JARS v56n4 - Exhibit in the Philadelphia Flower Show

Exhibit in the Philadelphia Flower Show
Ted Stecki, Chapter Show Chair
Voorhees, New Jersey

The Greater Philadelphia Chapter has been exhibiting in the Philadelphia Flower Show, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, for over 35 years. The early exhibits were small, but in 1970 the chapter put together a winning exhibit which won the Gold Medal of the Chicago Horticultural Society for the outstanding exhibit by a plant society. The chapter decided years ago that the main purpose for being in the show was to promote rhododendrons and the ARS to the public. We also learned from the early shows that there are a lot of people who don't know what rhododendrons and azaleas look like and the various varieties that are available, i.e., shapes, leaf form, colors, etc. We also found that many gardeners don't understand how to plant plants that are grown in a container or the basic cultural techniques. As a result the plants die and they are afraid to purchase new ones. Many questions relating to growing, pruning, deer control, fertilizing, varieties, etc., are asked and are answered by the chapter members who man the exhibit during show hours.

Over the years we have had many types of exhibits that show how the genus can be planted in the garden and be used in the landscape. We even had a replica of Joseph Gable's nursery one year. This was highlighted with notes and letters between Gable and other hybridizers and featured many of the Gable plants. We knew that this was a realistic exhibit because many visitors asked if they could come to the nursery and buy plants.

This year the overall show theme of the show was "Pleasure of the Garden." The committee did some serious thinking, and it was decided to do something "out of the box" that would really draw the visitors to the exhibit. We decided on a theme and title, "Rhododendrons - A Rainbow of Color." Randy Dalton and Cynthia Rossetti, the exhibit designers, went to work and put many ideas on paper. Bob Wilkinson did his usual task of selecting and obtaining a large quantity of different varieties and high quality plants from local nurseries and members' gardens. Bob obtained many plants from Hank Schannen's Rare Find Nursery which turned out to be showstoppers. Betts Layman hosted the committee meetings, providing guidance and excellent deserts at the meetings to keep us under control. As chair, I interfaced with the Philadelphia Flower Show staff, helped out where necessary and did the plant forcing.

Now, what made 2002's exhibit a special draw to the show's visitors? Over sixty varieties and a total of seventy-five plants consisting mainly of rhodies along with deciduous and evergreen azaleas were mounted on shelves that were stepped from a 10-foot wall to the floor, which was on a 30-degree angle. The plants were mounted at an angle so the viewer would be looking at the entire head or top of the plants. Different colors of 4-foot wide vinyl sheets (red, green, yellow, blue) were then pulled from the top of the wall to the floor, covering the structure and pots. The vinyl colors represented the "rainbow of color." With the plants sticking through the vinyl, the viewer could see a large variety of the genus clearly without looking at them in a typical landscape or garden layout. We estimate that a large percentage of the shows' 300,000 attendees stopped and viewed our exhibit. We based this on the large volume of literature that was handed out and the comments from the exhibit watchers who staff the exhibit on 3-4 hour shifts during the eight-day show. Many said that they never had a spare moment to take a break. Some even worked two 4-hour shifts because the overload of questions about the plants, culture and discussions about the ARS were overwhelming. I even had calls at home asking if the plants could be purchased to take home. The attached pictures show the exhibit.

In summary, putting an exhibit together takes committee members who are dedicated and willing to give their time and effort to put a quality exhibit together. The committee workers show up to help put the exhibit together which starts on the Monday before opening day on Saturday. Emphasis is put in placing the plants in the exhibit, labeling, lighting, grooming and exhibit maintenance during the eight-day show. Daily watering and grooming the plants during the show is accomplished after closing time.

I have been involved with the show committee since Ed Collins asked me to help out in the early '70s. We were co-chairs along with Glenn Frederick for many years and our children helped during setup. Glenn is still on the committee. My sons and daughter still help out today when they are needed. This is a fun project and the committee members (too many to mention) provide the dedicated support and horticultural knowledge to make this a successful exhibit. If your chapter decides to do a flower show, a typical "ice breaker" to a viewer is "How does your garden grow?" The answer you get can really stir up a lot of conversation.