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A Flower Show Tribute to a Visionary Heiress

By Jim Harbage, on March 2, 2018

Editor's note: This text first appeared in Longwood Chimes No. 296, Winter 2018, p. 44. It is reprinted here with new images taken by Morgan Horell. The plants pictured below are among those being displayed at the 2018 Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Philadelphia Flower Show as a special tribute to Dorrance ‘Dodo’ Hamilton.

Dorrance ‘Dodo’ Hamilton was a longtime and avid supporter of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. She passed away in April of 2017. Many know her as an heiress to the Campbell Soup fortune; those of us in the Brandywine Valley region remember her more for her outstanding entries in The Philadelphia Flower Show for so many years.

Mrs. Hamilton’s first entries in the Flower Show came in 1984 when her horticulture manager, Joe Paolino, entered two plants, an orchid and a Martha Washington geranium. When one of them earned a first place award, Mrs. Hamilton was hooked and became a major exhibitor through 2014 when declining health led her to discontinue her involvement. During her time as an exhibitor, her plants won nearly 2,000 first-place awards. Mrs. Hamilton was a strong supporter of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in many other ways, including donations she provided—the most notable, perhaps, funding the renovation of the flower show Horticourt exhibit in 2012, which is named for her.

In August of 2017, Longwood was offered the plant collection from Mrs. Hamilton’s estate. This was an incredibly generous gesture as it represented a diverse selection of award-winning specimen plants that had been accumulated and meticulously grown over many years.

Staff from Longwood, including Sharon Loving (Vice President, Horticulture), Matt Taylor (Director, Research), and Jim Harbage (Director, Floriculture and Conservatories) visited the collection soon after the offer was made to begin identifying plants to transfer to Longwood’s collection.

Jim Harbage with common myrtle (Myrtus communis) topiaries.Jim Harbage with common myrtle (Myrtus communis) topiaries.

A second trip including Jim Harbage, Jim Sutton (Senior Horticultural Display Designer), Peter Zale (Associate Director, Conservation, Plant Breeding, and Collections), and Greg Griffis (Orchid Horticulturist) allowed Longwood to expand the list to include orchids as well.

As a result of these two visits, more than 100 specimen conservatory plants and 50 orchids were chosen for Longwood’s collection. It took three large box truck loads to transfer the plants to Longwood, where they were distributed among several conservatory locations and some to production greenhouses to be revealed during the 2017 Christmas display.

Dendrobium orchid.Dendrobium orchid.

The plants transported to Longwood ranged from a giant Ficus benjamina ‘Dutch Treat’, which is rare in the US and only available in very small sizes; to soft textured bear’s-foot ferns (Davallia tyermannii) that had been carefully trained into hanging baskets. There were unique forms of snake-plant (Sansevieria) with unusual pristine white variegation and there were two large bird nest anthurium (Anthurium superbum) with 3-foot-long corrugated dark green leaves. There were large succulent bowls filled with Haworthia and Euphorbia and a very unusual tree type Euphorbia (Euphorbia punicea, Jamaican poinsettia).

The addition of Mrs. Hamilton’s plants brings additional depth, diversity, display potential, and overall beauty to the plant collection at Longwood Gardens.

Bear's-foot fern (Davallia tyermannii).Bear's-foot fern (Davallia tyermannii).

Snake-plant (Sansevieria).Snake-plant (Sansevieria).



Clivia miniata.Clivia miniata.

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