Washington continues its march toward the most floriferous spring in memory, with
cherry trees, daffodils, and tulips beginning to bloom, and mock orange, hydrangeas, and
roses leafing out months ahead of schedule.
Usually this unnatural combination of flowers is only visible at the Philadelphia Flower
Show, where city-sized plots manicured by top designers brim with fantasy: Full grown
trees, waterfalls, and ponds, and plants that never bloom together are nurtured to peak in
time for a floral extravaganza.
Each year has a theme. This time it’s Amsterdam, and a “controlled chaos” of flowers,
according to the press release. Wander under a bridge inspired by the Dutch canals and
decorated with Delft tile, brim-full flower boxes, and hanging baskets, and enter
the centerpiece of the show, a floral canopy of more than 6,000 cut and dried flowers
hovering above thousands of tulips, fritillaria, narcissus, and anemones.
There will be many demonstrations and lectures and special events, including competitions, wherein the truly anal demonstrate their ability to spend the winter bringing their azaleas and whatnots into premature flowering perfection; and displays of miniature gardens with gnomes and itty bitty twig cottages that make my skin crawl, but that is neither here nor there; new this year is a “spa experience,” for some reason.
In normal years, you leave the show panting for spring, knowing it’s weeks away and
there’s nothing to look forward to but pale sun and chilly drizzle. So you stick your nose
in a gardening book or two and day dream this years impossibilities; oh my goodness
how this and that will look – dreams that ultimately lead to what do I do about the damn
black spot. Again.
Ah, but this year, this year… there’s already a flower show happening outside your door – a chaos that just needs to be controlled, and the Philadelphia Flower Show is just the place to go for the brightest ideas on how to do that.
If you haven’t been before, play hooky from work and visit on a weekday; it’s marginally less crowded, though there are more strollers to trip over. The show runs from
March 11 through the 19th, with adult tickets priced at $28 if purchased online, $35 at the
box office, and additional discounts for children and students
Philadelphia has this event down to a science. There are plenty of lots for parking, or
take the train, which I did one year. You get off and clear signs (!) lead you to the subway, which scoots you directly to the Convention Center.
Take a break for a cheese steak at the classic food market next door and return to the
shopping area for garden ornaments and tools, books, bulbs, plants, and cut stems.
Curly willow is a particular favorite of mine, with twisted stems four feet tall in red or
green. The branches are occasionally available locally, for about twice the price, so
they’re worth schlepping.
Stick them dry in a vase and they’ll stay until you start sneezing from the dust, which
could take years depending on your housekeeping. Better still, trim a bit off the stem
ends and stick them in water and within a couple of weeks they’ll leaf out most
beautifully, a stunning tabletop display.
They let down a mass of roots and theoretically you can plant them. I have had absolutely
no success with this, though I’ve seen them growing outside a florist in Old Town so I
know it can be done. I suspect it may be a Gay Thing, as some things just are. You know?
There is a also variety of philodendron that I’ve only seen at the show that is sold in a
bunch of foot long branches or stems. If you can snag a few of these, stick them in water
and they’ll grow for years, eventually poking at the ceiling, with absolutely no care
whatsoever. They make an outstanding display in spots where you want a fuss free and
really dramatic accent.
One thing to avoid is the plumeria, and it will be tough to do. The flowers are like small
orchids and the smell is so heady and tropical that you can pass out at a whiff. There are
always sweet little Hawaiian women, so trustworthy, grandmotherly looking, peddling
these sticks, shyly smiling and swearing that there’s nothing to growing them. Just stick it in soil and you’ll be rewarded with a paradise of sight and scent. They lie.
While you will faithfully water and croon over that stick, months will pass before it sends
forth a single green leaf, which will slowly blacken and the whole thing will rot and be
tossed in the trash.
Consider yourself warned. Now go!