The next miserable snowstorm may be barreling toward Philadelphia, but on Saturday, a mellow crowd in complete denial channeled spring on opening day of the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show.
The show runs through March 9 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Spring begins 11 days later.
Attendance was down in 2013, and the show lost money. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society President Drew Becher blamed local forecasters for scaring people away with a "drumbeat" of snowstorm predictions that never materialized.
This year, Becher said, ticket sales were running 30 percent above last year. But it looks like a forecast of heavy snow starting Sunday night may come to pass. PHS said that the show would be open Monday regardless and that reduced ticket prices would be announced on its website, theflowershow.com.
"I like this show. It's beautiful and very artistic," said Cecilia Olender of Northwood, whose spontaneous comment handily summarizes the show's theme: "ARTiculture, where art meets horticulture."
Landscape exhibitors and floral designers were paired with museums in the Philadelphia area and beyond and given this mission: Find an artist, a painting, a particular landscape, and interpret it your own way.
It has made for a different kind of Flower Show, one that visitors Saturday described as more sophisticated, colorful, and - of course - artful than the Flower Shows they remember. In recent years, show themes have focused on places, such as Britain, Hawaii, and Paris.
"I'm glad they tried something new, and I'm enjoying it very much," said Lynne Bush of Milford, "I just wish I was more versed in the art."
For those who need help with that, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the show, has provided information at each exhibit, explaining which museum is a partner, which artist or work is being interpreted, and what that interpretation is meant to convey.
The American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD), which won Best in Show/Floral for its "Treasures from Korea" exhibit, concentrated on one piece, The King's Feast, from the Joseon dynasty show that opens today at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Olender, for one, appreciated the descriptions of the different aspects of the AIFD display, including Korean dance, an empress' kimono made of dried blue hydrangeas, and a spectacular culinary setting.
The AIFD exhibit, and others, feature a variety of dramatic textures, such as dried and fresh flowers, seeds, grasses, lamb's wool, moss, and bamboo.
The show's Calder-inspired entrance garden, an unusual and sprawling tableau of oversize picture frames and large mobile-like pieces, is filled with those textures.
"They're really colorful, really interesting to the eye," said Ramsey Wilson, a fiber artist from Pequea, Lancaster County.
But Tom Stapon, who owns a nursery business in Jamesport, N.Y., and has been coming to the show for 10 years to get ideas for clients, wasn't finding much in ARTiculture to take home. "It's all about taste," he said, "and this year it's very contemporary, very artsy. I like traditional landscapes."
The show has some new elements this year, including lecture programs with more audience participation; more emphasis on "garden-to-table" demonstrations with chefs from the region and elsewhere; 600 new seats, bringing the total to 1,100; and displays of sculptures by Steve Tobin of Bucks County and six original Andy Warhol prints from his "Flowers" series.
The entertainment this year is Bandaloop, an Oakland, Calif., aerial dance troupe founded by Swarthmore College alum Amelia Rudolph and known for performing on vertical surfaces all over the world.
"They were so much fun," said Nancy Star of Gainesville, Fla., whose annual Flower Show trek always includes a Philly cheesesteak at the Reading Terminal Market.
Speaking of food, the 2014 show is selling the usual Convention Center fare, plus DiBruno Bros. and Dunkin' Donuts. Jose Garces has a presence, too. (Chorizo bilboa with cornichon, anyone? $6.)
Saturday's visitors to the new $3 Butterfly Experience reported seeing lots of butterflies in Room 202, unlike members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, who had a private preview of the show Friday and came away grumbling that their "experience" had hardly any.
PHS produces the Flower Show, which is its largest fund-raiser, typically generating about $1 million for the nonprofit's public landscape, urban farming, tree-planting, and horticulture programs.