Student and Faculty Design Dutch Inspired Display at Philadelphia Flower Show

Flower Show
Courtesy of Alyssa Ashley
Students and faculty created a traditional Dutch flower shop design for the Philadelphia Flower Show.


Spring was in full bloom last week at the Philadelphia Flower Show, where a team of interdisciplinary students and faculty put on an exhibit for the seventh year in a row. This year, competitors were challenged to create sustainable and eco-friendly designs in the theme, “Holland: Flowering the World.”

Inspired by the Dutch, who are known for their incredibly green and sustainable practices, this year’s show featured windmills, bicycles and green infrastructure. Amsterdam-inspired floral designs lined the aisles of the Convention Center, creating picturesque snapshots of Dutch canals and street shops.

Students from the university created an exhibit which featured two contrasting designs: a traditional Dutch flower shop and a modern landscape architecture studio. Trying to encompass both the old and new culture of the Netherlands, the students took home a silver prize in the educational category.

“Judges base it on horticulture,” says senior Tess Strayer, lead student on the project. “They’re looking for certain plants that identify with Holland. A lot of plants we used were Holland native plants, like daffodils, bulbs and tulips.”

The award did not come without challenges. Incorporating sustainability into their exhibit did not only mean finding ways to support a green roof, rain gardens and a green wall in their design. They also utilized completely re-purposed materials.

Last semester’s play at the REP, “God of Carnage,” provided an opportunity for students to reuse and recycle. After going through the sets, students chose which materials they were going to use for their project. Although a sustainable method, Strayer says theatrical sets are not meant to hold as much weight as their exhibit inevitably would.

“It was really difficult, but we managed to pull it off,” Strayer says. “We based our design of off Piet Oudolf, a famous Dutch designer who actually designed the High Line in New York.”

Other challenges posed involved budget constraints and lack of a workplace. After their previous homebase, Worrilow Hall, had turned into a cheese factory, students feared they had no place to go. Luckily, they found a warehouse on South Campus and set up shop.

Faculty members involved in the project include Stefanie Hansen, a theatre professor, Jules Bruck, a professor of landscape design and Anna Wik, a professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Students ranging from communications to exercise science majors all worked to plan and build the exhibit. The opportunity was offered through a design practicum, as well as the Design and Articulture Club.

The show also offered workshops throughout the week, educating gardeners and showgoers on different planting and soiling techniques. Dutch designers gave sessions on container planting, bouquet arrangement and floral color schemes.

“I love the classes and education sessions,” Denise Jakeway, 63, says. “Saturday there’s a class based upon this show, and it’s going to be tulip arranging. I already signed up for it.”

Jakeway’s local New Jersey garden club transported two busloads of people to the show.

Although members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) feared snow would slow down traffic in the Convention Center, more than 25,000 people a day filed in and out of the front doors. Sam Lemheney, the vice president of PHS, says they had visitors from over 40 states and seven countries.

Other than dealing with an unanticipated snow storm, PHS faced other weather-related challenges.

“The warm weather leading up to the flower show gave us a little bit of a challenge,” Lemheney says. “Our show is known for forcing plants out of their season. The warmth has definitely affected that process.”

Lemheney also says what sets this year apart is PHS’ relationship with the Dutch. Possessing infectious enthusiasm and strong environmental standards, the Dutch designers were easy to learn from. Symbolizing the relationship, Lemheney says the Dutch government has honored the city by giving them an official tulip: the Philadelphia Belle.

The show is completely deconstructed within 48 hours after it ends. Reinforcing the idea of sustainable practices, PHS maximizes the amount it can recycle.

“Anything that can be repurposed is,” Alan Jaffe, spokesperson for PHS, says. “We transplant as much as we can, and the cut flowers are composted. The tulips in the entrance are sold at a special sale for PHS members next weekend.”

Planning for next year’s event, “Wonders of Water,” is already underway.

Most, like Jakeway, remain wowed by this year’s show.

“It’s really unbelievable,” Jakeway says. “You could stay here for two days and not take in all the sights. The colors are mesmerizing.”

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