At the Philadelphia International Flower Show, what goes up must come down.

And in a hurry.

At 6 sharp Sunday evening, an announcement came over the loudspeaker at the Convention Center, marking the end of another Flower Show.

But for exhibitors, the last lap was just beginning.

Cars, vans, and trucks were lined up on Race Street, waiting until 6:30 p.m., when the mad dash to take down exhibits and retrieve plants began.

What took eight days to set up has to be gone by 8 a.m. Wednesday without so much as a shred of mulch left behind.

"We have another show right on our heels," said Barrett Robinson, senior vice president of operations for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the show's sponsor.

And if everything goes as planned, the Public Library Association, which has its annual meeting Wednesday, will never know that the Convention Center for the last week looked like Hawaii.

"Teardown is insanity because of the pressure to get out of here," said Thomas Reber, grounds manager at the horticultural society's Meadowbrook Farm in Abington.

Sean Burke of Burke Bros. Landscape Contractors in Wyndmoor had 44 tons of white sand to remove in the next day, plus 20 palms - from 12 to 26 feet tall - and two truckloads of plants. He said it would take a crew of 25 all day Monday to move the plants back to the company's greenhouse.

There, another crew will decide what stays and what is "recycled into mulch," Burke said. "That's a kind way of saying what's going to the chipper."

Rob Novelli of Pottstown, who entered individual plants in the competitive horticulture section of the show, had only 12 cacti and succulents to retrieve. Given the crush of exhibitors all trying to get in and out at the same time, he brought a friend to help.

"We have it down to a system," Novelli said. "We once did it in four minutes."

Through Saturday, more than 240,000 people visited the Flower Show, putting it on target to match or surpass last year's attendance of 265,000 visitors, said Drew Becher, president of the horticultural society.

He said that starting last year, the society had made a concerted effort to recycle and reuse as much of the plant materials in the show as possible.

Plants the society used for its own displays will be sold Saturday at a members-only plant sale at Meadowbrook Farm.

And in a program called Flower Show 365, the society will try to use show plants in seasonal displays scattered across the city.

Some of the tropical plants will show up in containers the society maintains on South Broad Street.

Some will end up in office atriums, shopping areas, even SEPTA stations.

"We want to bring the show out to people all year round," Robinson said.

Last year, the society took most of Temple University's exhibit and created a "pop-up" garden in a vacant lot at 20th and Market Streets.

This year, the Philadelphia Water Department's display, including miniature replicas of the Center City skyline and other famous buildings - the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Independence Hall, and City Hall - will be taken apart and reassembled somewhere else in the city.

"I have to pack it up tomorrow for them," said Joseph Vetrone, the exhibit's designer.

Becher said about 70 percent of everything you see at the Flower Show would be reused or put to good use. Dead flowers end up in a compost heap; sawdust for the foundation of exhibits returns to the sawmill.

The goal in the future, Becher said, is to increase that number even more.

At the horticultural society's "City Harvest" display, Reber of Meadowbrook Farm had to decide what was to be sold at Saturday's plant sale - and what would end up on the compost heap.

The display's wall of lettuce will return to the greenhouse and be cut back to allow for new growth. But the pink cleome and tall zinnia are at the end of the line.

And of the hanging cherry tomatoes on a suspended trellis, Reber said: "We may snack on them."

Contact Jennifer Lin

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