Flower Show must-sees from a guy who knows his gardens
YES, of course, "You Bet Your Garden" guy Mike McGrath will be at the 2014 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show - both as a speaker (Wednesday at 7 p.m.) and as a wide-eyed admirer of, well . . . lots. During his days as a Flower Show exhibitor (mid-'90s, in the educational category), McGrath won four Best of Shows. We asked him to highlight some of the people, plants and things to watch for at this year's show, which opens today:
* The marquee Entrance Garden. This year's is a floral salute to Philly homeboy Alexander Calder's mobiles, animated with performers from the "vertical" dance troupe Bandaloop. "That's something I'm going to be staring at for a long time," McGrath says.
* The Grounds for Sculpture exhibit. The 2014 show's "ARTiculture" theme pairs art museums with horticulturists - and this Princeton-area sculpture garden has world-class art and plants. "It is one of my favorite places in the world," McGrath says. "I want people to go to their exhibit, and then I want them to go to the actual place."
* Coneflowers. In the gardening community, 2014 is the year of the echinachea (a/k/a coneflower), so expect to see some at the Flower Show. If you like what you see, try them at home. McGrath says they're beginner-friendly: "That's something everyone can grow."
* Replacement plants for winter casualties. Need a tree, shrub or flowering plant that's able to withstand ice storms and snow drifts better than those sad, defeated specimens now in your yard? "Go right to the PHS exhibit," McGrath says.
Plants that earn the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Gold Medal Plant designation are hardy lovelies, built to survive. Seek out a staffer from PHS's Meadowbrook Farm - many are working at the show's PHS Store - for advice on medal winners that might work for you.
* Butterfly rescue. "Everybody's all upset about the [disappearing] monarchs," McGrath says. The Flower Show has a live butterfly exhibit this year (Room 202 in the Grand Concourse, $3 extra to enter), and several speakers at the Gardeners' Studio will talk about growing plants to attract and sustain them.
For monarchs, in particular, McGrath says to plant milkweed (to feed their hungry, hungry caterpillar stage) and easy-to-grow Mexican sunflowers (with nectar to fuel the adults' migration).
* Tovah Martin and Art Wolk. McGrath says these plant experts are two standouts on the Gardener's Studio lineup. "She's talking about houseplants," he says (at 5 p.m. today.) "Maybe people will kill a little less of them."
Wolk will talk about bulbs, his specialty, at 9 a.m. next Saturday. "He's one of the best bulb forcers in the businsess, and he's hilarious," McGrath assures.
- Becky Batcha
2014 Philadelphia Flower Show, Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch street, March 1-9, $15-$32 (under age 2 free), 215-988-8800, theflowershow.com.