SWARTHMORE >> As soon as you see Michael Petrie’s home in Swarthmore, you know an artist lives there.
Petrie is known for his Philadelphia International Flower Show exhibits, but it is his uncanny way to take everyday objects and create winning exhibits you never forget. His makeshift greenhouse stores the plants he gathered before the January snowstorm and those he has been growing for the last six months. The garage is filled with odds and ends, placed in an orderly fashion, from old saws kept for the handles and meat grinders for the grinding wheels, which he uses in his landscape designs.
Unlike Petrie, Joe Blandy, lead landscape architect and president at Stoney Bank Nurseries, has some of his greenhouses set up to imitate the spring season, warming the floors with radiant heat for trees to grow. He uses an LED grow light, next to the Metal Halo Incandescent Bulb, to see how the wild flowers in his exhibit will respond to each light. Blandy grows plants for many who will be exhibiting at the Philadelphia Flower Show on his 24 acres of land in Glen Mills.
Blandy’s father, Jack, founded the business. Father and son are partners. Through the years, they have collected many accolades along the way. This is their 37th year participating in the Flower Show; for Petrie, it is his 35th year.
Petrie has designed exhibits for major companies and for J. Franklin Styer Nurseries for the Flower Show. He worked at Styer Nurseries for over two decades. Today, he owns Michael Petrie’s HANDMADE GARDENS.
Both men this year have the challenge of creating a national park on the Convention Center floor. Petrie will be creating Olympic National Park, located in the State of Washington. Blandy will be recreating Yellowstone National Park after the fires.
Petrie is calling his exhibit Tiny Park and will include a tiny house on wheels created by Timothy Kearney of CuetoKEARNEY, part of Home Sweet Tiny Homes. This will be the first unveiling of this home in the Philadelphia area. Petrie is working on the shutters of wood and is almost done the giant bird’s nest made out of wood. One of Petrie’s challenges was working with Styrofoam. Petrie said he plans to recreate a California marsh complete with a mosquito killer.
For Joe Blandy, creating Yellowstone Park’s environment has some challenges, too. He is showing Yellowstone after the wildfires in 1990s. Blandy saw it as a chance to show off the natural regrowth of wild flowers and pine trees of the forest and the re-habitation of the forest by wolves. He is planning to have a wolf made of cryptomeria tree in his exhibit.
“We’ve done extensive research and are trying to recreate what you would see at Yellowstone,” said Blandy.
On this day in January, Blandy was being challenged as he and his staff tried to make a bubbling mud pool and create snow covered mountains. Inside his greenhouses, young pine trees were coming to life, the lady ferns were blossoming and wildflowers were opening up — a testament that all challenges can be overcome.
For both men, putting together a flower show exhibit begins at least six to eight months before the show. The theme is announced, and then off they go — first drawing designs that can change frequently and then planting and building the exhibits. Sometimes the most challenging thing is bringing the creation to life at the venue itself. Building the parks takes manpower and time. For Petrie, it takes hiring help and lots of volunteers.
“It’s an undertaking. We have a small staff of five caring for the plants and the greenhouse. During setup, it takes 10 people with only four days to set it up. A lot is done before hand,” said Blandy.
But for these two men, the passion of creating breathtaking landscapes for the world to see is worth it.