Can the Flower Show be to Philly what Fashion Week is to New York?
It sounds like the perfect petri dish for the Flower Show’s new maestro. Becher refuses to give away much about this year’s edition in advance, but he’s thrilled that the theme — decided long before his arrival — is “Springtime in Paris.” “I love Paris,” he says. “Well, who doesn’t love Paris? But I probably love different things from most people. Everyone loves the old-stone Paris, but I love the cutting-edge Paris as well.”
If he’s at all nervous about his debut, Becher doesn’t show it. Neither does he seem concerned about the footsteps he’ll be walking in. “I have to say, I’m not intimidated by following Jane,” he says. “People following a great leader’s success — that happens all the time.” His confidence was one of the qualities that made Becher the favorite of PHS’s selection committee. “That Drew isn’t daunted,” says John Ball, who helmed the search, “right there, that’s a special quality.”
What will Becher say about this year’s show? “We want to amp up the culinary experience. We want a new focus on entertainment — on speakers who’ll explore trends like herb gardens, veggie gardens, terrariums, beekeeping.” Oh, and when it comes to size? “The central feature” — it incorporates both lights and sound — “is really big,” Becher says, and smiles. “I always go for overscale rather than underscale.”
While part of the appeal of the Flower Show is that it falls, unnaturally, in the dead of winter, Becher hopes to extend its influence by moving some of its highly stylized, often outlandish installations out into the community, into those newly created parks and gardens, onto the Parkway, to Penn’s Landing and North Broad Street. That would mark a full circle of sorts for the Greene Countrie Towne that William Penn carved out of a tangle of trees. There’s something essentially American about the desire to make one’s mark on one’s surroundings, to leave a stamp that says KILROY WAS HERE on wilderness — whether that wilderness is remotely rural or urban and man-made.
Becher’s Chestnut Hill manse is as civilized as they come, situated on a hillside overlooking Morris Arboretum. Its gardens are a work in progress, but the house is already banked by his favorite white hydrangeas, and he’s putting in a vegetable plot on a hillside where an orchard used to stand. He shows me photos on his iPhone of a water feature he saw in Colorado that he hopes to re-create in the backyard — a creek that looks for all the world to have been planted by God, burbling along over a stony bed. “Natural” and “unnatural” are divisions that don’t mean much to Becher; in the end, all that matters is the view.