The FDR Gazebo welcomes visitors to the Philadelphia Flower Show 2021.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2021 Heads Outdoors

Last year’s Flower Show in 2020 was held on the verge of the pandemic. Despite that, it was still one of the best in years. For a while, it seemed questionable whether there would be a Philadelphia Flower Show 2021. But, oh, what a difference a year makes — and those vaccines aren’t half bad, either. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has truly embraced the challenges in front of them with the Philadelphia Flower Show 2021. For the first time in the show’s nearly 200 year history, it is being held outdoors. And that’s not all that’s different.

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This French-inspired garden has an ease that will inspire visitors to the Philly Flower Show.

What’s New for the Philadelphia Flower Show 2021

This year’s Flower Show is exciting, if nothing else because it’s different. Any other year, if you’re a Flower Show regular (or even attended a few times), you knew the general layout. You can whizz through and know exactly where everything is and, in most cases, what’s there.

That’s not the case this year. For 2021, the show moves to the great outdoors of FDR Park in South Philadelphia. And while everything is still in separate areas across the park’s 15 acres, everything melds together. This year’s show feels more cohesive.

As always, there is a spectacular entrance piece. You’re immediately greeted by a stunning and large mixed arrangement of flowers and plants spelling out the theme of “habitat.” The Boathouse Gazebo, along with one of the park’s lakes, acts as a backdrop. Twisting orange and purple plant-like arms extend out from the temple-like gazebo. There are also dozens of individual red roses dotting the green space between the letters and the gazebo.

From there, the exhibits by designers line the central green space leading up to the American Swedish Historical Museum. The design exhibits felt more attainable this year. Gone are the elegant reflecting pools that most of us don’t have space or budget for. Instead, carefully manicured but still wild-looking displays conjured up what your front yard or side garden could look like. Likewise, there were plenty of architectural displays to offer some whimsy.

For those comfortable with being indoors right now, the jewelry, photography, and pressed flower exhibits are inside the museum. Back outside, market tents line both sides of the lane of design exhibits. There is a more dedicated area for food and drink, although you’ll find vendors mixed throughout. And off to the side, you’ll find the Hamilton Horticourt, serving home to botanical illustrations and competition entries like the balcony displays.

I also loved the surprise of the life-like statues by Seward Johnson sprinkled across the park. In one, a child played by a stop sign while, in another, a woman did some gardening.

Seward Johnson's Down to Earth sculpture offers a pop of a surprise.

The Outdoors are Welcoming but a Challenge

The nature theme for 2021 is reinforced by the fact that the show is outside. With hot and humid June weather and large tree-free areas, delicate shade-seeking plants just wouldn’t last for the entire week. In that way, there are a lot more tips that visitors can take home to recreate. For example, amongst the artfully growing bushes and flowers, there are beehives, insect houses, and raised garden beds.

Usually, the Flower Show is packed. It’s shoulder to shoulder inside of the convention center. With the outdoor setting, there is a little more breathing room that is much appreciated. Also, with the late spring date, many of the vendors were able to sell live plants and seeds that you can take home right now and enjoy.

But with the Philadelphia Flower Show 2021 being outdoors, there are also some challenges. The weather is probably the greatest and most obvious. At the Friday afternoon preview, temperatures reached the mid-80s. The hot sun didn’t last long as a thunderstorm passed through with heavy rain. There is some tree cover for shade and protection, but not near the design exhibits and not enough for all the visitors.

Despite the heat, I didn’t see any water bottle filling stations; offering a spot to fill-and-go would have been ideal. This is after the, roughly, half-mile walk from the parking lots at the stadiums, across Broad Street (including three separate crosswalks), and then into the park before you ever reach the gates to have your tickets checked. It seems challenging even for visitors who walk frequently.

Because everything is so new, more signs could be used for explaining where everything is. There were signs but they were generally rather small. Restrooms were brought in on vehicles and, thankfully, they were far nicer than your run-of-the-mill portapotties.

For holding the Philadelphia Flower Show 2021 outdoors for the first time in its history, PHS did a great job. And it certainly has me thinking “what if” for future years. With some tweaks, the outdoor setting could allow everything to shine. But the major question is how to mitigate the risk of bad or hot weather. In Philadelphia, I’m not sure there’s a good answer.

Flower arrangements create a larger-than-life hummingbird gathering nectar.

A view over the water at FDR Park in South Philadelphia.

Attending the Flower Show

As always, tickets are required for the show. This year, there are timed tickets.

In terms of getting there, FDR Park is located at Pattison Avenue and South Broad Street. Attendees arriving by car are encouraged to use the parking lots at the Wells Fargo Center or Citizens Bank Park. Keep in mind that parking may be limited or busy during Philadelphia Phillies games.

Using public transit, the NRG Station at Broad & Pattison on SEPTA’s Broad Street Line is the closest stop. From there it’s a five-block walk to the entrance.

Thanks to the Philadelphia Flower Show for hosting me. All photos and opinions are my own.

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