One of the advantages of signing up for the early morning tour of the Philadelphia Flower Show, aside from being able to see the displays without having to jostle, stand on tippy toe and elbow my way through the hoards—was that the guide was a seasoned flower show volunteer. Our guide was a charming older fellow who seemed to know everyone on the floor and lots of stories that won’t necessarily make the official news. Here are some stories you won’t read about in the newspapers about the Philadelphia Flower Show…some his and some from my own observations.
One exhibitor at this year’s show, a nursery, didn’t win any of the judges’ prizes but did win the several of the popular vote awards among visitors, the People’s Choice Awards determined by written votes each day. The display was a music instrument repair shop, in keeping with the show’s New Orleans and jazz theme. A wildly popular fountain of repurposed brass instruments was a focal point, as was an old upright piano remade into a waterfall and a tuba fountain.
I was amused to hear the booth representative explain not once, not twice, but three times how no instruments were harmed in the making of the display—they were all old and useless anyway! It seems that some people had been complaining about how the nursery had destroyed instruments for the purpose of the display.
Our guide told us about one exhibitor in the nursery class, the J. Franklin Styer Nurseries Inc, a Philadelphia-area nursery that was recently purchased by Urban Outfitters as part of its quest to launch its outdoor chain Terrain. (If you haven’t heard about it, the goal of Terrain is to “to transform the local garden center into an experience that celebrates the beauty and abundance of nature while offering an eclectic mix of garden-inspired products tailored for the contemporary customer.” Watch out Smith & Hawken.) The purchase occurred just three weeks before the Philadelphia Flower Show, where the nursery has for years had a major display area. The nursery’s designer and flower show coordinator promptly quit, leaving the nursery—and Urban Outfitters—with just three weeks to fill a big hole that other companies spend months and months designing and planning.
Well, don’t underestimate Urban Outfitters and their desire for an untarnished reputation and a smashing 2008 launch for Terrain. Within a week they had hired a Hollywood set designer and came up with a stunning display that won Best of Show for the nursery division. Sadly, my photos don’t to justice to the display, which included a stunning Bougainvillea with vines as thick as my arm winding up on to a porch. It was breathtaking.
Our guide is also a member of the Philadelphia Men’s Garden Club. He said the club was formed because years ago there were only ladies clubs and the fellows felt outnumbered and misunderstood. With their own club, he said, “We can break all the rules and drink beer while putting up our display.”
Their display, in the by-invitation division, was a men’s private club in a swampy setting, complete with alligators swimming in the waters around the clubhouse and a porch sign that warns, “Beware! Poker Players and Loose Women.” I gave them high marks for creating a display appropriate to the group.
Our charming guide pointed out one nursery display that was heavy on salvaged pine trees. It seems that a while back the nursery owner broke his hip, lost is wife and his business. It was a very bad year. The Philadelphia Men’s Garden Club swung into action, passed the hat and collected some money to help with the doctor bills. They found a surgeon to do the hip replacement for free and even pitched in to complete some of the unfinished nursery work. Now, our guide proudly pointed out, the nursery owner was back in business and once again exhibiting at the flower show—an example of the camaraderie and support among the show folks.
The Best in Show award for the best florist went to the entrant who decided to suspend their display from the ceiling—the first time for such a “daring display.” Thousands and thousands of individual flowers in florist vials were arranged into a kind of chandelier cum mobile. Painted footprints on the floor indicated where visitors could stand to hear music under one of the three suspended floral arrangements.
Although he was an entertaining guide, his enthusiasm for the show is better than his hearing because he seemed to think the music was on when only the electric lights were buzzing. “Isn’t that fabulous?!? It’s beautiful!!! Listen!” I had to smile, but a young woman in our tour group kept yelling in his ear, “It’s the LIGHTS! It’s the LIGHTS!” Aren’t people funny?
Here are a few more photos from the show…
Okay, that’s it for the Philadelphia Flower Show stories except for a few choice finds that I found in the vendor area. Coming up!