In the past forty years, since I moved to the Philadelphia area, I only missed attending the Philadelphia Flower Show once. It was in 1978, and I had a good reason – Gary and I were living in Jerusalem for the year.
This year may be the second time.
It’s a major decision for me not to go. I even went once when a major blizzard was forecast. The snow had already begun when I caught the PATCO train from New Jersey to Philadelphia, was deep by the time I got home. The next day, the show was canceled for the remainder of the week. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had at the show – no crowds.
For the last several years, I have thought about not going. Every year, I go. Every year, I am disappointed.
It’s not that the show isn’t beautiful. It’s not that I’ve gotten tired of gardens (although my body has gotten tired of gardening). It’s not that I don’t come home inspired and broke from having bought too many plants I have nowhere to put.
It’s that I never look at one of the exhibits and think, “I could do that in my garden.” Every year, there are fewer and fewer native plants or replicable ideas. Instead, there are more and more exotics. Ireland, Paris, Italy, New Orleans, and, this year, Hawaii, have all been featured. None of those places have native plants that thrive in South Jersey, except in greenhouses or indoors with a lot of humidity and light. (Well, maybe Ireland is the exception.)
My philosophy of plant care, indoors or out, is best described as benign neglect. If it’s outdoors, I let Mom Nature take care of the watering (except the container plants); if it’s indoors, it gets watered weekly, whether or not it needs it. I believe that with enough time, a dead plant will come back to life, which is why my outside garden contains a lot of bare-branched bushes and my indoor plants includes pots of dirt. (Some of them actually do recover; the others eventually are replaced, with hardy outdoor native plants or with hardy indoor ones that thrive on being watered weekly. Or even weakly.)
I miss the former Flower Show venue in West Philadelphia. It was on a lower level, reached by a long, steep escalator. As you went down, the entrance to the Show would slowly appear. There was always a “wow” moment as the full panorama was revealed.
Now, you go up an escalator, down a long hallway, through a door, and . . . well, it’s impressive, but not “wow.”
Over the years, too, the vendors have stopped offering as many tools, seeds, plants, or cut flowers (there are still some, of course) in favor of items that only tangentially have to do with gardens – decks, outdoor furniture, water features – plus even more that have nothing to do with gardening – jewelry, mops, replacement windows, condiments. It doesn’t stop me from buying, but I liked it better when I struggled home on the train (or, at an earlier time when I lived in Philadelphia, the bus) under the weight of unwieldy spider plants, pussy willow cuttings, and bags of bulbs, rather than . . . I can’t remember what I’ve bought besides plants.
Another deciding factor was discovering the New Jersey Flower Show, in Edison, about 60 miles from Marlton. It took me under 90 minutes (including parking and walking from the remote spot) to get there on a Sunday with no traffic on the NJ Turnpike. The 12 miles to Philadelphia can take as long, especially as I usually miss the train and have to wait for the next one. Then I have to walk several blocks. Or, I could drive, get caught in the traffic heading to the show on the one-way narrow streets, then pay $20-$30 to park in an outdoor lot even further away than the train station.
The NJ show was crowded, but manageable; there was free parking; there were chairs to sit on when you got tired. There were not nearly as many exhibitors as in Philadelphia, but the ones there were “accessible.” There may not have been any “wow” factors, but I hadn’t expected any. I looked at the exhibits and thought, “Yeah, that could work.” Okay, not the waterfall or the tree house, but many of the plants and layouts. I even confirmed the identity of a bush in the front of the house (I never save the plant sticks with the names): a mahonia. (It’s hard to search on-line when you’ve no idea what you’re looking for.)
My biggest complaint is the vendors had even fewer plants for sale than in Philadelphia, and even more irrelevant items. But at the end of the show, many of the vendors were selling the plants from their exhibits.
I even had a nice chat with a master gardener from Rutgers, who confirmed what I had suspected: the only way to get rid of a groundhog is with a .22, although he didn’t recommend it as a method. Basically, he just shook his head and wished me luck.
So, will I go to the Philadelphia Flower Show again? Probably. But maybe not.