My experience at the Philadelphia Flower Show 2020


Courtesy of Sophia Sitnick ('20)

Le strade delle Cinque Terre, also known as ‘The Streets of the Five Lands’, is a popular sight at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

Growing up in Cherry Hill, I had always heard some buzz about the annual Philadelphia Flower Show, but had never taken the time to experience it myself. This year I chose to “accept this rose” (shout out to “The Bachelor” fans) and attended an early morning tour of the Flower Show. To my surprise, the show felt like a mini-vacation to the southern coastline of Europe, also known as the Riviera, complete with authentic landscapes and floral exhibits.

After taking a quick ride on the PATCO, I exited the station at 8th & Market Street where I joined a crowd on their morning commute to work. After turning onto 12th Street, I passed the iconic Reading Terminal Market and entered the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Arch Street. I scanned my ticket, took the escalator to the second floor, and arrived at the show’s entrance in Hall A.

All visitors to the Flower Show must pass by the aptly named entrance garden. Designed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), the garden showcased a massive 6-year-old olive tree which appeared to be set on a hillside among vibrant flowers. The striking exhibit created the impression of being on the southern coast of Europe and set the tone for this year’s show theme, Riviera Holiday. PHS President Matt Rader, explained how the theme for the 2020 show was selected.

“The theme…focuses on plants and gardens in the Mediterranean which is a part of the world with really interesting plant life and it is also facing challenges with heat and dryness as a result of climate change,” said Rader.

Garden designers come from all over the world to create the exhibits that make the Philadelphia Flower Show so special. This year’s designs were created by local and national designers and artists from Europe. According to PHS’ Chief Development Officer Nancy Boutté Finn, the society works closely with the artists that travel to the show to help grow and source materials for the show’s exhibits. All flowers and plant materials used in the show are real, but some of the exhibits contain flowers that have been grown elsewhere and placed on the exhibits. The Philadelphia Flower Show is the largest flower show in the country and it raises about $1 million each year for PHS. Revenue from the show goes to support PHS’s community initiatives throughout the year.

“PHS is an organization that exists to try to use horticulture to advance the health and wellbeing of greater Philadelphia and the broader world,” said Rader.

The convention center space is huge, but was divided into sections that helped make the show manageable to navigate. These sections include landscapes, floral, display gardens, exhibition only, floral invitational, and home gardening hub. By mid-morning it is challenging to get close to some of the exhibits. I would recommend joining an early morning tour or an evening tour to avoid the crowds.

My personal favorite exhibits were the large scale designs: The Lemonary, the Princess Grace Rose Garden, and Le strade delle Cinque Terre.

The Lemonary is a wood structure that is filled with lemons and herbs. It is an interactive, walk-through exhibit. It is simple, yet warm and inviting. The Lemonary exhibit is a sustainable design that will be installed as a PHS pop-up garden in Manayunk this spring.

Next up, the Princess Grace Rose Garden is a truly captivating homage to the elegance of Philadelphia native, Princess Grace. The exhibit was produced by PHS, but sponsored by the Consulate of Monaco. This garden which is filled with various colors of pink roses, is set in Monaco and features Princess Grace in a replica of her wedding dress.

Last but not least, Le strade delle Cinque Terre, also known as ‘The Streets of the Five Lands’ can be easily spotted due to the brightly painted homes that are said to have welcomed fisherman home from their journeys at sea. The varied designs of each ‘house’ create an illusion of resting on a mountain cliff right off the Riviera coastline.

Plants and plant materials used in the show come from all over the world. This year’s show featured 8 olive trees that were imported from California. After the show, these trees will be planted in locations throughout the Philadelphia area. When possible, plants from the show will be replanted in local gardens after the show.

I left the Flower Show feeling inspired by the time I had spent on the Riviera. My mind was filled with visions of the beautiful rose garden that could bloom in my yard at record speed. By the time I arrived back at the PATCO, I realized that the only roses I might encounter this year would be in the form of a prom bouquet or a well-spent hour watching reality TV. Regardless of whether I get the final rose, count me as a “yes” for the 2021 Philadelphia Flower Show!

All the pictures above are taken by Sophia Sitnick (’20).