Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Field report from Philadelphia International Flower Show 2012

Each year there is a massive flower and gardening show in Philadelphia, a giant pompous event on par with the Chelsea Show in England.  This year I went with neighbor and friend JL, and we had a blast.  The theme was Hawaii, which means that they invite garden designers to design and mount exhibits with flowers, structures, and other gardening features on this theme.  You would think Hawaii wouldn't be that hard - just think lava, lava, silverswords, rainforest, pineapple plantations, ocean, and some more lava.

Hawaiian model

Unfortunately, it seems like most designers never had been to Hawaii, nor looked up some basic facts. I don't have any good photos from the "Hawaiian" exhibits because I had set the ISO on my camera wrong, but if I had to categorize these ca 10 different garden designs I would say:  stuff a square on the floor with palms, anthuriums, orchids, all in a variety of chaotic colors, and maybe have a little lagoon, sand, and a surfboard - always a surfboard.  The native Hawaiian species were absent.  Lava, who cares about that!?  Not hint of volcanism.  And the exhibits all looked the same.  Stuffed full with the same artifical-looking tropical plants from any tropical island, nothing Hawaiian specific at all.

It really was rather painful, I think. I like the tropics, but I like people to design from real things and real plants, not pick things out from a hotel planting in any tropical country.  But then, the designers care very little about botany, history, geology, soils, and what can actually grow together for real.  They just stuff things together in some artificial design, in a unnatural and I would say, messy and illogical chaos.

jellyfish from sand dollars and tillandsia

This was pretty cool though - put an upside down Tillandsia on a stick, glue a sand dollar (sea urchin shell) on top, and wow, you have a jellyfish in your coral reef plant design.

the lava interrupts dinner

This was the only exhibit we saw that actually built on the lava theme.  A patio dinner table set for dinner, and then the lava comes and disturbs the scene.  I wonder how the lava was made, it was very real-looking, it was even glowing with red lights.

flower arrangements flower arrangements small flower arrangements simplicity and nice flower view...

At the show are also many other exhibits and exhibitors, some of which where really great. People compete over the best dinner centerpiece arrangement, best bonsai, largest flowering cactus, nicest tiniest flower design, and so on.

pressed flower design, dog with lei, by Michie Fukuoka  Pressed flower art by Reiko Ono
I bet 90% of the contestants are women.  The Asian women rule the pressed plant art exhibits, and their artwork is amazing.

you take some bamboo and throw some orchids and stuff on it.... 'it is too much Michaels here' you take some bamboo and throw some orchids and stuff on it.... 'it is too much Michaels here'
In some cases the organizers tell the contestants to make a flower design containing specific things. These two were under the category "bamboo, cheap ugly glitterish stuff from Michaels, and then throw some orchids on it". It was horrendous. Generally it was far too much orchids and anthuriums. Come on, was there a sale on these? There are tens of thousands of tropical flowers, why just pick what is popular? One exhibit got an award for having 'the best design with rare and unusual plants', but I didn't see any rare and unusual plants in it! Strange... maybe anything but palms, orchids, and anthuriums is considered rare by non-botanical horticulturalists? (OK, I know I am critical here, but come on! There are a quarter million plant species out there. And design is supposed to have a thought, a theme, a line, a pattern, not just be mish-mash of the plants you expect to see in front of a Caribbean hotel).

model of downtown Philadelphia with xerophytic landscaping - great!
This was fantastic on the other hand. A simplified model of central Philadelphia, from the art museum to Center City, with xerophytic succulents as the model plants. Wonderful, and done by the Philadelphia Parks department. Innovative, beautiful and educational, all at the same time. 5 stars!

neat wedding dinner arrangement neat wedding dinner arrangement

The tropical wedding dinner table was a bit too much, and a bit too yellow in its filtered yellow spotlight, but still interesting. There wasn't much space to actually sit, eat, and talk, but who cares. And they covered the cycad stems with tubes of red flowers - cool, but why?

primrose plants arranged using gauge blocks or something - talk about unnatural feeling
One of the things that bothers me most is how artificial all the designed gardens look like. For example, here the plants are spaced far too evenly, like if they were measured out with gauge blocks ('måttsats' in Swedish, which is a Swedish invention from my hometown!), and not just grown there for a while. It is nearly like having a Lego garden - the plants can only sit on the Lego knobs, not in between. It gives you this feeling of it not being real, not being alive, not being natural. One exception was a garden with spring bulbs, which was gorgeous, and there they had also used dried old oak leaves as mulch, not the regular ugly cedar mulch that was in most exhibits.

mushroom ceramic at Lichen & Moss Favorite seed company: Hudson Valley Seed Library Dried weeds grown in Lancashire and sold expensively nice Ikebana vases from Maine

Lots of funny and nice things were for sale. Morel pottery. Seeds in packets designed by local artists. Weeds dried and sold as fancy flowers. Pottery vases from Maine.

silk flowers inside bottles with oil as oil lamps No, no doggies here! glass fountain with bobbing glass ball
ugliest palm at the whole show
Lots of very ugly, tacky, and cheap-looking (but not cheap) things were for sale. Metal palm lamps that looked like they belonged in some NJ mafioso home on the sea shore. Oils lamps with silk and plastic flowers made from oil-based plastic. Here you dig up oil from the Earth to make flowers with the Earth while it is full of living flowers? And glass fountains that would break if a bluejay was just looking at it, I bet.

sponge holder, the latest thing
In case you didn't know it, the sponge holder is the latest thing to have! You might think I spent the day being upset and disgusted, but not at all. It was a great show, a great trip, I just feel I don't really relate to some of the things the garden designers and horticulturalists do. I know, I am 'miljöskadad' as we say in Sweden, i.e., damaged by my career choice and education... :)

(And here is a link to all photos at the Flower Show 2012 - there was much more to look at)


Sarah said...

Those dog things are all over my neighborhood in Portland. In front of all the fancy houses, they just look so ridiculous!

EH said...

It looks so artificial to me in your photos, I doubt you are "miljöskadad". Gardening is about growing plants in a nice surrounding, at least that's my opinion. Not growing them in greenhouses and arrange them nicely in a vase. That is of course nice to, pretty and all but it´s not much similarity to gardening. You know you´ve been in the garden when your hands are dirty. :-)

LS said...

HI Sarah - I think you need to make some little dark brown turds with some wooly yarn and hang them on the dog signs, so it looks like dog droppings. Wouldn't that be fun!?

LS said...

EH - Yes, exactly. It is all about design here, not what is biologically possible, sustainable or even truthful. You cannot have flowering cherry trees in the same place as pineapple plants and birds-of-paradise-flowers, but here they are, together, in a crazy, unnatural mix. It is a bit like photoshopping, but with real plants. If they can sit together for a week in a convention center, that is all it takes.