Arriving at JFK international airport, Bayley LuuTomes and I could see that this would be a show like no other. It’s -7 degrees Celsius outside, and everything from the roads to the telephone posts are covered with ice. And not the pretty white and fluffy kind. No this was old brown and black snow, the dirty kind that you slip on while holding on for dear life at every traffic light pole, while praying the light would change quickly so you could get into the nearest shop and just buy whatever they sell so you have an excuse to stay inside and warm up.
This was my first indoor show garden and the first winter show I have ever done. My plants were ordered about 4 months prior, and sent to special forcing hot houses that would, with careful planning, make the dormant plants miraculously come to life and be in full bloom at exactly the time of the grand opening of the show. There is no backup for the plants so, if the calculation was out, I would have a desert garden instead of a flowering meadow.
The Philadelphia Flower Show has been a bucket list show for me to participate in for a very long time. Not only is it the world’s oldest flower show, running from 1829, but it also has the most visitors, at a staggering 300,000. The show fills an area of 10 acres, all inside the Philadelphia Convention Centre; everything truly is bigger in the US.
I was one of only 4 international participants among a sea of USA designers invited to be part of the show. All international designers are previous Best in Show winners at other distinguished flower shows across the world and have acquired numerous gold awards. Australia was represented by one of my favourite gardening personalities, Jim Fogarty. Not only is he a great designer, but a fun guy to have around, as there is never a dull moment with him around. Malaysia was represented by Inch Lim, a unique designer, who has the magic touch when it comes to placing plants. The UK’s space was filled by acclaimed designer and good friend Paul Hervey Brookes, who is an absolute master in the art of English gardening.
The Philadelphia Flower Show has a theme every year and this year they partnered up with Disney, and celebrated Disney movies past and present. All the designers were asked to choose a Disney movie, find inspiration from the chosen movie, and then create a show garden to delight the audiences. I chose ‘Maleficent’, a 2014 movie that tells the back story of the wicked fairy queen from Disney’s 1959 movie of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. (If you’re not familiar with ‘Maleficent’ you can read more about it below.)
Each of the international participants was partnered up with a local contractor, to liaise between the designer and the various people involved in constructing the garden. I had Tom Morris from Downend Landscaping looking after me. What can I say, there is nothing quite like warm American hospitality! We were welcomed into their home with open arms, taken to ice hockey games by his lovely wife Kathleen, and taught in detail how to break open and eat Alaskan crab legs by their 12 year old daughter Gabby.
Build-up started about a week before the show for Bayley and me, as we wanted to sculpt all the artwork ourselves. As the artwork is quite large we had to do some of it outside, and we were not expecting that heavy snow storms would be a constant part of our outdoor experience. This was our official first proper snow experience, and oh boy did we take full advantage of it – snow angels, snow ball fights, yellow snow and, of course catching the flu. We did it all!
Designers had only 4 days to construct their gardens in the Philly Convention Centre. That is not a lot of time at all, so sleep became a luxury that we just didn’t have.
Our seating structure was cut by hand and each plate meticulously spaced. Spacing and placing of hard elements is done on day one, landscaping and shaping of soil done on day two, planting on day three, and finishing touches on day four.
The different designers hardly saw each other during build-up as everybody was just completely focused on their end goal.
My garden, ‘A Maleficent View‘ had this message:
From deep in the land of the Moors, where trees seem to have a life of their own, water illuminates in different flowing colours and mystical creatures float by on a breeze. It is here where the inspiration for this garden was born and transformed into a home garden that seems to take you on a magical journey. Wander over a mystical pond surrounded by ancient trees and hills morphing into pathways and steps. The closer you come, the more they entice you to explore, stretching out their branches and flattening their roots, shaping them into a wooden stairway leading to a beautifully woven enclosure overlooking a valley of complete splendour and peacefulness.
Some of the elements I used in the garden are:
– the floating sticks represented Maleficent’s angry side. As she thunders her way to the king’s palace, all elements behind her started to float.
– the spiky sticks are the devision between the happy side and the more serious side of the garden. They had wire wrapped over some of the spiky points, representing Maleficent being allergic to metal.
– the seating area is a morphing of all the roots in the forest into her space, or a seating area in a home garden.
– everything had organic shapes, the black reflection pond had floating handmade metal flowers and 3 water spouts with water falling through the pond, rather than into the pond.
– the 5 old spruce trees were specially chosen to look like the guardians of the forests in the movie. It took me a looong time to find them, each of them having a human like feature about it.
– the edging of the garden is done with a combination of rocks, wood, vines and plants to give it a natural forest feel.
– all our plants were chosen to a strict and soft color palette of greens, white, mauve and blue, from foxgloves, to snow drops and grasses in between.
The opening of the show was a grand affair, with a glitzy entrance, hundreds of VIP guests, great food and music and, the most nerve wrecking of all – the announcement of all the medals.
The 5 gold medal winners in the show were:
– Australia’s Jim Fogarty won gold.
– The UK’s Paul Hervey Brookes won gold.
– The veteran and amazing US designer Jack Blandy of Stoney Bank Nurseries won gold.
– Malaysia’s Lim Inch also took home gold and Best Use of Color in a display.
We took back home (which is now New Zealand for Bayley and me) a Gold Award, plus the Philadelphia Flower Show Cup – Landscape, plus the Governor’s Trophy for Best Innovative/Unique Design and also last, but not least, the ‘BEST IN SHOW’ award!
The ‘BEST IN SHOW’ award came as a complete and utter surprise to us and and we are so grateful for it. This show was an experience of a lifetime in every way possible, as we made many friends, and experienced the American way of life and gardening.
This is a must see garden show for any garden lover out there. It’s different and bigger in every way possible, adding glamour and unparalleled variety to the garden palette and presented to the visitor in a way that no other show could possibly achieve.
[MALEFICENT – Disney Movies synopsis: ‘Maleficent’ is the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’. A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.]