See, Sip & Taste at the Beautiful Philadelphia Flower Show

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Flower Hummingbird
A floral display of a hummingbird and flowers at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Tab Hauser photos.

Flowers, History, Booze, and Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia

By Tab Hauser
Senior Writer

When you think of Philadelphia, most first thoughts are of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, or perhaps the “Rocky” steps at the Museum of Art. Philadelphia is also the home of America’s oldest flower show. In this story, we focus on the flower show along with a few other Philly attractions that you can see, sip, or taste.

Trash and flowers at Philadelphia Flower Show
Landscaped theme of flowers and trash and how people should get involved in both

The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show was first held in 1829 to showcase local and exotic plants and flowers.

Its annual draw of 250,000 people over nine days brings in both serious and casual horticultural fans. In 2021 the event was held outside for the first time due to the pandemic.

 Different Outdoor Areas

Of the main attractions of the show are there were 34 major exhibitors, whose displays average approximately 1000 square feet. Almost half of these consisted of the large-scale, ornate displays that the Flower Show is famed for. There were also individual and club-level landscaped areas. Each with a different theme and competing for a best in the show award.

These gardens are a labor of love and sweat for the regional landscape companies and a good way to promote themselves.

Ladies at Philadelphia Flower Show
Friends enjoying the Philadelphia Flower Show

One landscape manager told me it took a dozen people with large machines five days to produce the perfect backyard garden. This was complete with shrubs, fire pit, decorative boulders, and flowering plants all to be removed after the show.

Mixed in with the landscaping were over 100 garden-related vendors, a beer garden, a restaurant, and a food court. Visitors can take part in various gardening workshops.

People can also enter contests that include the use of pruning shears. There is even an “ask an expert” desk to help with a gardening question.

Early Admission for a Fee

To get to know the flower show better we paid an extra fee for early admission that included a tour of the event. Our guide explained the landscaping techniques of several displays as well as introduced us to some of the gardeners who were putting on their final morning touches.  website

American Revolution History in Philly

The Museum of the American Revolution opened in 2017 on the 242nd anniversary of the battles at Lexington and Concord. The exhibit shows and explains the history of one of the world’s most significant wars through documents, art, rare books, artifacts, weapons, and more. The total collection has several thousand items. Consider taking the audio tour but bring your own earbuds.    www.amrevmuseum.org

Meeting Betsy Ross

Mrs Betsy Ross in Philadelphia
Betsy Ross proudly shows the colors

The 250-year-old house at 239 Arch Street is known as Betsy Ross House. The building gives you a peek at what it was like to live in Philadelphia back then.

Visitors climb narrow steps past the bedrooms and to the front first-floor room used as a workshop and showroom. The house is filled with period furniture.

In one of the rooms there the perfect Betsy Ross re-enactor who never left character. Here, visitors ask questions while she sews away.

Mrs. Ross gave a demonstration of folding a piece of paper as to why she pushed for a five-pointed star instead of six points. (Five points uses less material and is faster to sew) website

Philadelphia’s Oldest Street

Elfreth’s Alley, one of America’s oldest streetsAround the corner from the Betsy Ross house is Elfreth’s Alley.  Elfreth’s Alley is a very narrow cobblestone street dating back to 1703.

It has 32 attached brick homes built in the Georgian or Federal style. For three centuries Philadelphia’s trades’ people have lived on this street.

The Elfreth’s Alley Museum (house 124 and 126), is an exhibit on the working class of America. When walking through this historic street be mindful of the people living here.   www.elfrethsalley.org/

Philadelphia’s Waterfront History

The Independence Seaport Museum is located at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River.  Its exhibits include Patriots and Pirates, African Presence on the River, the China Trade, nautical artifacts, paintings and small boats.

USS Olympia docked in Philadelphia's Penn's Landing
USS Olympia, the oldest floating steel ship

A highlight here is their two historical ships you can board. The cruiser USS Olympia was built in 1892 and is the oldest floating steel warship in the world. It is a veteran of the Spanish-American war and one of two surviving WW I ships.

Her last mission in 1921 was to bring back the body of the Unknown Soldier who died in WW I. An exhibit aboard details the care taken for such a solemn task.

This included lashing the coffin and a marine honor guard to the bow so they would not be washed overboard during a return hurricane.

Adjacent is a WWII-era submarine Becuna you can board. The ships are not handicapped accessible. https://www.phillyseaport.org/

Reading Terminal Market Place

Reading Terminal Market Philadelphia
Amish butcher counter at Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market is a place I never miss when in Philadelphia. It was opened in 1893 below the sounds of rumbling trains overhead. Inside are 80 merchants.

While there are stalls that sell meat, eggs, seafood, and vegetables to the neighborhood people. Tourists should come here to munch on the market’s prepared items.

Here you can buy fresh baked Amish bread and pretzels, purchase loose teas and gourmet coffees and pick from a selection of dozens of sliced meats and cheeses for a picnic.

Consider lunching here on either local or ethnic foods that offer counter service or take away. There are also several stalls with tempting desserts. It is a place where no one will leave hungry. website

Simeone Foundation racing Corvette
A rare racing Corvette with a life-like backdrop of the race it was in.

Top Car Museum

The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in South Philadelphia has been rated one of America’s best car museums. This is a place for any car or racing enthusiast.

The museum has over 75 meticulously restored and historically important race cars dating from 1907 to 1970. The world’s best manufacturers from the past and present are represented here.

A gallery of life-like paintings of races from around the world is displayed in a room on the second floor. A fun thing for children is being able to follow their parents around in their own Little Tykes car.        https://simeonemuseum.org/

Philadelphia Cheesesteak Taste Test

Asking a Philadelphian who has the best cheesesteak (sandwich) is like asking a New Yorker where the best pizza is. For the purpose of keeping Gonomad readers informed, we sampled three.

Philadelphia Cheesesteak Taste
Philadelphia Cheesesteak Taste Test over two days to choose our favorite.

To keep the tastings fair we ordered identical traditional cheesesteaks. That was “wit wiz” as the locals order it.

This meant steak, sautéed onions and cheese wiz. (Something I normally avoid)

Pat’s and Gino’s are two of the most famous places in Philadelphia. They are located on opposite corners so we ordered from each place and then did a side-by-side comparison.

The next day tried Tony Luke’s. While I prefer his version with provolone and broccoli rabe version, we stayed with the traditional “wit wiz” cheesesteak.

The combined flavors of meat, cheese, onions and hoagie bread truly make any of the three sampled a calorie worthy meal. While all had a good hearty meat flavor, our winner was Pat’s.

This was because they chop up the steak allowing for the cheese and onions to mix better with the meat. We liked this texture and taste better.

 Philadelphia Distillery
Whisky ages in barrels in a restored stable building

Local Spirits

The New Liberty Distillery is located in North Philadelphia. The building is an old preserved stable giving the place a rustic feel. Their tasting area has a nice bar and a fun vibe. This distillery focuses on whiskies with a little extra emphasis on those that are rye-based producing over 13,000 cases of mixed spirits annually.

To keep the flavors and styles of Pennsylvania, New Liberty Distillery sources much of its grain regionally.

Whiskies are aged in American oak and sometimes finished off in barrels that had aged Spanish Sherry, wine, or Vermouth.

Besides being impressed with the various whiskies, we enjoyed their natural fruit, nut, and coffee-flavored cordials. A new product worth tucking into your picnic cooler is their canned mixed drinks made much the way you would do at home.  website

Unique Museums in Doylestown

 Mercer museum
Pre-industrial revolution everyday work items hung inside the atrium

Two very unique places to visit less than an hour’s drive from Philadelphia are the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle in Doylestown.

The Mercer Museum is a one-of-a-kind six-storied concrete castle completed by Henry Mercer in 1916. This museum takes a detailed look at the pre-industrial revolution crafts and trades. It does so with 55 small exhibit rooms that circle a five-story atrium. On display in each of the rooms are the tools used from dozens of trades that made America run. This included specific tools for industries like clock and candle making to producing wagon wheels (wheel writing as it was called) and shoes.

The huge center atrium is unusual because of the many large artifacts just hung up. Some examples include a fire carriage, whaling boat, horse-drawn carriages, large sleigh, sawmill, and farm equipment. This is one of the more unique museum displays I have ever seen. This Mercer Museum is a Smithsonian affiliate.

 fonthill Castle mercer
Henry Mercer’s Fonthill Castle

Mercer’s Castle

Just a few minutes’ drive from the Mercer Museum is the Fonthill Castle that Henry Mercer completed in 1912.

It an early example of a poured concrete structure containing 44 rooms, 200 windows and 18 fireplaces.

The castle does not give you an initial warm feeling because of the commercial-looking concrete color. It does warm up as you walk around and see it decorated with prints and hand-crafted tiles from all over the world.

The tiles are embedded on the walls, ceilings, pillars, and above the fireplaces. His great room is an impressive two floors with cathedral arched ceilings, bookshelves, and a large fireplace.

Visiting can only be done through reserved one-hour tours. This place is not handicapped accessible. Information for the museum and castle can be found at www.mercermuseum.org/

Ceramic Working Museum

Just down the road from Fonthill Castle is Mr. Mercer’s Morovian Potter and Tile Works factory built in 1898. He was considered one of America’s premier tile produces and won a grand prize for his work at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. It is now a working history museum.

Morovian Potter and Tile Works
Craftsman working on tiles at Moravian Pottery and Tile Works

This landmarked building is poured concrete like Mr. Mercer’s other major structures. It is in a “U” shape structure with an open courtyard approximately 120 feet by 100 feet resembling a medieval cloister with a gabled roof. Visitors watch a short historical video before taking a self-guided tour.

Here you may see a craftsman in one of the stages of production. Afterward, you can view their extensive collection of tiles for purchase.   www.thetileworks.org/

Lodging in Philly

The Westin Philadelphia offers all the amenities of a top city hotel. We were able to walk to many of the city attractions and found it convenient to be connected to a small city shopping mall. While the Westin has valet parking, it also has a self-parking lot next door that saved us $25 per day. Their top floors are splurge-worthy if you need the extra room or have a family.  website