Sam Lemheney practically has horticulture in his genes: His grandfather owned a landscape nursery, and his father had a flower shop, both here in the Philadelphia area. In fact, as a kid, Lemheney even helped create his family's displays at The Philadelphia Flower Show. In 2003, after a 13-year tenure in horticulture and gardening at the Walt Disney World Co. in Orlando, Florida, Lemheney returned to the City of Brotherly Love to take over as Chief of Shows & Events for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. We spoke with him about this year's show, his fondest flower show memories and his favorite local haunts.
The Philadelphia Flower Show has been around for more than 185 years. How do you keep it interesting and continue to top yourself?
We start by discussing some fun themes that would draw great attendance. My thought process is "how do I get people off the couch? How do I get them to say, 'I don't need to sit and watch TV today because I am actually going to see something pretty amazing and spectacular'?" I learned a lot about how to entertain people with plants and flowers when I was at Disney, and I try to carry that experience through to the Flower Show. We always think of what we can do differently to showcase the horticulture, plants and flowers in a unique way. Plants have a powerful nature to bring people together, and that's what we try to do with the Flower Show.
How did you choose "Explore America" for this year's theme?
About two years ago, I was at a cocktail party with [former] PHS President Drew Becher. We were talking to the folks from Independence National Park, and they mentioned that 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. At first we thought we could use the centennial as the idea for an exhibit, but when we brainstormed we saw potential for a theme for the whole show.
What is your favorite Flower Show memory?
My most specific memory is of working with my dad on the FTD exhibit when I was a kid. FTD rotated florists every two years, so I got to help him do two of those exhibits. I didn't know it at the time, but that's when I first got interested in this type of work.
Aside from the Flower Show, where are your favorite places to see flowers and plants in the Philadelphia area?
I love Longwood Gardens. Morris Arboretum is also a very special place. The Camden Children's Garden is an interesting and fun place to see plants. And the Philadelphia Zoo—believe it or not—does a great job with horticulture. Fairmount Park is another beautiful place as well.
I am a landscape fan, so I like to see plants in more of a natural setting, too. We go on a lot of hikes in the national and state parks. I like to see the outdoors.
What are your favorite attractions to visit in the city?
I love to go to Independence National Park. I've taken my kids there on field trips many times, and it's always a fun place to go. We go to the Franklin Institute, too. My kids love that science-y stuff.
What are your go-to restaurants?
The eating in this city is amazing. It's tough to have a favorite because you want to try them all. Those classic, hole-in-the-wall restaurants in South Philly are great. I love the scenery at Talula's Garden; I know the people that helped create that space. The Dandelion is great too, and I go to City Tap House a lot with clients.
Do you have a favorite Philly culinary guilty pleasure?
When I lived in Florida, I couldn’t' find a really good cheesesteak. It was so refreshing to have one whenever I came back to Philly. Everyone tries to duplicate a Philly cheesesteak but they just cannot do it. Having access to good cheesesteaks is a great thing.