11:19 AM / Tuesday May 30, 2023

24 Mar 2023

Reimagined yet classic, the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show’s Convention Center return is a great success

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March 24, 2023 Category: Local Posted by:

This award-winning show returned to its original time and location from March 4-12 after being held outdoors in early summer for the past two years.

ABOVE PHOTO: This March 3, 2023, image provided by Jessica Damiano shows “FLORASTRUCK,” the orchid-adorned entrance garden at the 2023 Philadelphia Flower Show held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. (Jessica Damiano via AP)

By Amy V. Simmons

For decades, the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show has been known for its Entrance Garden, which is the first display visitors see. All five senses have always been fully engaged, from the “escalator trip down” experience of the old Civic Center to the “escalator ride up” experience of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The outdoor versions of this traditional welcome mat in the early summer have been beautiful and impressive, but there is nothing quite like entering the indoor Show venue after a long winter.

The Entrance Garden design for this year’s show, which marked its return to the Pennsylvania Convention Center after two years at FDR Park, set the tone: that of a triumphant return, and borrowing from this year’s show theme — “The Garden Electric” — recharge.

Colorful floral and plant displays in fuchsia, orange, yellow, purple, red, white and green were accompanied by multicolored syncopated neon lights, a primordial style mist, and musical interludes, each one creating a different sensory portrait and engaging visitors as they passed through to the first show exhibits.

DNA Floral’s “Junk Yard Boogie” display repurposed discarded computer monitors and old analog TVs. (Photos/Amy V. Simmons)

In the spirit of the two previous outdoor shows’ success, this year’s garden designers created gardens that ranged in size from 2,200 to 2,900 square feet — the largest ever displayed at the event. Visitors to the outdoor shows appreciated the ability to literally stroll along garden paths and take in the view from different vantage points, so for its return indoors, the Show incorporated a similar winding promenade concept, a departure from previous indoor designs.

Exhibitors and other participants in “The Garden Electric” made sure that the theme was reflected throughout the Show. Electric fixtures, moving lights, artistic interpretations of electrical currents and plenty of vibrant colors were part of every display, from botanical jewelry to doorway decorations.

The PHS Hamilton Horticourt, always the crown jewel of the Show, returned this year in a new, central location. New competition categories such as forced branches, citrus plants and an invitational class aimed towards professional floral designers were featured among the many beautiful and creative displays visitors have come to expect.

The new Horticourt design also helped to make the ever-popular Pennsylvania Bonsai Society exhibit more accessible. They have been part of the Show for decades. It is one of the annual Flower Show features that visitors love to linger over and take in slowly. It also inspires many to consider taking up the intricate and painstaking craft.

A 65 year Japanese maple bonsai tree, seed planted and grown by Pennsylvania Bonsai Society founding member Chase Rosade. (Photo/ Amy V. Simmons)

The exhibit has particularly fascinated and inspired many children over the years. At the age of 12, Bill Strehse, a member of the Society, was one of them. After visiting the exhibit for the first time, he wanted to try and grow his own tree. It has developed into a lifelong passion.

Show visitors have always been intrigued by the tree ages displayed next to each entry. Many of the miniature masterpieces are listed as over 100 years old. However, the age of the tree doesn’t always mean how long it’s been trained in pot as a bonsai, Strehse said.

“You can collect a tree from nature that’s 30 years old,100 years old, 400 years old,” he explained. You can collect trees that are [already] very, very old. … “I have a 200-year-old Douglas fir that’s still in a big box, because it was collected in 2017, and I haven’t put it in a bonsai pot yet,” Strehse said. “It takes time to let the tree recover and grow its roots back out before you put it into a pot.”

Letting a tree recover, minimizing stress and knowing how to care for it, is the key to a healthy bonsai outcome. Becoming part of the Pennsylvania Bonsai Society, and spending time with experienced members, really helps those who are just starting out, Strehse said.

“When you come in as a new member, you can get paired up with somebody who’s been doing it for a long time,’ he said. They can teach them how to take care of, and most importantly, how not to kill your tree.”

Raising and maintaining a bonsai tree is a long-term, even lifelong, commitment, Strehse said. Some PBS members often make provisions for the care of their trees in perpetuity.

Some gift their trees to other members, or those who they trust will take good care of them, he said. Strehse is introducing his own children to the hobby, hoping that they will carry on the tradition.

Strehse, who is in charge of the membership rolls, said that the society currently has around 100 members, and is actively seeking more.

“We’ve changed a few things and made it easier for people to sign up,” he said. “We implemented the “Bonsai Buddy” program last year, which is when a new member comes in, they’ll be paired with an existing member and learn how to do it. …it’s all about educating and bringing people in to learn how to do it properly.”

Although there were many interesting displays and exhibits this year, Jennifer Designs’ “Cerebral Garden” combined electricity, science and beauty in an especially intriguing way. A giant brain-shaped structure through which visitors could pass provided them with an informative, interactive museum experience. They were invited to “journey through the brain cortex along the neural pathways to the engaging garden of the mind. As you enter the cerebrum brain, you will be surrounded by an array of florals and plants intertwined with electrical impulses that underlies our thoughts, behavior and perception of the world.”

The garden in which the “brain” was situated contained different floral and plant displays along with signage with interesting facts about how nature interacts positively with our central nervous system.

Generally, interactive exhibits on the promenade were popular this year, especially in conjunction with the “electric” theme.

This March 3, 2023, image provided by Jessica Damiano shows a scene from the “Brain Forest” display garden at the 2023 Philadelphia Flower Show held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. (Jessica Damiano via AP)

As always, the Marketplace continued to be one of the most popular destinations for Show visitors. It is a place where one could reconnect with a longtime vendor as a repeat customer or interact with those who are participating for the first time.

Newer features like the Butterflies Alive exhibit, Kid’s Cocoon play area, the Bloom Bar and the live music that took off in popularity during the outdoor shows were also as popular as ever.

The adjustments and innovations of the past two years have had a permanent influence on the Show, and for the better. The lessons learned seemed to open up creative channels and exciting new possibilities, ensuring that no matter where it takes place, the Show will continue to be where traditions are both nurtured and created.

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