It’s not enough that the Philadelphia Flower Show should look like the coast of southern France, per its theme “Riviera Holiday.” It needs to smell like it, too.
“You’re hit in the head with this lavender smell, a citrus smell,” said show chief Sam Lemheney, entering Hall A of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. “It’s amazing.”
The entrance to this year’s Flower Show is a replica of a village on the Cote d’Azur, a plaza surrounded by colorful replicas of houses dripping with plants. The centerpiece is a 24-foot tall olive tree, grown in California and trucked across the country. Lemheney estimated it’s 50 years old.
“The trunk looks ancient,” he said. “Very gnarly with lots of character. Lots of twists and turns on that trunk. It’s very cool.”
The show is dominated by olive, cypress, and citrus trees. There are also varieties of succulents and aromatics. Although Mediterranean-like climates exist around the world — think South Africa, Chile, Southern California — the designers in the Flower Show more or less stuck to the region around the Mediterranean Sea, particularly Greece, Italy, and France.
Spotlighted is the Principality of Monaco. The tiny nation on the coast of France has a unique connection with Philadelphia, both sharing a claim to movie star Grace Kelly.
Kelly grew up in the East Falls neighborhood, in one of Philadelphia’s well-heeled families. After becoming a major movie star, she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956.
As Princess Grace, Kelly pursued a love of flowers that began in Philadelphia. When she was a young woman, she had entered her flowers into the Flower Show competition. Later, in Monaco, she designed a rose garden, cultivating hundreds of varieties.
The Flower Show features a smaller version of the Princess Grace Rose Garden, created by Rene Tucci on behalf of the Principality of Monaco. She arranged more than 5,000 cut roses around a platform where there stands a copy of Princess Grace’s wedding gown.
“Yes! She was a flower enthusiast,” said Tucci. “In fact, she was a Philadelphia Flower Show judge many years ago. Her specialty was pressed flowers.”
The replica rose garden is set with several glass cloche domes, inside of which are printed excerpts from the princess’ book, “My Book of Flowers,” published in 1980.
“As a small child, I used to help my sister sell flowers to passersby to raise money for my mother’s pet charity, Women’s Medical College and Hospital of Pennsylvania,” she wrote. “Most of our customers were the neighbors. Little did they know that some of the flowers came from their own gardens.”
Grace admitted that as a child her sister would send her on nighttime raids of the neighbors’ yards, and “quite unashamedly we sold these same flowers back to their owners the next morning.”
Later, in the late 1960s as Princess of Monaco, Grace created the much more legitimate Garden Club of Monaco, which exists to this day. The rose garden at the Flower Show features hundreds of Princess Charlene roses, a tea hybrid named after Grace’s daughter-in-law, the current wife of Prince Albert II of Monaco.
As part of the Flower Show, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation is sponsoring a symposium on horticultural biodiversity, a particular interest of the prince.
The Flower Show has expanded its roster of designers and exhibitors this year, and is bringing more live entertainment to the show floor. The ground-floor entrance to the Convention Center, normally an indistinct hallway for the box office and escalators, has been arranged with potted cypress trees.
The show has also increased ticket prices. A box-office, day-of ticket costs $48, up from $35. Various discounts are available.
For the first time, this year the Flower Show features cannabis. The marijuana dispensary branding company Chronic has a display area to explain to visitors what medical marijuana is, how it is grown, and what products are made from it.
Although medical marijuana has been legal in Pennsylvania since 2016, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the Flower Show, remains wary of bringing it into the annual event.
Actual cannabis plants are not present, and according to a Chronic spokesman, PHS did not even want fake cannabis to be visible. The Chronic display features plastic plants in a sickly blue-green color, which no one would mistake for anything real.