Blossoming careers take root at show

The 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show honored Ambler students’ work. During spring break, the Pennsylvania Convention Center was turned inside out as exhibitionists and vendors in the 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show heralded spring by

The 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show honored Ambler students’ work.
GRACE DICKINSON TTN (Above) Guests admire the Ambler team’s exhibit, “Écolibrium,” at the flower show.

During spring break, the Pennsylvania Convention Center was turned inside out as exhibitionists and vendors in the 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show heralded spring by showing off prized plants and innovative outdoor designs.

The weeklong show ran March 4-11 and offered several competitive categories, as well as booth space for vendors, such as local landscaping companies. Among the participants in the educational category was a team of 17 landscape architecture students from Temple’s Ambler Campus, who competed against six other area schools and dubbed their display “Écolibrium – French Traditions/Modern Interpretations.”

For the second-consecutive year, the Ambler team’s exhibit received the Bulkley Medal of the Garden Club of America, which is given to a single-show exhibit based on educational merit. The exhibit must increase the knowledge and awareness of the public, according to the flower show website.

“I think seeing [the display] being built is something that none of us have experienced before,” said Patrick Whealton, a junior landscape design major and the team’s project leader. “It’s really new to us as students since we haven’t been in the professional realm.”

“We do a lot of design work, but that’s all just on paper – [we] don’t care about detail so much,” he added. “When you’re building something, it’s a whole different ball game. You’re thinking about how things go together, details and exactly how you’ll communicate your ideas.”

Show participation is part of a four-year landscape design program, and the class is considered a design studio for third-year students. Horticulture students involved in the directive studies program also participated, mainly with the planting and growing processes.

Competitors are given an overall theme, which was “Springtime in Paris” this year. The fall semester is spent designing the exhibit, and this semester was spent constructing and growing. At the show, a floral Eiffel Tower was centered on the showroom floor, dwarfing the larger exhibits.

Whealton said the Ambler team took a more interpretive approach to the theme.

“With a lot of the large vendors, like the small residential landscaping companies, you often see a lot of repetition, or replication in fact, of French gardens – a very literal interpretation,” he added.

“As part of the educational group, we have a little more leniency and are able to break from the theme. We need to make it enlightening to visitors and are encouraged to make it applicable to people that come to see the exhibit,” Whealton said. “Some of the exhibits, like the ones with big water features, aren’t really applicable to a small suburban yard. We try to bring parts into the exhibit and ideas that people can use in their own backyards.”

Michael LoFurno, an assistant adjunct instructor, was one of two staff advisors. He said his forte was the construction aspect of the project.

“My talent is putting things together – that’s what I bring to the table,” LoFurno said. “A lot of these kids haven’t used a hammer and don’t have those skills. I’m also a coach, cheerleader and manager – I don’t do it for them.

There’s a lot of trial and error, and they learn from those mistakes. But I am a timekeeper and remind them how close the deadline is because it’s easy to lose track.”

This is LoFurno’s third year advising, and he cited the learning-oriented nature of the exhibit as one of its strengths.

“There are very few walkthrough exhibits,” LoFurno said. “[With ours], people come in and have time to walk through, touch the plants [and] ask questions. It’s like a fishbowl. They’re immersed in the experience. We have a lot of scented plants. It’s hands on horticulture.”

Whealton explained the exhibit aimed to incorporate and balance art, architecture and the environment as three major themes. The exhibit itself included three components: L’Orangerie, the greenhouse, Le Parterre, fruit trees, scented herbs, perennials and hedges and Le Bassin, the rain-fed canal or water feature.

Students’ artistic inspiration came from French painters Claude Monet and Piet Mondrian and French landscape architect André Le Nôtre.

“Sustainability is also a theme that we have going on,” Whealton said. “We wanted to advance ideas of sustainability in practical applications.”

Four sustainable materials were utilized by the team. Papercrete is cement mixed with newspaper pulp and applied to walls like a plaster, achieving a stucco effect.

Mushroom wood, a byproduct of mushroom farming, is used as a planting bed for mushrooms, as soil is placed on top of the wood. The mushrooms secrete enzymes, and eat away at the wood tissue.

“We’re really excited about this one. It creates an interesting texture, and it’s a local, reclaimed material that would otherwise be burned or thrown away,” Whealton said. “We’re using it for an artful purpose and hopefully encouraging people to find it and use it.”

Reclaimed lumber was also used in the greenhouse walls and throughout the rest of the exhibit. Whealton explained that lumber is the No. 1 source of construction waste in the country. If lumber is even slightly damaged in any way, it is discarded. From the time it is milled, through transportation and at the construction site, there are many opportunities for it to get dented or cracked.

If there are any imperfections, the wood is refused because its strength is compromised. However, instead of discarding it, the wood can be used for smaller projects that don’t necessarily need to be structurally sound.

Plastisoil, a material developed and trademarked by engineering professor Naji Khoury, uses shredded plastic bottles with soil and gravel, which are melted down into porous pavement that water will percolate through.

“One of our biggest problems [in Philadelphia] is storm water management,” Whealton said.

“Our goal is to get water back into the ground before it enters rivers and pollutes these bodies of water – it stops pollution and eliminates bottle waste,” Whealton added. “More than 25 plastic bottles go into each paver, and this is the first time the material is being unveiled in a public venue.”

A group of horticulture students worked with the team to grow the plants used in the exhibit. Grace Chapman, an assistant adjunct instructor and Ambler horticulture supervisor, worked with the team for her third year.

“The biggest challenge is that forcing is never a guaranteed process,” Chapman said. “We are encouraging nature, not controlling it, so sometimes it is a disappointment when we can’t force a plant to bloom at the correct time for the show.”

She explained that the horticulture team first develops a plant list in July based on the show’s overall theme.

“When the design students start in August, we work with them to refine our list and also give them plant suggestions based on their designs,” Chapman said. “It’s a total collaboration throughout the flower show process.”

Chapman expressed the satisfaction in installing the plants, which had been growing for nine months and seeing the display come together.

Whealton described the same sentiment felt by him and many of the other students before the show’s opening.

“We use a program called Google Sketch Up. It’s a modeling computer program, and we put a lot of ideas into it and build in the computer what something might look like,” Whealton said. “It’s kind of surreal looking at computer screens for a long, long time and then being able to actually walk through it. It feels like you’re walking through the model. It’s a surreal experience, and it’s really, really cool.”

Kara Savidge can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. This was a fantastic exhibit, on par with the professional exhibits at the show. It was my first time attending the show, and I was impressed and delighted by the creativity, design, beauty and whimsy displayed. Only after I was drawn into your exhibit did I learn that it was designed by Temple landscape architectural students. Wow! Well done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.