It was a kaleidoscope of creativity inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show. Open until March 9, this year's theme is “ARTiculture” and explores the effects art has had on gardening and vice versa. The home garden is a form of living art that continues to the modern day.
At many of the exhibits, guests exclaimed: “That's one of my favorite exhibits.”
“We've gotten that a few times today,” said Bobby Tinneny, a senior at W.B. Saul High School for Agriculture in Philadelphia.
Titled “Off the Grid,” the high school's exhibit is an urban residential artistic respite made from recycled materials to support and frame a garden. Seniors take charge of the exhibit, but all students get a chance to participate. Students grow the various plants and shrubs but also design and build the exhibit from wood and tin. As part of the Saul exhibit, students created a cargo container as well as a map of the United States from licence plates. Students also textured and painted the walls.
“A lot of the stuff here is mostly all recyclable materials,” Tinneny said.
Students built the walls, cut the wood and metal, and assembled the parts for the exhibit. Among the various recycled materials used: tires were flipped inside out and cut to be used as planters, glass was embedded in cement for a mosaic look and Hawthorn and other spiny shrubs were used to create a rustic fence.
“People really liked the graffiti,” said Luis Perez, a junior.
Weather had been a factor in this year's exhibit. The school was down one greenhouse due to a burst pipe from cold temperatures, and days off meant less time to construct the exhibit on deadline.
“Snow days just killed us left and right,” said Tinneny.
A online photo album of the construction can be found at www.offthegrid-exhibit.weebly.com.
Presenting a glimpse of the city's past was Temple University's Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture with “Tamenand's Track.” Its theme was a path to a portrayal of the past. Tamenand was spokesman for the native Lenape Tribe during the time of William Penn.
“We wanted to abstractly represent (ARTiculture),” said Michael Swercewski, a junior majoring in landscape architecture.
Rogue roots split and covered a cracked concrete walk lying beneath vines that dripped, drooped and draped over kinked cables that connected far away and nearby, and lamps poured light on walls pierced by pipes. Guests marveled at the fascines that helped in the stabilization of land along waterways. The Temple exhibit used recycled materials and native plants. The walk moved from a modern jungle to a nature retreat, while showing a three-stage system for cleaning polluted water.
“We wanted to show getting away from the city and, like artists, retreating into nature,” said Swercewski. “It's been packed all day long.”
These were just two of many examples of the inspiring garden ideas to come from this year's show.
PHS partnered with internationally renowned art museums, organizations and institutions for the exhibits in “ARTiculture.” Participants included the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Brandywine River Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Noguchi Museum, Hudson Valley's Storm King Art Center, Grounds for Sculpture, the North Carolina Museum of Art, Fresh Artists, the Wayne Art Center and the Woodmere Art Museum.
The region's great garden clubs also paired with area art schools — the University of the Arts, Philadelphia University, Moore College of Art and PAFA — to compete in the show's artistic classes.
Special exhibitions at the show include a selection of the Andy Warhol “Flowers” Series from the Bank of America Collection, selections from the West Collection, of Oaks and works by sculptor Steve Tobin of Bucks County.
The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show is the nation's largest flower show, which blooms every March at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The show features the world's premier landscape designers and florists, who turn 10 acres of the Pennsylvania Convention Center into a floral fantasy of beautiful plants and cutting-edge designs.
International exhibitors in the 2014 show include British garden designer Andy Sturgeon and Provence-based garden designer James Basson, whose exhibit was inspired by a painting from the private collection of the Prince of Monaco.
The painting known as “Untitled” was done by Albert Diato, who was a contemporary of Picasso. The exhibit was not only designed to represent the painting, but the artist as well. A large silver bowl of water, lit by a single spot overhead, references the Mediterranean. A black circle is a burnt log seat, an invitation to sit, yet it is unwelcoming — an individual space accessible only by an uninviting path, representing the late, solitary Diato. A cob wall recognizes the artist's time spent in Afghanistan as a potter and the traditional building techniques he found there.
“These are hay bales, and we swept clay on it,” said Basson.
According to Basson, the exhibit began in September when he came to the states to a nursery to collect the grass for the gold field. Each section was aged and meticulously placed in the exhibit.
“These were put under tunnels and given fungicide, rat poison and lots of hairspray,” Basson said. “That's to keep the seed pods on the plants. Lots of hairspray was used in this exhibit.”
In addition to the exhibits, there are several ways for attendees to participate in the show as well, including an interactive exhibit designed by the Crayola Experience, which gives visitors the opportunity to express themselves in the center's Grand Hall. There is an expanded “Make & Take Room,” where attendees can create a variety of craft and garden projects. Family attractions at the show include the Butterfly Experience, where visitors can interact with 20 species of exotic and domestic butterflies, and the Camden Children's Garden.
Proceeds from the Flower Show benefit the year-round programs of PHS, which is celebrating its 186th year of gardening, greening and learning. PHS initiatives include the PHS City Harvest program, which creates green jobs and supports a network of community gardens that raise fresh produce for more than 1,200 families in need each week during the growing season.
For more information, visit www.theflowershow.com.
Follow Bernard J. Scally on Twitter @MrBScally.