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MCCC Horticulture Program Display for Philly Flower Show Is “Shore to Please”


West Windsor, N.J. – With the theme “Explore America: 100 Years of the National Park Service," this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show promises to feature treasured natural places throughout the United States.

According to Amy Ricco, coordinator for the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Horticulture Program, the decision to highlight coastal New Jersey was so obvious that planning for the MCCC display began almost immediately after the 2015 show closed its doors.

“Our concept is the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail,” says Ricco, noting that Horticulture students have been actively assisting with growing, designing, and building elements of the display since early fall.

Other college programs have pitched in as well.  Early on, the Architecture program created a 3-D model for the display.  The Art Club is creating colorful large-scale murals and the Graphic Arts Club is designing educational signage.  Ricco says that all of these elements will add up to a realistic and interactive experience of New Jersey’s unique shoreline.

Indeed, Ricco expects the exhibit to be akin to a nature trail experience. “This display will not be something that visitors simply look at.  They will have a chance to walk our trails.  They will enter through the historic Sandy Hook Lighthouse, which is part of Gateway National Park.  Upon exiting the lighthouse, they will walk on a boardwalk surrounded by dunes and then travel over coastal bays,” she said. The display will also feature a Cape May Butterfly Garden, plus birds and aquatic animal topiaries that are on the region’s endangered species list.

Large quantities of coastal grasses and other  New Jersey vegetation have been tended to in the college’s greenhouse since early January and will soon be prepared for the painstaking transport to the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia.  The show begins March 5 and continues through March 13.

Student Jenny Buffington, of Pennington, is a landscape designer who has taken a Horticulture course at Mercer each semester since 2008.  A volunteer for last year’s Disney-themed show, she recalls the experience as enormously satisfying.  She says the college’s display, "Horticulturist’s Apprentice Meets Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” was a true crowd pleaser.  “Parents came back at the end to tell us it was their favorite.  The children especially liked the moving brooms.  For people in our field, the Philadelphia Flower Show is the ultimate."

Buffington, who has already put in many hours working on the display, is looking forward to helping out with the four-day set-up at the convention center.

Then she and other MCCC volunteers will staff the exhibit each day to share information about New Jersey’s vegetation and wildlife.  And Ricco promises a few hidden surprises that visitors will just have to experience at the show firsthand.

“Our participation in the Philadelphia Flower Show is now it is third consecutive year.  It’s a huge undertaking that involves many students and faculty, and hundreds of hours of work.  For all of us in this field, it’s a true labor of love and a privilege to be part of this preeminent show.  And, it’s an unrivaled learning and networking experience for our students,” Ricco said.

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Just a few of the student volunteers assisting with MCCC's Flower Show display, from left, Jennifer Buffington, Katelyn Sanchez, Colleen Wurtz, Pam Mills and Horticulture Program Coordinator Amy Ricco.

Pam Mills and Jenny Buffington with the loggerhead turtle topiary.

Colleen Wurtz works on a Great Blue Heron.

Professor Ricco points out elements of the display on a model created by Architecture students.