PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flower Show burst into colorful bloom last week with a dizzying array of over-the-top floral arrangements and tablescapes, landscapes featuring an avenue of towering birches, full-scale cottages, surrounding landscapes and woodlands and gardening innovations.
What started in 1829 as a horticulture competition among growers to claim prizes for award-winning plant specimens has evolved into a 10-day extravaganza, ending March 10, that sprawls through 550,000 square feet of the Convention Center. It's the largest flower show in the world.
Organizers named the English-themed event "Brilliant!" this year in an attempt to broaden the scope of attractions and to appeal to a younger audience. Judging from the hordes of twentysomethings, families and men who vied for vantage points on the show's busy opening day March 2, the plan succeeded.
Visitors stepped through the show's entrance doors and faced a pair of towering gates, topped with oversize floral arrangements and giant crowns, that opened to formal gardens planted around a replica of Big Ben. Elaborate displays of London scenes designed by high-end florists flanked the clock.
Big Ben's hourly strikes unleashed an eye-catching display of bright lights, British rock music and videos of caricatured U.K. icons. The loud music and flashy images drew criticism from purists who found the spectacle garish, but there was lots of toe-tapping and even dancing from the people standing around it.
"London Fog" was an imaginative display of umbrellas and "dripping" falls of crystal beads that watered the springtime arrangements below. Another scene depicted a quaint foxglove-lined stone path that borders a cricket field.
Floral arrangements took center stage and interpreted themes such as Crown Jewels, My Fair Lady, Cotswold Cottage and 10 Downing Street and included enormous and glorious designs, breathtaking tablescapes and detailed miniatures. Fresh arrangements have a limited shelf life, so competitions are staggered throughout the week, providing returning guests with different themes and designs to view on subsequent visits.
A woodland of ferns, native plants and blooming trees edging a pond provided calming contrast to bright lights and extravagant displays. It's difficult to imagine how the landscapers and designers manhandled towering trees into place. The mechanics and engineering required to create the impressive displays and full gardens boggles the mind.
The timeless beauty of English gardens and springtime flowering bulbs shared space with educational but attractive gardens emphasizing garden-to-table, organic gardening, native and sustainable gardening practices and the latest in landscape materials and products.
The show retained its emphasis on competition, but the classes are not limited to the same old daffodil and begonia specimens. Guests wander through rows of topiaries, terrariums, tiny stone planters and imaginative, miniature -- as in 16 inches wide -- patio settings planted with live miniature plants set among to-scale outdoor furniture.
Creators of container gardens and window boxes filled with interesting plant combinations, and growers of pots of showy orchids and living walls -- vertical gardens stuffed with live plants -- all competed for top honors. A soothing wall of ferns and other green plants backed another green wall composed of ornamental cabbages, kales and chards.