What does it take to transform an empty convention hall into a Garden of Eden? In the case of the Philadelphia Flower Show, it takes 65 tractor-trailers full of soil and mulch, a week of shoveling, planting, and arranging, and nearly a million flowers.
"It's competitive, and it's all about perfection," says competitor Robert Bartlett. "Though there are times when you wonder: 'Will it ever be finished on time? Will it ever look like you want it to look?' But always, in the end, it comes through."
To build one display, says Bartlett, it took his 60-man crew thousands of working hours.
He adds, "There are over 4,000 different plants in here, over 100 different varieties of plant. The exhibit is a tree that has burned in a forest fire many years ago, and it shows the regeneration process that happens after a forest fire."
The show ranges from large displays done by professional landscape designers and florists, to smaller amateur competitions, such as flower arrangements for a table.
Jane Pepper is the president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. She's been running the show for nearly 20 years.
She says, "We have 10 acres, to start with, of displays. We have 60 major exhibitors, and then 1,700 exhibitors in the competitive classes the amateur area. And then, in the market place where you come to shop shop shop, we have 140 there!
How do you get the flowers to bloom in the middle of winter?
"Well, you force them. You trick them," explains Pepper. "Forcing is really tricking the plant to think that it's spring three or four months ahead of time. So you cool it down and then you bring it into a hot greenhouse where they have good lights and temperatures, and then it comes into bloom early.
One of the most popular exhibits at the show is the miniature settings competition. There, contestants must create a dollhouse-sized scene with living plants scaled to fit.
"Each exhibitor is required to have a minimum of six living plants in their exhibit," explains Melinda Moritz, vice chairperson of competitive classes. "Every plant in there has to be a live plant, and the trick here is, you have to get the scale correct, that it looks right with the other setting in the box. They work very hard at trimming, and they can use a skill like the bonsai growers use to keep things to scale. People really enjoy this competition because of the details involved. And they love to look at all the little pieces that people have put in and finding all the special components."
Over the nine-day show, nearly a quarter of a million visitors admire the creations of top floral designers. They take note of new ideas, and they find comfort in the hope that spring isn't far away.
A few visitors' comments:
"Wanted to come here and get inspired, get out of the snow. It was great."
" I always get inspired when I come down here. There is always something that I take back, whether it's a potted plant or something to put in my garden."
"When we walked in I said, 'This is…it takes your breath away. And I know that that's a cliché, but it does it takes your breath away. It's wonderful."
The show will run through this weekend, so if you're in the Philadelphia area, you should take the time to stop and smell the roses.