Stranded at the Philly Flower Show, plus Hits, Misses and Fun Facts

Rain garden at entrance to the Show

What with snow and some winds from hell, it wasn’t a great year for the Philadelphia Flower Show, dependent as it is on decent weather to bring in the crowds that fund the PHS’s many worthy projects. But let’s get to how the weather affected ME, shall we?

I thought I was so smart this year to book an Amtrak ride from Baltimore to Philadelphia and back – barely over an hour’s trip – rather than driving. Plus, I was attending on the preview day (for members and media) when it’s free and more importantly, the crowds are light enough to SEE stuff.

Long story short, the snow and wind forced Amtrak to cancel all trains in the entire Northeast Corridor, leaving me stranded for the night in a strange-to-me city with an unfathomable public transit system.

But somewhere in the chaos I introduced myself to a fellow traveler who, in addition to her other charms, had the good sense to book a (very nice) hotel room right away, which she was willing to share with me. She also happened to know her way around the city and its various train systems. I simply attached myself to her, and made a new gardening friend in the bargain.

So meet my rescuer – Nancy Blois, an avid gardener active in the Maryland Horticulture Society. She’s shown with our other roommate for the night, her niece Blair.

Another highlight was similarly of the human variety – meeting up with a few other intrepid garden communicators. From left in this photo by Kirk Brown, they’re Peggy Anne  Montgomery, Marcia Tate, Louise Clarke, Ruth Clausen, yours truly and Dan Benarcik. Little did we know then what a trial it would be getting home.

But about the show, with the “Wonders of Water” theme this year. I wasn’t too stressed to enjoy the show gardens, above and below.

The theme of water includes dry gardens, too.

And water-themed special effects.

My favorites are usually the smaller displays, like these rooms with plants and water features. (Above, there’s a water wall left of the bookcase, according to my source – Kirk Brown again.)

There must be a water feature somewhere on this “Zen Balcony,” though I can’t find it in this shot.

And smaller still, I always enjoy the “Pressed Plant” competition.

And would you believe plant-and-water-themed hats, jewelry and handbags? What a hoot.

I was intrigued by the exhibits about water in other countries, like India and Mexico. “Mexico has become a bottled water country.” Who knew?


At the risk of pissing off people I know and like, and with the qualification that it’s just one opinion, here goes.

Titled “Spring Thaw,” it looks hokey and fake.


Gratuitous color with no connection to the theme?  Another meh.

Beached old boats with a few plants stuck here and there.

And my least favorite exhibit – turfgrass with a croquet set and signage that reads, “Sometimes prevention is not enough and repellent becomes essential…DEET and Picaridin (in Avon Skin So Soft) are both effective and safe if used correctly…” and so on. Wtf?

Worst overall? The stuff sold in the large retail area, almost none of which was garden-related. Also, it was surprisingly low-end.

Fun Facts

From the press hand-out I learned that:

  • $65 million is the economic impact of the Flower Show on the Greater Philly region.
  • $1 million is raised each year by the Show to support community greening programs.
  • 3,500 is the number of volunteers it takes to put on the Show.
  • 42,000 is how many hors d’oeuvres were served at the Preview Party, where 1,152 bottles of wine were also served. (How did I miss that?)


  1. Thanks for sharing your photos, Susan! My husband is going through chemo right now, so once again my tickets went unused (I’m a member of the PHS, so I get two free tickets). I was feeling sorry for myself about having to miss it again this year – but after seeing your photos of some of the exhibits, I’m not sure I missed much. Several of those were definitely “meh” at best. I do love the pressed flower exhibit – what those people do is pure genius. And of course, the hort section always has you drooling. I’m glad you found generous and kindred souls to help you out when the weather stranded you.

  2. I was so upset to miss you and the press preview this year due to that storm, but did get up to see the show twice with the coach bus trips we host. I have to disagree with you on a few points about the exhibit gardens.
    One the croquet lawn: I appreciated all the mosquito-prevention tips and education on several panels placed around it. As someone who is a BIG booster of water in the garden, that is the #1 hurdle I find – “isn’t that going to breed mosquitos?” No, if done correctly, it isn’t.
    On the Dutch bulb display: It DID have a water education element. Placed low all-around the bulbs were panels showing how the Dutch flood the fields and their unique growing techniques. The panels should’ve been much bigger as I missed them myself on my first visit and I think very few attendees saw them.
    On the spring thaw: It was a creative take on an important water source and in close-up, it looked good, maybe it could have had less “snow” on the top.
    On the beach boats: This was a love/hate display for most. I fall into the ‘loved it’ boat. It was a great display of the power of water and the recent hurricanes. I also enjoy post-apocalyptic, post-industrial porn — your tastes may vary.
    The couple of exhibits I absolutely loved were two florist displays: the woodland wedding scene and the Falling Water.
    The low-lights, for me, were:
    1. Where were the waterlilies and lotus!?! the real water gardens? the giant Victoria water lilies from Longwood Gardens? I was very disappointed in what was promised, but not delivered.
    2. The stack of black rainbarrels and the “watercolor” floral walls were both big misses, IMHO. Likely, sounded better in concept than they turned out in actual execution.
    3. The garden speaker program – I saw very few good ones on the schedule and some real bored faces most each time I stopped by the stage – this really should be over-hauled and speakers should be PAID! This should be an audience draw and a show highlight – not just a place you go to rest your feet.

    • True. I agree that the speaker areas are indeed a place to sit when I’m tired! speakers aren’t paid?! That is surprising when a tiny garden club can scrap together money to pay a speaker. I also know that other big flower shows pay their speakers fairly.

      I remember a few years back there were interesting demos and other speakers in the rooms down the hall. That was always cool and now seems to be replaced with that butterfly exhibit.

      I agree with Susan about that croquet lawn! I like the concept but would have expected a more beautiful, or more thoughtful, or more disturbing or more something kind of execution.

      I always do LOVE the little window boxes, porches, miniatures and loved the lack of water access around the world exhibit. Stunning and thought-provoking.

    • Agree with many of your comments Kathy – I also LOVED the clever boats, think speakers should be paid (this is, seriously, a no brainer and the status quo is ridiculous) and I loved the OTT aspect of the wedding in the woods. Would have also liked to have seen more lilies and lotus – call me conventional.

      Susan – I too thought the melting Matterhorn-esque display ended up looking like a carnival ride entrance. Pass.

      I am so thankful that this was the year that I decided to come at my leisure with a friend on Tuesday instead of as press on Thurs/Fri (not least because a tree came through our house on Friday!)

      As for the wine kiosks? Yeah, found them.

    • Visitors to the show pay a premium price for entry. Don’t they deserve the very best quality speakers? Even the garden clubs in the disadvantaged area of Baltimore offer me $100 to speak, which I immediately donate back to them.

      • Agreed John. I was allowed to sell books after lecture/demo a couple of years ago though. If you don’t have friends in the area, just a hotel is a lot.

  3. I agree about upgrading speakers. The industry has some very interesting, entertaining speakers but that does not come for free. We need our best for the tourist that visit this show, pay them!

  4. Who are folks thinking of for “better speakers”? Martha Stewart, Mike McGrath and Joe Lamp’l are pretty “high wattage.” I was there Monday and saw some british expat woman (now at some arboretum in the Philly area; I missed Joe); I thought she was ok, but speaking at a more beginner level audience.

    • Who knows the level of expertise of the audience? It is a very mixed bag I believe. Probably most people at the beginner/novice level rather than experienced gardeners.

      • Thought I’d weigh back in on this — I was not saying ALL the speakers were sub-par, far from it- some stellar ones were onstage during the show, but that the overall speaking program needs over-hauling to bring the level up to what this show deserves. My suggestions: source from those who get top reviews on and pay at least a nominal honorarium.

        • Several of the speakers were selling their books (like Martha and the speaker I saw), so they were “compensated” (but I wouldn’t be surprised if Martha got paid additional money).

          How do other shows get good speakers (like the NW F&G show,

    • That was probably Andrea Brunsendorf, the new director of outdoor planting at Longwood. She’s German, and spent the last some years renovating the gardens at the Inner Temple in London, to great acclaim.

        • Based on the google pics, not Andrea.
          The speaker I’m thinking of spoke on Monday 3/5 at 1 pm (I wish the flower show website kept the old schedules available…)

          • I think you saw Jenny Rose Carey – she is terrific and manages PHS Meadowbrook Farm. She wrote “Glorious Shade” – and YES, why did they take down the speaker schedules already?

  5. What a pleasant view of the exhibit after the no. 4 snowstorm last night!
    Glad my daughter could share these pictures with her 91-year-old mother who loves gardening and landscaping. 3/22/18 A M.


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