UD alumnus Sam Lemheney visited campus to discuss his experiences as director of the Philadelphia International Flower Show.

Philly flowers

UD alumnus Lemheney directs Philadelphia International Flower Show

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2:21 p.m., Sept. 19, 2012--When the Philadelphia International Flower Show’s “Brilliant” opens on Saturday, March 2, 2013, University of Delaware alumnus Sam Lemheney will be on hand making sure that visitors enjoy the sights and scents of summer in the middle of an East Coast winter.

Lemheney, who graduated from UD in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in plant science, serves as director of America’s oldest and largest indoor flower show.

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During a campus talk, “The Making of the Philadelphia International Flower Show,” held Sept. 5 in Smith Hall, Lemheney described what it takes to turn 10 acres of the Pennsylvania Convention Center into a world-class horticultural extravaganza. 

The Philadelphia International Flower Show is sponsored and managed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1827.

Building on a legacy that began in 1829, the year Andrew Jackson was inaugurated as America’s seventh president, the show has blossomed into an event that draws nearly 300,000 visitors annually. 

“The Philadelphia Flower Show has a tradition of introducing new plants to the industry and has had some famous visitors, including U.S. Presidents Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge,” Lemheney said. “Each new show combines a lot of the old traditions with cutting edge flowers and garden designs, different, but with similar classes of plants and flowers on display.”

Meeting the high expectations of visitors of all ages, each year’s show demands a commitment to cutting edge design and floricultural and arboricultural excellence, Lemeheny said.

“Getting tulips to bloom during the first week of March takes a combination of science and art,” Lemeheny said. “We have built the show into a powerhouse brand across the United States that has the same impact on the flower industry as the New York City Fashion Week has on the fashion industry.”

Working for the “wow factor” calls for a creative approach incorporating innovative uses of color, movement, scale and entertainment venues, Lemheney said. 

“The effective use of colors range from a rainbow display of flowers and bulbs to a uniform, mono-colored display themed around certain related shades,” Lemheney said. “When we bring professional actors to the show, they are amazed when we tell them it’s the flowers, not the performers, who are the main attraction. Once they see this for themselves, they start having fun.” 

Popular also are the series of contests in which designers are invited to fashion creative designs that are voted on by audiences of nearly 600 visitors per competition.

Passion and energy

Lemheney noted that show attendees are not the only ones who get caught up in the enthusiasm of the competitions, educational displays and cornucopias of roses, tulips, trees and orchids. 

“I thought I knew what passion for my work was before I got to the Philadelphia Flower Show,” Lemheney said. “Nothing can match the passion and energy and time that our staff and volunteers have for horticulture.”

The logistical challenges tackled by the staff of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and its 3,500 volunteers include hauling in 2,000 yards of mulch (that’s 30 tractor trailer loads), and 18 truckloads of stone and block, all driven right onto the convention center floor.

“We couldn’t do it without our volunteers,” Lemheney said. “It takes us 10 days to set up, and three days to tear down the show and make it look like we had never been there.” 

As the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s largest fund raising event of the year, the show benefits a host of programs, including community gardens, the city harvest program and vacant land management programs.

UD presence

Once again there also will be a UD Blue and Gold element at this year’s “Brilliant” show, which highlights the storied history of traditional and contemporary garden and landscape design in London and the United Kingdom. 

Freshmen students from plant and soil sciences, public policy and administration and art classes are designing an educational exhibition for the show. 

University faculty assisting with the 2013 UD Philadelphia Flower Show project include Jules Bruck, associate professor of plant and soil sciences; Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration; and Jon Cox, assistant professor of art.

Students participating in the flower show project are trying to raise $25,000. To make a donation and learn more about the program, visit the website.

About the 2013 UD Philadelphia Flower Show

For UD students in organizational and community leadership, the Philadelphia Flower Show project provides many opportunities to engage in a real-world, cross-disciplinary creative problem solving. As individuals aspiring to leadership positions in a variety of fields, the capacity to innovate will be a highly valued tool for these students. And, working with students and faculty from art and landscape design greatly enhances students' opportunity to 'see differently' and develop their creativity.

Students engaged in this project get to see the full range of the process - from conceptual to prototype to construction to implementation to assessment and iteration - all within a context of collaboration and community impact.

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photos by Evan Krape

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