So this is the new gold-plated Hamilton Horticourt, just to the left as you walk into the show, which is being set up as I write this. Designed by Gary Radin, who's also doing the Big Ben Plaza central feature, it's 100 feet by 200 feet. At the request of Drew Becher, president of PHS, Dorrance Hamilton, an inveterate plant competitor, gave $1 million for its construction and endowment - and by all accounts (except hers) she also played a role in its design.
Famously reticent about tooting her own horn, "Mrs. Hamilton," as PHS folks call her, did not return my phone calls, saying through a spokeswoman that she would like me to talk to PHS. Which, of course, I already had. More than once.
In any event, Mrs. H. wanted "bed space for large plants," of which she enters many (many of them LARGE), and lighting that shows everything to its advantage. PHS will be using LEDs and, with the understanding that everything associated with the flower show is by definition hyperbolic, we're told that the effect will be "like HD TV." Pass the popcorn!
It can only be an improvement. "The lighting before was dreadful," acknowledges Becher, who more than once has remarked that "people would grow their plants at home and they'd look huge, then when they were set up in the Convention Center, they'd look like a pebble."
The Horticourt footprint is the same as the old space, but PHS should be able to display more plants.
The new plant pavillion is designed to have an intimate "greenhouse feel," with a lower ceiling, and better staging. It should not be the cold, utilitarian space of old, and it supposedly will not be affected by the harsh lighting in the Convention Center. Will people look better, too? I'm counting on it.
Part of PHS' new business plan is to invest in components of the show, and this particular component is important to a lot of folks. "The Horticourt breathes new life into the core of what the Flower Show is," Becher says. (Early Flower Shows, in the 1800s, were all about plant competition.)
Not only that, but interest in competing - believe it or not - has increased quite dramatically. It's roughly double what it was a decade ago - up to almost 6,000 entries at the show. It can't all be succulents! Becher sees many reasons - the influence of social media, interest among younger people and city dwellers who've had success with window boxes and herbs in the kitchen window and, as he says, "Plant competitions have become sexy again."
More on this later in the week/show, when the Horticort fills up. Wanted to give you all an idea of how the new structure is taking shape. Note PHS' name up there. Branding, folks. It's huge.