Since the orchid is the signature flower of the 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show, it’s only natural that some of the most beautiful plants on display can be seen at the American Orchid Society’s exhibit, Sharing in the Spirit of Aloha.
If you’ve been to the show already, you’ve probably been moved by that spirit. If you haven’t—there’s still time, the show runs through March 11—the spirit can be described as a feeling of being welcomed and included. It is how the Hawaiian people are said to live their lives and the inspiration behind the American Orchid Society’s exhibit.
Rather than viewing the orchids from the outside, visitors to the exhibit walk right through it. Orchids diverse in color and form surround visitors making them part of the display. Members of the society are also inside the exhibit eager to answer questions and share their knowledge of the exotic beauties.
Many of the orchids on display were grown privately and added to the exhibit. Some of the terrariums came from the private collection of orchid aficionado and judge, Michael Bowell, who explained that the idea this year was to show orchids in cases and terrariums on a scale that can be duplicated in the average home; to make them accessible and to include all growers. He imagines the next incarnation of these terrariums to include frogs that complete the mini ecosystem.
Bowell is a character: a green thumb with a flair for the dramatic. He lives on five acres of land in Malvern along with a menagerie of dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys and amphibians. He has embraced the Slow Food Movement and gets his eggs from his birds. (They are only slaughtered if they misbehave…) He embraces organic gardening, though his plants are not certified.
Bowell fell under the spell of orchids while a student at Rutgers in 1976. As his studies continued—he has degrees in plant science and physiology—so did his affair with orchids. He explained that to really know a plant you have to grow it. Though it’s hard for him to name a favorite orchid, he does admit to being partial to the lady slipper varieties. To the relief of orchid killers everywhere—I know there to be many—Bowell also confessed that varieties from the Andes and Himalayan regions have perished under his watch. (Visit the exhibit for a copy of the Novice Culture Sheet if you’re ready to try orchids again.)
Bowell and the American Orchid Society have been fixtures of the Flower Show for many years as both exhibitors and marketplace vendors. He has noticed a distinct “upturn” in the show in recent years that has led to more interesting exhibits and a marketplace that has “upped its anti.” Though he intends to take a few years off from the show, he is already imagining a triumphant return with something that perhaps speaks to the urban gardening movement. We look forward to sharing in that spirit.