That Floral Feeling

The Flower Show (June 11 – 19) connects, uplifts, and engages all with natural beauty  

Nothing boosts your mood like Mother Nature. Even just a simple walk in the park releases endorphins that make us feel calm and happy. Now imagine that park, filled with an immense variety of flowers, plants, water features and more. Impeccably displayed and at the peak of vibrancy, interwoven with the smells of delicious food, the sounds of live music and children playing. Can you picture it? This month you can visit it!

The Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s world-famous Philadelphia Flower Show is the country’s largest horticultural event, showcasing stunning displays and international competitions from the industry’s top landscape and floral designers. This year, it’s returning to FDR Park — aka “The Lakes” in South Philly. This green oasis near the sports complex was originally designed by the Olmstead Brothers (less-famous sons of Frederick Law Olmstead who designed Central Park). It’s little slice of heaven: 348 acres, with wooded paths, dotted with little lakes for fishing, fountains and paddleboats.

Last year was the first time the Flower Show was held outdoors in its almost 200 years of existence. Guests enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine so much, PHS is bringing it back to FDR park — with new spins and surprises, and an expanded roster of special events and activities. Their incredible marketplace has also grown, along with food & drink options from quick bites to table service (and everything in between).

True Story: while this coverage from 2021’s Flower Show at FDR Park is pretty amazing (above), according to our sources it was just a trial run compared to this year. Seth Pearsoll, director of design & show events, sat down with Revive POC for some behind-the-scenes scoop on this floral extravaganza that captivates the city for one week every year.

POC: To be outside and be in and amongst the gardens, that’s 10 times more exciting than the Convention Center. Tell us about this year’s theme, In Full Bloom. What can we expect?

SETH: In Full Bloom is really meant to explore the relationship between gardens, plants, and mental health. The metaphor there is that when you see a garden in full bloom, that means all those flowers received everything they needed to blossom: light, water, nutrients, everything, in the amounts that are right for them. Just as all of us have potential for beauty in the right environment, with the proper resources.

Also PHS supports the idea that gardening is the ultimate form of therapy. You can calm and center yourself by working the earth, and by greening your surroundings you can lift your mood and outlook – as well as your neighbors’. Gardening together as a family or community brings even more benefits. And of course, we’re all familiar with how plants clean our air and improve our well-being naturally. So this Flower Show, we’ll explore the wide range of ways that mental health overlaps with horticulture.

Wow that’s not I was thinking. But your breakdown is amazing, incorporating mental health because that’s true, gardening does provide an escape, you know, we get in our gardens and we just fall in love with what we are creating.

So this’ll be second year the Flower Show comes to FDR park. In 2021, this location was chosen because of COVID concerns. Is that as big an issue this year? Are there other reasons you’re back?

I would say a couple of different reasons. Number one, the show has a pretty long planning period, typically. We have about 16 months, so we had to make decisions for this year in 2021, when we had no way of predicting where we’d be in terms of the pandemic. So for safety’s sake, we planned an outdoor show. And logically, it made sense to build on what we’ve already done. Especially since we’d been kicking around ideas for an outdoor Flower Show for awhile even before COVID, because it truly adds to the experience, being in a beautiful natural setting that’s just the perfect canvas.

This year’s Flower Show is not your typical walk around and look at the flowers. There are play areas, local art, a food bazaar, butterflies, shopping – you even have a mini Music Festival. How did all this variety come about?

Well you said it yourself, it’s the outdoor space, right? It really creates an exciting opportunity for immersive experiences. There’s 15 acres here, we want people to slow down and explore it all. We want to be welcoming to all audiences, too, so we offer a wide range of activities to fill your whole day. And we even have spots like the Kids’ Cocoon, where families can hit pause and regroup with little ones, maybe while older children can explore birds nest and tree fort décor.

This is a great chance for the Flower Show to shake things up – it’s a wonderful institution but it’s almost 200 years old, and this is just the second time it’s being held outside. We’re really embracing that, here in this beautiful park on The Lakes.

We hear 2022’s Marketplace will have over 125 vendors! What can we expect?

We’ve got everything. Lots of high-end artisan crafts, with an emphasis on sustainable practices, environmental justice, and women- and minority-owned enterprises. Tools, hammocks, home décor, clothing, jewelry, fine art, gourmet pet treats, luxury skincare, multi-cultural items. Something for everyone! And we prioritized local vendors, so guests can feel good about shopping and supporting community business.

Talk to us about Flowers After Hours.

It’s an amazing event! It’s the final weekend of the Flower Show – I want to call it a dance party, but that’s really selling it short. But there’s great music, you know, a DJ and also live performances, last year we had a funky Hip Hop horn band, who had the crowd going nuts. And we’re all dancing in these incredible gardens, on a beautiful summer evening.

People come dressed to the nines, and it’s kind of this underground party that gets bigger and better every year. Once people find out about it, they keep coming back. And usually bring friends. So it’s my favorite of all the events. And it’s the second weekend, the final Saturday of the Flower Show (June 18 / 8:30 – 11:30pm / tix $75).

Tu Bloom in a potting workshop (image credit PHS)

For the early risers, you’ve got Potting Parties and special tours, right? Tell us about them.

Early morning tours go behind the scenes with a PHS guide who can take you in for a closer look at the different exhibits. It’s like a custom tour – our guides know all the ins and outs, all the cool hacks and details you’d probably never notice. Groups are small – no more than 12 people – and they’re ahead of the crowds so it’s all very relaxed. Intimate, but not restrictive. Just a great way to take in the show and meet some cool people, too.

Now the potting parties —  they’re tucked into this great little cool, shady cove. Host Tu Bloom is like a celebrity florist. He’s amazing, the florist for the Grammys! That’s his real name, btw, but anyway he’s a huge personality, and also just this very sweet guy. And whether you’re a hobbyist or this is the first time you’ve ever handled a live plant, he’s hilarious and full of knowledge. You’ll have fun and you’ll make something to take home with you from the Flower Show.

Why is PHS’s Flower Show such an important event for the city?

That’s a really, really good question! It might surprise some people to hear that the Flower Show is a great connector in the city, where lots of talented people come together to learn, share and network. Of course it’s also a fun event to just come and hang out but there really is another side, too, that’s a real community.

All of these different garden groups, plant enthusiasts, industry professionals – they often look forward to seeing old friends at the Flower Show every year. For a lot of our volunteers, this is why they come out. So, yes, the Flower Show is this amazing connector of all of these people who love gardens, plants, horticulture, urban greening, any of that stuff. We’re like a big hub for businesses, organizations, and hobbyists to find each other and maybe make some magic. So that’s one of my favorite aspects of this event.

I also love how the Flower Show is essentially a megaphone, shouting out all these interesting projects that PHS supports for urban greening. Community gardens, vacant lot reclamation, tree reforestation – all this you can read about on our website, phsonline.org. But at the Flower Show, this information comes alive. It’s one thing to read about an initiative but it’s so much more impactful to personally experience it as a demonstration or exhibit, and talk to the people involved.

It’s a big platform, too. When we curate projects and guests designers, we don’t just search for talent, we’re also looking at their message. Because with almost a quarter of a million attendees every year, the Flower Show provides a real stage for new ideas and efforts to broadcast out to the world. That’s just as important as connecting people and highlighting PHS’s important work.

Finally, let’s hear about all the female exhibitors and the wide diversity of designers and presenters this year.  

Yes! It’s been a big deal for us to reimagine who our invited guests could be, in this big outdoor space. Three years ago, we really decided to be intentional about who we are reaching out to, and how we can make the Flower Show relevant and entertaining for everyone. Last year, I think, we saw the results of our efforts, and that’s really inspired us to think even bigger.

This year were are so proud to feature Wambui Ippolita, she’s an East African horticulturist, she won last year’s Best in Show for landscape and this year she has an amazing exhibit, she’s such an incredible artist. We’ll also have Ann-Marie Powell, a very prominent designer with a UK firm, she does these bold plantings combining ecology with traditional design. Martha Schwartz is a huge name, too, an expert in regenerating natural sights and urban centers. This year her firm has a really cool exhibit looking at the role of fungus in gardens, a real twist on the Full Bloom theme. Susan Cohan is an award-winning designer from the North Jersey area, a very prominent name in landscape design.

And then, Abra Lee is just wonderful. She’s a published author and speaker, an expert horticulturalist and good friend of PHS. She’s such a creative force. One of her research projects investigates all the forgotten Black and Brown voices in horticulture –  she’s got a book coming out soon, where she highlights a figure with ties in Philadelphia. So that became a curriculum for horticultural students to learn about landscape architecture, through this figure. And for their final project, they create a garden reflecting this history.

To me, this is such a cool story on so many levels. And it makes me and my team proud to see such an interesting and important project come to life. And to shed some light for everyone to grow.

Getting back to something you mentioned, with 15 acres of Flower Show, that can be a lot of walking. How does this year’s layout accommodate people of all abilities? Would you say the exhibits are accessible?

I’m glad you asked that, because we learned a lot from last year. We’ve made big changes to our design so the bulk of our gardens and paths are centrally-located on flat ground, within easy distance of each other. And with access in mind. We’ve added a lot of ramps and benches, misters and shaded areas. We want every person at the Flower Show to feel welcome and comfortable.

Find out everything about us at PHS online.org. There’s Flower Show tickets, other ways to get involved with tree plantings and community groups. Check us out for lots of ways to connect with other people and with horticulture in Philly. We hope everybody comes to the show and really enjoys themselves!

ABOUT THE PHILADELPHIA FLOWER SHOW The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show is the nation’s largest, and the world’s longest-running horticultural event and features stunning displays by some of the world’s premier floral and landscape designers. Started in 1829 by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Show introduces diverse and sustainable plant varieties and garden and design concepts. In addition to acres of garden displays, the Flower Show hosts world-renowned competitions in horticulture and artistic floral arranging, gardening presentations and demonstrations, and special events. 2022 Tickets $45 online, $50 at the door (discounts for students, children, groups etc) 

ABOUT SETH PEARSOLL  Seth Pearsoll is director of design shows & events for PHS’s Philadelphia Flower Show. Seth and his team handle every creative aspect, from the layout to the theme, and they also work hard to fill the space artfully with colors, sounds, scents, flavors, action, everything (!) to create a diverse and immersive experience for everyone. 

About Revive Local 14 Articles
REVIVE Local's byline reflects content created collaboratively via Local writers/editors with Revive reporting/interviewing.

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