The Philadelphia Flower Show has been introducing its visitors to exotic and incredible flora since its very first exhibition in 1829, when the poinsettia, a flower native to Mexico, made its U.S. debut. The event, put on by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), is largest horticultural exhibition in the U.S. It stretches out over 10 acres in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and, according to Alan Jaffe, Director of Communications for the Flower Show, there are, on average, a million plants per show.
Part exhibition, part competition, the Flower Show chooses a new theme each year—and for 2016, PHS has partnered with the National Parks Service for “Explore America: 100 Years of the National Park Service.” Not only have the exhibitors created displays that honor the Parks, but the NPS has taken an active role in the event, too.
“The Parks Service has two exhibits at the show,” Jaffe says. “One of them is looking at the history of landscape architecture in the park system, and the other exhibit is the Find Your Park Pavilion. They’re bringing in rangers from across the country to do presentations, and we’ll also have webcams from different parts of the country. People will sit in an amphitheater, and they’ll watch a ranger who will take them on a hike through Muir Woods, for example, explaining what’s blooming there today. And the rangers will be here meeting people and explaining to them the joy of the different parks around the country.”
The Philadelphia Flower Show runs until March 13; here are just a few of the amazing displays we saw.
1. BIG TIMBER LODGE
The first thing visitors to the Flower Show see is this structure, which was inspired by the architecture of the National Parks. There’s a 12-foot waterfall, floral chandeliers and totems, and life-sized sculptures of a grizzly bear and a buffalo.
Projection displays, created by the Philadelphia-based company Klip Collective, play imagery from our parks, and audio makes visitors feel like they’re there. “We put in hundreds of grape hyacinths this year so people really feel like they’re getting the first whiff of spring when they come in,” Jaffe says. Other plants in the display include crocuses, cosmos, and echinacea.
2. REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
The centerpiece of this incredible display, created by the Philadelphia-based American Institute of Floral Designers, is an homage to the Chandelier Tree. That redwood, located in Leggett, California, is more than 300 feet tall and has a hole in its trunk wide enough to drive through. Visitors walking through the 20-foot-tall, 15-foot-wide replica should look up to see a dazzling array of chandeliers made with red flowers and crystals.
Around the Chandelier Tree are towering replicas of redwoods and artworks created using reclaimed wood, succulents, branches, and flowers—including this beautiful elk, made with twigs, branches, and rope string.
3. ANSEL ADAMS AND THE NATIONAL PARKS
Schaffer Design’s display honors a number of national parks through the lens of photographer Ansel Adams. Standouts include the homage to Giant Dome in New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which mimics the limestone formations found in the cavern and tops them with amaranths, protea, roses, and leucadendron; a display honoring Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii which includes elements of sweet huck, midollino cane, Phalaenopsis orchids, and sweet peas from Japan (and a little white sand, of course); and a cascade of white flowers recalling Yosemite's Vernal Fall.
4. POSTCARDS FROM THE ARCHES
The Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania-based Robertson’s Flowers & Events created five vignettes designed to evoke the natural rock structures in Arches National Park. Each display—which, in addition to natural materials like flowers and driftwood, used cardboard and burlap, artfully arranged to make the most of their textures—was inspired by an actual structure (Robertson’s included a photo of the inspiration next to each manmade arch). The display won Best in Show - Floral.
5. THE PEOPLE’S PROMENADE
There’s nothing more Philadelphia than the Liberty Bell, and this display has a giant one, covered in red, white, and blue blooms (which are made of paper). The surrounding display includes a garden with peonies, blue hostas, roses, and a lawn lined with white birch trees—and, of course, an excerpt from the Constitution. The display was created by the Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania-based Burke Brothers Landscape Design/Build.
6. MUIR TOWER
This display, created by the Oakland, California-based Hood Design Studio, consists of several mesh rings, some of which are suspended from the ceiling. The design was inspired by Monument to the Third International, a building designed by Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin that was due to be erected in 1917. (The structure, nicknamed Tatlin’s Tower, was ultimately never built.)
The outside is meant to mimic redwood bark, and the inside invites visitors to look up to see slices of redwoods. A species of fern found in Muir Woods National Monument surrounds the exterior of the display.
7. YELLOWSTONE - AFTER THE FIRE
It might seem counterintuitive, but wildfires are actually an important part of a forest's lifecycle—they allow certain plants to flower, allow for habitat diversity, and return nutrients to the soil. For its first 100 years, fires in Yellowstone were quickly stamped out, which played a role in a devastating 1988 wildfire that ravaged Yellowstone; some 36 percent of the park was affected [PDF].
The Glen Mills, Pennsylvania-based Stoney Bank Nurseries’ exhibit shows Yellowstone National Park after the fires. In addition to charred trees, the exhibit has more than 100 types of plants, from wildflowers and saplings to a replica of the park’s Morning Glory Geothermal Pool—which even has steam wafting off of it, though thankfully no sulfur smell—plus a wolf crafted from cryptomeria tree, celebrating the gray wolf’s return to the park.
8. ART OF BONSAI
The Bonsai art form has been around for more than two millennia—and after looking at these gorgeous shrubs, it’s not hard to see why. This display, created by the Glenmore-based Pennsylvania Bonsai Society, showcases trees from 20 to 100 years old. The Shimpaku Juniper tree above is 65 years old and has been training—a technique that involves wrapping wire around the branches to change their shape and angle—for 40 years.