For the first time in almost 200 years, the sun will shine on the Philly Flower Show

The Philadelphia Flower Show

The Philadelphia Flower Show is set to take place outdoors at FDR Park this summer. The theme is ‘Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece.’ (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Floral designers will not need to force flowers to bloom before they are ready, nor face a threat of a debilitating winter blizzard during the Philadelphia Flower Show this year. On Friday, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society announced details about its upcoming Flower Show, which will be held outdoors this summer for the first time in its 192-year history.

Normally held in early March inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, this year the Flower Show will be in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia, from June 5 – 13, located on the lawn acreage between the Swedish Museum and the lake boathouse.

The Philadelphia Flower Show is the oldest and largest indoor show in the world, and although it skipped a handful of years due to WWI and WWII, it has always been held indoors since 1829.

“Our decision to host the show outdoors was due to the pandemic,” said Sam Lemheney, the chief of shows and events at PHS. “Because of that, health and safety have guided all of our planning and decision-making.”

Among the measures taken to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus are timed tickets that must be reserved in advance; a limited number of attendees at any given time; mandatory mask requirements for all visitors, staff, and vendors; a constant cleaning and disinfection regimen; and a health questionnaire given to attendees before arrival.

Lemheney said planning the Summer 2021 outdoor event began in Summer 2020, when the Horticultural Society saw that the pandemic would likely not lift by March 2021. The organization also saw a growing public reliance on urban green spaces as the shutdown forced the cancelation of most outdoor recreational activities.

“We know that plants and green spaces, and the act of cultivating plants together, deliver health and well-being,” said PHS President Matt Rader. “This year more than ever we’ve seen how critical parks, green spaces, gardens, and gardening are to people’s physical and mental health.”

The Flower Show will have many of the elements longtime attendees have come to expect. Lemheney said the show will be divided into three “districts:” the Plant District showcasing exotic and prize-winning plants, the Garden District with hands-on workshops and merchandise for the home gardener, and the centerpiece Design District with model garden tableaus created by a curated roster of 27 designers working with the theme “Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece.”

“Habitat is where you live, and how plants and flowers can impact where you live,” Lemheney said. “From a personal standpoint, or an animal standpoint, or from a world standpoint, is where the designers are going to take this.”

The Philadelphia Flower Show is set to take place outdoors at FDR Park. The theme is ‘Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece.’ (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Moving the Flower Show outdoors will make it a very different experience for both visitors and designers. Normally the show uses lights, sound, and theatrical set design. The outdoor show cannot have those elements, but it has something the Pennsylvania Convention Center could never: summer sun.

“Certain plants we force into bloom at the Convention Center,” said Lemheney. “The power of plants and color is so different. There are so many different varieties of plants at our disposal this year. I think all the designers, especially those who have been at the show for many years, they’re like kids in a candy store.”

FDR Park, or The Lakes as many nearby residents call it, is currently undergoing significant renovations based on a 2019 master plan. Primarily, work is being done to control flooding and repair damage to the roads, walkways, and turf. The 350-acre park is in a low-lying area, mostly below street level, and is prone to flooding.

Mayor Jim Kenney celebrates the Philadelphia Flower Show’s outdoor location at FDR Park, which will allow the show to go on during the pandemic. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Thankfully, we finally have a paved road,” said Mayor Jim Kenney at the Flower Show announcement, referring to the road ringing the rear baseball field. “That back stretch by the ball field was like the moon. It was horrible.”

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell is “thrilled” that the Flower Show is coming to FDR. The parks department and the Horticultural Society are working together to make improvements to the park both before and after the show, including restoration of turf and tree maintenance.

Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell celebrates the Philadelphia Flower Show’s outdoor location at FDR Park, which will allow the show to go on during the pandemic. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“It’s a brave and bold move to move this show outdoors,” Lovell said. “It’s visionary, ambitious, and exactly what should be happening in Philadelphia.”

She added that during the two-week run of the Flower Show, the rest of FDR park will be open to the public as usual.

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