Against a backdrop of Wissahickon schist and standing on cobblestones are (left) Eric Schellack, Robertson’s Flower Show designer; Sean Burke, of Burke Brothers Landscaping, and Kate O’Neill, of the Chestnut Hill Business Association, where a CHBA booth is featured along the Flower Show’s Main Promenade. (Photo by Barbara L. Sherf)

by Barbara Sherf

While “Brilliant!” is the theme for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s 184th Philadelphia Flower Show now underway at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the word would also be an excellent descriptor for the marketing effort dreamed up by the Chestnut Hill Business Association at the horticultural extravaganza.

On preview day for PHS members Friday, CHBA staffer Kate O’Neill and volunteer Eileen Reilly were busy handing out colorful postcards with a Calendar of Events and signing individuals up to win a daily prize package with the theme “A Perfect Day in Chestnut Hill.”

Volunteers talked up the fact that Chestnut Hill is Philadelphia’s official Garden District, offering flower-filled plantings along Germantown Avenue, tours of Morris Arboretum and Woodmere Art Museum, and access to the Wissahickon Valley section of the 1,400-acre Fairmount Park.

“The reaction has been very positive,” said O’Neill, who noted that it is the first time the group has had a formal presence at the esteemed floral affair. “Robertson’s (Flowers) helped us out with plant material and flowers, and Richard Snowden personally brought us planters, a bench, street lamps and other props that are used along the Avenue and have the feel of Chestnut Hill.”

Snowden, whose late grandmother Virginia C. Wilmsen was an ardent gardener and leader in several area garden clubs and PHS supporter, said he worked on the booth in her memory.

“I remember going to her home on Montgomery Avenue in Wyndmoor and seeing Flower Show displays being put together in her garage,” he said. “She was always an active volunteer for PHS, and I have fond memories of coming to the Flower Show with her as a child.”

Snowden credited Robertson’s with coming through with plantings at the 11th hour.

The spirit of cooperation spread among vendors from the Chestnut Hill area, said Eric Schellack, Robertson’s Flower Show designer, who joked with Sean Burke, of Burke Brothers Landscape Design of Wyndmoor.

“We needed sod, and they helped us out, and they needed some items that we furnished,” said Schellack, adding that he had a tough time coming up with one theme for the display this year, so he and his team created five islands with different themes. The center island depicts a wedding table with two moss-covered chairs and an oversized floral centerpiece that caught the attention of Hiller Joan Kronick and her daughter Robin who was visiting from Massachusetts. Robin Kronick said she and her mother always stopped by the Robertson’s display.

“They did our flowers when I graduated from Springside [Academy], and we are big fans of their creations,” she said, as her mother talked about not just the visual display but “the lovely aromas.”

All of the senses will come alive, including that of hearing as you walk around to Beatles tunes like “All you need is love” and “You say yes, I say no” resounding through the British-themed show.

While the Robertson’s exhibit was quite showy with high tea on the lawn, a medieval feast, a hunting party and a 60’s modern theme, the Burke Brothers display was just the opposite.

The natural display titled ‘In Situ’, designed by Vivianne Englund-Callahan, features a walk through the woods on weathered paving stones to the remains of a crumbling rustic shelter and bench.

Sean Burke, who was manning the display, noted that the term in situ refers to using raw materials found in the area and basically working with what you have on hand.

“We want customers to feel that we can work with what they have in their present landscape by bringing it all together with additional plantings, giving them a bit of a break from traditional gardens,” he said, adding that installation of the huge stones bordering the display and a half dozen mature trees took five days to install using fifteen laborers.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” he said.

Wyndmoor resident Mary Costello, co-founder of City Planter, was busy at her booth in the huge Marketplace, where row after row of vendors were hawking their garden-related wares.

“Its been an incredible day,” said Costello, who landed a prime spot in the first row and on the corner, adjacent to where a bar was being set up for th opening formal gala. Meanwhile, Schellack and his team were busy putting together the jaw-dropping table displays for the VIP event.

Costello said she and her team developed a strategy that was “budget conscious.”

“We decided to help buyers on a budget by providing smaller finished items using a lot of moss and nifty vases,” Costello said, adding that the show is a great place for her to connect with others in the industry. “I was able to spend time with Paul Myers of Morris (Arboretum) where I had interned many years ago. Before long John Story, of Meadowbrook Farms, stopped by to say hello. All of the vendors share back and forth. It’s a great community and a great experience.”

The Flower Show runs through Sunday, March 10, featuring Family Day with a perfect Chestnut Hill tie-in with a Harry Potter celebration, drawing upon Chestnut Hill’s expertise with it’s Harry Potter Weekend in the fall.

For hours and ticket information, go to

Barbara Sherf gardens and writes from Rose Lane in Flourtown. She can be reached at

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