I guess the snow will be gone by today, followed by something worse, and yet I am as cheerful as a gardener can be because the birds have started singing again. Spring is all but here. If I had cleaned off that pile of leaves, I'd almost certainly have seen by now the first crocus, 'Violet Queen,' a form of Crocus seiberi.
It's supposed to be winter, you know, and nothing hideous has occurred thus far, and the main thing is the days are getting longer, the sun is often out in full southern brilliance and by George we're going to pull right on through.
Furthermore, the Philadelphia Flower Show will occur March 3-10, four weeks from now, and I wish to avoid the bitter reproach of gardeners who say (have said in the past) they were not alerted in time to go.
This is the best and best-run flower show I have seen in America, and it is comparable to the Chelsea show in London, which is in late May.
But by late May who needs a flower show? The whole world is one. It's early March that is trying, especially in Washington where I feel the spring is all right except invariably two-and-a-half weeks late.
The show is mercifully under the five-acre roof of the Convention Center near the University of Pennsylvania, reachable by bus or cab from hotels or train station.
The show opens at 10 a.m. each day, closing at 9:30 p.m. except Sundays when it closes at 6, so you could get up at dawn, ride up and back the same day and feel much refreshed unless like me you get jet lag if you go beyond Friendship Heights. In which case you could go up one day and return the next. This is obvious, but I know from long experience it really needs to be spelled out as for a child if gardeners are to be properly alerted and served.
Themes mean nothing to me, but those who like to dwell on them should know "A Touch of Britain -- Our Garden Heritage" is this year's title.
As you descend the escalator you will see a knot garden filled with thousands of begonias interpretzeled with box, though knot gardens of the 1500s and 1600s did not use begonias, of course. The formal pattern is best seen from a height, hence the good sense of placing it where you see it as you come down.
Beyond there will be stone arches wreathed with pink roses. This I expect to grumble about, since nothing is harder than to make climbing roses look right at a flower show. I suppose they will stick in cut roses from a shop. Which is not the same thing at all.
On the other hand, such a show deals with the possible. Gale Nurseries have designed what the show management modestly calls a masterpiece, a formal garden with fountain and clipped greenery, Versailles tubs with pear trees and standard pink roses. I do not see why standard roses have to be called "like lollipop-shaped trees," but call them what you will.
These two main islands of "breathtaking artistry," as my friends at the show call them, will be surrounded by 50 other major exhibits by florists, nurseries, schools, etc., including one built by Merrist Wood Agricultural College, the group that won highest honors last year at Chelsea.
A South American jungle clearing, not strictly in the tradition of English gardening, justifies itself by showing the sort of place British orchid hunters used to go to. Another garden is the setting for a typical British garden wedding, it says here. I may venture personal knowledge that garden weddings in England are identical with garden weddings here, peculiarly risky in spring and early summer when such events become magnets for passing storms.
There will be artificially produced and maintained dwarf trees (bonsai) and rock gardens and plenty of orchids, always beautifully grown and displayed at this show.
There will be 1,500 entries in table settings, flower arrangements and so forth, judged by such internationally admired experts as Rosemary Verey. Often in the past I have felt bad about not looking at them, but all they do is raise my blood pressure, and they are always crowded with people. For many visitors they are the highlight of the show, but I am here to say you get your money's worth (tickets are $6.50) even if you turn a fish eye on them and sail right past, to the foxgloves and hollyhocks and all those other wonderful things that absolutely must be examined.
You may wonder how relatively small nurseries and other exhibitors can afford to mount displays that may cost tens of thousands of dollars, and the answer is that most of the cost is met by the show management. This is made possible by the receipts from tickets to the show. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which puts it on, is nonprofit, the money put back in just such things as the show itself.
Such a show does not happen overnight, but owes a great deal to the decades during which Philadelphia gardeners have worked on their shows, learning the hard way, I suppose, such difficult things as how to get the tons of dirt in at the last minute, to say nothing of the flowering trees and the carp and the ducks. I always felt sorry for the exhibitor so proud of his mandarin ducks, who did not like his garden nearly as well as another one in the show, and kept flying off to it. There are large halls with things for sale. One year I bought a rather dead-looking rootless hunk of a cymbidium for a dollar or two, and as luck would have it, it actually bloomed two or three years later, a good buy.
I also recall some bronze-leaved succulents from the Canary Islands, not easy to come by and very reasonably priced. Of course if you load up on stuff, you still have to get it home, but I guess you knew that.
Always a lot of Washington gardeners go to this show. A source close to the show -- paid by them, in fact -- has confided in me that last year was nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to this year. I do hope that doesn't mean they've screwed everything up this year, since last year was marvelous.