Escape to Hawaii at the Philly Flower Show

With new interactive features and special just-for-men sections, this year's Flower Show showcases the next level of artistry.

Walking through the entrance, you are immediately confronted by a large structure that juts overhead. With flower-filled lattices and white, undulating screens that capture projections of ocean life, you feel as if you are under water—shadows of turtles and other animals swimming above—only to emerge, transported, into a cavernous space filled with exotic aromas, sounds and sights. This year’s Philadelphia International Flower Show, “Hawaii: Islands of Aloha,” is an overwhelming blend of extraordinary artistry, stunning micro-landscapes and fascinating oddities.

For the novices to the Philadelphia International Flower Show, it is not simply a bunch of pretty flower arrangements. It is a multifaceted event featuring sculptural and inspirational structures and pieces, artistic and gardening competitions, live lectures, and a marketplace. This eight-day event (March 4 through March 11) will attract approximately 250,000 visitors (and bring more than $60 million to our local economy).

Celebrating the tropical flowers of Hawaii as well as the island’s rich culture and history, the show has something for everyone. Immediately after walking out from the entrance, you cannot miss the massive waterfall, thatched-screen, and drumbeats. Blending live dancers, animated projections, and narration, you learn about Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. Other show highlights include the American Institute of Floral Designers’ tribute to song and hula (the “floating” calla lilies are breathtaking), the beautifully rustic City Harvest section, Moda Botanica’s interactive display (where hand cranks move flower-bedecked glass panels), and the Rosade Bonsai Studio’s display (filled with stunning plants decades old).

For oddity-seekers, don’t miss the miniature sections. Like the diorama window displays, where this year’s winner depicts a scene from South Pacific when Bloody Mary sings “Bali Hai”—real plants are used to emulate larger vegetation. Or the miniature arrangements inspired by konu (green sea turtle), which has a sign that states: “No actual turtle parts permitted.”

Though this year’s show includes a redesigned floor plan, expect maddening traffic jams, particularly in the showcase section. (The Robertson’s Flowers walkway and showpiece is stymied by limited space and many rubber-necking photographers.) Also, unlike some of the larger showcase pieces, many displays cannot adequately be seen from afar. Often you will need to move in front of others to see the more intricate work (which, in my case, resulted in someone coughing directly into my face). And though the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society should be applauded for its technological enhancements (mobile applications on smartphones and tablets), more time should have been spent on signage within the space. Without consulting a map (or your iPad or your iPhone), it is almost impossible to know exactly where you are.

This year, in hopes of decreasing the gender disparity in attendees (previous years were mostly women), the show has introduced the “man cave,” an area—outside the main hall—filled with big-screen TVs showing sporting events, theater-style seating, casino tables, and adult beverages. The idea, apparently, is why the womenfolk attend the show, the men can slam back a few brewskis while watching manly sporting games. Whether anyone will actually pay the $27 entrance fee in order to go sit in a sports bar has yet to be seen.

After being greeted with an “aloha” from staff and seeing the spectacular flowers, you may find yourself researching trips to Hawaii. But even if you can’t afford the flights, “Islands of Aloha” make you feel as if you left cold, dreary Philadelphia. Even for a few hours.

See HughE Dillon’s photos from the Philadelphia International Flower Show’s Preview Party here.