Despite midweek snow, the Philly Flower Show blossomed with 245,000 visitors

Susan Tantsits of Edge of the Woods Native Plants in Oreland talks about growing native plants on the final day of the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show at the Convention Center.

The Philadelphia Flower Show is perennially opulent and awe-inspiring, and this year’s Holland-themed extravaganza was no exception.

But as Sunday’s closing-day crowd at the Pennsylvania Convention Center could attest, the 2017 show was also a garden of delights for useful, inspirational, and gee-whiz information.

You could hear talks on tree-pruning and container gardening. See an AARP demonstration of traditional Japanese flower arranging, plus a display of the art by the Philadelphia chapter of Ikebana International.  Or walk through a greenhouse exhibit on plant breeding — Holland is a world leader — by Williamson College of the Trades in Delaware County.

“I love the educational exhibits,” said Andrew Torrens, geeking out at the college's plaque about plant geneticist Gregor Mendel. Torrens had come from Brooklyn with girlfriend Abbey Meeks, hoping to get tips for their rooftop garden.

More than 245,000 visitors flocked to this year's show, "Holland: Flowering the World," according to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.  The attendance was a bit less than in the two previous years, largely because of the midweek storm that brought snow to the region. PHS president Matt Rader called the Dutch-themed event "a wonderful success on so many levels."

Sunday's visitors were agog at the 30,000 tulips greeting them at the entrance, and the Ecodome, a 36-feet-tall geodesic dome showing off the Netherlands’ innovative green technologies.

How-to shows were also big draws, such as the one on pruning by John Studdy, an arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts of Bala Cynwyd.  

“This is our dominant stem, so I want to take a little off here and there to open it up to the sun,” he said as he snipped a leafless example of a Linden tree. Getting rid of 40 percent of foliage branches “isn’t bad,” he added.

Next up, David Mizajewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation, talked about “attracting birds, butterflies and other backyard wildlife” — which is the title of his book.

One of his messages: If you want to draw wildlife, stick to the native plants that they eat. “An oak supports 500 species of butterflies and moths,” he said. “A non-native ginko supports four species.”

Another message: Welcome the icky and ugly. “If I titled my book ‘attracting toads and wasps,’ no one would buy it,” he said, going on to extol beetles and dragonflies. “Without bugs, you do not have birds.”

Mary Beth Hassett, in Philadelphia for an acupuncturists’ conference, jotted notes to take back to Freeport, Maine, where she gardens all around her house. “It was good to hear about the importance of native plants,” she said.

Nearby, a steady stream of visitors walked through “the secret annex.” The garden featured quotes by Anne Frank, the Jewish Holocaust victim whose family hid in an annex of rooms above her father’s office in Amsterdam. In her posthumously published diary, the teenager drew solace from her memory of plants and nature.

"This is our first time at the show," said Carol Gitto of Margate, there with her husband Tony. "It's just beautiful." 

The flower show, started in 1829, is the nation's largest and longest-running gardening event. It is a major money-raiser for the nonprofit Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and finances its community improvement projects throughout the year.