Planting the seed

— Many of the plants and blooms you'll see at the Phil­adelphia In­ter­na­tion­al Flower Show got their start in a nurs­ery not far from here.

Mead­ow­brook Farm Gen­er­al Man­ager John Story leads a pre­view event for the Phil­adelphia Flower Show on Tues­day, Feb. 21.


Many of the plants that will be dis­played this week­end at the Phil­adelphia In­ter­na­tion­al Flower Show began in nearby Abing­ton Town­ship.

At Mead­ow­brook Farm on Wash­ing­ton Lane, just a few miles west of Bustleton, thou­sands of plants — from pot­ted mini­atures to tall cherry to­mato plants — were nur­tured for many of the flower show’s ex­hib­it­ors. They were moved down­town to the Pennsylvania Con­ven­tion Cen­ter this week.

They got their starts just months ago and grew un­der green­house con­di­tions so they will be bud­ding, flower­ing or fruit­ing throughout the weeklong show.

This “for­cing” for the flower show is a chal­lenge, said John Story, Mead­ow­brook Farm’s gen­er­al man­ager. More than 1,500 dif­fer­ent kinds of plants — an­nu­al and per­en­ni­al, woody and trop­ic­al — have to be watched, ten­ded, warmed and watered.

All of the plants are star­ted at dif­fer­ent times, but they must be ready at the same time, Story said.

That has to done while it’s cold out­side, al­though this year’s mild weath­er has thrown some of the tim­ing off, Story said.

“One vari­ety of lily got past us,” Story said, adding the vari­ety prob­ably won’t be used in the show.

Story and green­house man­ager Nate Roehrich last week provided a be­hind-the-scenes peek at some of the tech­niques they use to keep plants grow­ing at just the right pace.

In one large green­house, plants were on benches about 3 feet from the ground with heat­ers be­low them. Shin­ing from above is the sun as well as sev­er­al 400- to 600-watt lights. A pro­pane burn­er not only gen­er­ates heat, but also car­bon di­ox­ide, a gas that plants’ pho­to­syn­thes­is can de­plete.

Per­en­ni­als get their starts in this en­vir­on­ment and then get moved to cool­er green­houses, Story said.

Point­ing to egg­plants and pep­pers at heights they usu­ally could be ex­pec­ted to reach in Ju­ly or Au­gust, Story said he and ex­hib­it­ors sit down to­geth­er months earli­er to dis­cuss what the farm is go­ing to grow.

“We go through a wish list,” Story said, adding that they tem­per what is chosen be­cause ex­hib­it­ors will pay for the pro­cess even if the plants don’t thrive as pro­jec­ted.

The fail­ures are rare, Story said.

“We’re ninety-five per­cent suc­cess­ful,” he said.

Last year, Mead­ow­brook got about 9,000 plants ready for the flower show and the green­houses were jammed. This year, however, there’s some el­bow room be­cause the show’s Hawaii­an theme means more trop­ic­al plants will be used, and many of those plants are com­ing to the show dir­ectly from Flor­ida.

Al­though the big push is to get plants grow­ing, the farm staff has to slow things down, too. If a plant looks like it will flower too soon, it gets cooled down. Some plants are moved from 70 de­grees to 40 de­grees be­fore they get shipped to the con­ven­tion cen­ter, Story said.

“This slows down the meta­bol­ism of the plant,” Story ex­plained.

Be­cause it will then take a few days for the plant to warm up again, it will look and flower bet­ter while on dis­play.

Some plants are well along in growth already. Roehrich poin­ted to some pot­ted castor bean plants star­ted in Novem­ber that already were at least 4 feet high. They can grow much high­er, he said.

Also among the more un­usu­al garden plants that vis­it­ors to the flower show will see is the hon­ey­comb buddleia, Roehrich said. It’s a but­ter­fly plant with golden, not purple, flowers.

An­oth­er is the large To­scano kale. It’s ed­ible, Roehrich said, but it is used as an or­na­ment­al. Roehrich poin­ted to some con­fetti lantana plants. They were just 5 years old but looked like small flower­ing trees.

Grow­ing in one of the farm’s green­houses were sev­er­al vari­et­ies of green and red lettuce. The plants will be used to make a wall of lettuce at the flower show, said Alan Jaffe, a spokes­man for the Pennsylvania Hor­ti­cul­ture So­ci­ety.

The point of the PHS dis­play is to demon­strate how ve­get­ables can be used to make gar­dens beau­ti­ful, he said.

“We want to in­spire people to do their own ve­get­able garden­ing and do it in cre­at­ive ways,” Jaffe said.

Since they are ed­ible, ve­get­ables are prac­tic­al com­pon­ents of a garden, but they can be grown in in­ter­est­ing ways — the wall of lettuce or a trel­lis of cherry to­ma­toes, for ex­ample — and they add an or­na­ment­al ele­ment.

Get­ting the read­ied plants to the con­ven­tion cen­ter is al­most as chal­len­ging as grow­ing them, Story said. Traffic and un­load­ing time af­fect how quickly plants get de­livered.

The weath­er is the big factor.

If the ship­ping day starts out cold, Story said, staffers have to wait un­til temps hit at least 30 de­grees be­fore they can start mov­ing them from the green­houses to trucks. Al­though 30 de­grees is be­low freez­ing, Story said, the plants won’t freeze be­cause they re­tain some heat. ••


Bloom time …

Hawaii is the theme this year at the Pennsylvania Hor­ti­cul­tur­al So­ci­ety’s an­nu­al ex­tra­vag­anza, the Phil­adelphia In­ter­na­tion­al Flower Show.

The show runs from Sunday, March 4, to Sunday, March 11, at the Pennsylvania Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, 12th and Arch streets.

SEPTA’s one-day In­de­pend­ence Pass and Fam­ily In­de­pend­ence Pass will make it easy to travel to “Hawaii: Is­lands of Aloha.”

The In­de­pend­ence Pass costs $11 per per­son. A $28 Fam­ily In­de­pend­ence Pass provides un­lim­ited travel for one fam­ily of up to five people, trav­el­ing to­geth­er on any one day, on all reg­u­larly sched­uled SEPTA ser­vice (at least one per­son, but no more than two, must be age 18 or older).

In­de­pend­ence Passes are sold at all SEPTA Re­gion­al Rail Tick­et Of­fices, SEPTA Sales Of­fices, the Trans­it Gift Store and SEPTA Sales Of­fice at 1234 Mar­ket St. and on­line at In­de­pend­ence Passes can also be pur­chased on board SEPTA Re­gion­al Rail trains.

For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it or call SEPTA Cus­tom­er Ser­vice at (215) 580-7800.

Flower show tick­ets are $27 for adults; $15 for chil­dren ages 2 to 16; $20 for stu­dents ages 17 to 24. Vis­it www.the­flower­ or call 215-988-8899.

Flower show pro­ceeds go to the City Har­vest pro­gram, said PHS spokes­man Alan Jaffe. City Har­vest ve­g­gies get their starts as seed­lings grown by city pris­on­ers that are then planted in com­munity gar­dens. When picked, they’re dis­trib­uted to food cup­boards, which, in turn dis­trib­ute them to 1,000 needy fam­il­ies per week dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son, Jaffe said. ••


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