Local plant enthusiasts help the Flower Show bloom

by Francesca Chapman
Posted 2/29/24

No surprise that when the Philadelphia Flower Show opens on Saturday, Northwest Philadelphia will be well represented.

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Local plant enthusiasts help the Flower Show bloom


No surprise that when the renowned Philadelphia Flower Show opens at the city’s Convention Center on Saturday, Northwest Philadelphia will be well represented. After all, isn’t Chestnut Hill the Garden District?

“Germantown, Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill are the neighborhoods in Philadelphia blessed with the most green and open space,” said Hans Hesselein, partner in the landscape architecture firm Apiary Studio, an exhibitor in the show. “It cultivates the type of personality that wants to live and work in the landscape.”

Many of those personalities – the designers, landscapers, florists, home gardeners and artisans – from Chestnut Hill and environs are helping to create the 2024 Flower Show. The annual Pennsylvania Horticultural Society extravaganza, which helps raise funds for the non-profit’s community programs, is in its 195th year. It runs from March 2 through 10.

Organizers describe the show’s 2024 theme, “United by Flowers,” as a celebration of “the colorful community that comes together to share in their love of gardening, flowers and plants, and the impact they make on our lives all year round.”

One of the most eagerly anticipated exhibits is being created by Chestnut Hill’s Robertson’s Flowers, returning to the Flower Show after a three-year absence. Pandemic-era shows were held outdoors in June, instead of in the traditional indoor March setting, throwing many participants for a loop. 

Planning an exhibit for June “was a very, very challenging change for us, with all the weddings and events we have to do,” said Taylor Ferry, director of sales and operations for Robertson’s. “It was just circumstances that had us not participating more than anything else. It’s good to be back.”

The Robertson’s design team, directed by creative lead Emanuella Williamson, has planned something a little different from their past lush, romantic Flower Show displays.

“The theme of this year’s show is wonderfully open-ended, so it allowed us to think outside of the box,” Ferry said. A key influence was the harmony and geometry present in nature, he said, like the hexagons in a honeycomb or the concentric rings of a tree trunk. The Robertson’s exhibit will feature large geometric shapes surrounding an artfully set dining table, all arranged with brightly colored blooms and greenery.

“It’s far more contemporary than what would be typical for us,” said Taylor, a fifth-generation member of the florist family. “We have very creative people here. It will be cool to show the scope of what we can do.”

Hesselein, of Germantown’s Apiary Studio, brainstormed with colleagues on the “United by Flowers” theme, and eventually landed on the idea of an American highway, with a roadside brimming with flowers, grasses and a billboard featuring images by Philadelphia photographer Jaime Alvarez. 

Their highly stylized highway symbolizes “a continuous and, dare I say, unified thread that doesn’t prescribe to state lines or gardening rules,” Hesselein said. 

A road trip through “the great American landscape,” he added, “is a coming-of-age, unifying experience.”

Some of the plants used “are showier than the plants you’d actually see on a roadside,” noted Apiary partner Martha Keen. “We’re not fooling anybody! We’re using the idea of a roadside as a taking-off point for an art piece, making the space more playful than a replication of a real roadside.”

This is Apiary’s third year participating in the Flower Show. “We’re so grateful,” Keen said. “Not just so we can flex our own work, but it’s an honor to be involved in an event that’s been ongoing for almost 200 years. It’s so much a part of the fabric of Philadelphia – not just the city, but Philadelphia as a horticultural hub.”

The city itself is the theme for the show’s many educational contributors. Schools participating were tasked with creating displays to explore the idea of “Gardening for Greater Philadelphia,” and examining one of the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

Students from W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences designed an exhibit that focuses on the Roxborough neighborhood that encompasses the school’s 130-acre farm campus.

A team of students at the Tyler School of Art and Agriculture’s landscape program, part of Temple University’s Ambler campus, crafted a riverfront scene representing the natural and maritime history of South Philadelphia’s evolving Pennsport area. 

Flower Show officials also note more than 30 individuals from Northwest Philadelphia are participating in the show’s plant competitions. Typically under the aegis of groups like the Wissahickon Garden Club, these competitors vie for blue ribbons in design, art and horticulture categories.

Show visitors have lots to see and do after admiring the floral exhibits. Besides a slew of events surrounding the show – educational gardening and craft sessions, parties for kids and grownups, “Fido Friday” bring-your-dog day – shopping is a highlight for many ticketholders. 

The Flower Show’s traditional marketplace highlights live plants, garden equipment and floral-themed decorative items. The Makers Market will showcase the work of artisans and crafters. Here, too, several locals will show off what they do. 

The show’s expected crowds – as many as 250,000 visitors from around the world – are both a lure and a challenge for these vendors.

Roxborough-Manayunk resident Alissa Abba, who creates toys and colorful bandanas for dogs and dog-themed apparel for their people, will sell her wares at the Makers Market opening weekend. Brixxy & Co., named for Abba’s miniature poodle Brixxy Bordeaux, is a fixture at Chestnut Hill shops and shows including Clover Market and the Home & Garden fair. 

This is her first time doing business at the Flower Show, which is “longer, bigger, with more exposure to more people,” Abba said. “It’s a lot, but I feel like I’m finally ready. I’ve been sewing like crazy to be sure to have enough product.

“I’m going big,” she said. “We’ll see what happens!”  

The Philadelphia Flower Show at the Philadelphia Convention Center, 1101 Arch St., is open to the public Saturday, March 2 through Sunday, March 10. Tickets start at $29.99. For more information visit phsonline.org/the-flower-show.