On Saturday, I went with a friend to the Philadelphia Flower Show. On my own. Child-free. No clock-watching or pressure of time. It was an absolute luxury. I really know very little about flowers and gardening. My friend knows a bit more than I do but is no expert. I think it is safe to say, therefore, that attending the Flower Show was an opportunity to just be grown ups together and enjoy each other’s company more than it was about indulging any horticultural interest or ability.
This was also my first time attending an event in the Convention Centre. My husband and two of my children have attended Philly Comic Con annually since we emigrated to America so they are veterans of the Convention Centre but I have had no reason to go before. The Flower Show is run by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and is apparently America’s longest running and oldest flower show, dating as it does from 1829. I imagine that people attend in order to be inspired by new plant varieties, by landscape design, to participate in competitions, and to meet with other flower enthusiasts. Aside from the opportunity for a day of unfettered freedom, the appeal for me lay in seeing a riot of colour and vibrant life given how much I have been loathing Winter and craving Spring.
Given my degree of ignorance, this will not be a long blog post. I did, however, enjoy wandering among the displays and showcases. Most impressive was a tropical jungle built around scaffolding poles that had been painted to mimic bamboo and which were festooned with stunning flowers in bold colours, including cascades of orchids and swirling leaves, and incorporating various water features including a series of waterfalls and the occasional shower of rain. I was also very taken with a desert area filled with an incredible variety of cacti and succulents. My friend and I became a tad obsessed with one colloquially named “dinosaur back” because of all of its folds and ridges. Had one been available for purchase, I might have brought that home with me. I am not very good at keeping houseplants alive but cacti do somehow manage to survive in my care despite my negligence and evil eye.
The theme of the flower show was apparently water. That seemed like a very easy challenge to me since almost all plants require water for sustenance and many garden designs incorporate water. Still, I do enjoy a good water feature so I liked seeing the variety of ways in which water had been built into the landscaping. Aside from the water, we noticed some other repetitions of design: glass orbs and copper. We congratulated ourselves on spotting what might be a gardening “trend”. There was. for instance, a visually appealing display involving a mirrored table (imagine keeping that clean of smears and finger smudges?) with glass orbs hanging above it like a chandelier, each orb containing a plant. I thought it would make for a pretty wedding table whereas in my home it would make for megatons of stress and fingers being cut on shards of smashed glass. On the subject of weddings, I did love an outdoor wedding table, all wood and soft moss, including what looked like a tiered cake made from slices of log. I could imagine Oberon and Titania dining in just such a setting.
The competition areas were befuddling to me. My lack of expertise meant that I could not possibly figure out why one plant or arrangement had been awarded first place while another was an honorable mention. It was another opportunity to see a diverse selection of plants I had never encountered before. There was a miniature citrus tree with blossoms and fruit, venus fly traps and pitcher plants inside humid terrariums, arrangements inside tea cups (I liked those a lot!), lots of breathtaking orchids, and blooms in every shape and colour. I was drawn to the weirdo plants, the non-conformists, and the ones that looked like me if I was a plant. I got more excited than a grown woman ought to when I spotted some chubby tuberous plants that looked just like mandrakes from ‘Harry Potter’.
In truth, I cannot say I learned much after a day at the Flower Show and any sense of inspiration was tempered by the reality of my green-finger skills (which are brown-thumbed to be honest). I did, however, very much enjoy a pleasant day out without the responsibility of keeping children engaged.