THE GENTLEMEN stationed at the Disney princess tribute at the Philadelphia Flower Show were doing their best to be patient with me.

Not only did I not know the names of any of the flowers ("Is that an orchid?"), I often could not decode the most basic design clues.

To my shame, since I'm the movie critic, and I was dispatched to evaluate the flower show on that basis.

I was stymied, for instance, by the meaning of artfully constructed bunches of red carnations, until State College florist and designer Daniel Vaughn gave me a tactful prompt.

"What's that?" he asked, as if talking to a 5-year-old.

A glass slipper.


Even I could see that the two-story cascade of golden braids wrapped in yellow flowers was a reference to Rapunzel. The petals were real, the strands synthetic.

"It's hard to get someone to donate that much hair," Vaughn said.

Carnations, though, are apparently easier to come by. Vaughn's associate, Deryck de Matas, said that 17,000 of them were deployed to create the homage to a dozen or so Disney princesses.

Carnations and other flowers comprise the rolling magic carpet for Jasmine ("Aladdin") and an archery target for Merida ("Brave"). They provide the color inside suspended glass spheres meant to suggest undersea bubbles, a clever nod to Ariel and "The Little Mermaid."

The flower show this year includes many elaborate references to Disney and Pixar characters. You will, of course, find floral fealty to "Frozen," including one impressively large, white-rose rendering of the staircase leading to Elsa's ice castle.

You can see a large Chinese garden that functions as a tribute to "Mulan" and a doghouse modeled after the floating home in "Up."

But some designers and florists went a bit off the Disney reservation to come up with ideas. A "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" sequence features a nook inspired by "Breakfast at Tiffany's." There are two separate British gardens, one for "The Remains of the Day" and one for "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Perhaps the most inspired is a nod to Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," with flowers and shrubs in the shape of serpents and other beasties from the director's Halloween classic, assembled by Philadelphia's Schaffer Designs.

Burton was a favorite at the show - appropriate, as Edward Scissorhands is the reigning cinematic king of topiary art and landscape design.

The students of Philadelphia's W.B. Saul School of Agricultural Sciences mounted a floral "Time for Tea" tribute to "Alice in Wonderland," subject of several screen adaptations, include the Burton version.

"I love the movie!" said sophomore Mia Milton, one of about 40 students who worked for several months on the project. Fellow sophomore Damitryus Allen said that the students were going for a "creative interpretation" of the classic Lewis Carroll story, giving viewers four separate pathways into the exhibit, each with its own visual personality.

The students were justly proud of their work, and their green thumbs.

"Everything is homegrown in our school," Allen said.

The most mysterious installation at the show? From Australia, it's Jim Fogarty's "guess the movie" exhibit, featuring jungle foliage, a postapocalyptic cantina and some oil drums.

If I couldn't get the gist of a princess exhibit featuring a glass slipper, what hope did I have here?

Luckily, I spotted KYW movie critic Bill Wine strolling by.

"It's 'Mad Max,' " he said. "You can quote me."

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