Imagine a wonderland bursting with flowers, fountains and waterfalls. Blossoms hang from the ceiling; rain showers fall to dancing puddles at your feet. Scents from orchids and flowering vines tickle your nose, while bamboo rustles above your head. Mist and fog cools your skin. No, this is not a rainforest, though it’s as close you can get in downtown Philadelphia. What you’ve entered is the fairy-tale landscape of the 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show inside the Philadelphia Convention Center. These magical creations are just a few of the many breathtaking exhibits you’ll interact with during this annual event.
The Philadelphia Flower Show was founded in 1829 by the Philadelphia Horticulture Society (PHS). It’s the largest and longest running horticultural event in the world, displaying more than 30,000 flowers; thousands that are suspended from a floral canopy. Each year, the Philadelphia Convention Center is transformed into ten acres of extravagant displays, botanical crafts and eco-gardening demonstrations. It’s a fully immersive experience that involves spectacular scenery including a reproduction of the four layers of the nearby Delaware River Watershed, Frank Lloyd Wright’s water-bound Falling Water, and a riot of spring flowers emerging from the first snow melt.
This year, PHS features the Wonders of Water, a theme that chief of shows Sam Lemheney has been developing for several years. “Water is a concept I’ve had in my theme bank for many years and haven’t been able to bring to fruition,” says Lemheney. “This is one of those areas we were finally able to pull together and really bring a good story around it.” Although there are instructional aspects to this story, it’s mainly about entertainment. “The Flower Show is all about entertaining visitors with flowers, and this year it will be with fountains and waterfalls,” Lemheney adds.
An important but less obvious factor in attending the Flower Show is how educational it is. “Gardeners interact with water every day,” notes Lemheney. “From PHS’s standpoint, we’re all about inspiring and engaging the gardeners 365 days a year. The Flower Show is one of our mouthpieces to do that.”
The 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show has an underlying message too—teaching conservation and protecting water on a global scale. “Drinking water is a finite resource,” Lemheney states. “All of us are responsible…we should be advocating to protect the water so that our drinking water is safe for years and generations to come.” Gardeners and everyone who loves nature will learn how to defend water sources from contaminates. “You have to know how to be water wise in your own garden,” Lemheney explains.
Several exhibits feature watering techniques and plant choices to help gardeners maximize their natural resources. “We show what to plant to reduce the amount of watering that you might have to do and some of the organic and fertilizing techniques that help protect the water so no harsh chemicals flow into the water sources we have. There are a lot of things gardeners can do to protect the environment, and but we also want them to have fun with water, like doing containers with water gardens and building small ponds in their yard.”
Even if you’re not a gardener, you’ll find many activities to explore and delight. Kids adore the Butterflies Live garden; photographers can enter ahead of the crowds to shoot undisturbed; and there is a daily Garden Tea with refreshments and lectures. PHS’s Designer’s Studio is the perfect place to try your hand at creating floral arrangements with the help of top floral designers. This fast-paced competition is a reality show come alive, and you can be a competitor.
Buy a ticket to the wine and spirits tasting area in the Grand Hall, or attend Flower Show After Hours event where you dress in your best 70’s ensemble and dance to nostalgic tunes spun by DJ Drake. See award-winning creations by gardeners who participate in the Hamilton Horticourt competition. Or shop at the Flower Show Marketplace, where 180 vendors sell garden-related products including patio furniture and tools, fresh cut flowers, bulbs and seeds, garden art, home goods, aromatherapy, vases, jewelry and honey to name a few.
Along with teaching stewardship of the environment, and providing lots of amusements, the Flower Show is PHS’s biggest fundraiser. Through this event, PHS raises between one and two million dollars to support the Society’s LandCare program. LandCare builds and maintains Philadelphia’s community gardens, as well as plants trees and landscapes all over the city. The beautification of Philadelphia is the result; along with building urban farms in neighborhoods that formerly suffered from urban blight.
Lehmeney offered tips on planning your visit: “The last Saturday is our busiest day. The busiest times are between 11 am and 3 pm. The best time to come is after 5 pm when you can grab a glass of wine, and enjoy the show with friends and family,” says Lemheney. Several hotels offer Flower Show packages, and definitely buy your tickets in advance online. The 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show runs from Saturday, March 3 through Sunday, March 11.