I Love My Job: PHS Flower Show Chief Sam Lemheney
The green-thumbed leader tells us about the hidden responsibilities of running the country’s biggest and longest-running flower show. Plus, here’s his take on why it’s okay to kill your houseplants.
Sam Lemheney, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society vice president and chief of shows and events, is the man behind the Philadelphia Flower Show. The big event is underway at the Pennsylvania Convention Center this week, and by Sunday organizers project that about 250,000 will have stopped by.
The show has been running for almost 200 years, and Lemheney says its core value in 2019 is teaching visitors about the healing and transcendent power of plants. Here, Lemheney talks about the hidden responsibilities of running such a massive event and why you shouldn’t feel bad about killing your houseplants.
I grew up in… Lancaster County.
I got involved with horticulture when… I was young. My grandfather owned a landscape nursery. He grew poinsettias back in the day, and I remember in the summertime taking cuttings and sticking them into soil. He also maintained the gardens for Dutch Wonderland out in Lancaster. He took care of all the gardens there so when I was younger I would work for him and plant flowers, pull weeds and trim shrubs.
Judging international flower shows is… one of the perks of this job. It’s a really fun experience to be a part of this international world. It’s fun to go and talk, meet people, and get a lot of ideas.
Some of my favorite gardens are… Chanticleer in Wayne and Huntington Library gardens and museum out in Pasadena, California. They have an amazing collection of succulents and [cacti]. It’s a really special place.
A fun fact about the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show is… we are in the Guinness Book of Records for being the oldest and longest running flower show in the world. We were founded in 1829 and have continued ever since.
Some plants I have in my home are… perennials and grasses in my 80-foot long 20-foot deep garden. Additionally, I have some roses, Hydrangeas and flowering shrubs to bring some color. I try to do a lot of maintenance fee gardening. I also actually plant vegetables. They’re mixed in with grasses and shrubs ornamental style, which is kind of a new trend.
The trend of millennials owning hundreds of plants is… Millennials are way more environmentally conscious than any other generation. They think about recycling and what’s organic. It’s something they’ve grown up with. They aspire to live in that way, and plants allow them to do that. Typically, millennials live in small spaces and since plants don’t take up a lot of room they are perfect for those types of homes. They feel a sense of accomplishment when taking care of a plant, and it is a way to connect themselves to nature.
Some hidden responsibilities of running a flower show include… rolling up my sleeves and either planting something, moving chairs around, picking up trash, or rearranging a floral arrangement. My team and I do whatever it takes to get the job done and make sure the guests have a great experience.
During the week of the Flower Show my schedule… starts early and is intense. I am there starting at 6 or 7 a.m. I do a walkthrough before the show starts at 10. I typically stay off the floor unless I am needed. There are also night events where I help out and meet people. I typically don’t leave until 9 or 10 p.m.
We went with a “Flower Power” theme this year because…we know the benefits of plants. They are important to your life every single day. They put smiles on people’s faces, reduce stress, and improve the environment. We want everyone to grow plants and know the benefits of having plants around.
Something most people might not know about the Flower Show is… The plants, trees, flowers and shrubs don’t normally bloom this time of year so we have to force them into blooming early and kind of trick mother nature.
To all the people still killing their plants at home I say… Don’t stop! Keep growing them. Your garden is an extension of your personality, so have fun with what you grow. Plants are resilient and being a plant owner is a trial and error process. If you keep at it long enough your thumb will eventually turn green.
People in cities should care about gardening because… plants have the power to strengthen communities. Plants and gardening cross all cultural, racial and economic barriers. There is a commonality in plants, and in a day and age where all everyone wants to do is focus on our differences, gardening shows us how we are the same.
The best career advice I’ve ever been given is… relationships are the most important part of your career. You never know when you will need something from somebody. I tell my son all the time that it is not always about what you know but rather who you know. Building relationships and maintaining relationships have helped me stay successful.