Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Slow Start to Spring

While spring has begun officially, it seems that winter still hasn't released its chilly grip on us.  Given the dreary weather of the past several days-especially our Monday snowstorm!- I’m probably not the only one who’s pining for the return of sunshine and spring flowers, so I thought I’d cheer our blog’s readers up with a small reflection on the 2013 Philadelphia International Flower Show.

For those of you who didn't go to this year’s flower show, put on every year by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the theme was “Brilliant!” – a celebration of all things British.  Exhibit designers pulled out all the stops to recreate landscapes and iconic themes from "across the pond".  Visitors were welcomed into the main exhibition hall of the Pennsylvania Convention Center by a pair of gates crowned by the Royal Coat of Arms, all be-decked with red and yellow carnations and orchids. 

Passing under the coat-of-arms, an alley of tall paper birches directed the eye toward a miniature Big Ben clock that was surrounded by sculptures and fountains. 

Exhibits designed by nurseries, landscape designers, and landscape artists stretched out in all directions from there: there was a Beatles-themed exhibit complete with a yellow submarine;

a “London Fog” exhibit with rose-topped umbrellas dripping streams of crystal “rain” into a still pool;

cricket bats leaning against quaint brick cottages, and brick colonnades with elegant statuary overlooking romantic “courtyard” fountains.  Everywhere there was riotous color from hollyhocks, foxgloves, lupines, daisies, larkspurs, and other, more exotic flowers:

In the center of the convention center was PHS’s information center, market, main exhibit, and a huge display area where exhibitors showed off the plant specimens that they submitted for judging. From what I had seen of this area during the past couple of shows, I believe that this was one of the largest competition displays yet: there were plants that looked like they could have come from another planet, in addition to orchids, ferns, cacti, and gesneriads (a family of plants that include the popular African violets). 

My particular favorites included the enormous rabbit’s foot ferns, which were displayed in hanging baskets at least three feet across.  PHS’s exhibit was nearby, separated from their market by a wooden wall decorated with a green wall that was patterned after the Union Jack flag; passing through this wall was a passageway that split the exhibit in two halves. 

On the right another green wall, made up of edible plants such as Swiss chard and turnip greens, framed a sculpture of brightly-colored wheelbarrows.  

On the left was a small patch of grass complete with a sheep statue; overhead was a wooden trellis, hung below with a quirky assortment of lighting fixtures and glass globes, and topped with a green roof from which a goat statue peered down at us! 


The exhibit was framed with a wild border of gaily-colored flowers through which we exited.

From there I went to see the educational exhibits, designed and built by Philadelphia-area high schools and colleges.  Among the exhibitors was my Alma mater, Temple University! 

Temple University Ambler’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture has designed and built exhibits for the Philadelphia Flower Show since 1987; each year the junior class of landscape architecture students design and build an exhibit as part of their Design/Build Studio class, while the horticulture students grow the plants to be used in the exhibit.  The exhibits themselves, products of each year’s research, design, hard work and cooperation between the landscape architecture and horticulture departments, are a big success (but then, I may be slightly biased).  

Temple Ambler’s exhibit, WILDE! Cultivating wonder in everyday places, recreates an abandoned urban lot, complete with chain link fencing and concrete rubble gabion walls, that Nature has reclaimed as three different oases: ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac, ninebark, herbs and grasses create a successional habitat atop the gabion walls…

…which lead down to a wild apple orchard carpeted by daffodils and ‘White Splendour’ windflowers.
From there a dilapidated wooden trellis drips rainwater into a basin of crushed glass, on which climbs ‘Margarita’ carolina jessamine. The trellis leads the eye over to a bog fed by the rainwater, which supports rushes, sweetgum trees, marsh marigold and several cultivars of pitcher plants. 

Gelsemium sempervirens 'Margarita'

Cornus sericea 'Cardinal', Juncus effusus 'Afro', and Rhododendron calendulaceum

Fothergilla gardenii 'Suzanne', among some Equisetum

The theme for next year’s Flower Show is “ARTiculture”, and from the sounds of it, 2014 might be a year that you should plan to go!

Meanwhile, spring is steadily returning to Welkinweir.  During my walk one sunny day around the grounds, I saw that the Early Spring garden (near the Pinetum) was starting to awaken, with a cheery scattering of winter aconite, crocuses (croci?), Narcissus ‘February Gold’, and Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkins’.

Narcissus 'February Gold'

Iris 'Katherine Hodgkins'

Eranthus, a.k.a. aconite

Nearby, the hellebores coyly hid their faces from view…

Helleborus x orientalis

Helleborus foetidus

…you may need to stoop to view these flowers, but they’re well worth it!

Along Azalea Lane, the Galanthus were in full bloom.  The drifts of little snowdrops looked so pretty in the dappled sunlight!

Be careful where you step along the lane: the Scilla have begun to dot the grass with tiny splashes of periwinkle and white:

Farther along the path, the exotic Persian Ironwood, Parrotia persica, had opened its many scarlet buds.

Now that the weather is becoming somewhat more spring-like, more and more flowers are making their appearance.  The Pieris shrubs have opened their lush clusters of bell-like blooms, and I spied the gold of Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) across the entrance drive from the main house.  Come visit Welkinweir, and watch the gardens wake up!