Philadelphia will be blooming red, white and blue

Flower show goes patriotic this year

February 27, 2005|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,SUN STAFF

Long before 9/11, before war, before yellow ribbons that say "Support Our Troops," and long before red and blue states, the theme for the 2005 Philadelphia Flower Show was chosen.

It would be "America the Beautiful," and the patriotic theme would be played out in flowers of red, white and blue.

The Philadelphia Flower Show, March 6 to 13 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, is the granddaddy of all flower shows.

Now in its 176th year, it is unmatched in longevity, scale, perfection and creativity, and it is such a monumental undertaking that planning begins at least five years in advance.

So it was that "America the Beautiful" was chosen in 2000, before terrorists attacked in New York and Washington, spawning war and an accompanying surge in this country's sense of patriotism.

The theme was not chosen for any jingoistic reason, but because, for the previous two years, the flower show had taken its inspiration from abroad.

"In 2003, it was a Puerto Rican theme. In 2004, it was the South Pacific and all the orchids," said Sam Lemheney, only 37 and in his first year as chief designer for the show.

"We decided it was time to come back home and show what America has to offer in gardens.

"The flower show is not about making political statements."

However inadvertent, a political theme will greet guests the moment they enter the flower show in the sprawling downtown Convention Center.

The original wrought-iron gates that hung at the entrance to the White House for 118 years have been meticulously refurbished and will serve as the entrance to the show.

The majestic, hand-forged gothic-style gates are on loan from the American Horticultural Society's River Farm headquarters in Virginia, where they apparently were taken after being salvaged during a modernization of the White House in the 1930s.

"If you want irony," said Lemheney, "the gates were removed because they were doing the renovation for security reasons."

The gates will be affixed to old brick pillars topped with two lead eagles and surrounded with red and white roses, dogwood, delphiniums and other blue perennials.

The Philadelphia Flower Show will return to its American roots in more ways than this, however.

It began 185 years ago as a way for a handful of gardeners to share information and ideas they could take home and try in their own gardens. This year there will be plenty of take-home, can-do inspiration, whether visitors garden in the country, the suburbs or in the city.

Just past the White House gates will sit a country cottage amid a meadow of prairie grasses, laurel, columbine and chokeberry in a display titled "Country Casual."

Farther up the path will be the ultimate in suburban backyard entertainment. Titled "Suburban Soiree," it will feature a pool, a hot tub and an outdoor kitchen surrounded by a birch arbor, rose-covered pergola and a blooming border of zinnia, sunflower and iris.

And a display titled "City Chic" will incorporate balconies, containers and a brownstone rooftop garden where astilbe, lavender, dogwood and caladium will glow in moonlight. It will offer inspiration to the most city-bound gardener.

In addition, the Altar Guild of the Washington National Cathedral will present "For All Occasions," an interior view of the cathedral that combines classic and modern arrangements in elaborate designs that focus on the Peace Rose. The peach-colored flower was rescued from occupying forces in France during World War II and given its name when Berlin fell to the Allies. It has been a national favorite for decades.

Roses - the flowers that perfectly evoke the theme "America the Beautiful" - are featured in this year's flower show, and Lemheney acknowledged that they will present a challenge.

Just about every flower in the hall will have been forced to bloom in time for the flower show. But to keep roses - and there are expected to be more than 1,000 of them - blooming for the eight-day show will be particularly difficult.

"You try to time it so they are budding at the beginning of the show so you can get them to last the rest of the show," he said.

"Forcing is difficult in general. Roses are particularly tough."

Elsewhere in the show, there will be a treehouse display and a natural habitat that supports the Bald Eagle. Continuing the theme of Americana, there will be a small town square, complete with its brick walks and bubbling fountain.

Besides the floral displays and the competitions, there will be lectures, cooking demonstrations, live entertainment and 140 vendors who compete each year to display their products at the Flower Show.

Proceeds are used by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to sponsor its Philadelphia Green program, which promotes urban renewal through gardening.

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