April 11th, 2012

The Organic Mechanic at the Flower Show 2012!

mark-highlandby Mark Highland—When the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, or PHS, wrapped up the 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show last month, it was one of the most successful on record. This year’s show theme was “Hawaii: Islands of Aloha.” PHS does so much for the City of Philadelphia with their urban greening programs, especially City Harvest. I volunteer my time each year to help support this special event, as it is their biggest annual fundraiser.

One of my volunteer jobs at the flower show is as a “passer.” What’s a passer? Good question. Within the show, there is the Competitive Classes section, where individuals and garden clubs enter plants to be judged by the region’s top horticulturists. In order to make sure plants are entered in the right class, a team works together to get the plants staged and ready to be judged. A “passer” checks to make sure the plant is entered in the correct class, has no bugs, and has a chalk mark on the back of the pot, so the stagers know how to face the plant towards the judging side. In essence, plants are turned so their good side is facing the cameras and judges. This is paparazzi horticulture!

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It’s no joke; people burn through memory cards at this event! In all seriousness, I find it totally inspiring to know that someone has put years of work and love into growing these plants. For me, the Hort Court, the area where the entries in the Competitive Classes are displayed, is the heart of the show. Don’t get me wrong; the exhibits are amazing, too. They are the body of the show, attracting crowds of people that attend. But without the heart, the show would be all commercial and show business.

There are dozens of outstanding exhibits each year, vying for numerous awards, but my favorite this year was a tossup between Michael Pietrie’s “Garden of the Gods” and Temple Ambler’s “Aloha ‘āina: A Return to Life with the Land.” Temple Ambler (representing Temple University’s Ambler campus) showcased an 18-foot waterfall made from recycled materials, and featured the different terracelike garden areas of a typical Hawaiian landscape. The display included representations of mountains, forest, and organic food gardens. I loved the fact that the designers chose many Mid-Atlantic natives that had a tropical look and feel, to educate people on natives but use them with the Hawaiian design theme in mind. Brilliant.

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I was so happy to see the vendor aisles rotated 90 degrees, so you can see down the rows from the rest of the show floor. Good move, PHS. Makes it much more inviting to wander down that way. I was going to visit the vendors that carry or use Organic Mechanics products, folks like City Planter, Linden Hill Farms, Meadowbrook Farm, Peony’s Envy, and Triple Oaks Garden Center, but they were all so busy helping people buy things that I just waved or moved along. People had spring fever, and it showed!

Each year, I am honored to be invited back to speak in the Gardener’s Studio. The studio is a place to sit and learn about a particular gardening topic for about 45 minutes. It’s right on the show floor, and this year I gave two talks: “Making Compost Tea” and “Peat-Free Soils for the Garden.” Both times, there was standing room only, and people asked a lot of questions. Gardeners of all levels of experience are there to be inspired by the show, ask a couple of questions of a fellow gardener, and just have a good time.

Overall, “Hawaii: Islands of Aloha” was a huge success. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it seemed the hundreds of thousands of attendees did as well. I can’t wait to see what the PHS has in store for us next year.


It was on a beautiful piece of Illinois farmland that Mark pushed his first shovel into garden soil. After he “grew up”, Mark focused his M.S. degree studies in the Longwood Graduate Program on compost and potting soil. After the Longwood Graduate Program, Mark started The Organic Mechanic Soil Company, LLC. As a frequent guest on NBC’s The 10! Show, he showcases the joy of gardening. Mark is also an approved consultant for the Institute for Local Self Reliance, working to educate farms and businesses on food-waste composting.

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