Highlighting Early Horticulture at the Philly Flower Show

There are many noteworthy exhibits at this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show but none are more engaging or interesting than “Horticulture in 18th Century America,” an extensive display created by the students of Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades.

To honor the show theme, Brilliant!, the display is centered around the transatlantic exchange of plants from American botanists such as John Bartram to their counterparts in England. Features of the exhibit include an 18th century nursery and botanic garden with northeastern native plants and an adjacent packing shed where wooden boxes are filled with roots, plants, and seeds.

Kirk and Sara Brown as John and Ann Bartram

Kirk and Sara Brown as John and Ann Bartram



One of the first things to catch my eye, however, was the group of students on hand to interpret the exhibit. As a mom and former substitute teacher, I was excited to witness the enthusiasm these students showed for their field of study, as well as their display. Best of all, each senior told me he already has a landscape or horticulture job ready and waiting.

Senior Students at Williamson

Senior Students at Williamson

I particularly admired the work put into the accurate depiction of small-size boxes which, if the American botanist was lucky, would be stored under the captain’s bed. There, the plants would be sheltered from weather and salt water, benefit from the warmth of the cabin, and be protected from rats by the captain’s cat.

Boxes were sized to fit under the captain's bed.

Boxes were sized to fit under the captain’s bed.



I wasn’t alone in my admiration of the exhibit. It garnered four prestigious awards: The Bulkley Medal of the Garden Club of America—for an exhibit of horticulture, botany, or conservation with exceptional educational merit; a Special Achievement Award—for a unique feature or design element; the Special Achievement Award of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania—for unusual excellence in the category of Horticulture; and the Chicago Horticultural Society Flower Show Medal—for an educational exhibit showing outstanding horticultural skill and knowledge.

11 thoughts on “Highlighting Early Horticulture at the Philly Flower Show

  1. Will

    Bravo! to the Philadelphia Flower Show, to Marian, and to The Williamson Free School. An awesome and inspiring story.

  2. Janet, The Queen of Seaford

    Good for these kids! I love their research and portrayal of how these early botanists brought back samples and seeds. I didn’t know about the boxes that were kept under the Captain’s bed. How clever of a display.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Janet–You’re right, it was very clever. The display really captured my imagination. Even after reading The Brother Gardeners I had no concept, really, of the logistics of shipping plants in that time period.

  3. Laurrie

    This exhibit was the best one at the whole show. I had just read the book Brother Gardeners about the seed trade between Bartram in the American colonies and Collinson in England, so the history was fresh in my mind when I visited the flower show earlier this week. This display did that history justice, with accurately packaged plants and seeds just as they would have been sent across the Atlantic at that time, and a wonderful imitation of a planted seedling nursery showing how the little trees and shrubs were grown.

    How great that there are students out there with this kind of horticulture knowledge and enthusiasm. They get my personal first prize!

  4. Patty

    What a great idea for an exhibit. Flower shows world wide would do themselves a service to explore their country’s horticultural history.

  5. Pingback: Philadelphia - Home Keeping Basics

  6. Trini

    I like that everything worked together well in this one—even the posters were not too modern and echoed the theme well


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