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The Philly Flower Show: The Westminster Of The Plant World

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. This week, we welcome Madaline Sparks to our gardening column. She is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine and writes a bi-weekly garden column for the Chatham Courier. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

Giant Ranunculas

I’m dying to go to the famous English and Dutch flower shows someday. It feels like I can’t really be a legitimate professional in the horticulture business until I make it to at least one of those extravaganzas. The closest thing I have managed to a Chelsea or Hampton Court is the Philadelphia Flower Show. In early March, when our New England landscapes are — in a typical year — usually blanketed in snow and the ground is frozen solid, my winter–fatigued senses crave the smell of earth, the scent of fragrant flowers in bloom, and explosions of color. Flower shows offer these in spades and none does so more than the granddaddy of all American flower shows in Philadelphia, as it is the longest running (since 1829) and largest (30 acres) in the country. 

I have to admit, though, that I’m ambivalent about flower shows in general. My conflict arises from the frequently cheesy themes and weird competitive categories. Hats and jewelry are made completely out of horticultural materials. Architectural landmarks are constructed out of flowers and leaves worthy of a Rose Parade float and there are lengthy lines to view miniature dioramas and fairy gardens in competition for ribbons. I confess the Disneyland-like aspect of flower shows turns me off to some degree.

On the other hand, my favorite section of the show is the plant competition. Scores of amateur horticulture enthusiasts enter their personal plants into more than 100 different categories including orchids, succulents, cacti, miniature bulbs, bonsai, ferns, amaryllis, dwarf evergreens, begonias, tulips — the list goes on and on. Judging criteria considers quality of design, horticulture, cultural perfection, distinctiveness, difficulty to grow and rarity, among other things. The top four or five entries are then displayed at the show by category, and ribbons are awarded. It’s like the Westminster Dog Show of the plant world. I can just imagine the final primping that goes on before the plants are delivered, especially in the topiary category. It is completely arresting!

Horticultural hat; recycled material bee house

In Philly, this year’s theme was “Explore America,” celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Landscape architects, floral designers, growers and engineers designed and installed everything from the tiniest blooming spring ephemerals to 20-foot-tall weeping Alaskan cypress inspired by the theme. The underlying message throughout was preservation, protection and saving America’s natural heritage. So many native ecosystems and aquatic resources are at risk across our country. The educational aspect of the exhibits was impressive.

If you would like to awaken your semi-dormant gardening instincts as the growing season approaches, get a transfusion of inspiration at a show nearby: the Capital District Garden & Flower Show, our region’s largest gardening exhibition. It’s coming up Friday, Mar. 18 through Sunday, Mar. 20 in Troy, at Hudson Valley Community College. The physical education complex transforms into a garden lover’s paradise with more than 17,000 square feet of fully blooming gardens, over 100 floral arrangements exploding with color and fragrance, and a garden marketplace full of shopping. Local, regional and national experts give advice throughout the show at their displays and during the hourly lectures and demonstrations.

Capital District Garden & Flower Show
March 18-20
Hudson Valley Community College, Troy, NY
Friday, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/14/16 at 11:12 AM • Permalink