People + Plants = Flower Show

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

[Note from Nan: We’re delighted to have Rob Cardillo join us as a guest contributor here at Gardening Gone Wild. Even if you don’t know him by name, you’ve likely admired his photography in countless garden books and magazines. You can also see his work on his web site, Rob Cardillo Photography, and his blog, Little Green Pixels.]

rcp_090306_5222I’m a sucker for the Philadelphia Flower Show and usually make the trek several times during its weekly stay at the Convention Center. But the more I go, the less interested I am in the large central displays where thousands of forced annuals, perennials and woodies are stuffed into fantasy structures. These main attractions are fine examples of stage crafting and this year’s Bella Italia theme found opera singers perched on fabricated palazzos and a gondola filled with roses. All lots of fun for the 250K visitors but my real love has become the Horticourt.

This is where plant geekdom reigns. Individuals of all stripes and persuasions, young/old, wealthy/simple, city/country bring in their coddled chlorophyllic children to vie for colored ribbons. Obsessive types are welcomed and rewarded here as just about anything that can be grown in a pot is painstakingly raised to be examined and judged. Often timed to the day for their peak bloom, these darlings are hand transported through the wintry streets and impeccably groomed before they are presented to the panels of experts. Think of it as the Westminster Dog Show for plants.


Despite the competition, there’s a friendly buzz as most of these folks see each other year after year. Everyone’s breaking their winter dormancy this week and some have been showing plants here for thirty years — sometimes even showing the same plant, for that matter.

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Mrs. Samuel ‘Dodo’ Hamilton, one of Philadelphia ‘s finest philanthropists, has her crew of gardeners bring in the big guns with entries that tower over all. But the judges aren’t always swayed by size alone and many times ribbons go to a row home resident with a sunny windowsill and an unmatchable devotion towards a simple potted plant.


Rob Cardillo

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our friend Ben March 18, 2009, 8:14 am

Welcome Rob!!! I agree, seeing the individual plants is by far the best part of the show. (Though it’s a bit discouraging to compare them to my, shall we say, far more modest efforts.) I love the idea of “the Westminster Dog Show for plants.” Looking forward to hearing (and seeing) more from you here!!!

Thanks for the hearty welcome, Ben. It’s quite the scene on entry mornings and tensions can run high. And like the dog show, the rules rule. BTW, I would never think of entering one of my sad indoor plants into this show. I’d be accused of plant abuse for sure.

LINDA from EACH LITTLE WORLD March 18, 2009, 2:22 pm

What a lovely post! I’ve always dreamed of attending but have never made it yet, so I really enjoyed the people pictures — especially the last one.

It’s a great part of the show, Linda. Unfortunately, all this early morning frisson takes place before the show opens so most visitors don’t get to see it. The young boy was feeling some pressure – he had won a novice class the year before and was now stepping into bigger leagues.

Hazel White March 18, 2009, 6:53 pm

Yes, a lovely post. I’ve never been either, but Rob you reminded me of the garden show in an English county town 50 years ago—sweet peas and dahlias in polished glass jars and potatoes and parsnips laid out on white tablecloths. I both wanted to be part of it, grow those sweetpeas to win a ribbon, and also to get the hell away to London.

Hi Hazel! Haven’t seen you since we judged the GW awards some years ago. There used to be a Philadelphia Harvest Show in the summer where all the veggie growers would strut their stuff. Best of all, it was under big tents in the park – a much more enjoyable setting than the Convention Center.

Barbarapc March 18, 2009, 7:37 pm

I love the idea of the folks photo’d with their plants – really a fun post.

Thanks, Barbara. The people plant connection is what the Flower Show’s sponsor (the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society) is all about. The proceeds benefit a LOT of local greening projects.

jodi (bloomingwriter) March 18, 2009, 10:46 pm

Count me in as one of your fans, Rob, having seen your work in one of Nancy’s books. Unlike you, I have no knack with photographing people. Cats, yes, plants, most of the time, but people, not so much. Guess I understand plants and cats better than people, or something like that. I enjoyed your post a LOT.

Thanks, Jodi. I’m not so great shooting strangers but I’ve come to know lots of these folks over the years so it’s easier. Cats make great subjects too – they love to pose.

Shady Gardener March 18, 2009, 11:46 pm

That was fun. A lot of scrutinizing! I really like the last photo. 🙂

You should see the levels of grooming these folks go to, Shady. The fellow with the magnifying goggles is removing tiny bits of dust and debris with tweezers. He’ll follow up with a blast of compressed air and then arrange the top dressing gravel piece by piece.

Anna/Flowergardengirl March 19, 2009, 1:05 am

It’s so nice to come out of hibernation. The non-gardeners don’t know what they are missing. Very good post.

The timing of this show couldn’t be better, Anna. There’s nothing like walking into the main floor from outside. The fragrance is intoxicating and everyone seems to wake up to spring.

Dee/reddirtramblings March 19, 2009, 8:53 am

That was wonderful, Rob. I was watching a gardening show this a.m., and my hubby was laughing at the oohs and ahs of the people on the show. I asked why, and he said he loved the show; he just didn’t understand the devotion. I do.~~Dee

I love their total focus too, Dee. I’m always delighted to witness the passions of plant-lovers.

VW March 20, 2009, 2:11 pm

Your description of the Philly flower show matches the enthusiasm of James Dodson in his book, Beautiful Madness. He convinced me that I need to make the trek there someday, and you second the opinion! It will be great fun to meet others who are just as mad about plants as I am.

That’s a book I need to read, VW. Hope you make it to the show someday. It’s especially fun if you can be there before or during the judging when people are swarming about getting their babies groomed and entered.

Debra Lee Baldwin March 24, 2009, 1:25 pm

Hi, Rob! What fun to get an insider’s peek at Philly…and to recognize a fellow Timber Press author (red shirt, Ray Rogers, “Pots in the Garden”). Ray’s examining one of the cool new dwarf Euphorbia milii, a super plant for pots—continually in bloom. Have you ever gone to a CSSA (Cactus & Succulent Society of America) show? Great geekdom and photo ops!

That is Ray indeed, Debra! He pulled me into the Horticourt a few years ago and we’ve been having fun visiting shows and even some of the champion growers at home. We’re going to an American daffodil Society show in April and I bet he has a CSSA show on our agenda too.

Marty Ross March 29, 2009, 9:46 pm

Greetings flower show fans, Gardening Gone Wild, and Rob: I am crazy about the hort entries in flower shows and have had the pleasure of experiencing the daffodil show in Gloucester County, Virginia, as an exhibitor first hand. This year, Dan and I had 19 entries and I won my first ADS ribbon. You can read about it on my little blog. For everyone who loves Rob’s post — I encourage you to enter your flowers, your plants, your treasures. Have fun: you can’t win if you don’t enter.

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