Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
February, 2011
Regional Report

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Through the magic of design, engineering and art, these pink ribbons and fabric will be transformed into a romantic wedding tableau at Paris' Notre Dame cathedral for the Philadelphia Flower Show in early March.

Pretty in Paris

Imagine someone asks you to create a scene -- say Notre Dame Cathedral. In six months. Indoors. You'll have to bring it in piece by piece and actually construct it in five days. Oh, by the way -- we'd really like it to include romantic Paris and breathtaking floral arrangements for visitors to enjoy for nine days.

This is an example of the challenge for exhibitors at the Philadelphia International Flower Show, "Springtime in Paris." We visitors "Ooh" and "Ah" in amazement while walking among the horticultural and floral displays. Long before we arrive, hundreds of people have been sweating, hammering, and holding their breaths in hopes their hard work will turn out as planned -- or better.

This week Eric Schellack and his team are measuring and sawing buttress frames and columns. They're cutting fire-retardant fabric, fashioning gargoyle forms, building a gazebo and more in anticipation of March 5, the Flower Show opening preview.
Schellack, Events Coordinator for Robertson's Flowers in Chestnut Hill, PA., is the designer for this year's Notre Dame in the theme of Romantic Paris, "tete a tete" down the Seine. "We're doing a very impressionistic rendering of Notre Dame Cathedral," Schellack explained. "Doing anything realistic that approaches the grandeur of Notre Dame for the Flower Show is just impossible."

This faux Notre Dame with a wedding under flying buttresses will be huge, nonetheless. About the size of an eight-car garage and some 35 feet tall. Fortunately Schellack is drawing on memories from a visit to Paris at age 21. Impressionistic interpretation is based on his memories and impressions. "How it made me feel when I was there. I'm trying to recreate that as best I can."

The cathedral was a mutual, committee decision, Schellack said. "We got together with Sam [Lemheney, show designer]. We talked about different options, ideas. He'd express his opinion. I pulled out some of my old pictures from my visit 18 years ago. We had a lot of fun. It seemed to work."

His designs in gray, white, and pretty shades of pink will take the forms of three flying buttresses of sheer fabric, single panels (12, 18, 20 feet) supported 35 feet high by overhead rigging. Six columns of sheer fabric strips will give "an ephemeral feel, some sheer, some solids, so light will pass through. We're actually going to embed white lilies into the columns to give a calm, regal air. Some will be fully revealed, some will be in the shadows." The lilies will hang in water tubes on wire on pulley system. In four days, after the flowers have emptied the tubes, his team will lower them once to replace them.

The wedding was natural for Robertson's as they do flowers and floral design for weddings and events. Eric added, "This is an opportunity to show that off." The romantic wedding scene will include a gazebo draped in plum branches, an aisle with urns, pillars, giant pomander balls of carnations, four gargoyle topiaries of sedums and echeverias. Three guest tables will be set with crystal candelabras with very elaborate, very Parisian arrangements.

The Philadelphia International Flower Show is open to the public from Sun., March 6 through Sun., March 13.

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