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 shop.SEPTA.org. Independence Passes can also be purchased on board SEPTA Regional Rail trains.
For more information, visit www.septa.org 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.theflowershow.com 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. ••EndFragment