allow for modern voices as well: visitors should expect more than just a succession of classic British border gardens. “They are trying to think a little bit about some of the more modern, contemporary design that’s going on too,” she added.

Since all of the show’s judging is done blind – without knowledge of which plant belongs to which competitor – being a vice-chair isn’t stopping Newbury from entering some plants of her own. In the past, she has participated in every competitive class of the show including arranging, designed horticulture and the Horticourt. This year, her entries include agaves, pelargoniums, and African violets.

“I certainly think that people like a little spring in their winter,” she said, of why the event is so popular among both gardeners and those who simply enjoy plants and flowers.

The 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show runs from March 2-10 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

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