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Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: Flower Power

Posted by Phillippa Pitts on March 25, 2013 in Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic |

by columnist Madeline Karp

I will never forget my first flower show. I had made it through my very first winter in Boston and was terribly, terribly depressed. Even though it was technically springtime, there were no leaves on the trees, a foot of snow on the ground, sweaters filling my closet and two pairs of socks on my feet.

My friend Gretchen, an avid gardener and my constant on-call plant doctor, decided that I needed to be with flowers. Well…probably we had to go for a graduate class, but she decided that really we were going because I needed to be around flowers.

And did I ever.

So when the Please Touch Museum offered me the opportunity to spend a day at the Philadelphia Flower Show promoting our upcoming Storybook Ball among other programs for kids and parents, it took every ounce of my energy not to scream with joy. I love flower shows. They’re like botanical gardens, but edgier. Like conservatories, but trendier. Like museums, but full of flowers.

This garden demonstrates that sometimes MORE is more!

This garden demonstrates that sometimes MORE is more!

I think as museum professionals, we should encourage our visitors, exhibit designers, educators and administrative personnel to attend flower shows, comic cons and design expos. Think I’m crazy? Let me explain.

Like a museum, the Philadelphia Flower Show has a mission.

Hosted by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, the Flower show and all related programs aim to “motivate people to improve the quality of life and create a sense of community through horticulture.”

Don’t museums do the same? Don’t we all want to motivate people to improve the quality of their lives with art, history, and natural sciences? Don’t we all want to create community?

Like a museum, the Philadelphia Flower Show requires careful curation.

There are exhibits on the Flower Show floor. For-profit companies, local landscapers and international volunteers and local enthusiasts demonstrate ways to incorporate garden ornaments, stick unusual plants in to your garden, or use an unconventional space as a garden.

While every exhibit must relate to the show’s theme, it’s also important to vary the exhibition content. If every exhibit were about Harry Potter, umbrellas and the Beatles, the show would get boring very quickly.. If every demonstration included prohibitively expensive plants and tools, a good portion of your audience would be lost and excluded.

Want to make your veranda look like the Herbology Lab at Hogwarts? Here's some inspiration.

Want to make your veranda look like the Herbology Lab at Hogwarts? Here’s some inspiration.

Like a museum, the PFS educates its visitors about specific content.

A huge part of the Flower Show is the Hamilton Horticourt, a space for amateur gardeners to share tips, and compete in a flower competition. As an avid plant murderess, I want – nay, need – someone to teach me how to garden. I want someone to show me her work and say, “you can do this too.” I need someone to tell me “don’t water a cactus” and “do water an African violet, but only from the bottom.”

A visitor takes notes on flower care in Hamilton Horticourt.

A visitor takes notes on flower care in Hamilton Horticourt.

A visitor told me in passing, “I’m so glad they chose England this year. It’s so much more accessible. I feel like I can take home some of these ideas and really put them to good use in my own garden.”

As a museum educator, this is exactly what I want people to do with our content.

Like a museum, the PFS exposes its visitors to new and foreign cultures.

Each year the Flower Show has a theme. Last year’s theme “Islands of Aloha” featured Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. This year’s theme “Brilliant!” focused on the United Kingdom, specifically England. While PHS has only just released a teaser for next year’s show, “ARTiculture” is looking like it’s going to celebrate famous artists through flowers. Fingers crossed we’re in for some re-interpretations of Monet’s garden.

"Octopus's Garden" themed floral arrangement demonstrating creative use of eggshells as garden ornaments. The Beatles' song played nearby on a loop.

“Octopus’s Garden” themed floral arrangement demonstrating creative use of eggshells as garden ornaments. The Beatles’ song played nearby on a loop.

Many people will never get a chance to travel to see Sherwood Forest, Mauna Kea, or Tuscany. The Flower Show is a rare opportunity to get a real and dynamic taste of another place. As a museum, isn’t it also our job to expose visitors to new and different places? Different time periods? Artistic styles? Scientific theories? Political ideologies?

So if the Flower Show is so like a museum…

Why shouldn’t we incorporate some of their design, curation, education and cultural ideas into our own institutions? The thing is, no one tells a flower show what to do. In fact, breaking rules are encouraged, because it’s all about creative design and innovation. The more creative you are, the more flower power you have. It’s all about having fun and learning something new.

 I would never have thought to use umbrellas as a garden ornament, but they're great around this wishing pond!

I would never have thought to use umbrellas as a garden ornament, but they’re great around this wishing pond!

What do you think? What can museums learn from conventions and expos?

Did you attend the Philadelphia Flower Show? How about the Boston Show? Tell me about your experience in the comments!

 

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