Saturday, March 14, 2015

I hate the Philadelphia Flower Show

Flower show (2)
Marquee should read: abandon hope, all ye who enter here

I hate the Philadelphia Flower Show.  There, I said it.  It's heresy, I know.  The Philadelphia Flower Show, which bills itself as "the world's longest-running and largest indoor Flower Show", is certainly one of the best-known and best-loved flower shows in the entire country, with a practically cult-like following built around it.  I managed to avoid it for over 20 years, having found it just too damn crowded the last time I went.  This time around, I was already in Philadelphia for another event on the first weekend of the show and decided what the heck, I'll give it another chance.  I arrived at the show at 10 am on Sunday morning, and fled at noon.

Philadelphia Flower Show
Is there something to see beyond all those people?

You may think it strange that I left so early, but I'm surprised I lasted as long as I did.  I dislike crowds, especially indoors.  Attendance over the 9 days of this year's show was around 250,000 and I'm pretty sure they were all there the same day I was.  Despite the show having moved to the cavernous Pennsylvania Convention Center sometime in the intervening 20 years, it was just as bad if not worse.  I suppose this kind of attendance is good news for the show and its organizers, but I simply found it unpleasant and as I left, hordes of people were still streaming in.  I have to admit that my recollection may be colored by a miserable white-knuckled drive back to DC, with sleet and freezing rain most of the way and numerous cars off the road (including a couple of pretty bad wrecks).  And before I snark too much, I should also note that as a garden blogger, I was given a complimentary press pass--a $32 value, which more than offset the $20 I had to pay to park near the convention center.

Philadelphia Flower Show
Cinematic spectacle

The show is put on by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and has a different theme each year.  This year's theme was "Celebrate the Movies", Disney movies more specifically.  The show helps publicize, and attract new members to, the PHS, with this year's theme intended to appeal to a younger audience.  In both respects the show was a great success, adding 15,000 new members and attracting twice as many children and students as last year's show.

Philadelphia Flower Show
This is a display of... something

The competitive displays--built around various Disney movies--were reputedly superb, but I never really got close enough to see for myself.  From what little I did see, I cannot imagine the time, planning, and effort that goes into these displays, some of which were truly over-the-top.

Because of the crush of people I spent most of my time in the marketplace and "Horticourt".  As a devoted plant geek, focusing on the smaller displays put on by vendors, and individual plants and other items they were selling, helped me ignore the crowds.  People were selling a wide variety of tschotchkes, doo-dads and devices, as well as tacky ornamental sculptures, but also some very nice garden-related tools, arts and crafts, and lots and lots of plants.  One vendor had a good selection of nicely-grown begonias, and I picked up an (unlabeled) B. 'Helen Teupel'.  It also brightened my day a bit to see a familiar face, Joe Kiefer of Triple Oaks Nursery.

Philadelphia Flower Show
Succulents for sale

Begonias for sale
Begonias

Philadelphia Flower Show
Joe Kiefer, Triple Oaks Nursery

Where I spent the most time, and took the most photos, was in the "Hamilton Horticourt", where all manner of beautiful, interesting, bizarre, and rare plants are exhibited and competitively judged.  One thing I appreciate about the Philly Flower Show is that it gets local garden clubs and plant societies involved, in the judging as well as the entries, and amateur gardeners can show off their plants.  The orchids were particularly popular but there were many other plants as well, and I saw many begonias and gesneriads (and even recognized a few exhibitor names).  My only complaint (aside from the crowds, of course--which weren't nearly as bad in the Horticourt) was the terrible lighting, which made photography incredibly difficult.  Using a flash partially solved the problem, but flash is not conducive for photographing many plants, especially those like gesneriads and begonias that have hairs or glossy leaf surfaces that catch and reflect the light.

Begonias
Begonia entries (photographed with flash)

Begonia 'Red Fred' (flash)    Begonia 'Red Fred' (ambient light)
Begonia 'Red Fred' with (l) and without (r) flash

Sinningia
Award-winning Sinningia piresiana (Gesneriaceae)

Sinningia
Little sinningias

Nematanthus
Nematanthus (Gesneriaceae)

Asplenium nidus
Asplenium nidus

Asplenium nidus
Asplenium nidus, closeup

"Living wall"
"Living wall" entry

"Living wall"
"Living wall" entry

So maybe Sunday morning on the first weekend of the show was the worst possible time to go, but I had little choice on the timing.  If I go again next year, I'll plan to visit during the week, when the show isn't quite as crowded.  I also heard that later in the evening (the show is open until 9 pm most nights) is also a good time to go with far fewer crowds.  And maybe next year I'll figure out some way to get there and back that doesn't involve driving my own vehicle.

Narcissus
Narcissus

I added that last photo, a cheerful little narcissus of some kind (I almost always forget to note the plant names!) to remind myself that, first, it's not really the Philadelphia Flower Show I hate, it's the crowds; and second, that the flower show is a good thing: it reminds us that spring is just around the corner, it reminds us that plants and flowers and gardening and everything related to them are wonderful, wonderful things, and maybe, just maybe, it will get somebody interested in gardening who never was before.  Hmmmm, maybe next year I'll drag my husband along to come with me.

Next year's Philadelphia Flower Show is scheduled for March 5-13, 2016.  The 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show has been covered by many other bloggers, so please read some of them to get a different point of view!

MY Trip to the Philly Flower Show (Susan Harris, GardenRant)
Lights, Camera, BLOOM! Celebrate the Movies at the Philadelphia Flower Show (Kathy Jentz, Washington Gardener)
Philadelphia Flower Show….More Than Just An Event  (Teri, Cottage in the Court)
Lights Camera Bloom! Philadelphia Flower Show, Part 1 (Claire Jones, The Garden Diaries)
Lights Camera Bloom! Philadelphia Flower Show, Part 2 (Claire Jones, The Garden Diaries)
5 jaw-dropping reasons to see the 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show (George Weigel, PennLive)

18 comments :

  1. Totally agree - the crowds are HORRIBLE. Even on weekdays, btw. I'd arrive late and do the show in the evening but driving home in the dark? Ugh. What's the solution? Real gardens a few weeks later, I'm afraid.

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    1. I think the only real solution to beating the crowds is to go either very early in the morning, or in the evening. Either way, for those of us coming from any distance, it would mean an overnight stay in Philadelphia (but I can think of far worse things!).

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    2. My best advice? Come Monday night. There usually aren't any theme nights on Monday and the crowds are far fewer. It's still a bit crowded because during the week they get a lot of tour groups but it's not as bad as the weekend. Stay the night, there are two hotels attached DIRECTLY to the convention center so you never even have to go outside. Also, if there's a day when there is supposed to be bad weather, get there the day before, stay the night and visit the show the following day because the show will be dead.

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  2. I went last year and had the same complaint, but somehow I was able to see the exhibits and get some photos. I'd do it again.

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    1. I do hope to go again next year, and figure out some way to beat the crowd. My admittedly inflammatory title was meant to be tongue-in-cheek (which didn't come through to some readers!) but I really do want to go back and ENJOY it.

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  3. I'm with you on hating crowds. The show looks interesting but not much fun so what's the point if you feel like you're suffocating the whole time. I'd rather be outside playing in the dirt.

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    1. I've heard from enough people by now that I know I'm not the only one! BTW it was nice to see you today!

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  4. Yogi Berra was right “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

    My solution is to head for the parts that I like--- the judged specimen plants. Yes, the lighting was very annoying.
    Go every year and search for the NEW plant in the sales area.

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    1. Yes, and that was the saving grace for me. Even without the crowds, I think that's where I would spend the most time, and enjoy myself the most.

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  5. I totally agree with the crowds and yes, I ended up at the botanical area for a break. The specimens are probably my favorite part, not the "over the top" exhibits which can leave you asking the question "Is an ordinary gardener getting anything out of this?" Go to the Northwest Flower and Garden show in Seattle for the antithesis of the Philly show, manageable crowds, great garden vendors (not "doo-dad" vendors)and really doable ideas that gardeners can learn from. That show does not have the botanical court though. I think Philly is losing touch with the ordinary urban younger gardener and that is who they should be making an effort to attract to really be relevant. I still enjoy it though!

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    1. You know, to some extent I do enjoy the lavish displays, and I think they do serve a purpose. And I think it's especially good to have the combination of oh-wow crowd pleasers, vendor area, and competitive plant exhibits. It seemed like a fairly young crowd to me (although I'm reaching an age where just about any crowd seems "young") but I do have to wonder what all those other people thought.

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  6. Thank god our shows aren't so well attended that the crowds are a problem!

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    1. Oh and I'm glad to read there were lots of plant vendors, that's been a problem here. Less and less opportunity to actually see, and buy, plants.

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    2. I was very pleased to see plenty of actual plants, both on display and for sale. And I'll be the first to admit that the crowds are a sign of the show's success. But I do wonder how many other people are put off by it as much as I am.

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  7. Come and volunteer at the Horticourt for the 2016 show. Get an inside look at how the show functions with thousands of volunteers. One day volunteering gets you into the show with an early quiet chance to see how it all looks after you finish your volunteer job. Help Stage plants or Record plant entries. Sign up here on the Philadelphia Flower Show web page. http://www.pennhort.net/volunteer
    Hope to see you there, and to read a more positive Blog next year!

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  8. Obviously it is a very popular event. I was there this year on one of the few nice weather days and it was very crowded which I totally expected. But people were pretty chill and courteous. It's a popular event what do you expect? Seriously, what's the point if people don't come.

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  9. Obviously it is a very popular event. I was there this year on one of the few nice weather days and it was very crowded which I totally expected. But people were pretty chill and courteous. It's a popular event what do you expect? Seriously, what's the point if people don't come.

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  10. Oh I just loved this Philadelphia Flower Show!! It is quite surprising that you didn’t like this at all. I live in SF and usually attend events at local SF event venues but for this annual show I visit Philadelphia every year with my family.

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