When you walk into the Philadelphia Flower Show for the first time, it takes a few moments to appreciate its charm.
Started in 1829, the event is famous — it’s the oldest and largest of its kind worldwide — but entering the show floor feels a bit like walking into any other expo. This is what brings out 250,000 people every year? you might find yourself thinking, as bright fluorescents and the rafters of the Pa. Convention Center loom unforgivingly overhead.
Then you get sucked into your first giant topiary display, and the show’s many pockets of color, whimsy, design and commentary pull you in.
Unlike what first-timers might imagine, there aren’t rows of cut flowers as far as the eye can see. Instead, each exhibit is a world unto itself. This year’s theme is “Riviera Holiday,” so in one daydream you’re visiting a French villa laid out with a garden feast, in the next hanging out at a cute Italian cottage with a Vespa in the backyard.
Other displays offer commentary on the state of global society, like the “disPLACEd” exhibit showcasing landscapes from countries dealing with refugee crises, or the “Lemonary,” an herb-filled citrus grove built from sustainable materials that’ll show up again in a city park at some point this summer.
There’s also sections for shopping, demonstrations and advice, plus a whole area dedicated to surprisingly intricate tiny foliage sculptures.
One sore spot: the cost of admission. It’s $48 at the door for a regular ticket, or $26 if you’re between the ages of 18 and 29. Kids over 5 cost $17. These prices are about 40% higher than last year, according to the Inquirer.
Judging from the crowds on opening weekend, the increased cost wasn’t too much of a deterrent. The event is the main fundraiser for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which runs various year-round greening programs and oversees community gardens around the city.
The show is open now through Sunday, Mar. 8, with daylong hours that vary throughout the week. An optional event schedule includes demos, brunches, butterflies, make-and-take potting and after-hour parties.
If you can’t make it yourself, or want a teaser preview, scroll down to see photos from the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show.
A giant olive tree forms the center of the main PHS display.
Never count out the succulents.
An overhead lemon grove proved immensely popular.
Inspired by Italian fisherman’s homes, this exhibit is Instagram gold.
The “disPLACEd” area offered the most thought-provoking use of floral arrangement in the show.
Representing South Sudan’s water crisis, plants are held up by plastic jugs.
The Myanmar display was tucked inside a boat used by refugees to flee the country.
The entrance offers a great opportunity for closeups filled with color.
String music played around this exhibit with a villa’s garden centered on a guitar.
If you’ve been to the Mediterranean, this backyard table will bring back memories.
Color is hiding around every corner.
Look for the “Lemonary” to show up at an outdoor garden somewhere around Philly this summer.
This artwork is made entirely with pressed flowers and plant material.
The tiny floral arrangements are a total surprise.
Made almost entirely from plants, look like toys or jewelry.
A jolt of reality: if you happen to try to enter the Convention Center from its Broad Street side, a handful of hastily scribbled signs direct you to the main entrance at 12th and Arch.