With daily high temperatures averaging 55 degrees in February, Sarah Sterling, Shipley’s Coordinator of Educational Horticulture, was a little nervous about her students’ flower bulbs blooming as planned—in perfect time to compete at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Using techniques perfected by Leila Peck, the late Shipley Sprouts horticulture club co-founder, Sprouts have been earning blue ribbons and accolades for their forced daffodil, tulip, and hyacinth bulbs for almost 50 years. Ms. Sterling and her students were determined to keep the winning streak going—in spite of Mother Nature’s plans.
Luckily, with expert advice from Susan Potts Bloom ’65 and Art Wolk (who literally wrote the book on forcing bulbs—see page 49 for a reference to Mrs. Peck and Shipley), Shipley’s Sprouts dominated their classes. The group took home numerous awards for their bulbs and other entries, accumulating a total of 519 points this year and a whopping 13 blue ribbons.
In recent years, Ms. Sterling has diversified Shipley’s participation in the Flower Show, entering (and winning) design competitions and forming partnerships with STEAM faculty and students as well. This year, Anne Smith’s Middle School Garden Club joined students in Ms. Sterling’s Horticultural Ecology class, contributing to Shipley’s broad pool of entries, including container gardens filled with succulents, logs brimming with fern varieties, and a miniature landscape designed by 9th grader Melanie Missias-Manning. Sprouts also designed an elaborate doorway titled “Winter in Oaxaca”, that included 16 types of cacti and more than 200 carved radishes.
“Our entry was a celebration of ‘Noche de Rabanos’ (Night of Radishes), a horticultural tradition that happens annually each December in Oaxaca, Mexico,” explains Ms. Sterling. “Since many cultures outside of the US have customs and traditions that involve plants, I’m constantly discovering new ones I’ve never heard of before. Creating horticultural projects for our students where they can experience these traditions, such as carving hundreds of radishes, is a great way to explore the similarities and differences among global cultures and communities.”
Spreading Joy through Flowers
Just down the exhibition hall from the Hamilton Horticourt, where Shipley’s students and faculty were vying for ribbons and awards, Flower Show visitors could find alumna Betsy Hastings Block ’83 spreading joy and flower crowns at the Bloom Bar. Though many may know Betsy as a Leadership Gifts Officer at Shipley, in her spare time she tends to her flower-focused side hustle at Serene & Green, through which Betsy offers flower-arranging workshops, in-home flower parties, and beautified gravesites.
“At the 2022 Show, I led a workshop on Artisan Row, teaching participants how to craft their own flower crown. We learned not everyone wants to take the time to get crafty, so this year, I was invited to run the inaugural Bloom Bar where my team created a wide variety of fresh floral crowns, and guests could simply pick out their favorite and enjoy the show.”
Designing an Electric Experience
As Lead Designer for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), Laura Butera ’08 is responsible for many aspects of the Flower Show experience—including the show’s layout, specialty gardens, curation of designers and florists, and “The Garden Electric” theme art. Laura studied architecture at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and received a Masters in Landscape Architecture/Urban Design from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, but developed her interest in design and horticulture as a Shipley student.
“When I was at Shipley, I was in Sprouts for all four years of Upper School. We would prepare for and compete in the Philadelphia Flower Show every spring. It was exciting to get to be a part of such a big and well-loved Philadelphia event as a high schooler!”
From the Sprouts' forced bulbs to the Middle School Garden Club's succulent container gardens and Betsy Block's flower crowns at the Bloom Bar, Shipley's participation in the 2023 Philadelphia Flower Show exemplifies the power of collaboration and creativity. As Lead Designer of the show and a former Sprouts member, Laura Butera's work is a testament to the lasting impact of programs like the Sprouts, which continue to inspire and cultivate young horticulturalists and plant enthusiasts.