The Flower Show has been around for so long — nearly 200 years — that we take it for granted. Long-term leadership like Pepper’s can be a double-edged sword, stability counterbalanced by self-satisfaction.- Becher’s thinking bigger. “I want the show to have the same impact here that Fashion Week has in New York,” he says. “I love our cheesesteaks, but the city should be known for the Flower Show.” He points out that as a region, we have more public gardens — Chanticleer, Meadowbrook, Longwood, Morris, Tyler, to name only a few — than anywhere else in the world, not to mention Fairmount Park. And central to William Penn’s conception of Philadelphia as a “Greene Countrie Towne” were the five public squares he planted. “This is the cradle of gardening in America,” Becher says. “We’ve already got a powerhouse brand. Now we’ve got to work to make the show the place to debut great flowering plants” — something the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea show is known for. “If Martha Stewart introduces a new line, or Burpee, or QVC, they should be doing it here.”
Becher has modern-day Bartrams scouring the world for blooms that aren’t well-known, to be featured in a cut-flower showcase. He wants to create programming with the Art Museum, PAFA and Mural Arts. He sees the Flower Show as akin to events like the Kentucky Derby, the Indy 500 and Miami’s Art Basel, which transform their cities.
And every plant at the show — this year’s runs from March 6th through the 13th — has a story to tell, the way Becher sees it. “Where does that plant live for the other 358 days of the year?” he asks rhetorically. “In South Philly? Germantown? Chestnut Hill?” He envisions future show attendees using their iPhones to scan barcodes that will tell the backstory — complete with video — of each exhibit. “Charles Cresson” — the longtime PHS member who lives at Hedgleigh Spring in Swarthmore — “gardens at night, wearing a miner’s hat,” Becher says. “That would be something to see.”
BECHER’S PLANS, like PHS itself, go far beyond the one-week stretch in which the Flower Show turns the Convention Center into Shangri-la. He wants to raise our expectations for our public spaces, whether it’s the banners along Broad Street or drab, gray Penn’s Landing or the Reading Viaduct. He wants planters that pop, hanging baskets that make us say “Wow!,” forward-thinking design in areas of the city that aren’t accustomed to it. “Style is something everyone deserves,” he says. “People say, ‘Oh, you can’t put pots there; people will steal them.’ If everybody thought that, where would you be? If something gets broken, you fix it.” His aim is to change our mind-set from “parks as nice to parks as necessities.”