East Passyunk Avenue’s Ill Exotics electrifies the Philadelphia Flower Show

By Sequoia Medley

You can take the Flower Show out of South Philly, but you can’t take South Philly out of the Flower Show!

The 2023 Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Flower Show has left the verdant nature oasis of FDR Park, once again setting up inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch Streets. The return to the interior space is brightened by the them “The Garden Electric” with the most prominent displays illuminating the east wing of the hall. Although the show has left South Philly, a piece of East Passyunk Avenue is a featured part of the show. East Passyunk-based Ill Exotics makes their debut at the show this year with a tropical, disco-themed oasis that’s a vibrant addition to the main hall.

The Flower Show, a celebration of plants and the source of inspiration for avid gardeners, incorporates organic materials as a primary component of the sculptural and interactive displays. This year’s exhibition features a number of selfie-worthy backgrounds or instagramable tableaux with emphasis on color and light, utilizing organic materials mostly in their dried and desiccated forms heavily painted and arranged. 

Both adhering to the theme and standing out from the displays is South Philly’s own Ill Exotics. Their exhibit, titled “Studio Exotica,” overflows with living specimens culled from the personal collection of proprietor and self described “nature nerd” Franco Urban. Franco also sourced from friends in Southern Florida. 

With hardscaping provided by husband Christopher, a DJ and musician, and theatrical set pieces by Gunnar Montana, Urban has created the sort of display he yearned to see in his past ten years as a patron of the show. Although inspiring, Urban felt that his particular passion for the exotic and the tropical was often woefully under-represented, with the exception of orchids. He longed to see more unusual live exotics incorporated aside from the individual judging, and this year finally has had an opportunity to create it himself while highlighting the uniqueness of his South Philly shop.

Featuring an overabundance of unique and uncommon specimens, prominently labeled for the flora-curious, including several bromeliaceae, philodendron, and monstera varietials, visitors have the opportunity to see living exotics in person, and perhaps be inspired to patronize the East Passyunk store. Ill Exotic’s PHS Flower show display Studio Exotica is a true mesh of husband Christopher’s and Franco’s own personalities and passions, and a breath of fresh air in the convention center confines. 

Credit: Darren Fava.

The exhibit’s disco theme will be a destination during the Show’s annual after-hours dance party, Flowers After Hours: Garden Noir. The dance party takes place on Saturday March 11th from 8:30 pm – 11:30 pm. Purchase tickets for this 21+ event via Eventbrite. 

The 2023 Flower Show will run March 4 – 12, 2023 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. 

Ill Exotics is located at 1704-06 East Passyunk Avenue