A Visit to the Philadelphia Flower Show

Submitted 9 months ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

It's not too late to go!

A sure cure for the Mud Season Blues is to visit a flower show. The Philadelphia Show, which has been occurring since the early 1800’s, is the Grandpa of the shows, and I recently attended a day of flowers, lectures, landscape madness and lots of gardening goodies. I attended on Monday, March 5, but show continues until Sunday, March 11. You still have time to go!

Individual competitors are welcome!

The drive to Philly from the Upper Valley where I live is under 400 miles, and can be done in under 7 hours. But traffic in southern Connecticut was stop-and-go, as was the approach to the Tappan Zee Bridge – even on a Saturday in late morning. I attended the show on Monday, and was lucky to get a parking space near the show for $25 for the day.

Tickets to the show are not cheap, either. Adult tickets are $33, students 17 to 24 are $22 and kids 2 to 16 are $17. But that is still much cheaper than the Chelsea Flower Show in London, which I attended last year (see link at the end of this article to that show).

An unusual yellow clivia

The Philly Show is 10 acres of splendor. I love all the exhibits by individual exhibitors: folks who grow African violets or cacti or Goldfish plants (Nematanthus gregarius). I spoke to Russell Strover of Newton, PA, and 80-year old exhibitor who had several plants on display this year, as he does every year. It struck me, as we went around looking at his babies, that this may well be the high point of his year.

Goldfish plant

His friend Ed MacFarland of Gloenside, PA said he had been exhibiting for 35 years (though he is only 68 and still working as a funeral director). The rules for the competition are stringent, so winning a ribbon is a big deal. Mr. MacFarland competed for 20 years before he got his first blue ribbon and even now, 15 years later, he remembers it well. It was a Pelargonium (geranium) called Vancouver Centennial. “Getting a ribbon is the icing on the cake. But getting (a plant) up and passed as an entry is a lot of accomplishment,” MacFarland said.

Ed MacFarland with one of his entries

I chatted with Petra Page-Mann of Fruition Seeds, a young woman who started her own seed company a few years ago. They sell all kinds of unusual seeds – including some weed seeds: dandelion, lamb’s quarters and a type of chickweed! If weeds are edible and produce well, why not???  I admit to getting some special chickweed seeds. And I got quinoa seeds. The variety I got takes 105 days to seed maturity. It’ll be fun to try it. I’ll start seed in flats indoors in April or May.

Humor, too!

I loved all the flowering trees and shrubs, including some I did not know. Buttercup winterhazel (Corylopsis pauciflora) is one I liked – but cannot grow here, as it’s a Zone 6 plant. It has nice bright yellow flowers and is good in woodland gardens. Reading up on upon my return, I found a related species, spike winterhazel (C. spicata ), which is hardy to Zone 5. If you grow this, particularly if you are in the Upper Valley, please e-mail me. I may try it.

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I loved a category called Grand Old Plants: Flowering and Fruiting Plants Over 20 Years Old. I shall suggest that the Cornish Fair competition add such a category. All were stately, and some were much more than 20 years of age, I suspect. 

Grand Old Plants

The show, all 10 acres of it, is fun. The aisles were wider than I had remembered, so the crowds had more room to maneuver. Everyone was having a good time. I tried getting lunch at Reading Market, just a block or two away, but the lines were so long I gave up and ate at the Flower Show. I had hoped to get a Philly cheese steak sub at the place where they were invented. Maybe some other year.

To see my report on the Chelsea Flower Show in London click here. That show is May 22 to 26 this year. And the Boston Flower Show is this weekend, March 14 to 18. For the full line-up of spring shows, click here. All shows are worth visiting.




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