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News 'Holland Blooms'

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Theatre Department assists students creating Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit

​An artist's rendering shows the design of UD's "Urban Amsterdam" exhibit for the Philadelphia Flower Show.

Before the University of Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players wrapped their God of Carnage and Waiting for Godot shows in fall 2016, Stefanie Hansen, associate professor in the theatre department, provided students involved with the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show design project an opportunity to tour the sets and see what could be re-purposed.

Aspects of those sets have now been transformed into an urban Amsterdam exhibit — the overall theme of this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show is “Holland Blooms” — that focuses on green infrastructure and storm water management and is outfitted with a green roof, a sidewalk rain garden, a green wall full of plants and permeable paving which helps cities cut down on storm water runoff.

One end of the exhibit is a landscape architect studio and the other is a flower shop, with urban outdoor architecture features like planters, a bike lane and street lights making up the surrounding space.

The end product — the seventh consecutive year a team from UD has had an exhibit featured in the show — will be on display for the duration of the flower show, March 11-19, in the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Re-purposed sets

Hansen, who worked on the project last year as well, said that being able to re-purpose the theatre sets was a big benefit.

“It was fun not only being able to keep some things out of the dumpster but also to know the scope of this could be useful with what we already had,” said Hansen. “I think this year we’re saving quite a bit of time and money on what we’re able to do so it can be bigger and more fleshed out than it might have been if we started from scratch.”

Jules Bruck, associate professor of landscape design in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) who has been involved with the UD exhibit at the flower show since the beginning, said that having Hansen’s expertise in building lightweight theatre sets has been a huge help this year.

“In previous years, all of our structures were meant to last in the outdoor landscape after the show, but they were heavy and difficult to move. The great thing about working with Stefanie is we were able to upcycle the lightweight props from the theatre productions. It makes more sense for us to use the theater sets for the show because we can move them easily and we don't have to see the chiropractor for the rest of our life,” said Bruck.

Interdisciplinary team of students and faculty create exhibit

​The UD team prepares its exhibit, focusing on green infrastructure in an urban setting, for the flower show.

The exhibit has been put together by an interdisciplinary group of UD students and faculty members. Some are working on the exhibit as part of a Design Process Practicum class taught by Bruck, others as members of the Design and Articulture (DART) student organization, and still others through the new landscape architecture major.

Bruck said that one of the messages of this year’s exhibit is that all plants are welcome.

“We’ve cultivated some common 'weeds' to put up on the roof to show the variety of plants that are part of the urban environment. We call them weeds - it's a human construct. Many plants we consider weeds are a beneficial part of the environment. If it can grow in a crack in the sidewalk in the city, it’s a pretty tough nugget, and we need to rethink how we label it,” said Bruck. 

Anna Wik, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said that the roof will be planted with “things that are typically thought of as weeds mixed in with bulbs to give it this wild look. They’re mostly weedy grasses and we will be using some strawberries. Weeds are part of the urban environment and something that we have to know about.”

Students in the Design Process Practicum class last year spent the first part of the class helping build the exhibit for 2016 and then spent the second portion of the class developing ideas that eventually became the design for this year’s flower show.

Austin Virdin, a senior in CANR, was part of the group whose design was chosen to represent UD this year and he said that it has been a rewarding experience watching the design come to life.

He also said that having the assistance of Hansen has been a huge help.

“We’ve been able to use pieces from past shows the theatre department has put on that have become the walls of the exhibit and a lot of the materials have been re-used from those shows, she’s been a great help. I know we would not have been able to have this year’s exhibit be as large of a structure if she wasn't helping with the build,” said Virdin.

Virdin said that the interdisciplinary aspect of the class is beneficial and helped to inform the design.

“In my group that proposed this design concept, I worked with a psychology major and a computer science major, coming from different backgrounds and perspectives really makes the class more engaging in my opinion. I get a lot more out of the design process when there’s people who think and work differently than I do,” said Virdin.

Tess Strayer, senior in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment and president of DART, said she is hoping that visitors to the exhibit take its green infrastructure messaging home with them.

“I think it’s something we can incorporate into our lives on a daily basis. Green roofs aren’t hard and we just installed pervious paving at my home for my driveway. It’s little things that you can do around your house to make your home more sustainable, your life more ecofriendly,” said Strayer.

Bulb forcing

Wik has been working on the flower show for the first time in different capacities and has been involved in the bulb forcing — along with students Carin Prechtl and Serena Wingel, both juniors in CANR – and members of the Fischer Greenhouse staff, including Bill Bartz, greenhouse manager, and Rodney Dempsey, horticulture greenhouse supervisor.

Wik said that they are using commonly forced bulbs in the exhibit, such as hyacinths, tulips and daffodils, as well as some less often used bulbs like allium and camassia, and that they decided to select plants that are ornamental but also provide ecosystem services, specifically those that would do well in a rain garden environments.

Landscape architecture studio

The landscape architecture studio is loosely modeled off of renowned landscape designer Piet Oudolf's studio interior. Oudolf recently finalized a meadow design for the Delaware Botanic Gardens (DBG) at Pepper Creek near Dagsboro, Delaware.

“We wanted a Dutch aesthetic, and then we realized we might be able to showcase some of his recent local work, as well,” said Bruck.

Bruck reached out to Rodney Robinson, a UD alumnus and DBG board member who is with Robinson Anderson Summers Inc. (RAS), to ask if it would be possible to highlight the new project by including it as a prop in the architect studio. 

Sheryl Swed, the executive director of the DBG, responded to the request and said, “The opportunity to partner with Jules and talented students to highlight the exceptional master plan that RAS has just completed, to introduce the Delaware Botanic Gardens to the Philadelphia Flower Show audience and to feature Piet Oudolf's DBG meadow design, is just the kind of synergy and mutual support that is the hallmark of the horticulture community."

For more about the Philadelphia Flower Show, including hours and ticket information, see the website.

Article by Adam Thomas; photos by Wenbo Fan

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An interdisciplinary team of UD students was assisted by a Theatre Department faculty member in designing and building an exhibit for this year's Philadelphia Flower Show.

​An interdisciplinary team of students preparing a Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit got expert help and repurposed sets from the Theatre Department.

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