Forcing always seemed to be a strong term for something to do with flowers. My son and I look at it more as the art and science of what plants need in order to flower on a particular date – in this case for the most exciting indoor flower show in the world – The Philadelphia Flower Show.
Thirty years of prize winning exhibits and detailed records on vernalization, fertilizer regimens, heating and cooling requirements as well as soil mixtures, watering schedules, day length extending with supplemental light, misting, shading, heating up root balls on large trees and flowering shrubs by using heated floors and benches in a highly regulated greenhouse micro-climate are all part of the work and love of exhibiting in a horticultural Olympics—held inside the Convention Center in Philadelphia each March.
Every square foot of the exhibit is designed exactly, sometimes years in advance of the Show. Show themes are determined five years in advance. This year ‘Bella Italia’ required research in the Northern Lake region of Italy – 40 miles from the Swiss Alps. I visited the area last year and studied the architecture, the flora of the region to determine the plant selection for Stoney Bank’s garden—this year two gardens—‘Isola Bella’ and ‘Isola Madre’—two 17th century island gardens on Lake Maggiore.
This year forcing is different—every year is slightly challenging—too little sun—too much sun—too warm—plants jump into flowering—moving plants from a hotter house to a shade-cool house—holding some plants in full flower in air conditioned houses is not unusual—after all they were in refrigeration in September-October to give them the cold treatment required to initiate flowering—now we are slowing the process down.
Stoney Bank is known for the depth-variety and quantity as well as the quality of plants in their exhibits—often winning Best in Show for forcing plants.
Back up plants are always needed, so we force extra plants. If some are not show-ready we have replacements—250,000 visitors do not understand if your exhibit is not perfect.
It is 12 midnight as I finish this blog and my phone just rang—there is a temperature emergency in a greenhouse—it is 18˚ outside and we need to correct the problem quickly. That is why I never go away in the winter—no system is fail safe—even with alarms, back up generators—oil, propane and natural gas fuel sources. It is a long winter—each day is a day closer to set-up. Loading into heated trucks—travel into Philadelphia and do ‘it’ again for the 30th year. Stress, yes, but oh the rewards as we sit and chat to visitors from around the world and answer their questions and listen to their comments. We are not forced—we are pulled into the pleasure of gardens.
After 30 years in the Flower Show I have learned many things in respect to the structural components of the exhibit. We have constructed complete buildings on the show floor during set up week in the past, but have found that prefabricating the structures at our nursery is the way to go. Building must be designed to come apart and fit back together quickly on the convention center floor and look like they have been there forever. Stone is precut for walkways and loaded onto numbered pallets so we can quickly install the walkways and walls for the exhibit. Styrofoam blocks with faux finishes are often used for walls and buildings because they are light weight and easily transported and assembled. Many times the huge mature evergreen trees in the exhibit are cut and installed in oversized tree stands, but 95% of the plant material you see in our exhibit is live and forced into bloom for the show. Union carpenters and riggers are utilized at the convention center to aid in the installation of many of the built structures in our exhibits. There is also theatrical lighting added to enhance shadows and create the effect of sunlit areas within the exhibit. Sound is also carefully considered for our flower show exhibits. We may get the sounds of birds chirping and crickets and frogs for a woodland atmosphere. The sound of rushing water or a babbling brook is also carefully engineered within the space.
Oh yes, and we can’t forget the publicity side of the event. Did we get our brochures back from the printers in time; did they print them on the right paper stock this year? All these things plus 1,000 more are all carefully orchestrated to put together a major exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show. If we can transform 2400 SF of bare concrete floor into a garden in the lake region of northern Italy-imagine what we can design and construct in your landscape space.