The Gardeners “Storm” the PHS Flower Show with a Win, Win, Win

Entering the PHS Flower Show is a long demading process in so many ways and you really need to kneel before our members who think nothing of going through this process year after year.  If you can make your way through the PHS catalog to decide on the category that you will enter for Horticulture, Flower Arranging or an exhibit, that’s only the beginning of a very structured process.  You have your choice of filling out your online form with the proper information within the proper time or you can use regular mail. You then begin the process of filling out cards with the proper entry number and the proper spelling of your plant material.  If you were brave enough to do an exhibit, at some point in the process you must write your paragraph of intent which will be posted next to your exhibit at the flower show.  You also probably then met with the proper PHS rep  to show a prototype of your exhibit if you have stepped up to that level. Need I go on to convince you how wonderful your Gardener friends are who not only represent themselves, but also our club and this year the storms gave our people even more of a challenge to overcome.  That’s why the PHS Flower Show is the best in the world drawing about 250,000 visitors each year.

I questioned some of our members and several do enter the PHS show year after year so the following are their stories of that process and experience.  Note the mentoring that was involved:


The Gardeners’ Official Entry – Totally Tubular





Liz Mercogliano:  “The Make a Splash team started working on the Container Garden Competitive class last Summer. Bonnie Buchak and Liz Mercogliano attended meetings at PHS to learn the rules and ask questions. The PHS provided guidelines.The critical piece of the project was developing the Titke and intent.  Our artist Eileen Longacre designed the model, colors and the water feature. The team met regulary to discuss ideas and to purchase the plants, rocks, sand and help paint.  On the first day of judging, our Totally Tubular project took First Place!

The following gardeners contributed to our success: Eileen, artistic director; Sidney, Wynn, Liz and Bonnie co-chairs, Barbara G. Our team was thankful to the maintenance team: Holly, Michele, Betsy Crowell, Judi Garst and Pamela.

Snow team: Wyn and Eileen stayed over night to maintain and prepare for the second judging.  It was a steep learning curve mixed with a great deal of excitement and satisfaction!  I am am still amazed at the brilliant “Make A Splash”team who created such a beautiful garden.”

Bonnie Buchak:  “Involved in the activities. Started meeting in September. Totally Tobular. Container garden. Make a Splash. Create design making a splash. Kicked around bunch of ideas. Vertical sculpture with things shooting out of the pipes.

Everyone cooperative and listened to each other as talked over ideas. People had respect for Eileen and her artistic design vision. Focussed in one her idea pretty quickly and liked them. Other team members vocalized support to Bonnie as co-chair. Liz M. cochair. Eileen created structure engineering and attached tubes and support. Group met every few weeks. Eileen wrote up intent and added to it.

Built so tubes would come apart and can be put together at exhibit. Numbered. Car drove down. Had four hours to put together six hours. Friday morning hour and half finishing touches on day of judging.

Pretty smooth. Traded supplies with other exhibitors if needed. Class co-chair had to organize whole interface with club and flower show. Positive approach from PHS.

Exciting and stressful. Best thing getting to know other members of garden club. Second best thing was winning. Eileen did most of work with structure. Others had input on getting plants to nursery buying arranging plants plant part. The color of the tubes electric blue determined the vibrant plant colors for the display.

Eileen artistic director.”


Deb Donaldson–Horticulture

“I don’t have any motivation that is worth writing, just each year to do the best I can. So much you can’t control, best is just plan to do your best. First flower show ever for me was Philadelphia in 2003. This year hands down the most stressful due to the weather.  I thought last year was bad–this impossible.  When you have power out for about 3 days, and more importantly 14 better friends than anyone deserves–blessed to help you, it’s a world of worry with them driving in, especially when you ask to please stay safe at home and part of you knows they will venture out.  Roads at 3:30-4:30 departure are scary! Anyway…
I entered about a hundred less this year. Due to the aforementioned wretched weather and our daughter and grandson Ezra coming for a visit Presidents week,  I was playing hide and seek and when normally I’d be working 16-18 hours each day on the plant stuff.

Numbers for combined 3 judging days was 2936 points–441 entered–352 ribbons–6 rosettes–5 for best cactus or succulent of the day–1 PHS ribbon as best of day for a seriously cool very rare haworthia I’ve been growing for near 6 years. The numbers resulted in the Hamilton Greenhouse Award as runner up in sweepstakes. I was thrilled that our club won the Zanzinger Award.  (Minimum of 3 members in Hort and 3 in Artistic to qualify.) That award is for garden club with the most points in both areas with the minimum of 3 in each area that I mentioned .

The Gardeners were over double the points of runner up Wissahocken!  Also, I was thrilled that my long-time dear friend Leslie Anne Miller won the Copeland Award as winner of the sweepstakes for second year in a row .

I work on the plants every week of the year save the days in California. I start making cuts in early December as to what might go into which class. A bright colored tag is then inserted in its pot so I can give more attention to their particular needs. I have a high-class problem of often having 12 plants that are show quality and I can only enter 3.  After New Years Day, I Pull some tags and will often insert another color tag as I feel that plant may end up in a collection class–2 or 3 pots as one entry, or in a one-judging day only special class like variegated etc. Last week in January more cuts are made.

By the January 31 deadline for the past four years I normally have about 75-100 entered that I end up showing . Even a magician can’t get a darn plant to bloom on a specific date 6 weeks or so ahead with certainty ! Saturday before the show opens I go into the onLINE MY ENTRIES , cutting those I know won’t flower and substitute some of those into non flowering classes.

Seriously? Time for paperwork–at least a 40 hour work week–as I type up the plant name for the vast majority ( my hands are spasms from grooming and even I can’t read my handwriting!). As you well know the opposite side of the entry cards require all your contact information why I takes time to run off over 1000 (All of the ead classes now require 4 cards, plus collections two cards for each plant) . Additionally as I’ve 12-14 helpers each entry day I type up about 7 pages a day of what we have entered. Also put a post it note on the cards at which letter the plant is to be passed. Often put popsicle sticks with name abbreviated in many of the pots so my buddies know which haworthia is which….somehow we keep it all straight. New this year PHS asked me to hand write the plant ID number on the entry cards too which took 3 night in front of the TV–7:30 through the 11 news alone. 81were entered in the EAD system, which meant looking up the ID number for each day.

Concluding, it’s utmost important to stress that while I do it all at home throughout the year, without my buddies the results wouldn’t happen. Thursday March 1, Binney, Lyn, Sarah, and Sandy Nesbitt, and John ( along with Liz Andersen who started the Phoenixville market) loaded up the rental truck and their cars. Cathy Decker had hoped to help, but she broke her wrist sadly.

At the Convention Center we were met by–amongst others–Binney’s son-in-law Matt, and my many decades old friend Ann Calvert, plus 6 groomers and Brandon, who like Matt, moves plants up to the floor all show, help unpack, gets them to the groomers and then to me to sort for passing and helps with passing.  What hands down I’m proudest of is team Donaldson! In total awe!!!! Our efficiency and good humor is second to none. We’ve a well-deserved reputation amongst the chairs in the Hort area for good behavior–as in respectful, cooperative, and follow the rules.  Wouldn’t have it any other way!


Class: Medium Niche. Title Circulate
Sidney Spahr and Wyn Coghlan

“We received confirmation that we were accepted into this class in late October/ early November.

Sidney came up with the proto-type of the designs in early January just before Wyn returned from New Zealand.
Sidney is very experienced in entering designs in the Medium Niche category. She has the essentials!! An exact replica of the niche, complete with bars on top to hang the design and a light bar.

At Pennock’s Sidney found a turquoise wire with silver running around it and it made her think of water. The floral wire does not keep shape for lots of curves, so we made a trip to the Paoli hardware store. to buy some tubing to thread the wire through. First hurdle. It is really hard to thread six feet of wire through plastic tubing! We were in luck; Sidney’s handyman gave her some Goof Off spray and silicone spray. We sprayed the Goof Off all over the wire, wiped it. Then we sprayed the silicone and yes it worked for six feet! It was a two-man job as the last bit was not as easy and it kinks easily!! We each took turns of about 5 minutes a time to push the wire through the plastic tube. Success. We fooled around and came up with the shape.

Calla lilies are a great favorite to use in designs as they bend relatively easily and they can be out of water for a couple of days.

Next came choosing the backdrop and base matt board. We found a great dappled gray matt board, which looked to us like rippling water.

Then back to the lilies. First we tried yellow, their color was much too strong, then Sidney happened across some mango mini Calla lilies. They were perfect and for variety we paired the mango color with raspberry colored lilies.

We hung up the basic wire design, and then played with combinations of color and number of lilies, height and distance from top, sides and base of niche.
We choose a dark raspberry matt board to front the design, which played well with the colors of the lilies. We like the oval effect of the cut matt board as it leads the eye into the design.

Next we play with intensity of the lighting. We also take lots of photos as we go along, which we refer back to and check for details.

The judges are supposed to view the designs from 3 feet away, so we keep viewing the designs from all angles, three feet away, until we feel it is well balanced.

We decided to add the flowers on the floor. Sometimes we can add the flowers the night before but as they were not going to be in water we felt it better to do it at the last minute.

Sidney and Stewart transported the design minus flowers hanging in a bin, so that the next day it could be taken out and hung straight in the niche at show.

Once we arrive on the floor of the flower show we have two hours to complete the design and get it passed.

The time is adequate because we know exactly where each component is to be placed inside the niche, but it does require a lot of concentration. The flowers are small and delicate, they have to be glued into place and their stems sealed so that they hold their water in the stem. Lastly we adjust the lighting again. (Lighting at home is quite different from lighting at the show)

PHS is supportive. Each class has advisors. Leading up to the Flower Show design classes are held in Penllyn. They are very very practical and helpful.”

“For myself entering in the Medium Niche category has given me chance to learn techniques from the master (Sidney!!). I love the airy quality of the suspended designs, and the satisfaction of creating something beautiful. Plus it is a lot of fun working together.”

“I love working with Wyn. Our ideas build on each other. We constantly tweak things. It’s “oh try this” “OK, so then how about adjusting this” I love hanging designs, but each must have three threads, so it does not spin. Thanks to Dora Rogers who came up with a way to make all those threads adjustable, so it is not onerous.

Our advice: Practice, practice, practice and have fun!!”


Liz Mercogliano took second place in Foilage Category.

Cannabis Hookerii Himalayan Cactus.  Liz Mercogliano took second place. 





Binney McCague – Horticulture

“I entered six plants, Deb helped me select some of them. I grow them on my west facing kitchen windowsill and my east facing den windowsill. I groom at my kitchen table. 4 were succulents and I also entered an African violet and a gardenia in a 12” pot. The gardenia is the most difficult to grow, but I love the smell of the flowers. It needs constant watering and spider mites are a persistent problem. I entered it because it was covered in buds only 3 of which bloomed for the show!  I got 2 blues, 2 reds, 3 yellows and 5 honorable mentions for a total of 88 points.
The storm was a huge issue but PHS rules were not.”


Dora Rogers – Jewelry

I asked Dora Rogers several questions that she answers below about her entry into the Jewelry Class.  As many of you already know, Dora is a seasoned exhibitor in the Jewelry Class.

Why did you choose that category?
“I was intrigued by the idea of doing a clutch purse. Figuring that most people would choose to do tropical themed clutches, I wanted to be sure that local streams and streams weren’t overlooked as Wonders of Water. So I chose to do a creek bottom with a wonder that lives there – a turtle! I also wanted it to look like something I would want to carry (think layers of silk) with a dynamite, but subtle clasp.”

Where did you find the material to construct?

“I have found that banana leaves are very adaptable as both background material as well as a feature element. The leaves lent themselves to the illusion of water running along a stream bottom. The other items – cymbidium and banana leaves – are from plants I own. I collect their old, dead leaves and store them. The raffia on the sides of the clutch are a staple in my ‘toolbox’. The mushroom (turtle parts) were found in a florist shop and have proven to be very versatile both in shape and texture.”

What difficulties were there in putting the purse together?

“The banana leaves are fragile so overhandling them once affixed to the clutch was a problem. Also because I wanted the clutch to be as close to the natural colors of the items used, painting caused me to hold my breath a lot! The illusion of water pouring along a stream had me spending lots of time in front of different kinds of paints.”

Did the storm affect you?

“Not really. I started actually working on the entry right after the Christmas decoration came down. Knowing how iffy our winters can be I try to do most of the work by the middle of February. In the last two weeks before the Show I do the final assembly and pray that nothing goes wrong. I do have replacement pieces, but have found that my “original” is almost always my best effort. A copy is always just that, and it’s not as fresh as the original.”

Did you have any problems with the rules?

“No, I didn’t. I’ve been doing this long enough and for other organizations, too, that I have a pretty good understanding of the guidelines.”

What do you do with your entries when the show is over?

“I still have all but one of them. Rob had two of my blues from the Newport Flower Show framed as a gift, and plans to do the same with others that were blues.

The rest I have in boxes with all of the information related to each Show and the entry. Since they are all organic I don’t anticipate that they will hold up well long term, but that is alright. Photos serve as nice reminders in the future.

Rob is so well trained now that when we are out and about or traveling he has started looking for potential dried plant material. I have learned to keep plastic bags and space in my suitcase for the ‘treasurers’ he has collected for me. Oh yes, and cards to write down the name of the ‘treasure’. Nomenclature is sometimes the hardest part of getting an entry ready for a Show. Especially for those shows that want both common and Latin names on the key card!! ‘Roadside weed’ doesn’t cut it.”


Sue Hansen–“Land and Sea”

” I did my artistic design with my daughter Elizabeth Gross and her daughter (my granddaughter ) 10 week old Alida.
Our class was a duo-design called “Land and Sea”. That requires two designs in a single container positioned so that you see only one design while looking from one side and the other design when you view from the opposite side.

We choose a piece of drift wood for our container since that piece started on land and ended in the sea. This made an already difficult project harder. First we had to build a stand to hold the wood in position; then. to arrange the flowers so you wouldn’t see the other side through the washed out holes in the wood.
We chose blues and grays for the sea and green and browns for the land side.

The storm did affect us. The weekend before our arrangements were to go in, there was a Nor’easter . My daughter lives in Annapolis and I live on the Eastern Shore. Due to wind gusts of fifty plus the Bay Bridge was closed until Sunday. The quality of our flowers were affected also.
We only got an honorable mention but we still loved doing it together with Alida. That is something for her baby book !”









Lyn Marinchak – Horticulture

“Here is my entry. 3 seconds. Wow. I’m hooked on entering!
Plant is called Christmas Carol an Aloe, given to me as a gift 3 years ago from Binney McCague as a birthday gift. We’ve watched it grow and finally Deb thought this is the year to try and enter. Sound advice from a pro. So excited with my 24 points.”




Pam Thompson – Horticulture

“I entered the show and one of my entries, the 12 year old Variegated Bougainvillea won second place in the first judging and third in the second! I have a photo to send as it is so pretty with raspberry-ice blossoms all over. I have this gem because a good friend gave it to me last summer when they moved from Keene Valley, New York to an apartment in Princeton. Of course it has been in the green house since fall and has prospered. Deb Donaldson was so helpful with determining the exact kind of Bougainvillea and walking me through the electronic entry process, which now seems like a snap! I am so happy that I could participate along with our talented members.”


Barbara Geltosky – Horticulture

“Of my two thirds, one was a Gerry Barad plant that was in a miscellaneous tray sold by the cactus society after he passed away, and the other was a tiny guy I got at Pete’s on sale and nurtured under lights after i took it out of my container entry in the gardeners fall show. You find treasures in strange places.  I only entered one day because my back is just not in that great condition and once is enough. Little did I know that Jack would subsequently have a bike accident the day before entry day, and instead of scrubbing the whole mission I was able to leave him home with his college friend. (he later was diagnosed with a hip fracture.”



Pat Fernandez – Niche

Pat Fernandez is one of our affiliate members who joined The Gardeners in 2003 and was an active member before moving.  She lives in Minnesota, but summers in Newport.  We are fortunate in that Pat is a top notch designer and donates her points to our club.






  1. Barbara Geltosky  April 11, 2018

    Wonderful blog profiling everyone so we all learn about what goes into entereing!


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