Abington High School Garden Club is in full bloom

PHOTO COURTESY OF KATE ENGLAND
The Abington Senior High School Garden Club placed second among small garden clubs during the first judging at the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show. The club chose to recreate a scene resembling Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream (shown above) for its exhibit.

By Megan Badger

Wire Managing Editor

The Philadelphia Flower Show is the largest indoor plant show in the nation. And one local high school garden club has proved itself to be one of the best exhibits at this year’s show.

The Abington Senior High School Garden Club placed second among small garden clubs during the first judging at the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show, which ran from March 2 to 10 at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

This year’s theme, “Brilliant!” was a tribute to British culture, so the garden club chose to recreate a scene resembling Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream for its exhibit.

The garden club, founded by Abington High School teachers Kate England and Jill Sandler, has entered the show since the club was created six years ago. The group has about 35 members and their main mission is creating a winning exhibit at the flower show each year.

“Our category was entryways and we kind of pushed the limits a little bit,” explained club president Erinmarie Byrnes. “We almost did, for lack of a better word, an exit-way. All of our other competition had a door going into the house. Our view was that you were leaving the house and stepping into the garden that’s behind the house.”

The club created a mystical scene using blue and purple lighting, hanging glass orbs, and a wrought iron table with a tree that appeared to be growing out of the center.

“We’ll search a lot of places for the props we want. The accessories are important,” said Jane Hunsberger, vice president of the club and a three-year Flower Show participant. “It’s not just all about the plants, it’s about placement and presentation.”

The Flower Show gave the club a $2,000 stipend to fund its exhibit, and the students also held several fundraisers throughout the year to bring its total budget to $3,500. The high school vocational students in the carpentry program helped build the doorframe and window frame, and art students painted a mural that was included in the exhibit.

England said they are one of the only high schools to participate each year, and are able to do so because of the support they receive from the school and community.

Philadelphia Flower Show judges give each exhibit two scores, one on the day before the show opens, and once in the middle of the show. The first judging left the club with a second-place ribbon, whereas the final judging put them in a disappointing fourth place.

“On our first judging, one of our comments said that our labels were hard to read. Then on our second judging they said we had fantastic labels,” England explained. “We can’t use the judging to make any changes because it’s so subjective as to whether somebody likes your garden.

“Jill and I worry about, are the kids having fun, are they learning something and are we producing a garden that they look at and are proud of?” she continued. “Whether we win or lose doesn’t really matter, because it’s so subjective.”

The judge’s feedback was mostly positive, Byrnes said, and praised the group for “bold moves” and execution that was “near perfection.” They were also impressed with the club’s use of accessories and lighting to complete the exhibit.

“It was really rewarding at the end to see the whole thing come together, Byrnes said. “We were there on the first day when it was just a concrete slab on the ground. Then you leave and you have a full garden. That’s a cool thing.”

The garden club is considered a service club at the high school, and students can count the hours spent on the garden show as community service, since the proceeds from the show are all donated to charity. Abington Senior High School requires each student to complete 50 hours of community service before graduating, England said, so students are eager to join clubs like this one to fulfill their required hours while having fun.

“It’s really a lot of work,” Hunsberger said. “It’s not a magical overnight process where everything is just there and in its right place. It takes a lot of time and it’s stressful, but it’s so rewarding.”

In the future, the club hopes to have a greenhouse and be able to grow its own plants for the show. England and Sandler have already started filling out paperwork to compete in next year’s show, which will be themed “The Art of Horticulture.”

For more information about the Philadelphia Flower Show, visit www.theflowershow.com.