The Grave Gardeners Flower Show Journey

When we were asked by PHS in the early summer of 2018 to enter the Small Garden design competition of the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show, we were not entirely sure what we were getting into, but knew that it was an opportunity we could not pass up. It wasn’t just that The Woodlands was being asked to enter the show, it was that PHS was interested in having the Woodlands Grave Gardeners enter the show.

With the realization that the Grave Gardeners would have the opportunity to be in the spotlight for the second time in one year (check them out in an April 2018 episode of CBS Sunday Morning), we knew we had to go big, and couldn’t do that without help. A dedicated group of Grave Gardeners started to get together months before the Flower Show to plan and execute our competitive entry. The theme of our design category is “Yin Yang”. Naturally, we decided to move forward under the guidance of our newly chosen exhibit title “Life From Death,” and create life size replicas of three Grave Gardens highlighting some of the notable horticulturalists buried here including Ann Bartram Carr, WM Henry Maule, and Henry Dreer.

The Grave Gardeners proceeded to learn the unique skill of creating hyper-realistic headstones out of pink foam with the aid of water, heat, and spunk. None of this would have been possible without the guidance of Doug Bailey, who has honed his foam headstone creative skills working on the installations for Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind The Walls. The process from there is better described through images, and you can follow along the Grave Gardeners journey to the Flower Show below. You’ll also find a guest entry by Toribird, who took the cemetery scene and our theme, “Life From Death” one step further by creating life size replicas of birds and positioning them in the exhibit hanging out, even snacking on bees.

Visit the Grave Gardeners exhibit in person in the “Small Gardens” section of the Design Gallery at the PHS Flower Show. The Flower Show will be running from Saturday, March 2nd through Sunday, March 10th. Learn more about the flower show here, and download a copy of the map to take with you!

And so it begins, Robin and Jessica purchase pink foam to create the hyper-realistic headstones you’ll see in the exhibit.

And so it begins, Robin and Jessica purchase pink foam to create the hyper-realistic headstones you’ll see in the exhibit.

Thanks to Doug, for sharing his unique experience with our Grave Gardeners, Greta Greenberger, Maureen Cook, May Sam, and Sue Gettlin. Woodlands Staff Natalie and Robin also learned this new skill.

Thanks to Doug, for sharing his unique experience with our Grave Gardeners, Greta Greenberger, Maureen Cook, May Sam, and Sue Gettlin. Woodlands Staff Natalie and Robin also learned this new skill.

The headstone “engraving” process begins. How did we do it, you ask?! Find out below as Grave Gardener Becca Flemer takes Henry Maule’s headstone to the next level.

The headstone “engraving” process begins. How did we do it, you ask?! Find out below as Grave Gardener Becca Flemer takes Henry Maule’s headstone to the next level.

Doug showing all the different techniques to carve and build text on the foam. To get raised letters, you apply concentrated heat over vinyl letters and all the foam around the vinyl melts down revealing crisp text.

Doug showing all the different techniques to carve and build text on the foam. To get raised letters, you apply concentrated heat over vinyl letters and all the foam around the vinyl melts down revealing crisp text.

Grave Gardeners Becca and Sue begin the “engraving” process on Henry Maule and Henry Dreer’s headstones.

Grave Gardeners Becca and Sue begin the “engraving” process on Henry Maule and Henry Dreer’s headstones.

BEFORE: Grave Gardener Emma Hollier shows us what life size pink foam headstones look like.

BEFORE: Grave Gardener Emma Hollier shows us what life size pink foam headstones look like.

AFTER: Woodlands Intern, Kathie Brill proves that monster mud and white paint go a long way in turning foam into headstones.

AFTER: Woodlands Intern, Kathie Brill proves that monster mud and white paint go a long way in turning foam into headstones.

At this point we have three brand spanking new looking headstones, which doesn’t fit in a Victorian cemetery scene, so the next step is aging the stones to look like 19th Century marble. Grave Gardeners Becca, Greta, and Rachel Eichelberger take on the challenge.

At this point we have three brand spanking new looking headstones, which doesn’t fit in a Victorian cemetery scene, so the next step is aging the stones to look like 19th Century marble. Grave Gardeners Becca, Greta, and Rachel Eichelberger take on the challenge.

Grave Gardener Peggy Daniel oversees the layout of the family lot in the dining room of the historic Hamilton Mansion.

Grave Gardener Peggy Daniel oversees the layout of the family lot in the dining room of the historic Hamilton Mansion.

Enjoy this time-lapsed video of the “headstone” aging process.

Maule is almost there!

Maule is almost there!

Man With A Van generously donated their services to help us get our platform, foam headstones, and supplies to the convention center! They are THE BEST. From this point on, explore the visual diary of our 2-day adventure in the convention center.

Man With A Van generously donated their services to help us get our platform, foam headstones, and supplies to the convention center! They are THE BEST. From this point on, explore the visual diary of our 2-day adventure in the convention center.

Here, Volunteer and Grave Gardener Joe Shapiro shows off the platform HE BUILT HIMSELF. Thank you, Joe!!

Here, Volunteer and Grave Gardener Joe Shapiro shows off the platform HE BUILT HIMSELF. Thank you, Joe!!

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A little cemetery humor!

A little cemetery humor!

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A HUGE thank you to our Grave Gardener volunteers for making this possible. Pictured above from left: Jessica Baumer (ED The Woodlands), Emma Hollier, Jackie McCrea, Becca Flemer, Greta Greenberger, and Rachel Eichelberger. Not pictured: so many Grave Gardeners.  THANK YOU!!!

A HUGE thank you to our Grave Gardener volunteers for making this possible. Pictured above from left: Jessica Baumer (ED The Woodlands), Emma Hollier, Jackie McCrea, Becca Flemer, Greta Greenberger, and Rachel Eichelberger. Not pictured: so many Grave Gardeners. THANK YOU!!!

Thank you so much to all the Grave Gardeners, volunteers and supporters who made our exhibition in the Flower Show possible. We hope you’ll visit our display, and wish us luck in the judging!


When you visit the Grave Garden scene at the Flower Show, you’ll notice that in addition to the trees and flowers, there are also a variety of birds present. We asked our resident birding expert, Toribird, to curate The Woodlands wildlife, and she blew us away. Read on to learn more about her personal Flower Show experience.

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“Hey, Toribird here. Last July, I was told that The Woodlands would be participating in the upcoming Philadelphia Flower Show, and that it might be nice to have a few model birds in it to emphasize the nature at The Woodlands. As The Woodlands own bird nerd, I was asked if I could make these models. Though not 100% sure what I was getting myself into, it sounded like a unique and fun opportunity, and I said that I'd be happy to. 

Of course, the first step was deciding what birds to make. The setting for our display would be The Woodlands in May, so I wanted to pick common, charismatic, birds for that scene. In the end, I had four species - three Palm Warblers, and one each of Northern Cardinal, House Finch, and Eastern Kingbird. My models started out as lumps of wet Model Magic, which I formed into life-size birds, sometimes needing to come up with very creative ways for them to dry so that they would not end up flat on one side!

Next, I drew the markings of the birds in pencil on the dry Model Magic. Those pencil markings would serve as a guide for painting the models - somewhat like following the outlines in a coloring book. When the birds had all been painted, I inserted pewter bird legs (the kind that woodcarvers often use). 

This all sounds relatively easy, and is not to say that I did not encounter problems. Sketching on all the patterns could be painstaking, but what really proved difficult was matching all the colors in the birds. (Never underestimate the number of shades of red in one male cardinal!) Despite these difficulties, I am happy with what I have created, and glad to be a part of The Woodlands latest adventure!”