Rite of Spring

The Philadelphia Flower Show is a rite of spring.  It is a unique blend of garden high and low, an elite event with mass appeal.  Designers (both floral and landscape), schools, garden associations/clubs and individuals create gardens or vignettes or enter into many categories or plant classes ensuring that there’s something for everyone. It is always packed (making photographs difficult) and sometimes the lines waiting to see the large display gardens are long, long, long as they were on Friday when I went.

This year’s theme ‘Passport to the World’ gave garden creators a wide berth for interpretation.  Some didn’t (yawn) go much past the back yard, a few were whimsical (yawn, again) interpretations of foreign places, but the really, really interesting ones juxtaposed the idea of the natural world colliding with the industrial world and challenged the idea of what is traditionally beautiful in a garden.

Gambion screen filled w/natural materials
Flowers suspended in beakers
Calla lillies in 'ice'

Two gardens in particular took the idea of rust belt industrialism juxtaposed with naturalism and made it into something new and beautiful.

Michael Petrie, of Handmade Gardens, created a garden (one of two) for show sponsor PNC out of cast off junk that was both whimsical and a road map for recycling industrial cast offs.  The use of recycled materials defined the idea of a vertical ‘green’ wall–in every possible way.

One person's junk is another's garden
'Green' wall detail
Water Feature
Planting detail

Moda Botanica stacked rusted, graffiti covered shipping containers on top of one another to create an other worldly environment.  The garden was incredibly crowded.

Stacked containers- each with a different theme
Glamour and garbage

There are those who deride flower shows as awful fakes with plants blooming completely out of sequence with no regard to how they would be in the real world.  Get over it!  When its good, it’s experimental theater at its best and at it’s worst it’s still pretty.   For me, as someone who designs gardens for a living, it’s a place to look for ideas and inspiration–to seek possible directions that are only possible when creativity is allowed out of the bounds of design reality.

12 thoughts on “Rite of Spring

  1. What a fantastic looking show. Love the reusing junk in new ways. Would love to have seen it.

    I confess I do get impatient with the incessant out of season groupings at our big show here, Canada Blooms, especially if that is ALL the show is. Can be tiresome. But because there’s usually some kind of inspiration and surprise I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Plus, it’s just what bedraggled gardeners need in March, if only to see SOMETHING growing.

    This show looks to be full of inspiration, creativity and wonderful things to see. Thanks for the pix.

    I don’t go every year…I’m definately theme dependent and actually went this year primarily to meet up with some people, so I was thrilled it was such a good year!

  2. Another great post. You gave us food for thought on the definition of a garden. Loved the pics.


    Thanks! Not sure how to apply all I saw yet, that will have to percolate some more.

  3. I was at a symposium at the Morton Arbortum yesterday. The theme for this year certainly seems to be that there should always be something to look at in the garden other than the plants!


  4. Thanks Susan for sharing the pictures. Always looking for new ideas and inspiration and interested to see what other people are doing. I know its hard to get good pictures under these conditions with the low light situation and all the people but you did a great job. Man thanks.

  5. Please come to Boston for the springtime.

    You have an amazing eye for displays, and I want to see the BoFloSho with you.

    Plus, there’s always dinner, drinks and a tweet-up to be had.

    I wish I could, but alas spring beckons here to with work and all the attendant craziness! Raincheck?

  6. I think if we expected to see everything flowering at the correct time in sequence there would have to be shows all the time!

    These things are opportunities and there seems to be so much outside the box thinking going on here.




    Robert–this was the best show in the past 10 years. So happy to see the boundaries pushed a bit on this side of the pond.

  7. I really enjoyed your junk garden shots! Love it when designers use recycled materials. The frozen calla lillies looked really cool too. Thanks for the post!

    There’s lots, and lots of ideas there. It’s not just anti-glamour either. Glad you enjoyed it.

  8. Thanks for the peek at the Philly show, I just went the Chicago show, so it is interesting to compare. I love the junk into garden stuff. I never thought to use the concrete blocks I’ve found on my property as planters. (I must be seriously creativity impaired.) Is that a stock tank as part of the water feature?

    I think it was a big round stock tank.

  9. I agree. The show was great this year and the rusty gardens were beautiful.

    They were also surprising and that was part of the drama.

  10. I’m getting really tired of people using junk and thinking that it magically becomes beautiful. I think I’m too traditional. Fortunately we all have a different definition of beauty, so shows like this can appeal to a variety of aesthetics.

    I agree with you except in this situation the beauty collided with the cast offs to create something completely new. It wasn’t just junk and plants. There was thought and purpose behind how each was used. Different from taking an old rusted washtub and turning it into a container. In a way these gardens related more to Philadelphia than the others did…they were mainline!

  11. Hi, Susan — Great meeting you that Friday! I sure wish I’d stood in some of those long lines, now that I see what I missed. But wait a minute, I may have missed seeing them but now, thanks to you, I have. I did see the faux ice cubes and thought they were cool…I mean, well, you know what I mean, lol.

    Glad that you are home safely and that we did get to meet face to face!

  12. aloha susan,

    what a treat to see an amazing show through your photography and words…i also agree – the real interesting shows juxtaposed old and new, found materiials, used in different context and it showed in those latter exhibits how exciting…thanks for showing us the highlights!

    Aloha! There’s a lot of controversy when using ‘junk’ in gardens. Many find the beauty of it difficult to understand. Happy to see you here from so far away!

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