In full bloom: Meadowbrook Farm gears up for Philadelphia Flower Show

By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer

MATT SCHICKLING / WIRE PHOTOS Josh Darfler, retail operations manager at Meadwobrook Farm, shows an example of plants that will be on display at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Meadowbrook Farm has been a name at the Flower Show since it started, putting together exhibits from flowers and plants grown on its Abington Township property.

If you head down to the Philadelphia Flower Show this week, the workers at Meadowbrook Farm can ensure you come up smelling of Ipomoea platense or Drimia haworthioides or something else that probably won’t be roses.

That’s not to say you’re expected to know what any of that means, but their staff will, and if you want to take home a piece of the Flower Show, they’re the ones you talk to.

“Meadowbrook Farm has been a name at the Flower Show since it started, but now that we’re under the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, our role has come on more as a host than an exhibitor,” Josh Darfler, retail operations manager at Meadowbrook, said. “We help staff the whole show and our main priority is running the Flower Show shop.”

In the past, Meadowbrook Farm has put together central exhibits from flowers and plants grown on the Abington Township property on Washington Lane.

The property, originally 150 acres, was gifted to Philadelphia Florist J.L. Pennock Jr. and his wife, Alice Herkness, by her parents after their wedding in 1936. Pennock owned a successful flower shop in Center City Philadelphia until 1970. He even provided floral arrangements for the Nixon White House. When he retired his business, he turned portions of the property into a retail garden shop and greenhouse.

After his death in 2003, Meadowbrook Farm was willed to be a nonprofit affiliate of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Pennock once served on the board of the PHS and helped start the Philadelphia Flower Show.

Now, workers from Meadowbrook not only staff the show, but cultivate plants to be displayed there and purchased by attendees.

“The Flower Show is an interesting combination of people,” Darfler said.

On one end, there are intense plant-lovers and longtime growers who are looking for unique and challenging plants to try out. On the other side are people who may not have a growing and gardening background, but want to bring something home to care for.

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“For them, we have a selection of plants that are interesting to look at, unusual perchance, but simple to take care of,” he said. “We want to instill a love of horticulture and we want to have something for everyone.”

This year, there will be two retail spaces — the usual one on the main floor and another satellite store that will be stocking books and hard goods as well as some low-maintenance plants.

“We wanted to bring in a new element of more structural plants,” he said. “Things that would go in a bookstore that don’t need a ton of watering or attention.”

There will be staghorn ferns mounted on wood plaques designed for wall hanging, terrariums that the Huntingdon Valley Garden Club helped make, air plants, herbs and other houseplants.

Some of these plants are kept in the “big house,” which is a giant greenhouse on the property with three separate areas divided by the curvature of the roof. The greenhouse includes mostly ferns and foliage plants, or plants grown for their interesting, beautiful or colorful leaves.

Each section is set up differently for climate and environment control. There are sections with grow lights for plants that require more light, temperature can be controlled by pumping hot water through metal fins located beneath the flower beds and an intricate hose system allows each plant to be easily watered when needed.

“That’s why we can have basil growing in the middle of February,” Darfler said. “A lot of these herbs want the warmer conditions, so we kind of have to coax them into growing more.”

Part of this is due to environmental control, which is why the farm is able to host an entire roomful of cacti and succulent plants, many indigenous to South America or South Africa. For example, the Euphorbia lactosa, a cactus also known as “white ghost” for its creamy color, is being propagated in this room.

Some flowering plants, like the primrose Blue Zebra, are literally “forced” into growing in less airtight, cooler houses on the property. There are several of these houses, all controlled for different temperatures and all stocked with different plants.

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“It’s how you get a plant to do something it doesn’t want to do naturally,” Darfler said. “It allows us to offer something different.”

Some of the perennials brought to the show are produced this way, so they’re more alive and leafed out so viewers have a better understanding of what the plants will look like in full bloom.

It’s just another piece in the massive undertaking that is setting up the Philadelphia Flower Show shop.

“Some people think the Flower Show shop is set up overnight, but we’ve been working on this since September,” Darfler said. “We’re all here every day taking one project at a time, whatever needs to get done. We make sure we have something for everyone.”

If you go:

The Philadelphia Flower Show takes place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St. in Philadelphia, from Feb. 28 to March 8.

Show Hours:

Feb. 28 11:00 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Mar. 1 8:00 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Mar. 2–6 10:00 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Mar. 7 8:00 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Mar. 8 8:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at the PA Convention Center Box Office or online via www.theflowershow.com. This year’s theme is “Celebrate the Movies.”