Showing their Roots

Several locals, including a woman who won a first-place honor, have entries in the competitive classes division of the Philadelphia Flower Show.

By Lorraine Gennaro
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 6, 2008

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Early last Friday, Stephen Maciejewski scrambled to collect 50-plus plants among the hundreds he grows inside and outside his rowhome at 20th and Fitzwater streets.

Tuesday morning he ran through the same drill, gathering up about 75 more, and tomorrow morning he'll do it again with another 100.

By the time the 2008 Philadelphia Flower Show draws to a close Sunday, Maciejewski will have entered more than 200 plants, taking home several highly coveted (and big honor) Rosettes and dozens of first place through honorable-mention ribbons.

"So it's a lot of plants to get together -- the logistics of grooming them, packaging them, having a heated vehicle, then lugging them over there and getting them into the main floor of the Convention Center. Plants are fragile, so once inside you have to groom them again, tag them and get them ready for judging. I have people helping me. It's a lot of work," Maciejewski said.

A city social worker and avid gardener who is competing in his 12th Flower Show, Maciejewski is one of three residents who entered the competitive divisions -- artistic and horticulture -- of the annual event.

"Every year you want to enter more and more," Maciejewski said of why he returns.

Maciejewski's neighbor, Michael LoFurno also is a regular entrant for the past eight years, this year entering about 30 plants that garnered eight ribbons of different places. LoFurno's biggest honor so far is the blue ribbon in the Challenge Class. Each year the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, who puts on the Flower Show, challenges interested participants to grow a green-and-yellow-leaved hosta. In September, gardeners purchase the plant from the society and grow it until judging. "Everyone has to buy the same plant from PHS and grow it. It's very democratic," LoFurno said, adding he was thrilled to beat about 30 other contestants for first prize.

Both men are longtime participants at the award-winning community garden on the 2000 block of Fitzwater.

First-time entrant Helen Arabskyj, from the 1600 block of South 11th Street, walked away with first place in the Balconies Division for her "Paradise Lost, Paradise Revived," which keeps with the show's New Orleans theme of "Jazz It Up!"

"I was inspired by the Katrina hurricane and the devastation of what it did to gardens and that area," she said.

Last Friday, Arabskyj set up her four-by-one-and-a-half-foot balcony box that is similar to a flower box but larger, which was judged Saturday. Inside were tropical plants: red, yellow and orange Bromaliads, ferns and several Birds of Paradise. "My first time, my first entry, my first prize! It's very exciting to be a first-time competitor and get the first prize," she said.

A native of Buenos Aires, Arabskyj studied agriculture at the University of Buenos Aires before coming to Philadelphia in 1999, where she married and had four children. Continuing her education, Arabskyj is studying horticulture at Temple University and, in May, opened the interior-scaping company Green Studio, which uses plants, flowers and other natural elements (wood, branches, etc.) in the interior design of offices and homes, recently doing work on CBS3's new studios on Spring Garden Street. Plans are in the works to set up shop on Passyunk Avenue.

The competition gives novice and experienced gardeners a chance to showcase the fruits of their labor in the annual March showcase.

The Artistic Division allows exhibitors to use fresh or dried plant material (no artificials are permitted) with an emphasis on color. Classes vary and include table design, dried plant, room design and pressed plants. The Horticulture Division has hundreds of classes, allowing for thousands of individual potted plant entries each year. Requirements for each class are specific and include size, health and appearance. Entrants are permitted up to three in each category and one species or type in each class.

Gesneriads, succulents, tropicals and cacti are some of the plants Maciejewski entered in his first winning batch last Friday, which landed him 27 ribbons. His two Rosette winners were Hoya obobata (species), a large vining plant "with big, fat, leathery leaves" grown on a 14-inch hoop, he said, and Primula 'Lillian Harvey' (hybrid plant), a small green plant "with bright pinkish/red flowers."

"That's the hardest thing to get," Maciejewski said of the Rosette. "There aren't as many. They give it to the best plant that is unique in a category."

In addition to his 30 plants, LoFurno has a miniature landscape and a miniature rock garden exhibit. Both are 24-by-18-foot. His landscape features a Japanese garden with a variety of succulents. "They are very small, delicate leaves. One looks like a palm tree but it's only three inches tall," he said. Because succulents don't require a lot of water, they are ideal for rock gardens so the same plants are featured in his rock garden.

One of Maciejewski's favorite plants, Sinningia Leucotricha, more commonly known as Brazilian Edelweiss, he entered four of and each won ribbons, including first place. The plant looks like a potato with beautiful soft leaves and orange flowers, he said. "The leaves look like creamy mint velour -- beautiful color. Everyone loves that plant. It's a knockout."

Another one of Maciejewski's favorites and winning entries is Bowiea Volubilis, commonly called Climbing Onion.

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