I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show Tuesday for the first time since I was a little kid. It's supposedly the largest indoor flower show in the world and I've wanted to go for the past few years because it is pretty cool, but, well...Canada.
This year was different, obviously, and, even better, the show had a British theme. No way was I missing it. My bff (of niece and nephew fame) wanted to go, too, because she is a complete Anglophile, in addition to her father being from Northern Ireland. So we made a day of it, having lunch at Reading Terminal, and it was lovely, except...it wasn't.
It wasn't British. I'm very used to Scotland (and Northern Ireland and Wales) getting ignored as being British. Scots complain of it all the time, but it does happen and if it frustrates me, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for an actual Scot.
I was sure the Flower Show would be different. After all, since the 17th century Scots were at the top of the field in botany and gardening and, since the 18th century, after the Union, Scots were the head gardeners of English noble estates through the 19th century, if not up until World War I, although I'm not sure about the precise end date because I can't find my notes on a fascinating talk by Cairns Craig, who is a genius. History aside, there is just so much you can do with British gardens, right? I mean, there's the lovely little rural cottage with flowers all around it, there's structured formal gardens with box hedges, there's all the gardens created from seeds brought back from the colonies and explorations.
You can even be cliche about Britishness and still have an interesting show. Double-decker busses, anyone? Fast blacks? Buckingham Palace? Big Ben? Castles? "The Secret Garden," perhaps? Jane Austen? Downton Abbey??? That's only a little popular right now. Also, HARRY FREAKING POTTER, for crying out loud!
Do you want to know what the exhibits were? There was a good exhibit with a river, a wood hut, and some tropical flowers to show the explorers' contributions to British gardens. There was also a cool '60s themed bit with some hippie stuff and the Rolling Stones peace sign. There was also a kind of interesting Mad Hatter tea party for Alice in Wonderland, but it wasn't that exciting, to be honest. It had all been done before. There was a very lame London Fog exhibit with giant umbrellas hanging and very few flowers. My first thought, upon seeing the umbrellas, was that there was a Mary Poppins exhibit, but, no. Even that would have been better than a bunch of umbrellas. (P.S. the fog is gone, so, yeah, there's that)
From there, it quickly went downhill. There was a double-decker bus...made out of cardboard, not flowers. There are no red flowers in the world?
There was a Jane Austen exhibit that was just...I have no words. Here's a picture:
It was mostly pansies. Pansies for Jane Austen! Right next to it was a display about Beatrix Potter's cottage. It looked nothing like her actual cottage, though, which, by the way, is online and you can see tons of information on her garden on the National Trust's website. That presumes a willingness to do a little research, though, I suppose.
There was a garden path with about ten daffodils to represent Wales. Poor Wales. Northern Ireland didn't fare much better. There was an admittedly giant display about Derry-Londonderry, probably because it's the 2013 U.K, City of Culture. The display, however, was a giant cardboard wall with two men shaking hands over it. I almost died. Way to sanitize hundreds of years of oppression, resistance, and warfare, guys, but there were also no real flowers. Through the walls was tiny little path lined with a few flowers. This was a flower show, right?
What sent me over the edge, however, was - you guessed it - the ONE display pertaining to Scotland. Here it is:
It was a small golf display. It looked nothing like any Scottish links I have ever seen and I've seen a lot. It was overly manicured. It could have been Augusta National for all anyone knows, except that they stuck the Union Jack and the Cross of St Andrew in there, so it must be a British course. Please notice the stuffed gopher (a la Caddyshack) near the hole because that's classic British, no?
It's not just that the show was lacking in non-English representation. I love England (please don't tell!). I don't consider myself a Scottish historian, but a British one, so I understand the complexities of British identity and the repercussions of those complexities. It really wasn't just about pathetic attempts at non-English displays. It was barely even English. It missed the very essence of English gardens. There was some English ivy in a hanging pot. One hanging pot. They didn't even try to put the ivy on a cottage wall. There was not even one single English rose in the show - not in any exhibits, not in any of the table displays, nowhere. The bff was particularly upset about the lack of English roses.
If you want to be cliche about Britishness, while I'd rather you weren't, at least get the cliche right. Play to what people know and love and do it really, really well. This was just laziness and from a show of this size and renown, I expected so much more.