How “Brilliant” Is Philadelphia’s British-Themed 2013 Flower Show? Veddy.

This past Friday evening at the gala for the flower show, we bumped into the Queen, a Beefeater, heard tunes from the Beatles and James Bond movie theme songs, and meandered through eerie Moors and border gardens galore.




This year’s Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) Philadelphia Flower Show is the mother of all flower shows—a floral fantasyland and the country’s oldest indoor flower show for 185 years. Nothing could be more real in the celebration of Britain’s centuries-old tradition and passion for gardening than the partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society for this year’s show, along with British experts and landscape designers, and presentations by Mark Lane, Gardens Manager at Buckingham Palace.  

Exhibitors had a go this year with kitchen gardens, rock gardens, landscaping, tabletops, roundabouts, topiaries, Mad Hatter tea parties, Harry Potter, The Yellow Submarine, umbrellas, even the Crown Jewels and the terribly British “fascinator”—an elegant floral headpiece worn by ladies to special occasions as subjects and inspirations. Britain’s heritage and culture, as well as iconic sights from London, take up the mega floor space of the convention center where rolling hills, a cricket club and a giant Union Jack rendered as a 21-foot-long green wall planted to mimic the same pattern delight visitors.  

This year’s proliferation of colorful blossoms, especially English-style garden roses (the ones which actually smell), compete with a lot of green, as in lawns, vertical vegetable gardens and ground cover, which makes this a slightly more monochromatic flower show than in the past.  Only one exhibit that left me feeling less than cheerful this year was the macabre and edgy Jack the Ripper interpretation that used hundreds of red and pink rose buds and thorns stuck into spaces. But overall, there is something for everyone, from a budding gardener to a seasoned horticulturist and landscape architect.

This year’s spacious layout makes it far more pleasurable to explore different designs. Starting from at the main entrance of the flower show, a red carpet, Royal Palace gates and an allée of birch trees lead visitors to the digitally enhanced rendition of Big Ben, which acts as a backdrop for a sound and light show.


Uber-creative MODA Botanica’s “Fog on the Moors” is an interpretation in a vertical sense. The “fog” is Spanish moss, eucalyptus and ferns intertwined with bubble wrap and shredded white paper hanging from 6-foot-high panels. For the moor, it’s heather, Black Magic Vanda Orchids and Scotch Broom scattered on the floor. You walk between the panels and experience the Moors.  For its “Crown Jewels” display, the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) was really clever with floral artistry, from a rose bedecked throne to historic jewels, crowns and a sepulcher. Robertson’s Flowers created an enormous roundabout called “A Proper Hodgepodge” composed of five iconic British eras and themes:  a 1960’s Mod gala, a wartime pottager, a Royal tea party, and a storybook wedding.  “A Tranquil Garden Comes to Life” (EP Henry) features formal boxwood hedges bordering beds of flowering perennials surrounding English statues, cherry trees and a reflecting pool with fountains. The exuberant “London Fog” exhibit (Flowers by David) is the one most like a Broadway show set design, with full-size, open umbrellas hanging from the ceiling over a misty pond. Then there are the gorgeous floral tabletop settings. Candelabras dripping in flowers, dining chairs draped with vines, place settings bursting with miniature flower arrangements are just a few of the extraordinary floral ideas that bedeck the table setting. Also worth seeking out at the show is the kitchen garden exhibit where you can get plenty of ideas for edible-ornamental garden beds.


While the grander schemes provide the “wow” factor, equally exquisite are the miniature exhibits which are comprised of diminutive displays of works of art created by art classes, students and garden clubs. This year, everything from arrangements, jewelry made from dried plants and seeds, pressed plants, vied with floral hats, dresses made from leaves and twigs to fascinators and miniature window boxes, and hanging gardens. The mini exhibits are judged by a panel of distinguished gardeners and horticultural experts. Plant lovers and art aficionados will enjoy the Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators’ exhibit at this year’s show with a collection of more than 50 carefully selected paintings that feature daffodils, peonies, hellebores and other flowers found in Great Britain.


If a trip to Britain is out of the question this spring, then a little trip to Philadelphia to visit “Brilliant” is the perfect prelude to spring. Seminars, classes, book signings, tastings and floral events round out the show, which runs through Sunday, March 10, a day longer than last year’s (www.theflowershow.com).

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