by Diane M. Fiske
Streetscape is a monthly column about architecture, local planning and urban affairs.
Replicas of buildings in National Parks across the country will blossom in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, beginning March 5, when visitors to the Philadelphia Flower Show will take a trip through scenic treasures right here in the United States.
The visitors, who in past years have visited Flower Show displays set in countries from Ireland through South Pacific Islands and in worlds created in fantasy in movies or television, will see models of real architecture from their home turf of the United States in real time.
They will also see a vast display of large-scale model locomotives and railroad cars rumbling through a miniaturized National Park landscape.
“It all started,” Sam Lemheney, chief of shows and events for the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, said, “when I was having a conversation with Cynthia MacLeod, superintendent of Independence National Historical Park.”
“She said that the National Park Service was going to celebrate its 100th anniversary this year, and we discussed basing an exhibit on the service,” he continued.
Lemheney said that his staff realized the park service was bigger than one exhibit, and they decided to base the whole show on the entire park service, which includes 408 national parks.
Visitors will enter past 9-foot-high totem poles covered with flowers next to a 35-foot high faux timber lodge entrance. The totem poles are set to pay tribute to native American history that played a big part in the history of the parks. Inside the entrance, models of mythical animals from American Indian culture, measuring 8 or 9 feet in height will be set in a park-like setting.
It is not from magic that the Flower Show will blossom with scenery and buildings from across the United States in a few days.
Lemheney and his staff plan each year’s show about three years in advance. In addition, thanks to 3D printers and other technical improvements, they no longer have to construct the show on the floor of the Convention Center, but rather a great deal of the buildings were ready months before the show and only had to be hauled in and assembled.
“Of course we have to wait for the important part, the flowers and plants, to bloom and be ready to place on the displays, “ Lemheney said.“Various flower show exhibitors were given the choice of the National Parks, and they picked the ones that they would use as their exhibit.
“So many people think there is no national park here in Philadelphia. They think of Yosemite and other western parks, but they don’t think about Independence National Park.”
Burke Brothers Landscape Design of Wyndmoor did not make that mistake. Kevin Burke bid on illustrating Independence National Park, and his designer Kali Smally chose the Liberty Bell to illustrate the park.
“We built our design of white birch with a large plaza about 13 by 25 feet,” Smally said. “It will be covered in red, white and blue flowers.”
She said she was enthusiastic about working with the Liberty Bell because she was sure most Philadelphians would have seen the real bell and would enjoy their interpretation.
There would be other interpretations from other florists and landscape design firms of Yosemite, Yellowstone, Acadia and others, as well as a 12-foot simulated waterway and a walkway throughout the various parks.
All these displays were built, starting in September, in workshops throughout Philadelphia and are scheduled to be delivered to the Convention Center and set up in the week before the show.
The Flower Show is not just about trips through scenic national parks or even about preserving these parks and the architecture within. The proceeds from ticket sales go to projects such as City Harvest, which encourage the growth of fruits and vegetables locally and then distribute this produce to the underserved throughout the city.
The Flower Show benefits neighborhoods in another program, called 1 Million Trees, which attempts to fill in the vacant lots created in the 1970s when hundreds of dilapidated houses were torn down.
The program plants trees in areas of Northeast Philadelphia, near Philadelphia International Airport, North Philadelphia and many other areas.
The Flower Show helps the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society address the problems connected to restoring green areas to the city.