Mar 9, 2009

Bella Italia: The Philadelphia Flower Show

After two years of disappointments, I dragged myself to the Philadelphia Flower Show with trepidation. This year’s theme, Bella Italia promised “everything wonderful about Italy - gardens, culinary arts, entertainment and shopping.” Who could ask for more?

Fake columns, bad sculpture and terra cotta colored paint don’t make for Bella Italia. The show was larger then ever, filled with extravagant exhibitions. But it missed the mark. Italians love the shabby, the worn: patina is revered. Americans crave a sense of perfection. The exhibitions failed on the Italian theme, but pleased on another.

I marveled at how the exhibitors coaxed, and cajoled, spring-bloomers, summer-pleasers and fall’s last stand to bloom in March. The show gardens were closer to a display of tarts and gateau in a fancy patisserie, then gardens from which we can learn something. To me it was a Rocco nightmare of texture and fragrance.

Sometimes when I am stuck inside these convention centers, I feel the need to throw cold water on my face and do a reality check. Luckily, there were some interesting trends rooted in the earth. Green roofs, vertical walls, native plants and lots of vegetables. The vegetables were mixed among perennials and bulbs. It reminded me that vegetables are interesting ornamental plants: lettuces bumped up against sedums, rainbow chards sprang up among heucheras, herbs were hidden among ferns and spinach was treated like a ground cover for rhodies.

At booths with stuff for sale, the seed counters were overwhelmed with customers. The price of a bunch of roses had been reduced, but organic and heirloom seeds were flying off the shelves. The floral displays drew oo's and ah's, but the real impact lay elsewhere. I was jostled and pushed and I still came away optimistic. Americans have finally gotten the message: It’s not only cheaper to grow your own food, it’s just plain fun. Mothers consulted small children on what brand of tomatoes to grow this year. Practiced gardeners investigated new varieties and sought out heirlooms never before seen. I went for the chocolate colored peppers and Thai basil.

WC Fields epitaph was "I'd rather be here, then in Philadelphia." On this day in March, good food and taste are returning to Philadelphia.

Buon appetito!

All photos by Eunyoung Sebazco


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