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What happens to the flowers at the Flower Show before the crowds arrive?

Morning at the Flower Show, those harried and hectic hours when the storied show’s planners, exhibitors, vendors and maintenance and landscaping crews rush to ready the gardens for guests.

Flower designer, Bobette Leidner Fisk works on her floral arrangement in preparation for the 2022 Philadelphia Flower show at FDR Park.
Flower designer, Bobette Leidner Fisk works on her floral arrangement in preparation for the 2022 Philadelphia Flower show at FDR Park.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

The sun was still new and rain clouds were threatening, but it was time to take care of the flowers.

In the many gardens now filling FDR Park, bursting blooms with names like cosmos and City Lights and Red Roosters needed primping. In the floral displays area, delicate creations awaited expert deadheading. And in the showrooms of the Swedish Museum, miniature arrangements — which seemed to contain whole floral universes in arrangements that you could hold in your fingertips — sat ready for their cases.

There were the expected daily casualties. A striking euphorbia plant, whose richly colored leaves had likely been snapped off in the weekend crowds, and a massive container of violet violas that had been bumped onto the pavement.

And dead flowers that did not survive the night.

“Every morning, we’re going around and looking to triage!” shouted Tom Morris, the director of public gardens and landscapes for the 2022 Flower Show, who darted around the FDR Park showgrounds on a golf cart. “There’s no limit to what could happen to your plants. This is the flower show. We have to keep it up and make it look one hundred percent every single day.”

Morning at the Flower Show: those harried and hectic hours when the show’s planners, exhibitors, vendors, and maintenance and landscaping crews rush to ready the gardens and displays for another day of guests, tending to details that arise, even after another year of planning.

» READ MORE: Complete guide to the 2022 PHS Flower Show

“This is the Super Bowl,” said Seth Pearsoll, the show’s design director, who laid out the event’s gardens, from design to installation, including planting every flower of the striking entrance display, which flows in subtle tones of purples and pinks and reds. On this morning, Pearsoll worked in a fenced-off area known as the “Plant Yard” — a backstage, of sorts — readying rows of flowers for their moment in the spotlight. “It’s a culmination.”

But, for the last two years — after the show shifted outside from the Convention Center over COVID19 concerns — these early morning hours are also filled with the logistical challenges of setting up a floral extravaganza on 15 acres of a public park in South Philadelphia.

“We’re almost like a small little city here — and we have to bring all the needs we have,” said Sam Lemheney, chief of shows and events. A city, even one mostly made of flowers, requires restrooms, electricity, and perhaps above all else – given the stars of the show – water. “All of the infrastructure that’s literally built into the Convention Center has to be brought out here — that’s our biggest challenge.”

So, as gardeners changed out flowers and vendors carted ice and food deliveries, grounds crews toted 40 massive, 300-gallon watering tanks – basically a mobile irrigation system – from garden to garden, including a new display added Monday morning at the far edge of the park, near Broad and Pattison.

No garden hose in the world could hope to reach that far, Morris joked.

Lemheney learned flowers in his father’s Newtown Square flower shop — Andy Lemheney is 83 and retired and worked on a hydrangeas display for the show’s entrance archway this year — and honed his craft as a college intern, cutting Mickey Mouse topiaries and Cinderella’s roses at Disney World, before eventually coming to run the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival. This is his 19th Flower Show.

Strolling the show’s promenade, he said the morning’s relative quiet brings him a sense of “joy and pride” — for his team of designers and gardeners and the many volunteers and amateurs who dedicate their time and passion.

“This show is an accomplishment of so many people,” he said. “It’s really about the people that put it on and the creativity that they bring and the passion they provide.”

» READ MORE: Five not-to-miss experiences (and one you can skip) at the 2022 Philadelphia Flower Show

Indeed, as flowers swayed in the early morning breezes coming off the lake and lagoons, exhibitors and gardeners worked alone with their creations.

Bobette Leidner Fisk, of Malvern, replaced the water-soaked flowers in a floral wedding-dress installation she had made with the soft and lacy leaves of baby’s breath, and silver gray foliage of angel’s hair flowers.

“I wanted it to be light and fluffy and ethereal,” she said of the floral gown, which had earned a second-prize ribbon. “Once a year I come out and do something different – something that’s a statement.”

Nearby, Jill Wetzel, who teaches horticulture to high school students at the Monmouth County Career Center, pruned a bountiful floral tablescape she created with her students.

“It’s just so rewarding because every day this project becomes our lesson,” she said with a teacher’s pride

And in the quiet of the museum, Karen MacNeal gently set her miniature arrangement, titled “Tangled” — dried flowers shaped into a bird’s nest tiny enough for a thimble — into a glass showcase. Her mother, Christine, who is in her 90s, brought her to the Flower Show as a little girl, and the miniatures were always their favorite. This was her first time competing.

“I am so excited,” she said. The gates would open soon.