Garden club preps for historic Philadelphia Flower Show

In a first, the event will be outside, and locals are getting ready.

The Philadelphia Flower Show will make history in 2021 with the first show in its 193 years to be held outdoors.

The show’s theme is Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece, and the Moorestown Garden Club will participate in the showcase at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park (FDR Park) in South Philadelphia. The outdoor setting is a result of COVID.

While the event will run from June 5 through 13, club members Gina Zegel and D’Arcy DiSpirito have already met an April 14 deadline for submitting their design plan. The club is entered in the Best Outdoor Container & Window Garden Display (using living plants) category.

The garden club typically participates in the flower show every other year, having last entered in 2019 with a larger exhibit. Members try to enter a new category each time, and this year, they chose a smaller showcase.

As part of the window display category, contestants must design a sill installation  no larger than 60 inches wide, 48 inches high and 18 inches deep. They cannot use cut flowers and the design must be viewable from both angles of the window (looking in and out).

The category requires participants to base their design on a conservationist, either past or present. Using an assembly of 10 or more plants, the display must be inspired as well by an environmentalist or naturalist, with a windowsill that is trapezoidal in shape using only rooted plants.  

On a rainy late May afternoon, Zegel and DiSpirito, who volunteered to chair the club’s flower-show submission this year, were on their way to scout out plants for their installation. The pair chose the 26th president of the United States,  Theodore Roosevelt, as their conservationist, because he started the nation’s conservation program in 1903 with the establishment of Pelican Island in Florida as the first federal bird reservation.

DiSpirito said Roosevelt didn’t like that birds were being poached for their feathers to make ladies hats, and it was with that in mind the two women titled their submission Birds of a Feather. 

Zegel said in early May, the pair will set up an artificial windowsill in either her garage or DiSpirito’s basement to make sure their measurements are correct and that the plants they’ve chosen will bring their vision to life.

While this year marks the first time the flower show will be outside, DiSpirito said she doesn’t anticipate that will affect their game plan much. Their category will be staged under a tent, so while they’ll have to account for the lack of air conditioning (the show is typically held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center),  the display will largely be shielded from the elements.

The garden club typically enters in one year, then holds a garden walk fundraiser during the next to raise money for their entry and other member projects. 

But given the pandemic, the club did not host a garden walk in the spring of 2020. Instead, Zegel said it received a donation from a club member’s family to  finance this year’s entry.

“We were very fortunate,” she added. 

The club was required to submit its “intent,” or a description of its display, in 50 words or less. Its work will be judged on how well the story is told; how healthy the club’s plants are; the design elements; and the educational format, including proper identification and labeling of plants.

While the club is eager to score well, members also enter with their own criteria in mind. 

“The goal is to always make something that is crowd pleasing, entertaining — a  wow kind of exhibit,” DiSpirito noted. 

Due to COVID, flower show tickets will be timed and entry is limited. To learn more about the event, visit PHSonline.org/the-flower-show.