BY GRACE DICKINSON, THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Breathe in aromas of lavender, walk beneath a towering 25-foot-tall olive tree, and spot fresh lemons growing between green leaves. You’ll see it all within the first few steps into this year’s “Riviera Holiday”-themed Philadelphia Flower Show (Feb. 29-Mar. 8) at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, intended to whisk you off on a mini trip to the south of France.
“The entrance garden is based off of a French plaza where you’d enjoy a glass of wine or coffee, surrounded by all of these gardens with shades of blues and pinks and yellows and oranges,” says Sam Lemheney, the chief of shows and events for Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS).
This year, there’s also a dedication to the late Princess Grace of Monaco (a Philadelphia native), and a one-day environmental summit about biodiversity and climate change.
Here are all the details about what to check out if you go.
Whether gardener or not, most find the Flower Show to be quite the stimulating experience, with fragrant and colorful blooms in every direction. Walk through the entrance garden and you’re bound to pull out your camera immediately, but plenty of other artistic exhibits lay just beyond, too.
Surrounding the entrance garden, this year’s landscape and display gardens include dozens of exhibits, like a French gardenscape filled with olive trees and flowering Bougainvillea, a “cape” surrounded by cypress trees and pebble beach touching the “Mediterranean Sea,” floral arrangements that mimic impressionist paintings, and a courtyard with walled gardens that climb from a mosaicked patio space.
Grace Kelly was a gardening enthusiast and regular at the Flower Show. After leaving her acting career behind and marrying Prince Rainier III of Monaco, she founded the Garden Club of Monaco in 1968. Never leaving the Philadelphia Flower Show behind, she returned as a judge on a hometown visit in 1976.
In honor of the former princess, PHS partnered with the principality of Monaco and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation to create a special exhibit inspired by the Princess Grace Rose Garden in Monaco. At its center: a replica of her wedding dress.
“The garden’s exploding with roses, her favorite flower, mostly in pink, and the dress is on a pedestal with steps that interpret the ones she walked up at the Monaco church where she wed,” says Lemheney.
From UK design firm Wayward, The Lemonary invites you to walk through a lemon grove with rows of citrus trees. If you can clear the crowds, it makes for a prime photo spot. After the flower show ends, parts of the exhibit will be repurposed for a new PHS Pop Up Garden in Manayunk.
Take home a new plant, learn about rain gardens, or chat with experts on how to grow the perfect orchid. Here are some opportunities to dig deeper.
If you’re looking to learn — and are willing to pay extra — there’s an all-day environmental summit with a panel of experts, including keynote speaker Peter Raven, named by Time magazine as a “Hero for the Planet.”
An internationally renowned botanist, Raven spent 40 years at the Missouri Botanical Garden, turning it into a world-class center for research, conservation, education, and horticulture display.
The discussion sessions are focused on how gardening influences biodiversity. Learn about green roofing, soil microbial communities, transforming vacant lots into pollinator gardens, and more. The symposium ends with an optional reception at the Home Gardening Hub.
Local gardeners and apartment windowsill tenders bring their prized plants to the Horticourt to compete. There are nearly 5,000 individual plants, from daffodils to cacti to tropical plants, each vying to represent the best version of their species. (Picture a dozen tulips, all of the same color, lined up next to each other, waiting for the judge to award one the blue ribbon.) With more than 100 categories, you can check out a wide variety of plants that you may want to grow in your own home. A mobile pop-up cart will roam the area, too, with educational demos on container gardening, how to win a blue ribbon, growing herbs, and more.
With displays from universities, companies, and plant societies (Bonsai, Rhododendron, and more) this is a great place to learn about specific plants and trends. You’ll also find experts giving short talks on stage, and garden displays about stormwater management, eco-friendly critters, and growing vegetables.
If you’re looking to shop, the marketplace has more than 200 vendors selling everything from cut flowers to plants to birdhouses to outdoor furniture. Or swing through the New Plant Gallery, where you can learn about the latest annuals, pollinator plants, and other new breeds.
Beyond taking in the sights, there’s lots of activities at the show. And, while it can be easy to lose your kiddos in the crowd, it should be just as easy to keep them entertained. From live butterfly rooms to arts-and-crafts activities to doggie days, here’s what to check out.
The furriest day of the Flower Show, Fido Friday (Mar. 6, 6-9 p.m.) draws hundreds of dogs, often dressed-to-impress, to the Convention Center. Pups are free with any adult ticket, so you can bring your own or sneak in some petting time with other four-legged friends while strolling through the lush displays. Staff from PAWS, ACCT, and other groups will be there, too, to chat with those looking to adopt.
More than a thousand of the earth’s most beautiful pollinators flutter around inside Butterflies Live! Sugar-coated Q-tips attract the 20-plus species to land nearby. It’s an experience that makes for prime photo-ops — but you’ll need a $5 ticket to enter.
Learn how to make your own vibrant container display with Grammy Awards’ official botanical artist Tu Bloom. The potting party sessions last an hour and you can buy advance tickets ($10) online.
Or, join in a make-and-take crafting session led by DIY experts. Activities include crafting recycled-material containers for succulents and mosaic tiles to decorate your home. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance online.
All crafting activities are family friendly.
Head to the Home Gardening Hub to find workshops for adults and also hands-on activities for the little ones. Families can play games like Plant Tic-Tac-Toe and Name That Plant, partake in gardening-themed crafts and take advantage of special photo-ops .
If you go
- When: Saturday, Feb. 29, through Sunday, March 8
- Where: Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St., Philadelphia
- Tickets: Tickets cost $42 for adults, $26 for ages 18 to 29, and $17 for ages 5 to 17, and are free for those younger than 5. A PHS family membership, which runs $110, could save a family of two adults and two children about $14. Additional membership plans — which come with several benefits — are available through the website theflowershow.com.