PHILADELPHIA — A towering waterfall surrounded by a rainbow of exotic tropical orchids, bright orange and purple bird-of-paradise look-alikes and stands of outrageously brazen and glistening crimson heart-shaped anthurium are delighting visitors with an eye-popping mass of color as they enter the Philadelphia International Flower Show this week.
They bring to life this year's theme: Aloha: Islands of Hawaii.
Woven bamboo and palm huts, surfboards, hula dancers and an enormous multi-media wave light show can really get a gardener's creative sap flowing, tempting visitors with a taste of what it's like to be a horticultural kahuna.
Since 1838, this annual event, which runs through Sunday, has grown into one of the largest and most highly acclaimed indoor flower shows in the world, packed with 10 acres of competitive exhibitions, gardening classes, design and landscape displays, representatives from major horticultural societies and a marketplace with more than 150 vendors. More than 250,000 visitors are expected.
Here is a sample of ideas gleaned from findings this year:
Linear features, including open cubes and bamboo poles stacked or tied together and strung with criss-crossing plastic ribbons, can be used to support orchids and other cut stems placed in tubular clear glass vases, seemingly suspended in midair for a three-dimensional effect. Instead of a central focal point, this trend features an open and airy structure with a light touch, like looking through open lace. It's not just a sophisticated technique. This idea also was used to create a fun series of large frames strung with bright flowers that children could slide back and forth along overhead tracks by turning wheels at one end of a hands-on kinetic display.
Formal flower-show competitions fall into various groupings of like items. Some plantings used various shaped metal figures. My favorite was a dress form planted with a bodice of small round succulents and a skirt with dangling variegated ivy vines. Another grouping consisted of Wardian cases, which are miniature glass greenhouses usually bearing ornamental metal edging.
Like a terrarium, these small enclosed environments not only protect plants like ferns, which require controlled humidity or temperature, they also provide a decorative home décor display. Dating to the mid-19th century, when plant explorers brought botanical specimens from the tropics to wealthy European collectors, these cases are appealing in contemporary settings at reasonable prices. African violets and their lesser-known gesneriad cousins thrive in them. My favorite violet source is the Lyndon Lyon greenhouse in Dolgeville, New York (Lyndonlyon.com).
Proceeds from the flower show will be donated through Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to affiliated green garden programs such as Meadowbrook Farm, just north of Philadelphia. Its show display includes two outstanding ideas for home gardeners. Vertical gardens, which use upright walls for previously unrealized growing space, include an entire wall sprouting edible leaf lettuce. It was made by lining pallet-like supports with pots. Another popular display idea is recycling tall galvanized florist buckets that were recycled as lamps. Small decorative hole patterns were punched in them, and they were upside-down as shades over suspended light bulbs. They would be fun for a patio, and almost everyone passing by wanted to peek into them.
About the organizations
Interest-group exhibits, including the stately, formal and orderly bonsai practiced by American Bonsai Society members and the over-the-top display of the American Orchid Society, are just two examples from the many clubs in various horticultural areas.
This year, Tim Brooks and Joe Dietz of Lexington helped create the American Orchid Society's magnificent display designed by orchid specialist Michael Bowell, whose garden supplied a massive amount of bamboo for the exhibit's framework. You can get started with these groups in Central Kentucky. Go to Web.me.com/jimlurton/Blue_Grass_Orchid_Society for the Blue Grass Orchid Society, and the Greater Cincinnati Bonsai Society is at Cincinnatibonsai.com.
My favorite marketplace stop was Waldor Orchids Inc. of Linwood, Pa., where some unusual orchids were to be found. Proprietor Walter Off traveled to Hawaii to help gather flowering plants for the show's main display features this year. Nurseries such as this one, which have evolved over several generations, are often treasure houses of not only wonderful plants, but people well grounded in plant culture who can offer counsel and kindness. You can explore some of their offerings and history at Waldor.com, but visiting in person is an educational experience. I came home with a lovely lavender Dendrobium kingianum, its little delicate dangling winter-blooming bells perfuming the air with memories of the show.
Tempted to shake off the winter blahs and go to next year's show? In 2013, the Philadelphia International Flower Show is scheduled for March 3 through 10, with a theme centered around the British Isles. The event is held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia and is organized by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Go to Theflowershow.com and Pennsylvaniahorticulturalsociety.org.