This year's Philadelphia International Flower Show doesn't look at flowers and arrangements from a special part of the world - its theme, "Passport to the World," takes in the floral traditions of several nations.
So we thought we'd do the same - by taking you to the flowers in four of those spots: Singapore, Brazil, India, and New Zealand. The annual flower show closes Sunday; you'll need a ticket. Our spots are open year-round; you'll need airfare - or, for virtual visits, a computer.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
At the Flower Show, the Singapore salute focuses on the fragile, beautiful orchid. Orchids are plentiful at the 157-acre Singapore Botanic Gardens, which just celebrated its 150th year and is open from 5 a.m. to midnight every day.
On a hot day in early July - and hot in Singapore means just that - I strolled through the magnificent gardens and around their lakes, with little rests here and there in temperature-controlled buildings in order to control my own temperature.
The highlight of my visit was the National Orchid Garden (www.sbg.org.sg/centralcore/nog.asp), on the gardens' westernmost edge, a main attraction among tourists and Singapore residents alike. (Bonsai's big, too.)
The gardens, where orchids had been grown since 1859, began breeding them in 1928, and now more than 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids are in the collection; about 600 species and hybrids on display, according to gardens officials. The National Orchid Garden calls itself the largest display of tropical orchids in the world.
If you go, plan the trip; the gardens are open shorter hours than the rest of the property - 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, still giving you plenty of time to enjoy the beauties. The orchid garden is the only part of Singapore's gardens with an admission fee: about $3.60 U.S.
Rio Botanic Garden
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
www.jbrj.gov.br (Portuguese only)
Just over 200 years ago, the Portuguese nobility fled Napoleon by moving to Brazil, where one man - he would later become King Dom Joào VI - built a gunpowder factory at an old sugar cane mill. As the garden's Web site tells it, he was "delighted by its exuberance of nature" and installed a garden. Other sources say he wanted to plant seeds from the Orient that Portuguese sailors were acquiring.
In any case, what began as that venture, with two rows of imperial palms that remain the site's trademark, is now the tropical Rio Botanic Garden, with its own avenues, lily-pad covered lagoons, bromeliads, and other plants from all over the planet and, like Singapore's garden, wild orchid species galore.
It covers about 340 acres, has a huge herb garden with plenty of medicinal specimens, and still sports walls of the gunpowder factory, along with buildings dating from the 16th century. It's a major birding spot - people have been known to spot toucans. It's also a haven for weekend visitors (the public part - not all of the environmental preserve is open), and the weekend ambience is said to differ from the more serene weekdays.
India Botanic Garden
This 273-acre garden, founded in 1787, was once called the East India Company garden; later, it was the Royal Botanic Garden. Now India is independent, but the garden still offers more than 12,000 trees and shrubs and thousands of plants.
Its biggest attraction, though, is one plant: the Great Banyan Tree, more than 250 years old and "spread out like a miniature forest," with 2,800 roots above the ground, say officials at the garden. The plant covers almost four acres.
Auckland Botanic Gardens
Auckland, New Zealand
This 158-acre garden has been open only since 1982. It has a wide range of collections representing the region's moist climate, with plants that grow in temperate and tropical zones.
A native-plant collection contains about 1,600 species found only in New Zealand - anyone seen any kauri, rewarewa, or kawakawa around here? (I thought not.) The property also contains many gardens for plants we do know: magnolias, salvias, rhododendrons, roses, palms, and edible plants, all at the bottom edge of the world. I