The Philadelphia Flower Show Moves Outside
By Donald H. Sanborn III | Photo by Rob Cardillo Photogaphy. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
The annual Philadelphia Flower Show will be presented outside for the first time. The 2021 event, “Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece,” will take place June 5-13 at Philadelphia’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Park, which will enable it to occupy 15 acres.
In a blog post for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) website, “The 2021 Philadelphia Flower Show: Five Reasons You Won’t Want to Miss It!,” Communications Manager Marion McParland notes that the 348-acre FDR Park, which opened in 1914 as League Island Park, is “a registered historical district … designed by the Olmsted Brothers company [landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and John Charles Olmsted] in the early 20th century. Created with the park’s natural features as the canvas, paths were carved out of tidal marshes, through gentle hills and around huge shade trees, with Meadow Lake as the centerpiece.”
A PHS press release promises that the Flower Show’s move to the outdoor venue “will allow for new creative expression and horticultural displays as well as social distancing and the health benefits of being outside.” The release notes, “This departure from the show’s typical late winter timing is in response to the pandemic.”
Sam Lemheney, PHS chief of shows and events, recalls that, in March 2020, “We closed down the 2020 show, and a week later the pandemic shut down Philadelphia as well as the rest of the country. So we were very lucky to get our show in.”
This echoes a comment by Patricia Frawley, a past president of the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County, who has visited “at least 15” iterations of the Philadelphia Flower Show, including the 2020 exhibition. “It couldn’t have been better timing! You look back at such good memories.”
For Frawley the Flower Show represents “a promise of spring, a promise of possibility. It’s usually the first flower show, so it’s the first opportunity to immerse yourself in things that are growing. There are always new ideas, new colors, new everything.”
The Philadelphia Flower Show debuted in June 1829, two years after PHS was founded. It took place at Masonic Hall, on Chestnut Street. In “Yesterday’s Flower Show” (Green Scene, March 2000), Wilbur Zimmerman notes that the inaugural event “featured fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other plants … it was recorded in the minutes that the ‘Brilliant exhibition owes its merit to the individual patronage and contributions of gentlemen amateurs and professional cultivators.’”
America’s involvement in the World Wars caused the show to be canceled; there were no exhibitions in 1917-1918 or 1943-1946. In “Three Centuries of History Lead to Today’s Philadelphia Flower Show” (Montgomery News, February 2015), Dan Sokil observes that during the war years “flowers were luxuries. While flowers continued to be used for weddings, birthday celebrations, and funerals, the number and variety diminished and the floral trades suffered.” more