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1:25 pm
Sun March 11, 2012

Flower Power: Philly Show Eyes More Than Gardeners

Originally published on Tue March 13, 2012 6:52 am

Philadelphia hosted the world's oldest and largest indoor flower show this week.

Since 1829, the Philadelphia International Flower Show has attracted gardeners looking for ideas they can try at home. But in an effort to attract more than just gardeners, the show modernized this year.

"We cannot just have exhibits, and [have] people come to look at exhibits. That's old-school," said Drew Becher, the new president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. "Museums are getting away from that. We have got to be interactive."

When Becher set out to plan the show, he decided he wanted it to be more innovative.

"You will be walking underwater, able to vote on people who win things all on your iPhone," he said.

Their goal? For visitors to "become part of the flower show."

Becher, after all, felt he was competing against 3-D movies, a winning city hockey team, Netflix, cable television — the slew of events and technologies that command our attention these days. The Flower Show, he said, had to be equally arresting.

For this year's show, held between March 4 and March 11, the exposition took on the theme "Hawaii: Islands of Aloha." Visitors entered underneath a crashing wave, frozen in time. Its underside glowed with bit-mapped digital projections of swimming sea turtles and fish, which periodically disappeared to be replaced by a wall of orchids.

After the wave, visitors entered a tropical jungle, thick with palms and ferns. A 35-foot waterfall gushed as hula dancers performed twice an hour. Spotlights swirled; the music was clubby.

It was a dazzling setup, especially to some of the show's first-time visitors.

"This is gorgeous. This takes your breath away when you walk in here," said Ginger Schaeffer, a flower show rookie. "I thought it was just going to be tables of flowers and different things."

Not everyone was a fan, though. Megan Rush and Sam Clements weren't sure if they liked it.

"It's a little overwhelming," Rush said. "It's just plants. We thought there would be more color."

"It feels more like promotion to go to Hawaii on vacation," Clements added.

Over its long history, the Philadelphia International Flower Show has tried to strike a balance between big, showy set-pieces and more down-to-earth gardening ideas that visiting amateurs can replicate at home. In this year's show, there were simple window-box displays hanging from front porches set just a few yards away from a Polynesian rainforest designed by a former Disney World employee.

For the first time, the flower show even provided an attraction for people who couldn't care less about flowers: the Man-Cave.

The Man-Cave was equipped with video golf, beer on tap and upholstered recliners arranged around an enormous television. Many of its denizens were men — most of whom had been brought to the show by wives who wanted to see the flowers.

"My wife pretty much insisted. We brought the whole family for her birthday," said Randy Stahlberger, who sipped a beer while watching the Boston Celtics take on Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks. "I get to watch a little basketball, and get away from the crowds, take a little break."

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Are you looking for a man cave to pound some beers and munch on seven-layer dip and watch sports this weekend? Well, you should probably head to the Philadelphia International Flower Show then. That's the oldest indoor flower show in the world. The flower show, really? Peter Crimmins of member station WHYY explains.

PETER CRIMMINS, BYLINE: Before the flower show opened, tons of dirt and tropical plants were loaded into the massive exhibition hall of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The man in charge is Drew Becher, and he needs it to be bigger than ever.

DREW BECHER: We cannot just have exhibits and people come and look at exhibits. You know, that's like old school. Museums are getting away from that. You know, we have got to be interactive.

CRIMMINS: Becher is the new president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. This is only the second flower show under his watch.

BECHER: You're going to be walking under water. You're going to be able to vote on people who win certain things all through your iPhone and really, you know, become a part of the flower show.

CRIMMINS: Becher is competing against 3D movies, a winning city hockey team, Netflix, cable television, all the events and technologies that command your attention. The flower show has to be equally arresting. The theme this year is Hawaii. You enter underneath a crashing wave frozen in time. Its underside glows with bitmapped digital projections of swimming sea turtles and fish. They periodically disappear to be replaced by a wall of orchids.

GINGER SCHAEFFER: I just thought it was just going to be tables with flowers and different things.

CRIMMINS: This is Ginger Schaffer's first time at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

SCHAEFFER: This is gorgeous. This just takes your breath away when you walk in here. It's gorgeous.

CRIMMINS: After the wave, you enter a tropical jungle thick with palms and ferns. A 35-foot waterfall gushes as hula dancers perform every hour and a half. Suddenly, it changes. The spotlights get swirly. The music gets clubby. Megan Rush and Sam Clements are not sure if they like it.

MEGAN RUSH: It's a little overwhelming, I guess. It's like, you know, just more plants, I guess. We thought it would be, like, more color.

SAM CLEMENTS: It feels more like promotion to go to Hawaii on vacation.

CRIMMINS: Over the long history of the Philadelphia International Flower Show, it has always tried to strike a balance between big, showy set pieces and more down-to-earth gardening ideas that visitors can replicate at home. So there are simple window-box displays hanging from front porches a few yards away from a Polynesian rainforest designed by someone who used to work at Disney World.

And for the first time, the flower show even provides an attraction for people who couldn't care less about flowers.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...the Bulls and the 76ers to follow on ESPN.

CRIMMINS: The Man-Cave is a place with video golf, beer on tap, and upholstered chairs that recline in front of an enormous television set. There are mostly men here - men whose wives wanted to come to see the flowers.

RANDY STAHLBERGER: Because my wife pretty much insisted. We brought the whole family out for her birthday.

CRIMMINS: Randy Stahlberger is having a beer and watching the Boston Celtics beat the New York Knicks.

STAHLBERGER: I get to watch a little basketball and get away from the crowds. Take a little break.

CRIMMINS: It's all part of the flower show's effort to expand audience. For NPR News, I'm Peter Crimmins in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.