do you still go to the philadelphia flower show?

Photo I took at 1997 Philadelphia Flower Show

When is the last time you attended the Philadelphia Flower Show which is put on by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society?

Well, I had to hunt a bit today for Philadelphia Flower Show photos because truthfully it has been years since I attended the flower show. I only found photos from 1997 in an old box of photos after hunting around. I know I attended the Philadelphia Flower Show somewhat sporadically after 1997, but I have not been in many years. 1997 was the show’s second year in the now not so new Pennsylvania Convention Center.

My parents – candid photo taken by me 1997

I took the photo of my parents to the left at that flower show in 1997. I thought I took photos later on but I do not remember. I think I stopped going to the show around 2008.

Why you ask?

A number of reasons. The ticket prices were climbing, even if you belonged to PHS (which I do again now, but did not for a few years.) Parking was an issue (still is), and the train station at Market East was nothing short of creepy most of the time and smelled like human urine.

But most of all, except for those first couple of years they were in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the flower show has changed. And in my opinion, not for the positive. It’s like they have sold out to the commercial gods. It’s more commerce than display gardens. And hell people, we go for the flowers and displays. Not the garden tchotchkes. A souvenir or a fresh and pretty orchid is nice, but I garden, I want to see gardens. I want to see arrangements of plants and what my friends in various garden clubs entered into the show. I want to be inspired for my own garden purposes.

Municipal Auditorium and Convention Hall, 34th Street, below Spruce, Philadelphia, Pa (61770).jpg

When I was in high school, I was a Shipley Sprout. I showed forced bulbs, daffodils. I even won a couple of ribbons. It was exciting and fun! Back in those days, the flower show was in West Philadelphia at the OLD and now demolished Civic Center. When I was really little I remember the excitement of going to the flower show with my father and riding the escalators until you were just in the show. It was magical. BIG trees, structures, show gardens, displays.

A couple of years after it moved to the (then) shiny new Pennsylvania Convention Center I stopped getting that excited feeling entering the Philadelphia Flower Show. It was expensive, crowded, and every year fewer displays and floral displays fried by the lights. So I just stopped going on a regular basis as previously mentioned. Then after around 2004 or 2006, I do not remember going at all.

Then today this article came out in the Philadelphia Inquirer that makes me question the future of this country’s oldest flower show. Here:

Philadelphia Inquirer: A spike in the cost of electricity at the Philadelphia Flower Show is shocking some vendors by Sam Wood, Updated: February 18, 2020- 5:00 AM

Small marketplace vendors, those with booths of about 100 square feet, paid $165 last year for 10 days of power. This year the cost for the same 500 watts is spiking to nearly $400.

More than 200 vendors typically attend the flower show, which will run this year from Feb. 29 to March 8.

The vendors affected by the price increase are mostly small craftspeople and florists who already are paying an average of $4,375 to rent booth space at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City….But one craft vendor, who asked to remain anonymous, said the cost to participate in the annual Flower Show is constantly increasing.

In 2016, a booth measuring 12×12 square feet was $4,120, or about $28.60 a square foot. Since then, the flower show has reduced the size of the vendor’s booth to 10×10 square feet but increased the price to $4,375, or $43.75 a square foot.

“That’s quite an increase,” the vendor said.

Ticket prices are now $42.00 per adult?? I am told that is approximately a 20% jump over last year?? (I did not run the numbers myself, that is what I have been told.) The Philadelphia Flower Show better pause and reflect so they don’t have the fate of the Academy Ball become their issue too, don’t you think?

Also, because you never knows who reads what, I will share what some of my garden group members had to say about the Philadelphia Flower Show when this article came out:

 “….and interestingly enough I think the actual flower show is less and less impressive due to the shrinking size of exhibits and increasing amount of vendors. I swore last year that I wouldn’t even go again but I keep hoping it will improve.

“I’m shocked they have not reconsidered the location out of the city at some point. The convention center and the organizations that run it do not make it easy for any of the conventions. The oaks convention center exists simply due to the amount of shows that wanted out of the city and the restrictions that came with it.”

It was much grander when it was at the Civic Center 20+ years ago. They would actually drop small cottages and bring in trees that went into the rafters. It was captivating. Sadly the Convention Center never captured that part of it! I still go from time to time, but I feel like I’m paying to go shopping!”😥

“I just don’t go anymore. The garden designs and plant choices are not practical. It’s all for show and moving of commercial products”

“The display area gets smaller every year while the vendor area expands, and the vendors aren’t all garden related. I have also stopped going. I would rather visit a real botanical garden or arboretum!”

“I go to Longwood and Winterthur. I don’t need to pay upwards of $50 to see vendor displays…..I figure I can do that by visiting shops and nurseries.”

“I haven’t been to the flower show in years…too expensive to be entertained by gardens that might only be grown in the tropics, or Florida, or so technical as to be beyond what I could ever do myself. Too bad it’s just too commercial, too plastic, too contrived. Years ago you could actually learn something about gardening, and there were lots of professionals there to answer questions – now it’s simply overcrowded and overpriced. Simply not worth it…PHS, I’ve just told you why I broke up with you. You’ve changed. I liked you better before …Are you listening or do you think the “new you” is better suited to someone younger, with different interests ? Someone who would spend a lot of money to go see you, then go shopping instead. And buy peanut butter . And maybe a new purse ? Oh, and a TUTU (’cause I like to wear comfortable clothing when I’m digging n the dirt..) PHS, I loved spending time with you but It’s time I moved on. I wish you well with your new relationship…”

And there you have it. We are gardeners. We want fantasy mixed with reality. The fantasy is a full blown indoor garden in March. For reality, we want to see what we can do ourselves in our own gardens. It’s about getting ideas, checking out cultivars you hadn’t known about before….becoming inspired for our own gardens.

Of course then there is the argument of all of the people who wouldn’t know how to garden if their lives depended upon it, they pay people to dig in their dirt. So then a flower show becomes no better than a phony baloney home show and a hardscaping show on HGTV they call “gardening.”

Temple University in their archives has some really old flower show photos like this one:

1933 Philadelphia Flower Show
1933 Philadelphia Flower Show photo in the Temple University Archives

So if I were having a conversation with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, I would pass along the comments above. And part of the problem also is the death of independent nurseries. Heck that is why I do more and more mail order.

But fellow gardeners, we can’t allow gardening and true flower shows to die, can we? If you have the time, send an email to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (phs-info@pennhort.org) and ask them to return the flower show to her roots of actual gardens and gardening. I also suggest that one and all look at the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. See who you might know, and approach it that way.

But after reading the article today, and the ensuing comments all over the place, the Philadelphia Flower Show needs to change, and possibly leave the city limits if they wish to survive. And bring back the displays like they used to be.

Here are some of my photos I scanned from 1997:

Also, before I close this post, I also found some photos from the same year (1997) of my parents’ garden which I planted. I loved that garden and I actually don’t have many photos of it. I remembered today that I did plant a white lilac before! And Japanese maples and roses and hostas wherever I could! It was also the one garden I ever successfully grew irises. This was essentially pre-Internet, so my inspiration came from Fine Gardening, old gardening books, and the Philadelphia Flower Show when it was more flower show and display gardens than vendors.

Sigh.

Memories of gardens and flower shows past…..I guess we always have RHS Chelsea and the other fine British flower shows, right? And BBC Gardeners’ World?

Sorry Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, for all the good you do, you can’t see the forest for the proverbial trees on the issues surrounding the Philadelphia Flower Show. Hope you wake up before it’s too late.

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