Flower show offers horticulture, hula and ideas for NW gardeners

    This is your last weekend to get in on the 183rd Philadelphia Flower Show. Unless you’ve been distracted lately, you know that this year the theme is Hawaii. You may have also noticed that despite the recent warm weather, Philly and Hawaii don’t share the same climate, but the flower show offers plenty that will appeal to area gardeners.

    I checked out the show at a media preview the day before it opened to the public, when everything was almost ready to go. Forklifts still zoomed throughout the cavernous exhibition hall, and pallets of orchids waited to be dropped into tropical tableaux at the last possible moment, but otherwise it looked like show time.

    The Philadelphia Flower Show is always an expression of horticultural theater, and this year is no different. Think that neon tubing and Mylar can’t be (shouldn’t be?) incorporated into a floral design? Think again. For those who enjoy spectacle, the show hits it out of the park, especially this year. The tropical theme is an perfect excuse for dramatic displays, like a 15-foot white bird of paradise under-planted with succulents at the Stoney Bank Nurseries display. Or the 25-foot-high waterfall behind the hula dancers’ stage.

    The more prosaic among us might have different reasons for heading to the flower show. Fortunately, getting new ideas for plants and designs for your own garden is easy.

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    One of the best displays is by Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, sponsor of the show. For the last few months PHS staff scavenged and stockpiled materials to put together a relevant exhibit that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and will speak to Philadelphia gardeners.

    The display suggests the inside/outside of a beautiful urban garden. Visitors walk alongside raised beds filled with a combination of flowers and edible plants. Cherry tomatoes grow in galvanized ducts and cascade from a high overhead trellis. And a magnificent living wall-of lettuce creates the divider between the two large spaces.

    The effect is lovely, and maybe with the exception of the lettuce wall, it looks pretty achievable by the layperson gardener.

    Only after a second pass through the show did I recognize another opportunity for inspiration for Philadelphia gardeners. Most exhibits are the size of a typical small urban yard, and the designers have done amazing work creating landscapes that are dynamic and completely disguise the uninspiring square spaces.

    Clever placement of plants and landscape features make the exhibits appear much larger than they really are. Swapping out the palm trees and pineapples for plants we can grow here, the design principles are still the same and I took home ideas that could spice up my own garden.

    Wish you were here! And you can be, if you make it by the final day of the show, Sunday March 11.

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