Temple Invites Visitors to Reset Your Tack at the Philadelphia Flower Show

students working on the flower show exhibit

Following World War II, the boom time of the 1950s set suburbia awash with acres of developments comprised of cookie-cutter homes and equally uniform lawns. No one could ever accuse these settings of being ecologically diverse.

Fifty years later, as new developments of single-family homes, townhomes and apartments continue to supplant forests, meadows and natural lands, that sea of sameness — well-manicured, chemically controlled lawns and over-managed trees, shrubs and plants — persists.

That needs to change. 

At the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show, Temple University Landscape Architecture and Horticulture students and faculty are inviting visitors to “start the evolution at home and reset your tack,” according to Adjunct Assistant Professor Michael LoFurno, who is coordinating Temple’s 2020 exhibit with Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Rob Kuper and Greenhouse Horticulturist Benjamin Snyder.

“When you take a look at most neighborhoods, they are very manicured. I think with a lot of people the idea of an ‘unkempt’ lawn means they’re not a good citizen or a good neighbor,” LoFurno said. “For many, it’s ‘mow, blow and go’ without consideration for the other creatures we share the planet with. In that type of the environment, how do the earthworms or salamanders get around; how do animals move from place to place or find shelter?”

Temple’s exhibit, “Course of Action: A Radical Tack for Suburban Tracts,” will portray an “ungardened” suburban landscape that attracts wildlife, embraces chance, cultivates resilience through diversity, and appreciates restraint and the viability of repurposed building materials, said Kuper.

“We’ve taken inspiration for the idea of ungardening from the book Noah’s Garden (Restoring the Ecology of our Own Back Yards) by Sara Stein. Ungardening requires deliberate action,” he said. “With this exhibit, we are trying to introduce the ideas of welcoming animals and other organisms; reduce the use of resources, particularly fossil fuels; and enhance diversity and chance. You can have a meadow, you can have a corner woodland.”

If a tree falls that doesn’t create some level of impairment or obstruction on the property, “you can leave it to provide food and shelter for other organisms,” Kuper said.

“We have to think about the bigger picture — what are we doing, why are we doing it and how does it impact the world around us? Much of what has been removed from the landscape has been traditionally relied upon by other plants, animals and organisms,” he said. “Taking a radical tack is about changing direction and orientation, but also about changing particular intent; reorienting and stopping actions that may prove harmful, and replacing them with behaviors that are respectful of other people and organisms, now and in the future.”

As part of the Flower Show’s Gardener’s Hub, all of the educational exhibits have been asked to incorporate examples of “gardening for the greater good,” according to LoFurno.

“Each year, we share concepts that people can take and use in their own home environments; we emphasize practicality. All of the aspects in the exhibit this year could be replicated at home,” he said. “Some of our educational themes include creating hedgerows along property lines rather than fence after fence. A corner of the backyard could be transformed into woodlands with the hedgerows connecting them, providing safe avenues for animals to travel.”

One of the primary water features of Course of Action is a “natural swimming pool.” Rather than chlorine and other chemicals, a natural swimming pool relies on plants to filter and oxygenate the water.

“The natural pool is a European concept that has been around for decades that is slowly catching on here. It’s essentially a pool that is free of chemicals that can be enjoyed by humans as well as other types of species,” said Landscape Architecture Junior Abigail Long, who is part of the team creating the pool. “With our exhibit, I hope people are inspired to reconnect and get behind the ideas we are presenting — supporting nature and natural environments in general. I think there are many people who want to embrace environmentally friendly concepts, who want to help with the climate crisis, but they aren’t sure how to get started. We are presenting concepts designed to be carried over into their own backyards.”

Unlike previous years, all of the educational exhibits at the Flower Show will provide pathways to walk through, rather than around the exhibit, a concept Temple has incorporated in its designs for several years.

“It gives people an opportunity to get up close to the concepts we’re seeking to convey. We want to provide a sensory experience,” LoFurno said. “We want people to look at the plants, smell the flowers, touch the water. We want them to make a connection with the exhibit that might provide them with the impetus to explore further, learn more and apply the ecological practices we’re showcasing.”

According to Kuper, visitors entering Temple’s exhibit will be welcomed by a hedgerow of trees and shrubs. A 10-foot screen incorporating red osier dogwood will give way to a corner woodland, which includes logs that demonstrate home mushroom farming techniques. A woodshed demonstrates a green roof followed by a meadow and the natural swimming pool.

“We want to have visitors leave the Flower Show walkways and become engrossed in another environment — we play with the senses, a sense of closure, a sense of openness. We want people to truly connect with these concepts,” he said. “We want people to realize that in converting some of their home spaces, they are helping other organisms today and future generations tomorrow. In doing so, they can show others that these ideas are both attractive and beneficial.”

Change, Kuper said, doesn’t occur in insolation.

“Change requires conscious intent,” he said. “The acts of an individual can spread among and be adopted by a group of people. This should happen and needs to happen to address the climate crisis.”

This is the third year students and faculty have been able to create their Flower Show exhibit within the large dedicated design-build studio space in Bright Hall at the Temple Ambler campus.

“It makes coordinating the work that needs to go into completing the exhibit much more convenient. In years past, sometimes teams weren’t sure what other teams were working on at any given time,” said Kuper. “Now, for the most part, we’re all together and able to collaborate on all aspects of the exhibit. It improves the teaching experience while also providing the program with greater visibility and a stronger identity and connection with the campus community.”

Landscape Architecture junior Fiona Eickman said the “build” experience within the design-build studio “has been extremely beneficial.”

“It is a tremendous experience to be able to build something with our hands and learn how to use the tools, creating an exhibit that potentially hundreds of thousands of people will walk through. The skills we are using allow us to bring ideas that we designed and make them a reality,” she said. “As a student, it’s one of the most rewarding and validating experiences I can think of. There is a lot of work put into what we are presenting, but we get so much out of it in return.”

The 2020 exhibit continues a long tradition in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture of interdisciplinary and hands-on learning experiences. In the Ambler Campus Greenhouse, horticulture staff and students have been working for months to help select the plant palette for the exhibit and ensure the plants and trees are ready for the big show. Temple University Ambler is one of only a handful of exhibitors that forces its own plants for their exhibits.

“Overall, we are using 77 different species and more than 1,000 individual plants. The four main aspects that go into forcing a plant to bloom out of season are length of cold treatment, heat, light and humidity. We need to trick plants into thinking that winter is over and spring is here,” said Snyder. “Our plant choices this year reflect the idea of ungardening, the transition between an existing, low-value plant ecosystem to one of higher value, mainly through the introduction of native plant species. We will be featuring a few of the common, ubiquitous taxa, such as yews and junipers, alongside attractive native species.”

For more information on the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture programs at Temple University Ambler, visit tyler.temple.edu/programs/landscape-architecture-horticulture. For more information about the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show, visit theflowershow.com.