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The Flower Show

Q&A: What’s It Like to Compete in the PHS Hamilton Horticourt at the Flower Show?

March 16, 2023

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By Anne Lockhart

As the nation’s largest and the world’s longest-running horticultural event, the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show is well known for its stunning floral and garden displays by some of the best designers in the world. Beyond the professional exhibits, the Flower Show is also a competition among gardeners of all ages and abilities. The PHS Hamilton Horticourt is the heart of the Flower Show, offering a chance for individuals, groups of friends or families, and other organizations to show off their creativity and skill by exhibiting as part of the Competitive Classes. 

Hear from two PHS staff members, Marta Lynch and Daijah Barrett, as they discuss their experience preparing, entering, and participating in the 2023 Flower Show. 

"The Flower Show is such a great experience for me. Every time I'm here, my sense of creativity and love for horticulture grows even more." -Daijah Barrett

What made you want to compete in the Flower Show this year?  

Marta: As a house plant enthusiast, the PHS Hamilton Horticourt has always been my favorite part of the Flower Show. At our All-Staff meeting about the Flower Show, I learned that other PHS staff had entered plants into the show, and I was like hey, I can do that too!

Daijah: I decided to enter competitive classes this year to tap back into one of the things I enjoy doing. I have been involved with the Flower Show in past years, but this year was special to me since I now work for PHS. I found out that anyone can participate in our All-Staff meeting, which was at the end of January, and wasted no time getting my ideas and materials together for the 2023 Show in March.  

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Marta Lynch with her 2023 Flower Show entry, a Philodendron Selloum.

What did you enter and in what division? 

Marta: A Philodendron Selloum, and I entered it into the Philodendron. Pot: over 10” class. 

Daijah: I entered in class 130 - OVER THE TOP. This was a backed pedestal class.  

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Daijah Barrett's 2023 Flower Show entry.

How long did you grow and/or prepare what you entered?   

Marta: I got this Philodendron at least 5 years ago as a small plant. I’ve put it on my back porch the last three summers, where it thrived in these hot and humid Philly conditions.  

Daijah: For my exhibit, I purchased flowers from local shops in my area. I have a relatively cool temperature basement at home which acted as my space to condition my plant material. In total, I took about a month to test out different things that could work for my exhibit.  

What was the process like from entering to the final judging?  

Marta: After the staff meeting, I went home and consulted some of my horticulture friends on what plants I should submit. Then I went online to the PHS Flower Show website and created an account within the FSDB [Flower Show Database] where I was able to register my plant. 

Daijah: I was nervous at first. I did not know what shape of hat I wanted to go for. After doing a little research online, I decided to go for a large church-style hat. Figuring out how I was going to make the structure was a trial-and-error process. Once I found the right materials, everything was seamless for me. The only thing I had to worry about was making sure that the structure was covered. When arriving to set up my exhibit I felt proud and confident that I could pull off the vision I was going for. I decided to wait until the setup day to fill in my structure to avoid issues when transporting.  

Did you win any awards?  

Marta: Second prize!! 

Daijah: I did win an honorable mention for my exhibit. I am very proud of myself because I was up against some amazing people who had very interesting takes on their designs. I am also not a professional at this, so taking the opportunity and time to create was a win for me.  

Would you enter again? If so, would you do anything differently? 

Marta: Yes! I would make sure I register my plant as an EAD “Entry All Days” so I don’t have to come back and re-enter my plant before each competition day. 

Daijah: I would most definitely enter again. Next time I plan to source different plant materials as soon as possible. I felt like if I had more time, I could have purchased more of what I wanted instead of settling for what I could find at the local shops. 

Any tips for people interested in entering?  

Marta: Make sure you read the Exhibitor's Guide well in advance. I would suggest talking to someone familiar with the process to learn about the different classes and the approaches to entering plants in each class. There are SO many different classes, and it can be hard to decipher what’s best. 

Daijah: Make sure your plants are in the best possible condition for the show. Also, make sure you get in contact with advisors as early as possible to clear up any confusion on what is good/bad for competing.  

What was the most rewarding part of exhibiting?  

Marta: Feeling like you are a part of the horticulture history and legacy of the Flower Show (in a way that’s different than being an attendee or employee). 

Daijah: The best part about exhibiting is walking over to my exhibit while people are around it and hearing their compliments. I even had a few people understand the exact style of hat I was going for, which made me so happy. Overall, this was a huge confidence boost and I have been inspired to continue to perfect my craft!  

What does the Flower Show mean to you as an employee and as a participant?  

Marta: The Flower Show is near and dear to my heart as it is a family tradition that we’ve had all my life. For this kid from rural Pennsylvania, it always felt like a magical adventure; taking the train into the big city, being immersed in the crowds of different people, eating special and exotic foods, wandering around the big spectacular displays of plants and flowers, and most certainly coming home with Pussy willow branches. 

It is extra special to be on the other side; see all the hard work that goes into it and help create that magical experience for others. Even though I’m an employee now, I still always find time to attend the show with my family and keep the tradition alive! 

Daijah: The Flower Show is such a great experience for me. Every time I'm here, my sense of creativity and love for horticulture grows even more. Before becoming an employee, I helped to make exhibits with WB Saul High School and Delaware Valley University. Being able to participate on my own is very liberating as well. Floral arranging is something I haven’t had the opportunity to do in quite some time. I am already looking forward to next year’s show!  

From the Staff at PHS: If you or anybody you know has a creative fire or love for horticulture, keep an eye out for information on the 2024 Competitive Classes at the PHS Flower Show here.   

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