The antidote to a nor'easter: The Philadelphia Flower Show

The snowy nor’easter did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm for the 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show, which opened to the public on Saturday at the Convention Center.

Thousands of visitors strode through the 10,000-square-foot rain forest entrance garden to the sounds of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” piped-in bird chirps, and rushing water. They were also greeted by a 25-foot waterfall, and more than 4,000 plants – including 150 varieties and more than 40 fresh-cut tropical arrangements.

Also in abundance: cameras. Showgoers snapped selfies against colorful backdrops or hunkered down low to capture tiny details in the brilliant floral displays.

The theme of this year’s show, Wonders of Water, provides inspiration for those gardeners who have always wanted to add a water feature to their garden and for those who want to conserve water as well.

The Flower Show, the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural event, is the annual fund-raiser for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and has a regional economic impact of about $65 million. It runs through March 11.

Camera icon TIM TAI
Friday’s nor’easter did not chill enthusiasm for the Flower Show’s opening day Saturday. TIM TAI / Staff Photographer

One unique visitor managed to get a special preview of the city’s annual tradition. A slightly confused red-tail hawk managed to find its way into the Convention Center during the show’s setup, said Alan Jaffe, PHS’s senior director of communications.

The storm and resulting transportation mess did affect the Friday night opening gala, which saw lighter-than-normal attendance, said Jaffe. No matter when the show is held, it seems to be a magnet for inclement weather, he said.

Total attendance figures will not be available until after the show concludes, Jaffe said. In the last five to 10 years, the annual attendance has been about 250,000 visitors. Last year, even with a midweek snowstorm, the numbers were a steady 245,000 attendees.

If anything, the early March storm might drive more visitors to come, Jaffe said.

“The Flower Show is a fantastic way to get away from winter,” he said.

“It gives me hope there will be a spring,” said Karen Whitney, 58, of Clarion, who along with her partner, Peggy Apple, 59, was attending the show for the first time. The couple took the train in from Harrisburg for the day and already plan to return.

“Wow. Awesome. Beautiful. Incredible,” said Whitney when asked what she thought.

Apple grew up on a soybean-and-corn farm in Indiana. She now considers herself an “occasional gardener” and grows flowers and some vegetables. The show, she said, was inspiring.

“I especially like the displays with the wide variety of plants that are labeled,” Apple said.

Camera icon TIM TAI
A tulip display is an explosion of color. TIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Kimberly Schroeder, an assistant professor of dance at the University of Delaware, was on hand with three of her students, who were performing at the show as part of the school’s exhibit – a collaborative effort with landscape architect and theater students and the Delaware Sea Grant program, Schroeder said. The dance students will perform more than 40 times over the course of the show.

“It’s been thrilling,” Schroeder said. It is a great opportunity for the student dancers to perform before thousands, she said.

Susan and Mel Paramonte, from Staten Island, made the trip down to celebrate recent birthdays. He turned 65; she, 62.

“We don’t feel like we’re in Philly,” Susan Paramonte said. Inside the show it is easy to forget about the weather outside, she added. “It is just breathtaking.”

She heard about the Flower Show on previous trips to Philadelphia and always wanted to see it, she said, calling the architecture of the rain forest garden “phenomenal.”

The couple are spending the weekend in town and planned to return Saturday night for the Flowers After Hours Disco Fever event.

The event is just one of a few the Flower Show offers after hours.

On Friday, the show has a special “Yappy Hour” for canines and their owners. The event will be from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Grand Hall. Dogs with tags and proof of a current rabies vaccine are free; owners will need a show ticket.

Jan Sungail, 78, is a master gardener from Kansas City, Mo.

“This is my third show,” she said, attending with 17 other members of her garden club. “The theme this year is very interesting.”

Sungail, who plans to help put together a presentation to other gardeners when she returns home, was busy photographing a variety of plants in the competition area. Her favorite part was the rain forest garden.

“The floral component was quite amazing,” she said.

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