March 9, 2013

Philadelphia

I spent two days this week in Philadelphia at the flower show with my friend Jane.

We took the Amtrak train down, and stayed in a quirky bed and breakfast in Society Hill. The tiny brick row house had been built in 1811 and was an eclectic mix of modern furnishings, centuries-old structure, and shabby upkeep. 

We liked it. It was comfortable, but not luxurious. In the evenings we had our choice of a four star restaurant or a house of ill repute directly across the narrow street from the B&B. It was hard to tell which was which, but we figured it out.

We could walk to the convention center a little over a mile away. Our B&B hostess was a pleasant woman, a gardener and member of the Philadelphia Horticulture Society, which sponsors this renowned flower show each year.

I have asked Jane to write a guest blog about the show and I will post that when she does.

There are a couple reasons why I want you to read Jane's critique. First, because she is a sharp observer of human social groups. As a professor of anthropology at a college here, she has a trained eye when it comes to how gardeners interact with each other and the horticulture industry.


Second, because I have searched high and low and can find no critique of the Philadelphia Flower Show. Nada.

There are articles aplenty about how wonderful it all is -- So bright! So loud! The Beatles! Big Ben! Such a sight for winter weary eyes! There are roses!

Negative criticism of the show mentions only the lack of parking and the ticket cost. Critique of what was shown is non existent, even though the entries were juried and prizes were awarded. Nobody in the press or on blogs seems to have any opinion about what was displayed, other than that it was all a wonderful spectacle.


So stay tuned. "An Anthropologist Visits the Flower Show" is coming up on this blog.

Meanwhile, here are the uninformed observations of a first-time visitor to the greatest winter flower show that ever was:

          I was disappointed.

Yes, it was huge and the exhibits were eye goggling. I understand it really is about floral extravagance, not gardens.

The themes of "Brilliant" and "British" led most exhibitors to do something silly related to English pop culture, and so we got a Beatles-themed yellow submarine, a Jane Austen cottage garden scene, installations with royal thrones in them (really... throne chairs) and the queen's crown as design motifs.

There were umbrellas scattered in the garden (get it?)

There were some more complex displays too -- a Hidcote representation, a Scottish golf course scene, some layered designs with garden sheds and design elements that were interesting enough, although plant material was heavily spring bulbs and azaleas.

One exhibit that I really did like was a student-created display of the early seed trade between John Bartram and Peter Collinson, showing what transatlantic shipping of plants and seeds was like and how a seedling nursery might have been grown in 1740.

(Read Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf to learn about the wonderful history of plant trading that went on in the 1700s between the American colonies and Britain. This display depicted it nicely.)

Photo and article from Hortitopia
There's a good post about this award-winning student exhibit from Marian St. Clair here at Hortitopia, describing it fully.

I know visiting a flower show is not like touring a botanical garden for plant education or design inspiration, but I did want to get some ideas to try in my own garden. There were few. I am not putting thrones in my borders or the queen's crown on a birdbath pedestal.

Instead, I enjoyed the spectacle, the color, and the relief from threatening snow and cold wind outside. Jane and I had coffee in great little shops nearby, ate well at local restaurants, called our husbands at home to tell them what we saw, and spent some serious money at the vendor stalls. All good, but not much to do with gardening or plants.

I had expected something different.
 

28 comments:

  1. I look forward to reading the critique and enjoyed your take on it too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Loree, thanks. It really was quite a spectacle!

      Delete
  2. It is fun to see all of that bloom and color this time of year. I think I understand your disappointment. I have never gone to this big flower show but I have been to Chicago and Indianapolis Flower shows. I was disappointed each time. It seems I forget after 4 or 5 years and track back to see what it is that I am looking for this time of year. I will be very interested in reading what your friend writes. I hope you did find a bulb, plant or two to make it all worth while. Sounds like the food and companionship was worth the trip.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa, the trip and companionship was definitely worthwhile. Many of the exhibitors are landscape companies, so it seems strange that they did not present any real landscape designs to showcase their work. Instead they did the silly themed spectacles. . . that's why I guess my expectations were not met.

      Delete
  3. Other than being a bit dissappointed in the show, it sounds like your trip was a fun adventure!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Christy - yes, a good time was had!

      Delete
  4. After reading your post, I'm glad I didn't make the trip! I do think these things are more about spectacle than gardening (which is fine, but not if you are looking for garden inspiration). I'm looking forward to the sociological analysis of the show.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah, these shows really are not about gardening, which was not what I expected, given that a hort society sponsors it, landscape companies showcase their exhibits and plant experts are all around. Oh well.

      Delete
  5. So if you didn't come home with a garden throne what treasures did you find at the vendor stalls?

    I've always wanted to attend the Philadelphia show. Maybe one of these years I'll get my act together and plan a trip although two days for me would probably be overkill. Since the only flower show I've been to besides Hartford is Boston I'm no expert, but they definitely are not about plants and gardens. If you approach them with the expectation that they will be about spectacle and will provide a break from winter, toss in some good food, a little shopping and some time with friends you most likely won't be disappointed.

    I'm looking forward to the guest post from your friend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sue, you're right about setting expectations -- don't go to a winter flower show expecting garden design or innovative landscaping ideas! Jane bought a gorgeous botanical print at the vendor stalls, a beautiful purchase.

      Delete
  6. I understand your disappointment. We have a garden show Canada Blooms in Toronto (starts next week) and I am always disappointed with the garden aspect. Sometimes I hear good/great speakers and the juried floral displays can be very beautiful. The vendors are too few for my liking and I would like to see native plants showcased some day. There are good things about this show too but there is something missing, and like you said it is the gardening. I'll post about my experience later if you want to compare. One day we will find THE show.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Patty, it must be the same at all flower shows everywhere, there just is no real gardening. At least Philadelphia was big and bright and extravagant.

      Delete
  7. I haven't really felt drawn to go to the indoor flower shows put on in various places. A big part of it is I don't like big, fussy events with crowds and difficult parking. (Does this make me sound like a prematurely old codger?) The only time I went to a flower show was when we lived in Madison, WI, and I was more comfortable going in part because the scale and crowds were more manageable. I enjoyed that one moderately. I do plan to go to the Chicago show this year, but more out of a sense that it's something I ought to see.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jason, it's funny -- it does seem that garden shows are what we "ought " to go see. Not sure why that is. Enjoy Chicago, but don't expect to see too much about gardening!

      Delete
  8. It will be fun to read your friend's critique. You are disappointed, but I wonder if it's because you expected something different. Like going to a movie - if it's not what we expect, we are disappointed. It sounds a bit like the Chelsea Flower Show - a little over the top, definitely different, and not anything one could do in their own back yard. Of course, I've never been to Chelsea, but that's the feeling I get from reading about it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HolleyGarden, I did expect something different, so that's my own raised expectations that were disappointed. But it was recommended by so many gardeners and friends who all said, oh you must see Philadelphia it is great. No wonder my expectations were so high.

      Delete
  9. Flower shows never resonate with me, as I find them much too artificial; I always get more from visiting any real garden, no matter how simple or how tarted up. But I'm glad you had an outing in one of my favorite eating towns, Laurrie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lee, The flower show was totally artificial. Even the lighting made real plants look fake and the whole effect was otherworldly. But then we were admiring live plantings in winter while snow threatened outside. I guess that's pretty amazing.

      Delete
    2. O Laurrie what a lovely post enjoyed my visit here!

      Delete
    3. Rosemary: welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed your visit.

      Delete
  10. 'Tarted up'. Lee summed it up perfectly. Flower shows are superficial and temporary and don't address what it is to be a real gardener. It's like being given beauty advice by a supermodel. I'd rather tour a garden tended by a gardener who isn't part of an estate or theme park. As someone fascinated by human behavior, I'm eager to read your friends synopsis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tammy, beauty advice from a supermodel! : )

      I guess what is surprising is that the exhibitors are landscape companies and horticulture societies. They are the very groups that want to advertise or attract attention for their plants and landscape knowledge. You would think.

      Delete
  11. Flower shows are all about the surreal. I've been to Chelsea and helped someone set up a display, but it is all about causing a stir and for a designer, getting noticed. I always liked see how growers could get plants to flower out of season to use in their displays. I agree with Jason, that flower shows aren't attractive because of all the people. We get into gardening to remove ourselves from others and find peace. Its not a sign that your getting old! One day I'll finally get up to the Philadelphia show and check it out but I'm nervous I'd leave with the same frustration too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rob, it is very odd to see displays with plants force-flowering all together regardless of season -- witch hazels blooming with roses underneath, and azaleas flowering next to sunflowers and hyacinths!

      Delete
  12. I'm glad you brought up this point. I attended the Philadelphia Flower Show once, over 20 years ago. I live in easy driving distance, and I get a ticket as a member of PHS, but I still avoid it. I can't judge this one since I wasn't there, but the all-positive hype just turns me off. The show really has nothing to do with gardening. I'd love to hear an honest, no-holds-barred critique. Call me Anne Wareham.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. James, you hit the nail on the head --- nothing to do with gardening, which actually puzzles me. I giggled to think of calling you Anne Wareham, but you certainly deserve her critical mantle.

      I am spending this rainy day planning our trip to PA and NJ to see both Chanticleer and then your garden on June 29. Please assure fine weather if you would.

      Delete
  13. You're not going to put thrones in your borders? Why ever not?

    I'm not surprised you were disappointed in the garden show. Such shows seem to have little to do with gardening.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sweetbay, that's certainly the consensus -- the flower show is unrelated to gardening! I'll know to expect that next time I visit a major flower show.

      Delete

Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.