Glorious display of flora and hula

There will be plenty shaking amid Hawaiian wonders as the 2012 Flower Show gets under way at the Convention Center.

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Doritaenopsis orchid at the Waldor Orchids greenhouse, awaiting its days of glory at the Philadelphia Flower Show. (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)

Changes are in store for the 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show, starting from the moment you walk in the door.

Hey, what happened to the central feature that announces the show theme, which this year is "Hawaii: Islands of Aloha"? It's always been smack dab in your face as you enter A Hall at the Convention Center.

Now it's off to the right, to break the habitual logjam of gawkers and picture-takers around the door. This hardly constitutes revolution, but remember: Change is hard, especially in Philadelphia, the town that never forgets.

The Flower Show hasn't been held in the old Convention Center in West Philly for 17 years, but people still wax nostalgic about The Smell. As you went down the escalator into the show, you couldn't avoid it - you anticipated it - the sweet scent of hyacinths that would waft off the show floor, out the door and into your nostrils.

For many old hands, that meant spring - and they still miss it.

But Drew Becher, president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the show's producer since 1829, feels strongly that it must continually change to survive and thrive. Many flower shows have shrunk or gone away, changed hands or focus, and those that remain compete not just with other flower shows, but with all sorts of other venues and productions that target the same upscale demographic.

"I want the Flower Show to get stronger and bigger and be completely different every year. It's time to look at everything and move things around," says Becher, who came to PHS in 2010.

He literally moved things around for 2012. The entire floor plan is different, and he vows to change it every year.

For 2012, the popular Horticort, where plant competitions are staged, has moved from B Hall to A. More than 1,000 square feet of space has been added and the ceiling lowered to make it more intimate.

"It's hard to take a little thing of African violets from home to this cavernous place. With lower ceilings, it feels more scaled to humans. It's warmer," says Becher, who insists his changeups will "create excitement, like a treasure hunt or getting lost in a garden."

Other new features include a 64-seat, semi-a-la-carte restaurant in the middle of the show, which will do double duty as extra seating. Those weird church-style rows of chairs in the hall outside the show are destined for more informal groupings, "like a living room," Becher says.

There's a new flower show app, an amenity PHS folks saw in action at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show in England.

And here's something close to Becher's heart - a reality show with floral designers, a sort of "Iron Chef with flowers," where designers get a surprise package of blooms and 30 minutes to get creative. Other designers will judge and audience members can vote on their smartphones and other platforms.

Speaking of voting, it's a well-known fact that a lot of men opt out of a trip to the Flower Show. (Fully 80 percent of the show's visitors are women.) So this year - and Becher apologizes in advance for such "gross generalizations" about men - PHS will debut a "man cave" in Room 204B. It'll feature an open bar, big-screen TVs with nonstop sports, theater-style seating, a Tiger Woods video game and - this is a first, for sure - poker and blackjack games with professional dealers from SugarHouse Casino.

Lest anyone mount a high horse over this: Money from the games goes to PHS's City Harvest program, which supplies food cupboards with fresh vegetables. And, no, women won't be turned away from the cave.

Other changes: Some exhibit walls have been lowered to improve the view and traffic flow. The AIA bookstore is bigger by 50 percent, and 16 spaces were added to the Marketplace. Vendors will be organized by theme - garden art, for example - and for the first time, the Marketplace aisles will be oriented east-west, like the rest of the show.

As for the rest of the show . . . it's all Hawaii, with a hope and a promise from PHS that it will be "culturally authentic."

Even the vendors in the Hawaiian Village. There will be 40 of them, 10 each from the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii. Hawaiian artisans will demonstrate traditional crafts, such as lei-making, and dancers from Halau o Keikiali'i, a traditional Hawaiian cultural group based in San Francisco, will share the islands' famous hula, with traditional chants, songs, music and attire.

The show's central feature is hardly traditional. Klip Kollective in Northern Liberties will be using a patented technique called video mapping to project 3-D fish, bubbles, surf, sea turtles, surfers, and other images onto a giant "orchid wave" that rolls and crashes over the heads of visitors.

The wave will be covered in white orchids and anthuriums and surrounded by four showcase gardens that depict Hawaiian paniolo, or cowboys (yes, Hawaii has cowboys); a fantasy surfers' retreat; a rocky, dry, island landscape (yes, Hawaii does dry and rocky, too); and a volcanic garden that channels Pele, the mythical goddess of fire.

At the other end of the landscape spectrum, vegetables will have a bigger presence this year. First among many is a "lettuce wall" measuring nine feet high and 40 feet long, composed of 3,000 heads in a range of colors, all heirloom varieties.

PHS is touting it as "the largest lettuce wall in the world," though it's unclear how many other lettuce walls are in the running.

But that's the Flower Show for you. It's an exercise in cheerful hyperbole, one that - seriously, now - reaps about $1 million for PHS and its urban greening programs.

 


Contact staff writer Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or vsmith@phillynews.com.

 


Highlights for 2012

Redesigned floor plan. Improved access and easier flow through the exhibits.

Extended evening hours. The show will be open until 9:30 p.m. except March 11.

Flower Show "Man Cave." Men and women are welcome to the "Man Cave" with its home theater setup, gaming tables sponsored by SugarHouse Casino, and full bar with beer, wine, and Hawaiian-themed cocktails.

Family Lounge. Children's activities including crafts and events are planned around the new animated feature film The Lorax, based on Dr. Seuss. Family Day is March 11.

Free lectures and demos. Learn about green roofs and walls, organic gardening, vegetables, edible landscapes, native plants, tree and lawn care.

Theme Nights. Monday is LGBT Night, Wedding Wednesday is two days later, and the second annual Girls Night Out is Thursday.

Cooking demonstrations. There will be a guest chef and a Hawaii-themed VIP restaurant near the center of the exhibition hall and special Hawaii cocktails offered at beverage stations.

Expanded shopping. Explore the 180 shops at the Show Marketplace, Flower Show Shop and Meadowbrook Farm Store. A new Green aisle in the Marketplace will feature sustainable products for home and garden.

Insider tip. Download the new mobile Flower Show app to your smartphone or tablet. It has information on exhibitors, maps, schedules, special offers, and parking. Go to http://www.theflowershow.com/showinfo/mobile.html

   - Source: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

 


If You Go

The 2012 International Flower Show is scheduled Sunday through March 11 at the Convention Center, 12th and Arch Streets. Hours are 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through March 9; 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. March 10; and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 11. PHS Member Day is Saturday, noon to 3:30 p.m. Tickets: $27; $20 for students; $15 for children ages 2-16; with discounts and special packages at www.theflowershow.com. Information: 215-988-8899.