The weather forecast was foreboding, with the third major winter storm in two weeks about to hit the northeast. But the blinding snow and lashing winds that my Amtrak train hurtled through on its way to Philadelphia belied the beautiful, springtime ambiance awaiting me inside the 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show.
This premier horticultural event, presented by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and dating back nearly 200 years, always occurs in late winter, a time when gardeners are longing to be reunited with the vibrant colors and delightful fragrances of flowers. This year’s show did not disappoint. Its theme, Wonders of Water, showcased the vital and often striking interplay between plants and water, encouraging visitors to think about water’s presence in our world and its use in our own gardens. The magnificent entrance display immediately set this theme. It featured a 25-foot-tall waterfall, fueled by 2,500 gallons of water, which cascaded in the midst of a recreated rainforest. This incredible forest boasted some 4,000 plants of 165 varieties in brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds, many suspended from an amazing bamboo structure to the sides and overhead. Even birdcalls were part of this wonderful 10,000-square-foot introduction to the show and its theme.
Of course, water appeared again and again throughout the vast Pennsylvania Convention Center, which in total contains some one million square feet of space. Many of the displays included other waterfall of various kinds. In some the water flowed quietly down short distances while in others it gurgled, tumbled, and splashed down sizable vertical drops. Everywhere, too, there were exhibitors – schools, landscape companies, nurseries, and an array of other horticultural-related businesses and organizations – all incorporating the essentialness of water into their products, services, and messages.
But the beauty of the plants at the show should not be overlooked. The orchid section, for example, was truly spectacular. One dendrobium orchid was about five feet across! It’s hard to imagine how an orchid this size was brought into the convention center without being damaged. I wanted to purchase one or two of the cymbidium orchids for sale. They were stunning, but the $150 price tag seemed far too much for something that might die carrying it home through winter’s frigid blast. Even the $50 orchids seemed too costly to take the risk. So we New England orchid lovers must probably be content using winter flower shows like Philadelphia’s for inspiration and postponing our purchases until spring.