By Melissa O'Brien
The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show is the nation’s largest and the world’s longest-running horticultural event, featuring stunning floral and garden displays by some of the best designers in the world. Beyond the outstanding floral designs guests will see, the Flower Show is still a competition among gardeners! And, you may be surprised that anyone can submit an entry for the PHS Hamilton Horticourt in the Flower Show! There are no age limits, and you don’t have to be a member of a garden club or horticultural organization to enter.
We spoke with three Competitive Class exhibitors from the 2023 Flower Show to learn more about how they got involved, what inspires them, and what they plan to bring to this year’s Show.
Gene Tobia grew up gardening, inspired by his father who was an avid gardener. He is a registered nurse by profession who also has a degree in plant science. “Gardening is my first love, and I cultivate this hobby passionately,” says Gene.
He has been exhibiting at the Flower Show every year since 2008. “I went to the Flower Show for years, admiring the entries and displays,” he says. “Then it dawned on me that I too could bring my plants and have them judged in the competition.”
Gene won a Blue Ribbon his first year at the Flower Show for his Phalaenopsis orchid species. When he first entered, Gene was only competing in the Orchid classes but after a few years, he started bringing his other plants and tried his luck in the other classes as well. “In 2023, I’ll bring a wide variety of plants -- orchids, cacti and succulents, Philodendrons, Monsteras, gesneriads, Amorphophallus, Begonias,” says Gene. He will also enter terrariums and Wardian cases as well.
For Gene, the Philadelphia Flower Show is a chance to compete and participate in the oldest indoor flower -focused show in the world. He says, “It brings me so much satisfaction knowing that I brought something to the Show that is appreciated, noticed, and gives excitement to those who see it.”
Bex Hamell grew up around gardening and plants. “I was mostly interested in outdoor plants until about 6 years ago, when I started getting serious about houseplants, so I could be surrounded by green stuff all winter too,” says Bex. Today, they grow several hundred plants in their 1000-square-foot house in West Philly.
After attending the Flower Show on and off since 2009 and admiring the entries in the Hamilton Horticourt, Bex decided to enter the Show as an exhibitor for the first time in 2022. “I started meeting other people who were competing, and they encouraged me to enter,” says Bex. “Finally, last year I took the plunge and was hooked -- now I'm the one trying to convince everyone else to compete.”
In 2023, Bex will be exhibiting Begonias, Sinningias, Pinguicula (Butterworts), terrarium plants, and potentially a few other things if they look good in March. “I'm especially excited for my Begonia sutherlandii 'Saunders' Legacy', which is an unusual tuberous species from South Africa,” says Bex. “It won a second-place ribbon in the 2022 Show, and it is looking so much better this year.”
Bex says it feels nice to be recognized for doing something they love at the Flower Show, and it's a good way to connect with other gardeners. “I appreciate having the opportunity to show people plants they might not have seen before, and maybe help them get excited about growing them too,” says Bex. “Plants are so weird and diverse and beautifully adapted to all these different environmental niches. I hope visitors realize how precarious their existence is, and that their habitats are worth protecting.”
The Siblings are a group of family members and friends, some of whom have been exhibiting at the Philadelphia Flower Show for 40 years. This multi-generational group is looking forward to the Flower Show returning indoors in March to the Convention Center for the first time since 2020.
At the 2023 Show, they will be exhibiting in the Interior Scape class called ‘No Sweatpants Required.’ Anna Marie Amey of The Siblings says, “Our title is ‘Wetsuit Needed.’ We hope to convey below deck on a sailing ship, and the owner is a plant-loving ocean scientist traveling the world researching the sea and climate.”
Anna Marie has three daughters who exhibit with her. Her two oldest daughters are teachers and will also be exhibiting with their schools. One daughter will be exhibiting in the Garden Room class. “Their theme is family game night, and the students even contacted the board game company and received permission to use their games,” says Anna Marie. Her other daughter’s elementary school students will be exhibiting bulbs in the Horticourt.