Debating the best of the best flower shows is an easy discussion. There is so much beauty to be enjoyed, a simple pleasure to stop and take in what nature provides. Flower shows provide an opportunity to witness the beauty and diversity of flowers, showcasing a wide variety of flowering plants, vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and enchanting fragrances. To visit a flower show is to enjoy the finer things in life – and to have fun along the way.
For fans of Bridgerton, Queen Charlotte, or the Gilded Age, this appreciation of beauty comes as no surprise. Flower shows have been popular for centuries, and the concept of organized flower shows as we know them today began to gain popularity in the 19th century. One of the most significant milestones in the history of flower shows was the establishment of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the United Kingdom in 1804. After a smaller show in 1913, the RHS organized its first flower show, known then as the Great Spring Show, in 1920. This event played a crucial role in setting the stage for modern flower shows by showcasing a wide variety of plants and flowers and attracting a large audience.
Throughout the Victorian era, flower shows gained widespread popularity in England and America. The Crystal Palace Show, held in London in 1851, was a particularly influential event. It showcased an enormous range of plants and became a model for subsequent flower shows around the world. The flowers were only one part of the massive showcase, but when the Palace closed, it is estimated that almost 6 million people – about a third of the entire British population at the time – visited the exhibition, including Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens.
Across the pond, we too have a long history. The Philadelphia Flower Show, perhaps still the most preeminent flower event in the United States, is over 190 years old. It is said that when it first debuted in 1829, the show was responsible for introducing Americans to the poinsettia, which has since become a holiday favorite. It is an outstanding showcase as the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural event and features stunning displays by the world’s premier floral and landscape designers.
An iconic way to experience Newport, Rhode Island, a bastion of Gilded Age glory, is during the yearly June flower show as put on by the Newport Historical Society. Gardening enthusiasts will be inspired by the displays on the oceanside terrace of more than 100 horticulture classes, including cut specimens and potted plants. Celebrating flowers is a popular pastime in this seaside spot, with spring bringing Daffodil Days, the massive blooms at the Kinney Azalea Gardens, and more throughout the year.
Earlier in the spring, and a gorgeous display, the Garden Club of Virginia will be celebrating its 90th show in April 2024. For one week, visitors are invited to tour inspired private landscapes, public gardens and historic sites across Virginia, enjoying the beautiful state at the peak of spring. This beloved statewide event gives an inside look to the landscaping beauty from the foothills of the Shenandoah Valley all the way to the beaches of Tidewater.
Another show to mark your calendar for in early spring is the Biltmore Blooms in Asheville, North Carolina. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead laid the groundwork for this beautiful estate with memorable gardens that shine year-round and are always worth a visit, but treat yourself to a stunning 1,000-plus orchid display and rolling blooms of daffodils, azaleas, tulips, rhododendrons, and roses throughout the four weeks of the show.
For fans of nature’s flower shows, California super blooms cannot be beat. A super bloom is when bouts of wildflowers bloom all at once in a particular area. With beauty unfolding from mid-March through July, there are many ways to enjoy the beauty, especially this year after a historic winter rainfall following years of drought, which created the perfect conditions for a memorable bloom.
Another unique enjoyment of flowers happens at the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival each year in June. While not in a traditional flower show venue, the entire island itself becomes the venue as this year marks the 75th annual festival, featuring 10 days celebrating the lilacs and their uniqueness and history to Mackinac Island.
The popularity of flower shows have continued to grow, and local, regional, and national flower shows continue to thrive, allowing gardeners and horticulturalists to display their prized plants, compete for awards, and share knowledge and techniques.
And stop and smell the flowers.