Last year’s Philadelphia Flower Show narrowly made it under the COVID-19 lockdown wire, wrapping up on March 6. Now Philadelphia is gearing up to launch the 2021 Flower Show. But what will it look like in this strange, new post-COVID world?

For the first time in the event’s 193-year history, the Philadelphia Flower Show will be held outside at FDR Park. Sam Lemheney, Chief of Shows and Events for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), sat down with Delaware Valley Journal to discuss the show and some of the changes this year.

The theme for the 2021 Flower Show is Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece. PHS, which runs the event every year, comes up with the themes for the Flower Show two to three years ahead of time, according to Lemheney. When COVID hit, PHS had to change the 2021 show’s design, which involved finding a larger location outside.

“When we decided to move it outside, we sort of said let’s take a look at the theme,” Lemheney said. “Do we need to change it? Does it need to adjust? Obviously, when we’re outside in nature and nature’s masterpiece, this is obvious. It took us five minutes to decide that we’re keeping the theme. It’s actually going to be better outside than it would’ve been inside.”

With the state’s restrictions lifted, the PHS is working hard to make sure the Philadelphia Flower Show is the best experience it can be. The designers involved in the show are showcasing all of the aspects of nature that go into our habitats.

“Really, it’s a bigger communication of how plants have an impact on your community, and that’s what PHS is known for. For many, many years now, to all the programs that we do outside the Flower Show is that plants can really impact your habitat as well as your health and wellbeing within that habitat.”

The PHS chose the new location for the show because of the 45 percent increase in space compared to the Philadelphia Convention Center, which housed the show in previous years. FDR Park allows visitors to comply with any social distancing regulations across the 450,000 square feet of open space, exhibits, and activities. The entire show is designed around three districts: the Plant District, the Garden District, and the Design District.

“Each district will have a shopping experience, a food and beverage experience, and has the educational experience as well as the wow and designing factor,” he said.

The other major difference between this year’s show and past shows is the time of year. In years prior, the Philly Flower Show was a way to open the spring season. However, with the nature of the COVID-19 virus and the restrictions of the pandemic, it only made sense to move it to warmer weather.

“The benefits are that you’re in the heart of the gardening season, “Lemheney stated. “We have a great marketplace for shopping to get a lot of great gardening materials, and you can learn from experts. You get to go home right away and put it right to use. So the timing of the year was obviously COVID, but the benefits are great from a flower standpoint.”

So, what COVID restrictions will be enforced at the Philly Flower Show for 2021?

“If you’re vaccinated, you pretty much can be there without a mask,” Lemheney stated. “There are no restrictions on the visitors whatsoever. As for staff, frontline workers, volunteers, folks that are working here will have to wear a mask to protect themselves. You know, they’re going to be around 20-some thousand people a day. We want to make sure everyone is safe. Other than that, all food restrictions have been lifted. You don’t have to ‘seat to eat.’ You don’t have to buy food with alcohol. For the visitor, it’s going to be like a normal flower show.”

There will be signs encouraging social distancing in all of the enclosed areas. There will be several tents throughout the show for various activities and shopping, including the large one for the flowers and plants that can’t be outside. Visitors will need to wear a mask for these areas regardless whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.

“Now that some of the [COVID] restrictions are being lifted, some of the things we’re able to do more of, more people are able to attend now. In some cases, we had to make decisions on restrooms and layouts and things like that months in advance, and restrictions were still there. With this being so close to the show, the good thing is [vaccinated visitors] don’t have to wear a mask, which is great.”

The PHS typically works with many national and international designers for the annual flower show, but the pandemic restrictions on travel made that impossible this year. Instead, Lemheney said, “our design team has done a great job of recruiting and curating a lot of great designers here.” When asked, Lemheney didn’t hesitate to mention two areas in particular that visitors must check out: Iftikhar Ahmed and Nomad both have gorgeous forests set up for the show.

Ahmed has designed show gardens worldwide and has designed a bamboo forest for this year’s Philly Flower Show. Nomad is a husband and wife duo that have headquarters in both New York and Paris. They have designed a beautiful Japanese-inspired forest for the Flower Show.

There are plenty of activities and experiences for families with children to keep them as entertained as the adults. June 12 is the show’s “Family Frolic” day, where there will be art projects and planting projects available to try out. Also, during the run of the show, there will be a live butterfly experience where visitors can feed butterflies and interact with them. There’s also an enchanted forest and potting parties for all ages to learn how to pot plants from leading experts. For a fee, you get to gain new experiences and keep the plant you pot.

As COVID restrictions around the world lift, the Philadelphia Flower Show isn’t just opening the gardening season for 2021. It’s bringing us all a little closer to normal again.