Philly Flower Show finds its inner Italian

The Baltimore Sun

The Philadelphia Flower Show is always a floral spectacle and a welcome respite from winter. But this year, it will likely mean more to its quarter-million visitors.

Brought low by economic hard times and a winter that seems, as all winters do, to drag on and on, those who spend a day in the city's cavernous Convention Center next week should feel transported.

Literally.

The show is titled "Bella Italia," and designer Sam Lemheney is attempting to carry visitors to the majestic gardens of ancient Rome, the lush hills of the Tuscan countryside, the romantic waters of Venice and the artful flora of Florence.

This celebration of Italy will also include food, wine and fashion, painting and opera as the flower show continues to expand its reach and increase the "wow!" factor.

"The landscapes of Italy have inspired artists, writers, moviemakers and visitors for centuries," said Lemheney.

"Italian culture also gives us a chance to explore many other art forms. Of course, South Philadelphia has a vibrant Italian-American heritage, and we wanted to honor and celebrate those strong ties to the community's culture," he said.

Flower show visitors will enter the show through Roman arches adorned in roses, delphiniums, geraniums and petunias overflowing from urns and columns. These formal palace gardens will be surrounded by gardens from the regions of Italy.

Besides the real fashions and home furnishings for sale, there will be a Milanese boutique filled with dresses, shoes, handbags, hats and perfumes - all made of flowers.

The flavors of Italy will be on display as well, with tastings of wines, cheeses, olive oils and cooking demonstrations by Philadelphia chefs. And Danny DeVito, often in the city to film his television show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, will be on hand March 7 to offer tastings of his own brand of the after-dinner liqueur limoncello.

Live entertainment includes folk dancers, a mandolin and guitar ensemble and costumed actors roaming the piazzas.

As always, there will be educational displays and demonstrations covering such topics as conserving rainwater in an urban backyard, protecting the honeybee population and the role of native plants.

As in the past, proceeds - often as much as $1 million - will help its presenter, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, create green space and renew urban neighborhoods in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

This flower show, the oldest at 180 years, as well as the largest and most ambitious in the country, remains the repository for the latest in horticulture knowledge, but it's reaching beyond gardening enthusiasts to those in younger generations.

Italy is a good place to start.

if you go

What:: The 2009 Philadelphia Flower Show, "Bella Italia," runs from Sunday to March 8 at the Philadelphia Convention Center, 12th and Arch streets, Philadelphia.

Hours:: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays; 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets:: $24-$28 for adults; $13 for children ages 2-16.

Information:: Call 215-988-8899 or go to theflowershow.com.

Getting there:: Take Interstate 95 north to Exit 22, Central Philadelphia/I-676. Stay in the left lane. Follow signs for I-676 west to the first exit, Broad Street. This will bring you to 15th Street. Get in the left lane and follow the sign for Route 611/Broad Street and make a left turn onto Vine Street. Follow signs for Vine Street/Pennsylvania Convention Center. Make a right onto 12th Street. There are numerous parking lots around the convention center.

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