By Meredith Hughes
Now that spring has sprung, many pandemically pent-up flower lovers are searching for places and events to explore, either in person and/or remotely. One such offering, the Philadelphia Flower Show, the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural event, started in 1829 by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society —itself established in 1827— introduces the gardening public to thousands of plants,  gardens and design concepts.

It will move outdoors, June 5-13, for the first time in its history. The Philadelphia show, incidentally, has been honored as “the best overall event in the world” by the International Festivals & Events Association, competing with events such as the Kentucky Derby Festival, the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Indianapolis 500 Festival. Its 2021 show will be spread out in FDR Park, 1500 Pattison Avenue and South Broad Street, in Philadelphia. The show’s theme, Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece, “invites everyone at all skill levels to nurture a lifelong connection to plants and gardening.”

In its new location, the show will span 15 acres of the park’s footprint, including nearly 450,000 square feet of exhibits, activities and open space, a 45 percent increase from previous flower shows held inside the Philadelphia Convention Center.

The only drawback is that thus far the show is not offering virtual participation, though one suspects this will change. https://phsonline.org/the-flower-show/about-the-show. The show’s producer, the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, which urges “everyone to garden for the greater good,” is in a long running competition with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society founded in 1829, as “the oldest, formally organized horticultural institution in the United States.”

Still, both are outshone by the Ancient Society of York Florists, UK, founded in 1768, and claiming to be the oldest such society in the world. Now if Philly is not on your go-to list, consider visiting the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, in the Sonoran Desert, about an hour from Phoenix on Highway 60. The arboretum under the shadow of Picketpost Mountain was founded in 1924, incorporated as Arizona’s first non-profit research institution in 1927, and officially dedicated and opened to the public on April 6, 1929, about a year before its founder died.

As its name implies, at first it was all about trees. But today the mission of Boyce Thompson Arboretum is “to inspire appreciation and stewardship of desert plants, wildlife and ecosystems through education, research and conservation.” The arboretum is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. October through April; from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., May through September. (See http://www.btarboretum.org) William Boyce Thompson himself, born in Alder Gulch, Montana in 1869, and raised in Butte, grew up around copper mines and made his fortune in a range of mining ventures in the Southwest, Canada and Peru.

An indifferent student, even though sent to New Hampshire’s Exeter Academy as a kid, yet curious about all aspects of science, as well as gambling, Thompson made even more of his millions by investing in mining stocks on Wall Street. He built Renaissance Revival style Alder Manor overlooking the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York, and lived there and in Arizona depending on the season. He died in New York in 1930, apparently down to his last $100 million. While part of an American Red Cross contingent to Russia during the revolution in 1917 and 1918, Thompson became riveted on the world’s need for a consistent food supply, and for the conservation of nature.

Hence, he endowed the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, now affiliated with Cornell University, and established the arboretum. The institute was established to determine “why and how plants grow, why they languish or thrive, how their diseases may be conquered, how their development may be stimulated by the regulation of the elements which contribute to their life.”

In a major commitment by any institution, in 2014 the arboretum outside Phoenix set out to preserve a desert garden started by H.B. Wallace, more than 30 years ago in North Scottsdale. Wallace had collected more than 9,000 plants, a diverse assembly comprised of hundreds of taxa. Thompson had made his fortune in mining, Wilson in genetic hybridization of commercial egg-laying hens. Both men gave much of their fortunes, and their land, away.

From December 2015 to November 2017 approximately 5,848 plants were transported more than 75 miles to their new home where the plants would be staged, and planted through January 2020. The new Wallace Desert Garden, at 13 acres, is situated adjacent to Queen Creek in a natural setting that offers spectacular views of Picketpost Mountain and the Superstition Mountains. It includes 1.5 miles of trails and loops, two water crossings and gathering areas.
The arboretum website underscores this: “Deserts make up 25 percent of Earth’s surface and are biodiversity hotspots. They may seem harsh and inhospitable, but in reality, deserts contain a fragile ecosystem of plants and animals adapted to thrive under difficult conditions. Arid land environments are especially vulnerable to climate change, human activity and human exploitation. When ecosystems fail, our own health is at risk.”

The New York Botanical Garden, on 250 acres, the largest in any city in the United States, is a National Historic Landmark.“Established in 1891, NYBG is distinguished by the beauty of its landscape, collections, and gardens, and the scope and excellence of its programs in horticulture, education, and science,”according to its website. https://www.nybg.org

It was inspired by an 1888 visit that eminent botanists Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife, Elizabeth, took to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London. The Brittons believed New York should have a great botanical garden to advance public understanding of plants, be a repository of rare and valuable specimens, and lead original research in botanical science. Because of its picturesque terrain, freshwater Bronx River, rock-cut gorge, and 50 acres of old-growth forest, the garden was sited on the northern half of Bronx Park.

NYBG today includes 50 specialty gardens and collections comprising more than one million plants, the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections, and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the nation’s preeminent Victorian-style glasshouse. Many of the garden’s offerings are available online. Last year’s 18th Annual Orchid Show can be seen at https://preview.tinyurl.com/vvtkgla

One of the best features of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden is its enormous online plant database, especially if you are not yet ready to visit the garden. The how-tos of navigating the database are explained here at https://santafebotanicalgarden.org/garden-explorer

The database itself is accessed at https://santafebotanicalgarden.gardenexplorer.org. The SFBG comprises both the 20-acre site on Museum Hill, open Thursday through Monday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., but also the Leonora Curtin Wildlife Preserve, adjacent to El Rancho de las Golondrinas. This rare natural cienega, or “marsh,” hosts a bountiful diversity of plants and wildlife. The preserve, which re-opens in May, features cottonwood trees, a spring-fed pond and shaded walking paths. Its hours are Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. The Botanical Garden currently offers a range of online educational materials for children, parents! Explore at https://santafebotanicalgarden.org/education-outreach/covid-learning-resources-for-parents

Actual, and closer to home, timed entry and tickets reserved online will get you into the Albuquerque Botanic Garden, currently open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday. As the garden comes to life post-winter, the aquarium on site remains closed. Plants were poking up on a Sunday visit and masses of masked families were cavorting throughout. (See http://www.cabq.gov/artsculture/biopark garden.)

Incidentally, if you have not already done a deep dive into the vast numbers of horticultural and garden videos/programs available on YouTube, well…what have you been doing during the pandemic? Okay, so maybe you’ve been catching up on your Gardeners’ World episodes….

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