It’s been another great year at the Philly Flower Show. Luckily for me, Philadelphia’s just a couple of hours from home so I’ve been able to visit the shows in most years of the past decade and more. It’s been fun to watch how this garden event has evolved—even if only over a short bit of its full one hundred and eighty-four year reign—and then evolved again. This year was indeed “Brilliant!” and fun. Well, “Brilliant!” and mostly fun, anyway. OK. It wasn’t just the fact that the theme is British and that quintessential staple of British gardens, the fuchsia, was noticeably and completely missing… I try not to be prejudicial. And there has been a significant improvement over last year. An important one, in fact.
Let’s face it. Roominess aside, there couldn’t really be a place less attractive to holding a flower and garden show than the inside of an industrial convention center. The spaces may indeed be vast but the construct is essentially a huge shoebox without the slightest hint that there’s anything natural going on outside. Like light. Convention lighting may be OK for tractors and tools—the Market Place seems to do quite well in it—but plants and gardens somehow demand to be seen in the real thing to be seen at their best. You only have to go into the long window-lined lobby just outside the hall, or over to the “British Village” shopping area in the old train station with its high skylights, to immediately appreciate what a significant difference the real day makes. But we do accept the lack of natural light for the security of a location away from the vagaries of the weather. The snowstorm of mid-week is ample proof of that.
Last year for the first time, though, I was particularly struck by the dimness of the lighting inside the hall. It’s never been exactly perfect at Philadelphia’s Convention Center, but I found myself really straining to see into the gloom of way too many exhibits that year. It was like visiting a garden caught in a vague perceptual twilight. At one point, I thought to myself that I should have brought my miner’s hat but then remembered I’m not a miner and I don’t have one.
Thankfully this year the lighting seems to have improved quite a bit. Especially over the spiffy, new-and-improved PHS Hamilton Horticourt. Brilliant! I can only hope that the trend continues to the rest of the installations next year. I wasn’t looking precisely at what kinds of lamps were being being used but maybe bright and energy-efficient LEDs are finally taking hold and helping out. Next year I’ll look more closely. The only better evolution at the Flower Shows would be if Philadelphia just ripped the awful roof off their shoebox and replaced some of it with real glass windows (preferably raking light in from the north) like we had in the good old days of crystal palaces. Well… Like we read about in the good old days of crystal palaces, anyway. I suppose that would be too green, though, and the thinking too wishful and clear. But it would be brilliant!
There’s also been one unfortunate dis-improvement that’s taken a bit of the fun away this year: The lack of convenient places for people to sit. Last year I first noticed that the layout of the exhibits in the hall was cleaner and the crowds flowed much better. Nice. But I also noticed that the rows of seats that used to ring the inside of the hall all seemed to have gone missing. This is not an insignificant loss. Not at all. The Flower Show’s audience certainly includes a wide range from babies in carriages, incapable of walking, to elderly visitors no longer so easy on their feet. And quite a few people in between that… well… to put it kindly… are in a shape more used to driving than walking. Seating is essential. People won’t be denied. I’ve gotten used to the crowds long ago and always get here early. Crowds are mobile, though. They move and shift, even at popular exhibits, so you could always stand a good chance at a view if you’re patient. What I’m not used to are the many static sitters this year. On the exhibits. Always directly in front of you. They really got in the way.
The redesign has played a role, I suspect. Without proper and convenient seats spread around, the attractive flat-topped walls rounding the exhibits are now attractive resting spots. Which makes for frustrating viewing of whole installations. Let alone trying for closer looks at individual plants or signs awkwardly located directly behind a phalanx of tushes. It’s not that people are necessarily inconsiderate. Just a bit clueless and they will plop when they want without really processing why not right now and why not right here. Even if right here is right in the way. I’d hope in coming years that there’s some further rethinking of the layout that takes appropriate seating and human nature into better account. A chair! A chair! My kingdom for a chair! Some benches for those wearied crowds, please. Some chairs.
Used to the crowds, I got to the show at the crack of 8:00 am on Saturday morning.
Later, the long walk was luckily wide with plantings that called for distance to appreciate. That’s not necessarily the case at all the Flower Show’s exhibits, though.
It’s still early. These program benches will fill up very fast later on. But not necessarily with people interested in the presentations.
All over the Flower Show, the same seated scenes blocked the view as the day wore on...
…and wore on. That guy was lucky. I was beaten to his spot by a baby carriage and entourage. Convenient perches from which to check your mail but I’m cringing for the poor plants on wall right now.
Only one of the smaller exhibits where I just couldn’t get a good picture. No biggie, I suppose, but I would have liked to read that sign at least.
And right next to the “Please Do Not Sit On Rock Walls” even!
The main archway at the grand entrance beset with parkers and sitters on all sides. Later it gets even more beset.
It’s hard climbing over people sitting on the plants or asking them to move for a closer look. I kept getting only inadequate glimpses from the sides of interesting things I really wanted to check out. Sigh. Exhibits with attendants were a little better. But not always. Luckily this is the first day. By the last one everything will have been squashed back by at least a foot at this rate.
The only small, remnant seating area seemed to be conveniently located in the hallway. Outside the convention hall. Did I say outside?