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Did the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show Amp up Sustainability?

Did the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show Amp up Sustainability?

After coming under criticism for this year’s theme, did PHS emphasize more than beauty during the Flower Show? Here’s our take.

In October, Ernesto Pujol penned an opinion piece for the Inquirer titled “The 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show’s ‘Riviera Holiday’ theme is an abdication of responsibility.” Pujol argued that instead of a nostalgic holiday theme, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) should have chosen to reflect (an!) urgent crisis we face, including organic resilience, water conservation, edible gardening or endangered pollinators.

Green Philly has been covering the Flower Show preview for the past nine years from Paris, Articulture & more. Mixed in with more loft & luxurious travel ideals, PHS has picked themes that lend themselves to education more than others. For example, the 2018 theme “Wonders of Water” highlighted a Dutch Ecodome, rain barrels, downspouts, and solar panels. In 2016, the Flower Show took us through the Appalachian trail and the Wissahickon during the “Explore America’ theme.

When I entered the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show doors, Pujol’s opt-ed stayed in the back of my mind. Did PHS choose to focus on these urgent issues despite the theme? Would they step up the exhibits to include more awareness of environmental and social issues?

Here’s where the Flower Show incorporated education – and totally missed the mark.

How did the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show Fare on Highlighting Sustainability?


Maura Rose Philadelphia Flower Show Exhibit
Maura Rose Floral Design

Sustainable Win: The Maura Rose Floral Design & Events exhibit was made sustainably but also communicated their intentions with signs. Created from a combo of OASIS (R) Floral Foam and 100% Agra-Wool, the exhibit is biodegradable and can be composted. (Fun fact: This variety of floral foam isn’t yet available in the US!) A sign next to the exhibit said, “Let us not create waste and threaten our natural world when our job as floral designers is to create with the beauty the earth provides us.”

art philadelphia flower show 2020

Missed the mark: Yes, there are bright colors and creative exhibits, like these flower arrangements inspired by famous artworks. However, the vast majority of the main exhibits (i.e. when you first walk in Hall A) did not acknowledge climate change, sustainable materials or practices.

Compost exhibit Philadelphia Flower Show 2020

Sustainable Win: Abraham Lincoln High School emphasized composting with an outdoor rotating compost bin, a patio set up with composting books and compost pile. Guests can check our Where to Compost in Philadelphia guide for the next steps.

rain check PHS exhibit

Win… mostly for PHS. PHS has an excellent range of programs from Tree Tenders to Farm for the City. The PHS exhibit shared many of these great initiatives that attendees can get involved in… all with calls to action to become a PHS member.

Rain barrels are a super-awesome way homeowners can recycle water at home. It would be great to see PHS sharing one more step beyond a URL or become a member (i.e. attend an upcoming workshop or guidelines for how to sign up for a FREE rain barrel.)

philly flower show 2020 eco friendly critter condo

Better display: The eco-friendly critter condo display shared bee facts and best beeeee-havior to help these endangered little guys.

Environmental Protection Agency at 50

EPA 50 philadelphia flower show 2020
The EPA is turning 50 in December (as long as the administration keeps it that long…)

Win – Highlighting Water: The EPA exhibit created “An America Riviera,” inspired by the health of American waterways and the connection to health and water quality. The exhibit was designed to highlight native plants and value vegetated areas between land and a river or stream, known as riparian areas.

What they did right: The EPA educated attendees by defining offering a direct link from the exhibit to our livelihoods. Directly on the exhibit sign, the EPA shared that these wetlands mitigate damage from floods, filter pollutants and provide drinking water. Next to the exhibit, the EPA had handouts describing their exhibit and a list of plants used in the exhibit, historically distributed throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

EPA 50 Philadelphia Flower Show 2020 Exhibit
EPA Exhibit: An America Riviera, highlighting riparian areas.

Where they could have improved: their “Take Action” signs were vague for attendees. Signs like “Preserve streams, wetland, and open space to protect drinking water” and ‘Protect Swamp Pink by preserving habitat’ don’t exactly provide attendees with an actionable step.

Social Issues Highlighted

cannabis philadelphia flower show 2020

Win: Cannabis has its own exhibit in the Philadelphia Flower Show’s Greenroom. The plant comes in a variety of shapes and sizes from CBD to medical marijuana. Although you won’t see any flowers, you can explore products, learn about common terpenes and where to find licensed doctors and providers near Philly.


Overall, it feels like PHS brings more awareness to sustainable and social issues when the themes relate to nature or parks. Even the Academy of Natural Sciences put out a campaign throughout the month of February to encourage people to talk (to loved ones) about climate change.

Although they haven’t announced the 2021 theme, PHS has a lot of potential to create a direct link with the Flower Show with the greatest challenge of our lifetime.

Let’s hope they take it.

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Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher
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