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Philadelphia Flower Show Heralds Coming of Spring

By Greg Freeman, Published February 22, 2020

Whether Punxsutawney Phil -- that cute, predictably unpredictable groundhog -- gets it wrong (or right!), lovers of flowers and gardens can always take comfort, even amid the gloom of winter, that spring is just around the corner, thanks to the Philadelphia Flower Show.  Held annually since 1829 around early March, the event is produced by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.  The largest indoor flower show in the world, the flower show has been held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center since 1996.

Kate Carney

Clivia miniata 'Sir John Thouron'

This famous clivia, now residing at Longwood Gardens outside Philadelphia, was named for Sir John Thouron K.B.E., who had received the plant as a gift from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on a visit to Scotland in the 1950s.  A specimen entered by Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland (1906-2001) in 1999 received the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society award of the highest-scoring blue ribbon entry.

A Riviera Holiday

The 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show, to be held February 29 to March 8, is expected to prove memorable with its Riviera Holiday theme.  At a time of year when temperatures are quite cold and snow is often on the ground, who can resist thinking about the Côte d'Azur?  The South of France might conjure up images of terraced vineyards, fragrant herbs and towering cypress trees, but the Flower Show aims to stimulate the senses as well as the imagination.  The exhibits, in addition to the various items offered by vendors, will delight attendees who have the remotest interest in horticulture and flowers.

For the exhibitor, the show is a prestigious venue where one can enter as a novice or compete at a more serious level.  Mrs. Joyce Jarvis, a retiree now residing in South Carolina, shared with me years ago how she and her daughter once traveled to the Flower Show from their residence in New Jersey and were thrilled to take second place among stiff competition with their African violets. 

Don Caton of Downington, Pennsylvania, about an hour's drive west of Philadelphia, exhibited a first prize winner at the show in 2019.  "Because of this win in 2019, I am henceforth forbidden to enter the novice collection.  So this year I am planning, or at least hoping, to enter five different daffodils in different sizes of pots," Caton says. 

The logisitics of competing at the Flower Show involve unloading flowers at a certain entrance, parking vehicles in designated parking areas and adhering to strict time deadlines.  Exhibitors are not allowed on the show floor after 8:00 A.M.  Furthermore, the timing of blooms can prove challenging, too.  Caton explains, "I am still trying to learn the art of forcing bulbs to be in full flower the day the PFS opens."  These are mere distractions that leave serious exhibitors undeterred, however.

Horticulturalist Kate Carney says, "I love the show and its many dimensions," but she adds, "the horticulture competition is my favorite."  Carney and husband Mitch are known for their South Mountain Flower Farm in Boonsboro, Maryland, where they occasionally offer a catalogue of daffodil cultivars, including those increasingly popular intermediates that fall between the size ranges of standards and miniatures.

Kate Carney

A display from Linwood, New Jersey- based Waldor Orchids.

The Flower Show has a long, distinguished history that has included the support of passionate and well-to-do benefactors.  "Mrs. du Pont [Copeland] still has a presence in the new display area that she had built for the horticulture section of the show," Carney says, referencing the late Pamela Cunningham Copeland (1906-2001), the noted horticulturalist and philanthropist often referred to as Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland due to her husband's family's prominence. "Her famous yellow clivia, now being cared for at Longwood Gardens, is always a part of the show," Carney states.

For flower lovers who are not necessarily interested in exhibiting in the horticulture division, there are other aspects of the show that are of great interest.  Carney says, "There is a competition for commercial growers, and the orchid display from Waldor Orchids was stunning last year."  She goes on to say, "There are also artistic competitions with flower arranging, and one of my favorites is the pressed flower arrangements.  Last year, they tried to embrace the hippie generation of the '60s.  So how about Jimi Hendrix in seeds?"  Additionally, vendors fill a large area where Carney says attendees can purchase "dozens of roses, pussy willow, tools, jewelry, plus lots of plants."

Whether you need motivation to leave the warmth and comfort of home to travel across town, or the entire country, for that matter, to attend the Flower Show, Carney shares the reminder that "from the winter of Philly you walk into spring with all the forced spring-flowering trees and plants."  Most encouraging of all, "it's a great way to end the winter blues," she concludes.  As the Flower Show website boasts, "Riviera Holiday beckons you to embrace your inner romantic and create a Mediterranean inspired garden of your own" (PHS, 2020).

"Philadelphia Flower Show:  Show Info," 
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS),  Accessed February 21, 2020.

Electronic mail communication with Kate Carney, Horticulturalist, Lerner Corporation, Tysons, Virginia on February 18, 2020 reply from Don Caton, Downington, Pennsylvania to posted query on February 16, 2020

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All Rights Reserved., part of the Greg Freeman Media portfolio of digital resources, can be contacted via e-mail:   philly dally at outlook dot com.