The Random Garden Club’s winning exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

by Barbara Olsen

Some say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but the girls of Random Garden Club prefer blue ribbons. Matter-of-fact, they prefer double-blue, and that is exactly what they were awarded this past week at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

The theme of this year’s show was “Brilliant!,” and, according to the judges, so was “Simply Fascinating,” RGC’s Store Window-Class entry.

The Flower Show has been a tradition in Philadelphia since 1829, founded by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the first American horticultural society. PHS has been the official sponsor since 1968, and the event is the largest and longest-running indoor flower show in the world. To many people, it is the harbinger of spring.

This year is not the first time Random Garden Club has exhibited and won double-blue in a competitive class. It earned equal accolades in its 2009 Italian Arbor exhibit.

“We are over the moon,” said Jenn Rall, co-chair of the RGC Flower Show committee.“We felt we had a first class idea, but after months of working so closely on the exhibit we couldn’t really gain perspective until installation day.”

And once the installation was complete, RGC members were sure they had a winner.

“On installation day I knew we had nailed it,” said Dena Baker, artistic contributor and long time exhibitor, “but I didn’t say a word to anyone else. I figured there is no reason to jinx a judging!”

Participating in a competitive class takes months of planning and work. The Flower Show classes are announced at the previous year’s show, and garden clubs submit a bid for a class and, hopefully, are awarded entry for their first or second choice.

The Store Window-Class was the first choice for Random Garden Club, and the first committee meeting was held in May. Meetings became regular in the fall and rose to a fevered pitch in January, reaching manic level by February. Activity culminated in absolute frenzy during March 1 installation, through daily maintenance at 6 a.m. and ending in an evening breakdown on March 10.

Through thar process, the RGC decided to focus on a hat shop display with fascinators, those small, whimsical, sometimes wack-a-doodle little hats that all the British Royals wear tipped on the side of their heads. If you watched Kate and Will’s wedding, you have seen your fill of fascinators.

“Having a concept is one milestone, but making it become a clear reality for flower show visitors (and judges) is the stuff of hard work,” explained committee co-chair Nadine Ball. “What will the store look like? How will the fascinators be displayed? What colors? What flowers? What else?”

The design-types decided the store would have a modern feel and chose a cool gray background and a textured black wall where the hats would be mounted. Hat boxes with store logos were created. The flower fascinators themselves were made in modern, uniform colors, choosing flowers of greens and yellows and spotted throughout with white. The ‘what else’ became jeweled pins and pearls.

“I thought designing the hats would be the difficult task,” said Gretchen Liechner, artistic contributor and plant material specialist, “but following the flower show rules is much more challenging.”

The rules consist of specific measurements, specific paint or coverings, nothing allowed to be attached to the space except by suspension from a bar above the display, and absolutely everything flame-retardant, and dipped, not sprayed. Further, during setup there are to be no hammers, no electricity, no pounding, no attaching, no buzz-saws. Of course. And they recommended not using Plexiglas (the dust factor), in which case RGC used Plexiglas for three stands and the store sign. Of course.

“We just had to go for it,” co-chair Rall said. “Nothing else would look as sleek and modern.”

An exhausted and excited RGC committee installed at 6 a.m. and then retreated for breakfast to the Down Home Diner in Reading Terminal Market, as was tradition. It was now the judges’ turn with the exhibit. Criteria used were originality of design, quality and condition of flowers and plants, scale, execution of exhibit intent and compliance with class description on a scale of 100 points.

The first judging March 1 awarded first place. The second judging, March 6 awarded first place with a perfect score. No diamonds required.

“The judges really understood and appreciated our exhibit,” said Paula Phelan, PHS member and RGC committee member. “They commented it was ‘Fun. Fanciful. Fascinating’ . . .(and that it ) . . . ‘warrants royal patronage.’ Those comments make me feel that our efforts really paid off.”

Members of the RGC Flower Show Committee are Jenn Rall and Nadine Ball, co-chairs, Dena Baker, Gretchen Leichner, Susan McCune, Tandy Hawkins, Peggy Conver, Paula Phelan, Barbara Olson and Suzanne Duffy.

Barbara Olsen is a member of the Random Garden Club.

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