Ambler blooms at Flower Show

Landscape horticulture students create an exhibition at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

A tribute to Big Ben was constructed at the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show to fit its British theme. | DAN PELLIGRINE / TTN
A tribute to Big Ben was constructed at the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show to fit its British theme. | DAN PELLIGRINE / TTN

Once a year, the Pennsylvania Convention Center receives a stunningly systematic makeover. Inside the main hall, thousands of flowers are carted in by different organizations and entire gardens sprout up.

The Philadelphia Flower Show, which began Saturday, March 2, is an nine-day event where gardeners and onlookers can purchase plants and flowers, receive horticulture tips or simply stand back and observe the exhibitions.

The theme for this year’s show revolves around British culture. Red telephone boxes dot the building, as well as a large model of Big Ben. Even the attendants have gotten involved with the theme, many sporting zany garden-party hats. While most of the exhibitions seemed to have focused on springtime garden designs, the students and faculty who are part of the landscape horticulture design team at Ambler Campus took another direction.

This year, the theme of  the Ambler landscape horticulture design team’s exhibition is “WILDE! Cultivating wonder in everyday places” – recreating a small bog, complete with trickling water and a path right through the display, where people can observe the construction closer.

When deliberations for the exhibition began, the design team examined the terrain and biomes found with England.

“We took a medieval English garden and found what the key components of that was – so enclosure, an overhanging feature, water,” said Shannon Kelly, a landscape architecture student. “We took landscapes that were found in England – so there’s rockery, orchids and there’s also bogs.”

Taking the features typically found within a garden, they applied them to a bog landscape.

“There are a lot of natural bogs in England, so we took that idea and cultivated a bog. So there’s wildness but there’s also cultivation to it,” Kelly said.

The exhibition does give off a damp, marshy feeling when traveled through or inspected. Each of  the plants – from moss and grasses to the carnivorous pitcher plants – are all found in these moist, acidic environments. Also, none of the plants are considered invasive species to the area.

For the full effect, many of the plants were forced into an early bloom. Even though we’re still in the throes of winter, it’s a very spring-like atmosphere in the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

For juniors and seniors studying landscape horticulture, the Philadelphia Flower Show is an event that is written into the curriculum. In October each year, these students come together and begin brainstorming what they plan on doing.

“We design from October to winter break and in January, when we came back, we only had six weeks to build the entire thing and get it set up,” Kelly said.

Actually creating the exhibition is a multi-step process. The display is too large to be built in one building, so it’s divided into sections that are constructed in different places. Ambler Campus has its own greenhouse, where many of the plants are from, and other parts of the design – like mossy logs with mushrooms or a rusted chain-link fence.

“We went trampling through the forest around Ambler and found these logs that had mushroom already on them. It’s pretty cool,” Kelly said, touching a nearby mushroom.

After all the material is gathered and the flowers chosen, the first time everything comes together is actually at the convention center. The designers and other organizations had four days to set everything up before the opening.

Also, because it’s part of the curriculum, these landscape horticulture students are graded on the designs.

“It’s part of our semester-long grade,” Kelly said, referencing the show. “We have to be achieving these certain criteria throughout each of our designs, so our teachers are going to grade us based on the outcome of our designs.”

In addition, they are also competing against other organizations for various accolades awarded by the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society in their division, the education sector.

Ambler Campus has already received awards for its manmade bog, including the Alfred M. Campbell Memorial Trophy for its plants and design.

Overall, Kelly said she believes what she and the other landscape horticulture students created was a success.

“It’s like my vision has actually come to life,” Kelly said. “It’s amazing. It worked out really well. The water feature looks amazing, it looks like it’s raining – the glass mulch is brilliant.”

It was a popular exhibition as well – a faculty member was stationed at the beginning of the path through the exhibit armed with a clicker. Every time a person would walk through, she would record it. By 1:30 p.m., more than 1,000 people had traversed through the bog the landscape horticulture students crafted.

Annette Richards, a nurse from Bryn Mawr, was an attendee at the Philadelphia Flower Show and said she loved Temple’s design.

“It’s cool, it’s different,” she said. “You see all these daisies and sunflowers around but they did something else, it’s just something different.”

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Samantha Tighe can be reached at 

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