Philadelphia’s Flower Power

Competing with the best in a city that has been celebrating the joy of plants for almost 200 years

North America’s oldest and largest horticultural extravaganza, the annual Philadelphia Horticultural Society (PHS). Philadelphia Flower show, embraced the theme of Flower Power this year and delivered a universal message that transcended cultures and borders. Covering 10 acres within the downtown Philadelphia Convention Center, the 190-year-old, nine-day show in March attracted more than 250,000 visitors to embrace the plant world through garden exhibits, demonstrations, special events and a sprawling section of retail gardening goods. As 1960s-era Beatles songs filled the air, the crowds surged past imaginative landscapes, plantings, and floral displays that demonstrated how flowers have the power to inspire, decorate, style, and enrich our lives. The most striking displays sourced memories from the hippy-drenched 1960s while others tapped sci-fi speculations of the future.

FTD World Cup Canadian Fan
FTD World Cup Canadian Fan

Named one of the best events in the world by the International Festivals & Events Association, it was no wonder that the show was selected to host the FDR Interflora World Cup. Held every four to six years in different locations around the world, the competition, known as the Olympics of florists, was a hot contest. This year, it brought together top floral designers from 23 countries and territories who competed in four categories – designer’s choice highlighted harmony in architecture, hand-tied bouquet focused on strength of colour, table setting for two had a love theme, and the final surprise package was where florists got creative with a tickle trunk of goodies.

Russian Fan at FTD World Cup
Russian Fan at FTD World Cup

Tension was high as competitors plucked and tucked blooms into imaginative forms while flower show attendees and fans waving flags from their home countries cheered their nominees on. Canada’s Paul Jaras, from Kamloops, B.C., came up with inventive, geometric shapes, and striking colour combinations. A floral designer whose background includes architectural technology, fine art and clothing design, Jaras heads his own floral design company and is active in the field’s education programs.

Vietnam’s Nam Bao, from Sai Gon, was the first Vietnamese floral designer ever to take part in the competition. He used tropical plants that reflected what grows in his native country, as well as unusual, modernistic frames for his designs. Born in Daklak province, Bao finished college then three years later opened his own business, the Lavender Flower Shop, named after his favourite flower. Bao, who has been in the business for 16 years, says that for him, flowers mean “breath, love and peace.”

All the competitors on the floor where bursting with unusual ideas, but in the end only one designer was declared the grand champion and scooped up $17,000 in prize money. That honour went to Australia’s Bart Hassam whose outstanding work wowed the judges.

Philadelphia’s flower show is always a hit, especially with winter-fatigued fans desperate to wrap themselves in a colourful, aromatic bubble that foreshadows spring. Above and beyond that hint of hope, this year the FTD Interflora World Cup injected a magical burst of energy into the event, proving flowers really do have the power to transform our world.

Where to Celebrate Blooms Year Round

Within Philadelphia there are numerous outdoor patios to enjoy a meal or beverage in the warm weather, but the best place to indulge in farm-fresh ingredients is Talula’s Garden on Washington Square. The rustic space (outside and inside) offers a seasonal American menu and an extensive, environmentally-friendly wine list. Do not miss out on the exceptional charcuterie and cheese boards (there are usually a few cheese selections from Quebec).

For floral festivities all year long, take a 45-minute drive to Brandywine Valley and you’ll find the astounding Longwood Gardens, once the estate of Pierre S. du Pont. Situated on 1,077 acres, it features 20 indoor gardens (don’t miss the orchids!) and 20 outdoor gardens, a conservatory and one of the most significant fountain collections in the United States. Once a hub for du Pont’s entertaining, the site was host to many concerts in du Pont’s day and features one of the largest Aeolian organs ever constructed with more than 10,000 pipes. At any time of year, this indoor/outdoor plant treasure trove is worth a visit.

After exploring Longwood Gardens, scoot over to nearby Glen Mills Garden Café, within the upscale Terrain garden store. Once home to one of the country’s first commercial garden retailers called Styer’s, the café is lodged in the store’s vintage greenhouse and its menu is known for local ingredients, plus the fresh-baked bread comes to the table in a flowerpot. Terrain is part of the Philadelphia-based company URBN which also owns Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Free People.

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