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Filled with fresh ideas from the Philadelphia Flower Show

A flower or garden show experience is different for each attendee. I see through the lens of a garden writer and professional with more than 25 years in the gardening and landscape field.

A home gardener looks and shops for plants or ideas that might suit her specific flower garden. A garden center buyer or landscaper browses for better tools, supplies and products and notes what plants are featured.

First-timers and beginners look generally dazed after the first hour of a big show, and I’m not quite sure what ideas they’re taking home, except Wow!

And so I asked the 54 people on my tour bus to the Philadelphia Flower Show: “What surprised you, what ideas or products interested you, what plants impressed you, and what did you buy?” This is what the people saw.

New stuff

Remembering that what’s new to Mikey isn’t necessarily new to you, here’s what the people were buying.

• Plant hangers: The small item bought by the most people (including by me) was the It’s a Cinch – an adjustable plant hanger made of stainless steel wire that grabs the ring of a pot so you can hang it anywhere; nearly invisible and holds up to 25 pounds. It sure beats the old macramé (and we had to make those ourselves).

• Stackable containers: Many shoppers grabbed the three- and five-tiered terra-cotta plastic stackable containers, displayed with strawberries, herbs or succulents. They aren’t new – I’d bought them before – but work well and are easy to water from the top. Experienced gardeners know that most plants outgrow the holes; start small.

• Root stimulators: I heard from several people that a speaker was recommending root stimulators for planting container plants, and many stimulators or hormone packages were sold. Hmmm. Could work but be sure to read the label on any product. The best garden centers start their plants in excellent planting mix and sell the mix to customers, so plants probably don’t need the starter boost. In depleted or infertile soil, yes, root stimulators could help. For starting cuttings, gardeners have known for decades to use products such as Rootone.

• Garlic grater-slicer: A little bit of food prep and cooking crept into the lectures and vendor area, and evidently the enthusiasm for growing and eating garlic continues. Watch for garlic experts in our region who will convince you that for maximum health benefit garlic should be sliced or grated fresh, allowed to sit for 10 minutes and then served raw. Folks bought the grater-slicers, possibly after a tasting. I could tell where they were sitting on the bus.

• Foxglove Gardening Gloves: Along with bamboo gloves and can’t-poke-through brands, these went home with many people, including elbow-length ones to use with roses or for removing invasive plants.

• Pruning tools: I saw many show visitors purchasing or considering high-quality Lee Valley or other brands of pruners, pruning saws and loppers. On my motor coach the choice was a ratchet pruner, that has a mechanism that decreases the pressure you need to exert. When you squeeze, the pruner latches so you can release and squeeze again to complete the cut. It’s pruning time this month, and my aching old hands tell me I should have bought one.

Interesting plants

I heard unexpected replies to the query about which plants – old and new – surprised people. A few jumped out at several people, and there was one big winner among them.

• Bulbs and tubers: It’s smart to get summer-blooming bulbs at shows in late winter, since many garden centers typically carry only a few. (Traffic is lower, and the bulbs don’t store so well.) Folks on my bus bought tubers for Alstromeria (Peruvian lily) as well as Asiatic or Oriental true lilies; Calla lilies and Alliums were popular, including white alliums.

• Milkweed seeds: Several people bought seeds for Asclepias species, after hearing lectures about what monarchs need and seeing the terrific butterfly display. (Thousands of people over eight days entered a huge room to experience live butterflies landing on them or sipping the sugar water from Q-tips. Great awareness builder!)

• Amorphophallus: It wasn’t Morty from our Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens (and we still have another big, smelly fellow growing there for future excitement), but people commented on a large one and other aroids (including jacks-in-the-pulpit) in woodland scenes.

• Striped Asian Clivia: They’re handsome houseplants and one of my favorites even when not flowering – but a clivia with striped leaves? Yes!

• Fothergilla: The single most-noticed flowering shrub, according to my bus survey, was the bottle-brush-flowering Fothergilla, used in several displays including a native plant scene and “The Parent Trap” campsite. Amelanchiers, magnolias, forsythias and redbuds were also noticed – all forced successfully to bloom. I predict you will also see these at Plantasia.

A few other plants my traveling companions thought were unusual or special included a wide variety of Japanese maples, double-flowered amaryllis, blue star Amsonia, asparagus shown ornamentally, a weeping pussy willow, dwarf flowering pears, a blooming bird of paradise, a purple-fruited strawberry, the biggest tulips ever seen, fabulous orchids and succulents used in many kinds of frames and in vertical walls.

A consensus: One plant happened to grab more people’s attention than any other. In the plant collections area, called Horticopia, where people studied judged specimens of cacti, orchids, bromeliads, geraniums and other genera, a begonia stood out among its peers. Its name: Begonia ‘Red Fred.’ How much is it about the name? You’ll just have to watch for it in garden centers near you – a great plant.

That’s what the people saw, in addition to a magnificent entrance – Lights! Camera! Bloom! – and fantastic creativity in the display landscapes designed around movie titles. (You should have seen the blues and white of “Frozen.” One of the best PHS shows yet. Shall we go next year?

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.