Enter the Philadelphia Flower Show, and you're hit with the stunning realization that they've brought in full scale landscapes with patio areas, stone stairways, bridges, entire cottages, and mature trees. At first, you may be content to wander between exhibits, too overwhelmed to imagine anything here could be relevant to your own landscaping and gardening projects. Then, you begin to realize the abundance of ideas that could readily apply to your yard, if you focus on individual aspects of an exhibit or adjust the scale down a little (or a lot).

Garden Design: Architecture and Decor

Look twice at the hardscaping and architectural features of show exhibits. When you see a gardenscape you like at a show, look more closely to see if there are any individual features you can adapt to fill a need in your garden. patio of al fresco kitchen with stone benches, planters, stairs, and fountain features

While this al fresco kitchen is surely beyond my means, I can never have enough comfortable seating, or enough planting space. high budget patio kitchen dominated by stunning adobe fireplace chimney I really loved the stone benches backed by planter boxes, although creating one from stacked stones seems overly ambitious. However, I also liked the look of the stucco used on the other side of the exhibit. Putting those ideas together, I'm thinking that I could build a bench-planter from cinder blocks and then stucco its surfaces. If you've already got a bench you love, this exhibit might inspire you to finish it off with a cushion and pillows for a more elegant look.

white pergola comes to an acutely angled point to fit odd spaceThis pergola design caught our eye because of its irregular shape. It wouldn't have occurred to me to build one that didn't have a rectangular footprint, but this would work brilliantly in a small, oddly shaped nook. Another demonstration garden used pavers to create a small, perfectly circular pathway, weathered metal astrolabe on white pedastal amid purple tulips set off by circular pathway in cottage garden settingsetting off an accent piece. A small card on the pathway told us this feature would be easy to recreate, as the pavers were available as a kit.

Look at the layout of pathways and patios in exhibits you find inviting. I'm drawn to informal exhibits with winding pathways with unknowns around every corner. Exhibits like that cram a lot of garden interest into relatively small spaces by avoiding straight pathways and direct sight lines. That's an idea you can take home to make the most of whatever garden space you have.

Garden Décor: Color Combinations and Decorating Schemes

urn with large arrangement of pink and cream roses set off by yellow flower spikes
copper-red roses with peach blooms and spiky chartreuse and gold accentslarge planter with spiky bronze foliage and coordinating coleus plus pink petunias

Flower shows are great for getting ideas about colors and textures that work well together. The container plantings at the show were spectacular and often enormous, but in many cases you could imagine downscaled versions looking wonderful on your own patio. Just remember that you may have to do some substitution to get a similar effect. Specific plant combinations from the show are often not possible in an actual garden setting.

Other designs may not be really practical in a home version. copper wall of water studded with single pale cream and gold orchid blooms in tiny vasesHowever, when you see an idea you love, make a note of it. You may find a way to adapt some aspect of it to your home or garden. We admired a modern wall of flowing water studded with orchid blooms. white walls lined with sunflower blooms and yellow forsythia with central feature of cherry blossoms turned to gold by yellow uplightsI'm not sure how to achieve this formal design in a smaller, more maintainable way. But now I'm looking twice at vertical tabletop fountains.

A glowing golden room studded with sunflowers drew the interest of many flower show attendees. Vases of upright forsythia branches lined the walls to set the stage for a spectacular central arrangement of cherry blossoms illuminated by gold uplights. It wasn't a room I would want in my home, but I could imagine creating a similar effect for a reading corner, with sunflower-stenciled walls, a gold-shaded lamp over a simple upholstered chair, and a tall vase of ever-lasting pussy willow stems.

Garden Accents: Statues and Fountains

marble fish-creature spitter on statue in blue basin surrounded by rosesIt's almost impossible to visit a garden show without deciding you must find a way to work more accents and decorative features into your own garden design. The Italian theme of the 2009 show translated to statues and fountains galore.

vertical spouts of water in a rectantular stone & concrete basin accented by blue and white delphiniumsMany of the water features at the show were very simple, despite their enormous size. Even if you don't have room for a fountain the size of an Olympic lap pool, a simple rectangular trough with a trio of water spouts would be a great garden addition. On a smaller scale, salvias or liatris could be substituted for these big spikes of delphiniums, echoing the vertical fountains.

Successfully incorporating such a feature into a gardenscape involves more than simply finding a stable place to plop it down.bonze statue seated on end end of stone rimmed pond surrounded by bright spring blooms Focal point pieces can seem like an afterthought unless they're integrated into your garden theme. A statue of St. Francis feeding the birds suits an informal, woodland setting, while a classical Greek bust would be more at home among formal trimmed hedges. Formal urn planted with upright bronze foliage and trailing white flowers and placed on wall under marble arch Additional architecture such as a wall or an arch can work to elevate and frame a special piece.

Urns and planters provide wonderful accents to draw your eye. Not only do they set off the plants they contain, they also bring attention to the surrounding plantings. Notice how containers are placed in show exhibits. Large urns and taller planters work well to accent corners or define the curve of a garden path. Detailed, formal urns are most effective by themselves or placed in pairs to flank a pathway or other feature. Simpler containers can be grouped together, preferably in odd numbers.

A huge event like the Philadelphia Flower Show provides endless inspiration for garden design, garden décor, and garden accents. Find an exhibit you love, and focus on a feature that makes it work. Then downsize that idea, and bring it home!

If you go

tattoo'd arm of cook placing sub rolls over piles of cheesesteak on the griddleThe 2010 Philadelphia International Flower Show will run from February 28 through March 7 (Sunday to Sunday), with a "Passport to the World" theme. There's plenty of parking around the convention center, or you can take a bus there (look for special promotional tours). Weekdays are less crowded, of course, but the crowds do thin out after 3 or 4 in the afternoon even on weekends.

Don't miss the great food court area across the street! If you've never had a genuine Philly cheesesteak, it's a must.

Photos by Jill M Nicolaus. Move your mouse over images and links in the article for additional information.