Nora Smarkola has been attending the Philadelphia Flower Show since she was a teenager. Now she’s 89, and came this year with her daughter, Claudia Smarkola, both driving in from the New Jersey suburb of Medford.
“It’s a nice mother-daughter experience and something we do together,” said Claudia, 56, who stopped Saturday morning for a break in the middle of her “Riviera Holiday,” a trip to the south of France — or so Flower Show organizers intended with their petals-and-blooms transformation of the cavernous Convention Center on Arch Street in Center City.
As members of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, which sponsors the Flower Show, the Smarkolas were granted early entrance before the event opened to the general ticket-holding public. It runs until next Sunday, March 8.
“I love this year’s theme of the Riviera and lemons,” said Nora.
“My mom’s a green thumb, and she wouldn’t miss it," Claudia added.
They and thousands of others enjoyed the step into a floral paradise despite growing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, reported Saturday to have claimed its first life in the U.S. and prompting President Donald Trump to order more restrictive travel bans regarding Iran, Italy, and South Korea.
Temple University announced the closing of its campus in Rome for the rest of the spring semester, while Pennsylvania State University recalled students studying in Italy.
Families crowded around the exhibition of the late Princess Grace of Monaco’s wedding dress, which was surrounded by hundreds of rose blossoms and featured a video of the Philadelphian’s marriage to Prince Rainier III.
Other big draws were the dozens of vendor booths, where offerings included scents and seasonals, from Dutch irises, lemon soaps, and potted plants, to gardening shears, hammocks, and barbecue grills.
At a pop-up table, Monell Center employees handed out lavender samples and asked visitors to try the components that make up the scent.
“We’ll have fragrance scientists here on Wednesday, March 4, to talk about this,” said Karen Kreeger, who handles communications for the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit scientific institute dedicated to research on taste and smell. The center is known for the big, golden nose sculpture at its headquarters at 35th and Market Streets in University City.
Monell is aiming to create a library of scents that can one day be digitized, Kreeger said. “We’re working with smell data, and thinking that one day you could even send someone a smell as a message. We’d call it a ‘smext,’ ” she said.
Vendors said the crowds were spending just as freely as in past years.
Sara Setzer, founder of Sara Setzer Felt Works in Williamsport, said this year was her first time exhibiting at the Flower Show, for a weekly fee of $2,100.
“It’s a big financial commitment for me; mostly I sell through Etsy, on my website, and I also teach at the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Del.,” she said. Her high-style wedding-day wool shrugs were selling for as much as $180, while her wool-wrapped soaps went for $12 each.
“This is my 14th year as a vendor here,” said Jill Schwartz of Elements jewelry in Massachusetts.
“Much of my work is flower-based, and I have women who come back year after year to buy from me. They like pretty things, and it’s a nice relief from everything that’s going on,” she said.
Schwartz said she also appreciates the Flower Shower as a visitor. She waits until the end of the show to tour the butterfly exhibit, one of the most popular draws at the annual horticultural fest.
“It’s a treat for me, so I save it for last,” she said.