He Whose Thumbs Are Anything But Green Visits The Philadelphia Flower Show

I’ve a close friend who oohs and aahs and maybe even finds her reason for being when she goes to the Philadelphia Flower Show, a massive and annual event that attracts numerous gardeners and other assorted nature lovers. Yeah, the Flower Show means a lot to her. She attends every year with her sisters, excitedly looking at exhibits both grand and small and sniffing out ideas that might be applicable to her garden. Basically, she loves to get her horticultural groove on. She was there with her female siblings two Mondays ago, devoting five hours of her life to the enterprise. And, I’m sure, had a remarkable time.

As for me, on the other hand, I never entertained the idea of going to the PFS until two years ago. It’s not that I don’t like to look at flowers and other plants  — I do! — but I guess the notion of seeing them indoors in artificial settings never rang my bell sufficiently. What’s more, I’m not in the market for floral or other gardening hints that undoubtedly would aid the small patch of land upon which my suburban abode sits. Hell, the subject just doesn’t interest me. And, I’m not embarrassed to admit, my thumbs are so far from being green, flowers and shrubs sprint down the block faster than Usain Bolt when they see me coming.

But in 2016, after having dwelled in or near Philadelphia, my adopted city, for about 40 years, I had a change of heart. Why not go, indeed? The Philadelphia Flower Show is enormously popular (200,000 or more bodies take it in each year) and known around the world. The time had come to check it out. Which my wife Sandy and I did. We had a pretty good time.

One thing I learned at the show in 2016 is that flowers hardly are the only focus. Maybe it once was strictly a floral endeavor, but those days are in the far away past. Now pretty much all of nature is fair game. In the interests of accuracy it wouldn’t be a bad idea, I’d therefore say, if the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, which has been putting on the extravaganza since 1829,  changed the event’s name. How about Flowers N More R Us? No? Well, I’ll give it some more thought.

Anyway, for many years now the Flower Show has had a theme, a different one each go-round, to which about a third of the floor space is devoted. The displays within the themed section are the event’s biggest draw. The rest of the square footage is taken up by that to which the theme does not apply: small-to-medium scale floral and other plant displays, flora competitions, horticultural product vendors, and by refreshment stands. Two years ago the exhibits in the themed section had nothing to do with cultivated flowers at all, or with any other examples of horticulture for that matter. That’s because the topic at hand was the USA’s national parks, which, duh, are wilderness or near-wilderness regions.

This year, though, cultivated flora was a part of the story in the themed district, which was dubbed “Wonders Of Water.” Still, the untamed substantially ruled, as a recreation of a tropical rainforest — rainforests, duh, being environments in which human hands play little part (except when man is leveling them, which is what our blighted species loves to do) — held 2018’s center stage position.

I’m not complaining, by the way. It’s all to the good that the Philadelphia Horticultural Society has expansive viewpoints that encompass much of nature, not just the human-tailored parts of the picture.

Admirably, I’ve now attended the Flower Show twice. Because on March 6 of the present year, the fourth day of the show’s nine-day run, Sandy and I entered the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which is in downtown Philly and only inches away from the city’s Chinatown neighborhood. The Flower Show took up a whole lot of the enormous structure’s acreage. I’ll say this about the quarters in which the PFS was staged: If you’ve seen one airplane hangar, you’ve seen ’em all! If I owned a hat I’d tip it to the Horticultural Society for having given it all they’ve got to transform an antiseptic mega-space into something more than decently attractive.

Getting back to that rainforest, it was a beautiful, sprawling installation. Colorful, fragrant and dense, complete with misty rains dropping from on-high in one (or was it two?) spots, and a not-bad facsimile of a waterfall, it dominated the Wonders Of Water area in nothing but good ways. Truckloads of show-attendees clogged the pathways that wound within and around the rainforest. The Flower Show clearly is not the place to go for anyone seeking to get away from it all. Not that the crowds were unpleasant. They weren’t. Everyone seemed relaxed and respectful of their fellow tribe members, whose numbers included high quantities of young children and individuals who needed canes, walkers or wheelchairs to get around.

Of the sizeable number of displays other than the rainforest in the Wonders Of Water zone, three grabbed me more than the rest. How cool was the Spring Thaw exhibit, its pretty flowers abloom in a meadow being fed by melting waters from mountain peaks. And how aridly spot-on was the desert mock-up in which cacti and other life forms thrived in their own stark way, making do with very little of the wet stuff.

Plenty of water (in an irrigation ditch), however, was present in the tulips field display. Those flowers jolted the eye in washes of yellow, purple, red and other members of the spectrum. I’m a sucker for splashy swaths of color, so I spent quite a lot of time letting them raise my spirits. There, more than anywhere in Wonders Of Water, the name Philadelphia Flower Show truly applied.

Sandy and I passed many minutes together in the themed section. Then we separated for a while, she investigating the sections of the show outside the Wonders Of Water boundaries. I however stayed within those boundaries. The creations there satisfied me very well, and I felt little desire to stray.

Before we knew it, two hours had passed. Sandy by then had rejoined me and we decided to call it a day. Our visit to the Philadelphia Flower Show had been a good one.

But that’s not the end of the story. I’ve given the visit some thought in the process of composing that which you now are reading. And I’ve come to realize that what the show had to offer me, beyond its immediate delights, was the impetus to get out into, and explore, nature. I imagine that such is one of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s main aims in mounting the exhibition each year.

I have plans to head west to New Mexico in 2018, where my brother and sister-in-law recently moved. There I’ll mosey around the deserts, remembering, of course, to lather on sunscreen beforehand, as all good little boys and girls should do. And, closer to home, in fact only seven or so miles away, I’ll hike the trails inside Pennypack Park, a nine-mile long forest, bordered by residential streets, that runs through Philadelphia’s northeast section. Call me crazy, but I plan to try and hike the park’s entire length in one session. The last time I walked that far in one day was when I was in my 30s. I’ve recently tiptoed into my 70s, so who knows if nine miles is within my engine’s capabilities. If I make it all the way, and even if I don’t, you can bet your sweet bippy that I’ll be writing about the expedition on this blog’s pages.

Thanks, Philadelphia Flower Show. I enjoyed you quite a lot this year. If I remain above ground for a good while longer, then I’ll see you again.

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this article on social media or via email. Gracias.)

(All photos are from March 6, 2018. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window)

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Me And My Muse

My muse.
My muse. Her dress might be from Saks.

The stage was set in its usual way this past Thursday evening. I sat in the library of my suburban Philadelphia home, clad in comfy pajama pants and a sporty smoking jacket, sipping a cup of piping hot chamomile tea laced with two shots of Kentucky bourbon. I was awaiting my weekly visitation from Erratica, my wondrous muse. Erratica, the little-known but essential Greek goddess, and sister of the nine muses who have gotten all the headlines since bursting on the scene about 3,000 years ago. Terpsichore, for instance, the inspiration for dancers, and Calliope, without whom Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and other authors’ epic poetry, would be stink-o for sure.

Yes, Erratica. She whose job through the millennia has been to aid countless amateur storytellers and scribes in need of a push, in need of direction, such as me.

My eyes were heavy and my mind was foggy due to the typically poor night’s sleep from which I had awoken that morning, not to overlook the spiked tea. In other words, I was in what for me passes as fighting shape. I was straining my brain, trying to come up with some story ideas for my blog, when a series of sharp jabs on my left shoulder got my attention. I looked behind me.

“Hello, Erratica,” I cheerfully said to the beautiful creature who had delivered the blows, eyeing her flowing robes. “You are right on time. I love your dress, by the way. Where’d you get it? At Saks?”

“I’m in a hurry, Neil,” Erratica answered, as she moved from behind my chair to face me properly. “You’re not the only pseudo-writer in need of help. Let’s skip the small talk.”

This girl gets right to the point. There’s nothing erratic about her. Instead, her name derives from the erratic creative talents of those whom she shepherds. “Okay,” I gulped. “Here’s the situation. A week ago, with your assistance, I got it together to write a piece about Willie Nile, and I published it yesterday. But now I’m stuck, really stuck. I can’t think of a single thing to write about. I’m constipated, for gawd’s sake! My handful of readers won’t know what to do if I don’t publish something next week. Please inspire me, Erratica. Please. I’m on bended knees.”

Erratica gave me one of those long, hard looks. I felt uneasy. I knew what was coming. “Neil,” she said. “You have been a big disappointment to me the last couple of months. Getting you to deliver stories once every week or so has been much too difficult. And now you say that you’re totally out of ideas? Are you kidding? Look at all the movies and other things you’ve seen that you haven’t written about. The world is your oyster, whatever that means, and you’re leaving so much of it on the table. There you were last month at the Philadelphia Flower Show, a world-famous exposition, and you wrote not one word about it. Three hundred thousand people went to that show, but it wasn’t good enough for you? What are you, some kind of elitist? And a couple of weeks ago you took in Hello, My Name Is Doris, a sweet movie with adorable Sally Field. Where’s your review, guy? And I could mention so much more. Neil, you’re frustrating me. Big time.”

doris IMG_1273
“Oh, Erratica. I know you’re right. You always are. But hear me out. Sure, I liked Hello, My Name Is Doris pretty well. I came close to writing about it. But the more I thought about the movie, the more I saw what I think is a gaping hole in its central logic. I said to myself, ‘Yo, schmuck. Why spend several hours analyzing a flick that’s kind of flabby in its design?’ What I’m saying, Erratica, is this: Doris is what, 65 years old? And she’s been a semi-wallflower pretty much all of her life. And then one day— presto! — she falls in with a bunch of hip millennials who practically adopt her into their tribe. I mean, c’mon. The odds of that happening are about as high as my winning the Powerball jackpot on the same day that NASA accepts me into its astronaut training program.”

Erratica gave me another of those long, hard looks. Obviously she wasn’t buying my explanation. Maybe I wasn’t either.

One of the Japanese displays.
One of the Japanese displays.
Part of Big Timber Lodge, which was the entrance to National Parks exhibits.
Part of Big Timber Lodge, which was the entrance to national parks exhibits.

“And here are my beefs about the Philadelphia Flower Show,” I continued. “Yeah, going in I was primed to write it up. But going out I was muttering ‘nah’ to myself. I mean, the show was okay. I liked some Japanese displays. And the themed exhibits representing various national parks were decent, but that’s all they were . . . representations. You could walk through and around them in seconds. All they really made me want to do was head to the great outdoors and explore the real parks. And don’t get me started on the juried flower exhibits. The flowers in my local supermarket’s flower department look as good, probably better, than what I saw at the show. Grouse and grouse some more, that’s mostly what I would have done if I’d written about the Flower Show. There’s no fun in that for me.”

 

Erratica snorted. Her patience clearly was exhausted. “I don’t know if I can take this anymore,” she said. “I have to have a talk with my father. His name is Zeus, in case you forgot. You amateurs have worn me out. For 3,000 years I’ve been dealing with marginally-talented, confused whiners. I deserve a new assignment. Calliope’s, for example. Amateurs . . . bah!”

And, just like that, Erratica was gone. Possibly forever. I don’t know how I will cope if she doesn’t return. But I do know this: Bereft of ideas, there’s little chance that I will publish anything this week.

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(Doris and flower show photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)