The City of Brotherly Love wouldn't normally be considered rustic, but starting Saturday it will be home to Big Timber Lodge — a structure welcoming people to the Philadelphia Flower Show.
This year, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has brought the great outdoors inside to mark the National Park Service's 100th anniversary. Huge, verdant installations and floral designs encourage visitors to "Explore America" by paying homage to natural treasures like Acadia, Yosemite and Redwood.
"The flower show this year covers every kind of landscape, from the wilds of Yellowstone's forest down to urban balconies and even windowsills," said Matt Rader, president of the horticultural society.
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The nine-day festival runs through March 13. Billed as the largest event of its kind in the U.S., the show attracted about 250,000 people last year.
Visitors enter the 10-acre main hall through Big Timber Lodge, where they encounter bison and bear sculptures and a 12-foot-tall waterfall surrounded by evergreens, hyacinths, crocuses, cosmos and other woodland flowers. Two giant overhead screens show videos of various parks.
An exhibit honoring Independence National Historical Park features a giant, flowered Liberty Bell suspended over the grassy "People's Promenade." A tribute to Ansel Adams' iconic photos of Yosemite uses clusters of white orchids hanging from strings to mimic the white foam of Vernal Fall.
The flower show partnership continues the park service's yearlong centennial celebration and public engagement campaign. Officials are looking to spark broad interest and support for the parks, which face a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog nationwide.
BJ Dunn, deputy superintendent for Independence park, said discussions with the horticultural society began two years ago.
"We were talking about how complementary our missions are," Dunn said. "It just seemed to be a natural fit."
Throughout the week, rangers will staff the park service's pavilion and broadcast live interviews from sites across the country — including from Denali National Park in Alaska, where employees will introduce their sled dog team to the flower show audience.
For his exhibit, Jack Blandy of Stoney Bank Nurseries in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, recreated a scene after a 1988 fire in Yellowstone, "which everybody thought was a devastating event."
"But in reality, it was actually a great benefit to Yellowstone because it was all part of the renewal of nature," he said.
The park's lodgepole pines, he noted, only reproduce when fire germinates their pine cones. So Blandy's display juxtaposes barren tree trunks with flowers like lupines and rudbeckia, along with representations of Yellowstone's famous hot springs and geysers — a burbling mud pit and colorful, steaming replica of Morning Glory Pool.
Other flower show highlights include plant judging, a butterfly garden, interactive exhibits and craft workshops. Also new this year is a "Railway Garden," where model trains rumble through miniaturized National Parks landscapes.
The annual event, which dates to 1829, serves as a rite of spring in the region. Proceeds benefit the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and its programs, including an urban tree planting campaign and City Harvest, which provides locally grown, fresh produce for underserved families.
If You Go...
PHILADELPHIA FLOWER SHOW: Opens Saturday and runs through March 13 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch streets, Philadelphia. General admission tickets range from $15 for children to up to $34 for adults, depending on the day and point of purchase; packages also are available. Details and hours can be found at http://www.theflowershow.com.