Irene Virag's Garden Party

I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Scenes from the Flower Show

At 8 in the morning, the floor of the Philadelphia Flower Show is virtually empty. You could get close enough to actually read plant labels. You could take a picture without getting a stranger’s head or elbow in the shot. You could make out the clover design of the knot garden fashioned from flowers and colored glass in one of the main displays. You could stick your nose into a Dawn viburnum and inhale spring on a frigid day when snow swirled along the city streets.

It’s one of the perks of being a garden writer – you get to sneak in before the crowds arrive. That’s what I did on my last day at the show. Here’s some of what I saw:

**A tall woman in a red sweatshirt named Arlene Flick watering pots of Stephanotis floribunda and Coprosma – just two of the hundreds of plants on display in an area nicknamed the Hort-court.

This is the section where perfectly groomed potted specimens are judged throughout the show – where 50-year-old clivias are in killer bloom, where azaleas clipped into pink clouds are photographed by amazed and amused tourists, where hairy cacti no bigger than your thumb and weirdly gnarled euphorbias sport blue ribbons that reaffirm the truth behind the old adage that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

“I’m just watering, not feeding,” Arlene said when I asked what was in the 9-gallon tank she was wheeling around. Arlene is a volunteer with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the show, and a member of a four-person crew that comes in at 6 a.m. three times during the week-long run.
“It used to be that people would water their own exhibits,” the retired horticulturist from Delaware County said. “But strangely, plants would get knocked down, flowers would be picked, all manner of things would happen. Twenty years ago someone asked me if I’d mind watering. I said, ‘Sure.’ I say ‘sure’ every year.” I just like watering.”

**The living wall and arch at the show entrance.

An impressive tapestry of color and texture fashioned from blue lobelia, pink cascading diascia, creeping dichondra, an epiphytic cactus known as Rhipsalis and a very cool succulent called Echeveria Topsy Turvy with grayish silver rosettes. All of it forced into bloom and placed in the wall by John Story and Diane Weiner of Meadowbrook Farm.

**Gairdin an Oir – a garden of gold by Stoney Bank Nurseries shining with yellow roses, coreopsis, rudbeckias, Echinacea Sunrise, heucheras, gold-leaved hostas, and Spirea Gold Flame – not to mention junipers with names like Gold Star and Old Gold, and golden dawn redwood Gold Rush. It was enough to make you believe there was a pot of gold in the garden.

**Michael Petrie of J. Franklin Styer Nurseries hanging out with his dinosaurs before hoards of Homo sapiens rushed his best-of-show landscape.

“They were in Jurassic Park,” he said of the full-sized cast creatures lurking amid the greenery around a pond made even more mysterious with ultrasonic foggers.

Actually, the dinosaurs were created by Don Lessem – AKA “Dino” Don – and were used in promotional tours for the 1993 movie. They’ve been standing around his yard in Media, Pennsylvania ever since. Michael stopped by to visit one day and was inspired to put the creatures in the flower show spotlight.

“We created the garden around the dinosaurs,” he said. “There are 350 pots of Phormium alone in the exhibit. We used a gingko tree because they were around when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The exhibits are always a work in progress and I’m never really sure how it’s all going to turn out. It usually works.”

Which is something of an understatement since Michael has won best-in-show six times in the past 11 years. This year his exhibit also was honored for “excellence in use of forced plants” and as “most distinctive in show.”

He’s already thinking about next year when the show theme will be Jazz It Up. “I have a concept,” he said. “It will be minimalist and contemporary – and it will involve only three plants and four colors.”

I'll see you there.


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