If you're traveling to Philadelphia in the Springtime or even live in the area but have never attended, the Annual Philadelphia Flower Show is a can't-miss event for adults and children alike. The event is the largest indoor flower show in the world. But to assume it's just a collection of bouquets and floral arrangements could not be more wrong. Instead, within the 33 acres of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, you'll find elaborate displays, artwork, competitions, live entertainment, symposia, food, wine tastings, workshops, exhibits, artisan shops, and more. Read about this annual event below, check out some highlights from past years, and be sure to catch the show in 2015!
History of the Flower Show
The Philadelphia Flower Show, which is put on by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and held annually in March, serves as a welcomed harbinger of Spring. The history of the event goes all the way back to 1829 when a handful of local horticulturists got together to show off their exotic plants. The week-long show has evolved into the world's largest indoor show, attracting upwards of 300,000 visitors each year at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City.
Each year features an overarching theme for the show. Past themes have included locations such as England, Hawaii, Paris, and Ireland, while others have been more abstract such as "Jazz It Up!", "Gardens for the New Millennium", and "Moments in Time". 2014's "ARTiculture" theme brought together museums, floral designers, and landscape artists to create elaborate displays reflecting artists' works and museum collections.
The Entrance Garden
When you enter the show hall, all of your senses are immediately engaged; the entrance garden features an elaborate themed-garden often towering with sculptures, dramatic lighting, and sometimes even performances. Music and the steady hum of visitors imparts a vibrant energy to the convention hall, and the refreshing smell of flowers, lush plants, and soil are a sweet preview of the Spring season just around the corner.
The Show Floor
Various competitions incorporate prompts that riff on the overall theme of the show, such as the 2014's prompt to create an Art Noveau-inspired hat out of flowers. Throughout the show, you’ll find displays, sculptures, and arrangements of every scale—from miniature arrangements to life-sized landscapes.
Entrants to some competitions work on their entries for months in advance, while other competitions require individuals to create displays on the spot with only provided materials. The Designer's Studio, for example, hosts head-to-head competitions among professionals and amateurs that are judged by the audience in intense, reality TV-style.
Competitions on the show floor are divided into three main categories--artistic, horticulture, and design. Design classes include full-scale displays such as gardens, backyards, balconies, porches, table settings, and window boxes. Entrants to the design and other classes can be professional landscapers, florists, horticulturists, artists, garden clubs, or even novice gardeners.
If you like looking at beautiful flowers and plants in their own glory, without elaborate props, head towards the Hamilton Horticourt for entries by both experts and novices. A recent addition to the competition are interactive touch screens for visitors to learn about the plants and judging.
Something For Everyone
Kids will love the Make & Take studios, sponsored by craft stores, where they can work with DIY experts to make their own creations such as floral headpieces or picture frames. While the kids are making masterpieces, adults will love the wine and spirit tastings. The free, expert-led tastings feature wines and liquors from all over the world. The cook in the family may also enjoy the Garden To Table Studio which puts on free half-hour cooking demonstrations. Other attractions not to miss include: exhibits (like the 2014 butterfly exhibit), kids activities (like the 2014 Crayola Experience Mural), gardening workshops, celebrity & guest appearances, lectures and symposia ranging from the educational (such as "Italian Gardens: Roman Origins, Renaissance Expressions and American Reflections”) to the practical ("Seed Starting for Great Vegetables").
Once you’ve been inspired by the thousands and thousands of flowers and plants on display, head over to the Flower Show Marketplace. The marketplace takes up about 1/3 of the convention center hall and vendors sell everything from flowers, plants, and gardening tools to jewelry, home decor, and clothing.
Planning a visit with your family to the PHS Flower Show? The 2015 show will be held from Saturday, February 28th-Sunday, March 8th. Here are a few tips for your visit:
- When to go: The show hall can get pretty crowded on the first and last, as well as weekend days. If you’re bringing babies or young children in strollers, consider going in the morning or afternoon on a weekday.
- Getting there: The Pennsylvania Convention Center is located in Center City in downtown Philadelphia. There are plenty of garages and lots within walking distance. Parking ranges from $15-30 and is worth it for being close to the convention center (especially if you’re carting lots of kids and diaper bags).
- What to wear: Comfortable shoes for the whole family are a must. Bring a jacket or light sweater, as the show hall can occasionally get chilly.
- What to bring: The marketplace boasts lots of goodies, so bring a shopping tote or leave some room in your bags for any purchases. Pussywillow branches are a very popular buy, but also fragile, so plan for a way to get them home intact. Strollers can be cumbersome on busy days, so leave the stroller at home if possible and plan to wear your baby instead. For toddlers on the go, a child harness may be helpful to prevent getting separated.
- For budding (no pun intended) and professional photographers: Both the elaborate displays and simple, elegant plants offer an opportunity for great photos, whether with your children or for practicing photography. Make sure your flash is working or bring a separate flash. The lighting in the center is dim with harsh shadows.
- Explore the area: Philadelphia Chinatown is adjacent to the convention center and offers plenty of great Asian restaurants to grab a bite to eat as well as plenty of shopping if you're in the mood for a stroll.
The PHS maintains a great website with show information, maps, a blog, and even an app for the show. Check out The Flower Show website for information and the PHS website for year-round events around the Philly area.
Photo credits: Fountain adapted from Ben Yanis; Poinsettia adapted from HarshLight; Jazz It Up! gardenscape, guitar sculpture, balcony, patioscape, bar, front door, dining room display, garden with picture frame, jester, marketplace booth adapted from Houron Tours & Travel; Eiffel Tower adapted from Susan Reimer; Explorer's Garden and mannequins in raincoats adapted from Mike Myers; Mannequin in dress adapted from Holly Higgins; Pussywillow adapted from inajeep. All other photos by The Whimsical Photographer.