Landscape Architecture and Horticulture students gain ground at the Philadelphia Flower Show

Students and faculty work on Temple University's 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit.

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the Making of Nieuwpolders: Regenerating the Dutch Custom of Land Recovery!

For hundreds of years, the Dutch found innovative ways to harness the land to meet the needs of their people. As seas and rivers threatened to envelope invaluable farmland, they discovered sustainable means to reclaim the land necessary for their communities to succeed and thrive.

At the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show, Temple University Ambler landscape architecture and horticulture students are drawing upon the strength and spirit of Dutch land reclamation for their exhibit “Nieuwpolders: Regenerating the Dutch Custom of Land Recovery.”

While the Flower Show theme this year is Holland, visitors to Temple’s exhibit won’t find a single tulip as their vision takes its influence from Dutch traditions to reconnect with and restore the land.

“We hope to compel visitors to cultivate more natural space in our regional landscapes. As with each of our Flower Show exhibits, we try to approach the theme in a way that would be practical for visitors to replicate at home,” said Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Rob Kuper, who is coordinating Temple’s 2017 Flower Show exhibit with Adjunct Assistant Professor Michael LoFurno and Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Department Business Manager and Greenhouse Supervisor Anne Brennan. “This year that was more of a challenge — our region isn’t specifically facing the same global climate issues as the Netherlands, where their approach to the sea and protecting land from rising sea levels has changed and continues to change over the years.”

Presented by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Flower Show — “Holland: Flowering the World” — will run from Saturday, March 11 through Sunday, March 19 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch streets.

Kuper said Temple’s students and faculty, while keeping the Dutch theme front and center, are approaching the exhibit with a focus on “what land we can reclaim for cultivation in the Philadelphia region.”

According to LoFurno, there is much to take inspiration from in our area as “the Dutch were among the first settlers to the region.”

“Near the mouth of the Schuylkill (Dutch for ‘hidden river’) there are reminders of attempts to reclaim the land from the sea by the Dutch; the first canals are part of that heritage,” he said. “There is an awareness and reinterpretation of that history throughout the design elements of the exhibit. Aspects of the exhibit also recall the Dutch maritime tradition — the sails, the pilings that are reminiscent of wharfs and piers found both here and in Holland.”

Four primary themes comprise the Nieuwpolders 23-foot-by-33-foot exhibit, according to Kuper. Each theme is depicted in an area that reflects a different kind of reclamation: “Regenpolder” (reclaimed rain), “Groenmuurpolder” (reclaimed walls), “Droogpolder” (reclaimed pavement) and “Weidepolder” (reclaimed lawn).

“The first is reclaiming low or wet areas; reclaiming rainwater so that it infiltrates the soil rather than running off,” he said. “We are also exploring the reclamation of walls, an area of particular interest in urban environments. Prior to the availability of the technology to build greenhouses in France, England, the Netherlands, and throughout Europe, farmers would place vegetation and fruit trees against south-facing walls, allowing the plants to receive heat and passive solar radiation and be protected from northern winds.”

The exhibit will also highlight reclaiming pavement, a topic that ties in with the historic Dutch “polders,” long, rectangular strips of farmed land that were typically enclosed by dikes or dams — something the Dutch are more than a little well known for. Amsterdam wasn’t named on a whim.

“We will also focus on reclaiming lawn. We acknowledge that lawn is important but there is just so much of it and so many resources — fertilizers, pesticides, fossil fuels — go into its upkeep,” LoFurno said. “We are presenting visitors with some ideas for reclaiming lawn areas with a diversity of plants.”

Landscape architecture junior Stephanie Narisi said the 2017 exhibit presents the idea of reclamation in a variety of ways, from using building material from previous Temple Flower Show exhibits to recycling crushed concrete and blue glass for the entrance way intermingled with river rocks and shells “to represent water and tidal zone transition.”

“We’re exploring the ecology of the Philadelphia waterways and tidal areas while at the same time evoking the waterways of Holland,” she said. “The exhibit has provided a very real world way to learn about working as a team. We all have our points of view, but we’re all working toward a shared vision.”

Reclaimed rain will also include three water bodies “that change elevation in different ways,” Kuper said.

“There will be dams that hold back the water, allowing some to pass through, while elsewhere none of the water will pass through,” Kuper said. “Reclaimed walls will include columnar trees in addition to a greenhouse — the Dutch are known for the number and size of their greenhouses. Our greenhouse is being built in part from material reclaimed from cold frames that were previously used on campus.”

Keye Faddis, a landscape architecture junior, said the “check dam” that he has been working on in the rain garden “represents how communities in the Netherlands manipulated water to their benefit.”

“I took some of my inspiration from the Lehigh Valley Canal system — canals are a significant part of the history of our region. The idea is to present these concepts in such a way that a homeowner can practice them at home, in this case, into an interesting water feature,” he said. “One of the great things about this project is that you are taking a design and turning into something tangible; you’re involved from start to finish, just like you would be at a design firm. We’re also providing inspiration just like we were inspired by the themes we are presenting.”

Reclaimed pavement, Kuper said, will incorporate crushed and reclaimed concrete while reclaimed lawn will include coir logs and meadow plants in addition to an “Aeolian harp,” made of recycled metal pipe — when the wind blows over the pipes, they “sing.” Weidepolder will also include a “VAWT,” or vertical axis wind turbine, a nod to Holland’s iconic windmills, made from reclaimed copper gutter and bicycle rims — “a DIY way to harness wind energy,” said Kuper.

“Like every year, my hope is that visitors will find something that sparks their imagination. We hope that they will learn about the concepts we are depicting and want to go home and implement them,” he said. “For our students, I think creating the exhibit is a full sensory experience — they get to see something that they’ve only envisioned on paper come to life. Once the project is complete, they are asked to evaluate the end result — what worked, what could have been done better. It is a learning experience from beginning to end and beyond.”

The success of the exhibit is always in the details, said landscape architecture junior, Ronnie Ludwig.

“The design-build aspect of projects like this is such an important part of the coursework — every piece of wood has to be oriented correctly. Everything has to be attached properly and work cohesively,” he said. “Every design can start out great and grand but if you can’t build it practically, it doesn’t mean much. You learn a great deal about problem-solving.” 

The 2017 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 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.

“This year, we have an opportunity to incorporate some of the mature tropical plants we've been growing in our campus greenhouse for years. Our exhibit includes a small greenhouse structure where we will display some of these special plants,” said Brennan. “Of course, we are also forcing hardy trees, shrubs and perennials specifically for the show. Every plant in our exhibit is nurtured here on campus.”

Some new additions this year for the exhibit include “weeping willow trees and fruiting cherries and apricots, “which are looking great so far,” Brennan said.

“All of our usual techniques are in play again at the greenhouse: humidity tents, supplemental lights, and twine ‘trellises’ attached to the greenhouse roof trusses for the vines. We have only two growing environments, so we move plants back and forth to control their growth rate,” she said. As always, recordkeeping is key. Each year we try new plant types and growing techniques, and we learn from the failures as well as the successes.”

For more information about “Nieuwpolders: Regenerating the Dutch Custom of Land Recovery,” contact 267-468-8108 or duffyj@temple.edu.

The Philadelphia Flower Show is the largest indoor event of its kind in North America, welcoming more than 250,000 visitors a year.

Temple University Ambler has a long and illustrious history with the Flower Show, taking home “Best in Show” awards in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012 in addition prestigious honors from the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania in 2004 and 2011, the Horticultural Society in 2006 and the Alfred M. Campbell Memorial Trophy in 2013 and 2015.

In 2014, Temple University Ambler was awarded a Special Achievement Award of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, the Chicago Horticultural Society Flower Show Medal and a PHS Special Achievement Award. In 2015, Temple’s exhibit was awarded a Silver Medal by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; and the American Horticultural Society Environmental Award. The exhibit also received a Special Achievement Award of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania in the “creativity” category and a PHS Special Achievement Award.

In 2016, “After the Blast: Recollecting Roots and Resources at Hopewell Furnace,” was presented with a unique honor, the National Park System Director’s Award, awarded to the exhibit with the best interpretation of a national park in the 2016 Flower Show — only one Director’s Award was given. The exhibit was also awarded a Gold Medal by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, a PHS Gold Medal Plant Award, a Special Achievement Award of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nurseryman’s Association Trophy, the Philadelphia Unit of the Herb Society of America Award and a PHS Sustainability Award.

Building upon a rich history of environmental teaching that dates back more than a century, Temple University Ambler is home to the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. The degree programs are a unique blend of disciplines, providing students with the design and plant background necessary to succeed in any aspect of the Green Industry.

The Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at Temple University Ambler, part of the Division of Architecture and Environmental Design in the Tyler School of Art, is committed to excellence in ecologically based education. The department’s goal is to train leaders in the art and science of horticulture (A.S., B.S., and certificate programs) and landscape architecture (MLArch and B.S. programs). The programs provide students with knowledge and understanding of the environment so that they can improve the quality of our urban, suburban and rural communities.

For more information on the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture programs at Temple University Ambler, visit ambler.temple.edu/la-hort. For more information about the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show, visit theflowershow.com.