Philadelphia Flower Show
“HOLLAND: Flowering the World”
The Philadelphia Flower Show is an annual floral and landscape design show held in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The theme of the 2017 show was “HOLLAND: Flowering the World.”
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After feeling a bit underwhelmed at last year’s emphasis on National Parks, I was excited that this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show took us out of the forest and brought the focus back to flowers. The theme, “HOLLAND: Flowering the World” honored the leader in international floral exports, and the event was a showcase of creative ways to emulate the colorful flower fields of that region. On learning of this year’s tantalizing theme, I couldn’t help but make a last-minute trip to Philly—despite warnings of an impending snowstorm.
I wasn’t prepared for the aromatic assault of thousands of tulips hitting me as I walked into the main entrance of the convention hall. This flower show is not for the faint of heart or the seizure-prone! The entrance tableau was a visual spectacle, consisting of a bridge hung with potted flowers and rising out of a sea of tulips and daffodils that arched over a steady flow of picture-snapping attendees. Not going for subtlety, an undulating rainbow matrix of painted moss balls hung from long cables made a backdrop for the colorful scene. Just on the other side of the bridge, a stream of water passed under a footbridge into a small pond, surrounded by three large, embellished windmills. Leaning in for a picture, I was startled when the whole scene went suddenly dark, and a throbbing dance track began to play, accompanied by a pulsing light show. It lasted several minutes and then the bright lights returned, which was curious but somehow fit in with the ostentatious overstimulation that is a hallmark of the show.
The bicycle could be said to be the official symbol of this year’s show, in reference to Amsterdam’s most popular mode of transport. In one display, bicycle wheels of various sizes painted primary red, yellow, or blue rose up in sculptural arrangements out of orderly rows of tulips. There was an ambitious installation that used various bike parts painted stark white, stacked into strange columns that hovered just above the floor, which were adorned with flowers in hues of red and orange. As I passed by a bunch of flowers bursting from a yet another bicycle basket, I thought the bike theme was getting out of hand, until I overheard a woman exclaim, “the next time I pass a bike on the side of the road I’m gonna take it home and spraypaint it.” If bike parts are a gardening trend this year, I’ll know why.
Famous Dutch artists were referenced in numerous displays throughout the convention, with some clever effects. Mondrian’s colorful geometric works inspired several different designs I saw. There was a floral arrangement that brilliantly captured the energy of one of Van Gogh’s expressive landscapes, with the original painting displayed alongside it. I loved the recreation of notable landscape designer Piet Oudolf’s studio, complete with his actual design for the meadow garden of the soon-to-be-opened Delaware Botanic Gardens unfurled across the desk.
Aside from the no-holds-barred entrance display, my favorite moments of the show were those that were the most floral-centric. There was a long “tunnel” consisting of a path lined with masses of orchids, waist-high and in every variety imaginable, and colorful flowers hung from curved metal piping overhead. Another display featured innovative outdoor furniture constructed of organic shapes created from woven sticks, that were works of art in themselves. One seating area by the same company was nothing more than a human-sized nest cradling oversized pillows and perched on the edge of a tiny pond. I was sold! The rows of award-winning plants in endless categories are always a highlight, with the top plants in each subset arranged together with ribbons proudly displayed.
When it comes down to it, I would have made the two-hour drive just to witness the spectacular opening display and experience total sensory overload—everything else was just a bonus. I almost wish I could have returned another day because it was so much to take in. It quickly becomes overwhelming, and you have to step into the lobby from time to time just to catch your breath and clear your palate. All floral fatigue aside, this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show is a true delight. It is a place to come and be surrounded by unbelievable masses of flowers in a surreal world that is a welcome detour from the lingering cold of winter.