BY DANI BEAMISH
Managing Arts and Culture Editor
The university’s PHS Philadelphia Flower Show Club competed in the 2023 Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) Philadelphia Flower Show and received awards on their exhibit that highlighted the harmful effects of improper electronic waste.
Each university that competed at the show had to choose a theme color; this year, the club chose red. A one-page design brief submitted to judges before the show described why members chose the fiery shade.
“Red is the color of passion,” the design brief read. “Our passion is sustainability. Increasing sustainability leads to a brighter future for all.”
As visitors walked through the exhibit, the shades of red on the walls and plants gradually become lighter as the information about sustainable practices becomes more hopeful.
Sarah Nolt, an art conservation major, explained the reason behind the gentle lightening of colors. The exhibit starts with a deep red wall, accompanied by dark flowers and information on the harm technological waste does to the environment.
“As you come out, after you read the information on how to recycle and ways that biosequestration and biofuel help our environment, all of that makes you come out fresh, like a brighter future,” Nolt said.
Although the club has been busy preparing for the show during the spring semester, planning the logistics happened during the fall semester. Conceptualizing the theme, the look of the exhibit and what kind of flowers to plant were their top priorities then.
Karen Gartley, manager and program director for the university’s Soil Testing Program, said that the team started this process by looking at how plants could help the Earth’s current state in the climate crisis.
“If you throw your computers and phones away there’s metal contamination,” the faculty advisor said. “Plants are a way of treating that metal contamination.”
The design brief also explained how plants have a natural ability to reverse contamination in our environment.
“Through phytoremediation, plant[s] can be used to recover metals from contaminated soils,” the design brief read. “In carbon sequestration, trees can capture carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to sugars which are then stored in the wood or returned to the soil, thus helping with climate change issues.”
Gartley explained that the plants had meaning behind their mere presence in the exhibit. Cactuses were lined through the walkway to represent the plant’s sustainable use in creating leather, as opposed to animal leather. A tree was also in the center of the walkway to bring attention to its processes in converting carbon dioxide to sugars.
While Gartley’s role was to supervise the plant-based side of the project, Stephanie Hansen, associate professor of theater at the university, helped the students make structures for the exhibit.
Hansen’s experience in building lightweight materials for theater shows brought her to the university’s Flower Show Club to help teach members effective ways to construct easy-to-transport props for their exhibit.
To stay true to their sustainability efforts, the club also reused and repurposed wood from Hansen’s previous theater classes.
“A lot of the walls that we’re using in the exhibit this year are from sets that we’ve done,” Hansen said. “Recycling them, keeping them out of the waste stream, giving them a new life, it’s really big that somebody else on campus can use it.”
The Flower Show Club left Philadelphia with a silver medal and the PHS Sustainability Award for the educational exhibit, demonstrating sustainable garden practices to the public.