PHILADELPHIA—Nature might seem like, well, a natural venue to host a flower show. But for almost 200 years, the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural event, was traditionally held inside at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in early March—not exactly an ideal time for outdoor gatherings in the Northeast.
Then, the pandemic hit and the show was transplanted to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park for the first time ever in June 2021.
For this year’s show, which took place June 11-19, the event producers from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) once again took over 15 acres of the city’s historic grounds, growing from the usual 10-acre indoor show, complete with a new layout, food and beverage offerings, special events, and recreational spaces.
Sam Lemheney, chief of shows and events for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, said that this year’s theme, “In Full Bloom,” was inspired by the increased interest in gardening over the course of the pandemic, citing The National Gardening Association statistic that states that 18 million took up the hobby.
“When your plant is in full bloom or your garden is in full bloom, it is in great health. It's thriving ... So many people turned to horticulture and plants—whether it be outdoor or indoor plants—to help them get through the stresses of the pandemic."
The Philadelphia Flower Show raises funds for the nonprofit organization, helping to support programs, including PHS Philadelphia LandCare, an initiative that transforms vacant lots into green spaces in neighborhoods of need.
Upon arrival, guests were greeted by a 300-foot flower bed that resembled a field of flowers in gradient colors, from pink to orange to red, which lined the entrance walkway. This year, organizers condensed much of the show's content—the gardens, the floral exhibits, the non-professional exhibits, and the competitive classes—into one main area, Lemheney explained. He added that last year’s footprint was more spread out due to health and safety concerns related to COVID.
New this year, visitors were able to experience elevated crafting experiences with local artisans, including floral crowns, personalized candle making, dried floral arranging, and botanical jewelry. Also, in response to a “big uptick in family attendance last year,” organizers created a new kids area called the “Kids Cocoon” with engaging, family-friendly activities.
Lemheney, who’s been with PHS for 19 years, theorized that the increased attendance at last year’s show might have been because an outdoor event “feels a little bit better and different for families and kids than indoors. They felt more comfortable coming to an outdoor show, coming to a park. They're familiar with FDR Park ... They're probably saying to themselves, ‘why do I go inside for a flower show?’”
He projected this year’s overall attendance to be between 180,000 to 200,000 visitors.
Located in the heart of the city’s sports complex, FDR Park is easily accessible from surrounding cities such as NYC and Washington, D.C., offers plenty of parking, and is close to public transportation. Plus, it makes a “great backdrop for the entire show,” Lemheney said about the advantages to hosting the event at the park
Of course, hosting a large-scale event like this outdoors also poses some challenges. Lemheney said that the biggest difference between producing the event outdoors as compared to indoors at the Pennsylvania Convention Center “is that all of the infrastructure—the electric, the water, the restrooms—all has to be brought in ... At the convention center, we have all that.” He added that the team spends over a week installing the infrastructure before setting up the exhibits.
Typically, planning for the show begins about 18 months in advance, but last year’s show was planned in about seven to eight months. Lemheney explained that this year they had more time to enhance the visitor experience, including improving the flow and parking. He added that the organization hasn’t yet determined if the event will become a permanent outdoor show.
As for sustainability efforts, last year, PHS saw a diversion rate of 83% from landfills, with materials either being recycled or donated and reused. Over 20,000 plants were donated to citywide parks. The organization even recycled the shrink wrap that was used on the pallets, transforming it into three benches for the park. Lemheney said that this year’s goal is a diversion rate of 85%.
Keep scrolling to see more from inside the Philadelphia Flower Show.