Garden Diary - February 2009

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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Philadelphia Flower Show, Part 1: Bella Italia

More consistent than the returning robins, the Philadelphia Flower Show is a reliable arrival with the month of March. Each year there is an explosion of flowers coaxed into early and unseasonable bloom, creating lavish gardens. Potted plants, groomed to immaculate perfection, fill the benches of the horticultural exhibition. Botanical art, pressed flower pictures, ikebana arrangements, window boxes, flower arrangements - if it involves plants and flowers, it's here.

This year the theme is Bella Italia. Gardens are staged from around the county. The Lake Region, characterized by lush estates and countryside; Venice, the floating city, complete with a gondola; and the Italian Riviera evoked in a flower-filled dreamscape from San Remo. Toscana, Abruzzo, Umbria - Florence, heart of the Renaissance, with gardens that interpret the art of Michelangelo and Botticelli. Tuscany region's terraced vineyards, wildflowers and olive trees. Campania, Calabria and the fascinating beauty of the Amalfi Coast and sunny gardens of Sicily.

That's the published line. Perhaps I'm jaded. But apparently many of the designers translated "Bella Italia" into "statuary." Add to that the fact that the convention center was poorly lit, dim, in fact, and overall the visibility was poor. Even though I was here before the show officially opens on March 1 ( thanks to the kindness of friends with a worker's pass for me since I gave some minor help unload / loading plant material) and the floor was not quite the milling mob scene it will be until it closes on March 8, even so I didn't find the uplift of other years.

Here's an example. Nice formal garden, vivid bubbles of bougainvillea standards,
a statuary trio as focal point on the axis of a path, dominating fruit basket on a plinth,
clipped hedges edging the beds. Are you getting any buzz of excitement from this? No?
Maybe some ideas for your garden? Enthusiasm for a visit to Italy to see the real thing?

Statues face out of the hedges at the members day throngs.


She looks bored, maybe absent-minded. Forgot
to turn the water off, and now there's this puddle . . . .


This must be Florence, heart of the Renaissance, with gardens
that interpret the art of Michelangelo and Botticelli. It's Poseidon
with his trident and a dolphin, Botticelli's Venus on a half shell, and
I don't know why on earth I am being so snarky but it makes me think
of a theme park, or Disney world, or anything but not the Renaissance.


I was, however, very much taken with Tuscany. This was beautifully done
with different vistas as one walked around the three sides of this garden.
Pleasant signage with information about the breads, or cheeses, other foods
of the region. And it focused on plants: grape vines & artichokes
for example. A well-used, worn-looking olive press included
for function, not as some objet trouvée found art.


Or consider this little garden. It's not Bella Italia,
but rather an entry in the backyard competition.

I see it as a small kitchen garden for these economic hard times.
Raised vegetable beds, a cold frame with herbs, as cloches
three large glass jars to jump-start the growing season. Alas,
the chickens were fakes, perhaps stuffed ones. It would have
been so cool if they were real. Pragmatic, timely, and charming.

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