Philly Flower Show leads visitors back to the garden in Woodstock celebration

The oldest and largest flower show in the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, and hosts an international floral contest.

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At least three exhibitors at the annual Philadelphia Flower Show interpreted the show’s theme, “Flower Power,” in terms of Woodstock, creating landscapes inspired by that landmark music festival on its 50th anniversary.

One of them is Tom McCullough from Ohio. He created a garden that puts you, the visitor, onstage at the celebrated Yasgur’s Farm in upstate New York looking out over a vast spread of flower children, in this case, perennials. A line of mirrors in the back makes it look bigger.

“The mirrors play with your mind, right? It’s a trippy effect,” said McCullough. “The rock and roll star of the show is the flower. That’s what we want to show off.”

McCullough was adding the final touches on Thursday for the weekend opening of the nine-day festival. It is his first time exhibiting at the Philadelphia Flower Show, something he has been wanting to do for a long time.

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“It’s actually one of my lifelong dreams to show in Philly,” he said.

The “Flower Power” show does not just feature flowers that have hippie power, but actual power. At least two apothecary gardens of medicinal plants are among the exhibits. A junkyard filled with smashed TVs and rusty car parts demonstrates phytoremediation — the ability of plants to clean environmental toxins. One garden celebrates outdoor play, advocating the developmental benefits for children being outside.

Fulfilling ‘Promise Garden’

One display, the “Promise Garden,” is designed for the benefit of those with dementia. The flower beds form a high perimeter so no one can wander off; the path is circular so no one can get lost; and there are no jarring shapes or colors, keeping stress levels low.

It was designed by Tom Morris of J Downend Landscaping in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, in memory of his late father-in-law who had Alzheimer’s.

“It’s a sensory garden as well. There’s a lot of smells: lilac, hyacinth. There are touch elements: lamb’s ear, very soft that can be touched,” said Morris as he put the final touches on the garden before the show opened. “There’s a sound element — running water that’s very peaceful. Even right now, while there is still construction going on, you can hear that water running.”

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which puts on the Flower Show, made some noticeable changes this year. The entrance to the Pennsylvania Convention Center floor, normally a grand spectacle display, is tame relative to previous years.

Visitors are offered a “wow” moment at the outset: an upside-down meadow hanging from the ceiling. However, most of the entrance space has been given over to the 23 international participants in the FTD Interflora World Cup. The multi-day series of design competitions is held about every four years in a different city. It hasn’t been in the United States since 1985.

Among the rounds of competitions are “Iron Chef” style, head-to-head contests called “Surprise Package,” where the competitors are given previously unseen floral materials and asked to make something on the fly.

Competition starts Friday morning.

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