The 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show: “Springtime in Paris” March 6 - 13, 2011

Michael Petrie’s HANDMADE GARDENS designed and installed two major exhibits for the 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show, whose theme was “Springtime in Paris.”

The first exhibit was part of the Show’s central feature—a first for HANDMADE GARDENS.

The second exhibit was for PNC Bank, the Shows presenting sponsor. This was the second time in a row HANDMADE GARDENS was invited to create the PNC exhibit [scroll for more info].

HANDMADE GARDENS’ central feature exhibit, titled La Toile de Jardin (“The Garden Canvas”), was a conceptual garden inspired by French Impressionism—primarily the late Water Lilies paintings by Claude Monet.

La Toile de Jardin was designed as a formal layout of crossed paths and boxwood-lined beds that acted as a frame for 6 feet wide and up to 20 feet long painted canvases which lay on the ground like fields of color. These painted canvases suggested the elements of air, water and light and evoked Monet’s near abstract water lily murals. Canvas painted like sun and shadows suggesting how light would sit in the garden formed La Toile de Jardin’s paths.

Hundreds of hyacinths in shades similar to the murals—primarily blues and pinks--appeared throughout the garden.

The garden included paintings on scrim that serve to mimic how a garden changes in the light during the day.

Above: Detail from work-in-progress mural that became part of HANDMADE GARDENS’ 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show exhibit, La Toile de Jardin.

Many Philadelphia Flower Show goers will recall Michael Petrie’s striking use of scrim in the 1999 “Best in Show” garden, “Picture This,” which he designed. “Picture This” featured an oversized painting that seemed to magically disappeared to reveal a long view of a rose garden. The exhibit was wildly popular and fans will be excited to see this technique used again in La Toile de Jardin.

Two stunning sculptural ironwork pieces by internationally known local modern-day blacksmith-artists Greg Leavitt and Greg’s daughter, Camille Leavitt—long-time Philadelphia Flower Show favorites—featured prominently in La Toile de Jardin (see photos near top of page). The first was Porte de Transformation (“Gate of Transformation”). This Art Nouveau ironwork gate formed a focal point at one end of the garden installation. A pair of railings titled Chanson d'un été de Monet (“Song of a Monet Summer”) featured hand-wrought lotuses and irises whose forms were echoed in the rectangular garden paintings, at whose head they sat.

Detail from Picture This, “Best in Show” Philadelphia Flower Show 1999, designed by Michael Petrie, seen in front of the scrim painting in 1999.

Top: Joe Shinn’s display of birdhouses for sale at 2121 S. Black Horse Pike in Williamstown, NJ, during the summer of 2010. Shinn sells his work seasonally at this location, primarily in summer. Above, left: Shinn’s corrugated tin roof birdhouses on display along with some Michael Petrie’s handmade birdhouses. Top, right: Some of Joe Shinn’s birdhouses being painted for their appearance in the 2011 PNC Exhibit, Pour Les Oiseaux (“For the Birds”) designed by Michael Petrie, and installed by Michael Petrie’s HANDMADE GARDENS in Philadelphia International Flower Show March 6-13, 2011. PHOTOS by Kathye Fetsko Petrie

Michael Petrie’s HANDMADE GARDENS Exhibit Title:

La Toile de Jardin (“The Garden Canvas”)

Designed by Michael Petrie;  Installed by Michael Petrie’s HANDMADE GARDENS

Part of The 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show’s Central Feature

Winner: Chicago Horticultural Society Award for Distinctive Horticulture

The 2011 PNC BANK Exhibit Title: Pour Les Oiseaux (“For the Birds”)

Designed by Michael Petrie;  Installed by Michael Petrie’s HANDMADE GARDENS

Winner: PNC People’s Choice Award


WORKS BY GREG LEAVITT & CAMILLE LEAVITT featured prominently in HANDMADE GARDENS’ 2011 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit. Clockwise, from above: Detail of a section of the sculptural ironwork entrance gate Porte de Transformation; Top, right: Close-up of some of the exquisitely hand-wrought lotuses and lotus leaves from one of two Art Nouveau railings titled Chanson d'un été de Monet; Right, Greg Leavitt (l) & Michael Petrie with Porte de Transformation outside Leavitt’s studio.  PHOTOS by Kathye Fetsko Petrie

Shinn says what he does is “just a hobby.” The 69-year-old father of three and grandfather has been making birdhouses since well before his retirement 19 years ago.  He estimates he has made “close to a thousand” birdhouses, all of them from reclaimed wood, such as pallets and crates.

As for how he got started: Shinn said one day while getting wood for his woodstove he “came across a piece that was  too nice to burn.”  So he made a birdhouse. Initially, Shinn liked to just put the birdhouses up on fence posts around his yard, “just to have something to look at—it made it different.” Later he made 30 or 40 birdhouses for his grown daughter’s fenced-in property, not far from his own residence. Shinn called these birdhouses “The Stephanie Collection,”

after his daughter.

And so he just kept going.

Shinn’s wife, Bettyjoan Shinn, keeps an album of photographs of her husband’s birdhouses. Shinn said looking through them brings back fond memories of many customers from “from the shore” —especially Cape May Courthouse—

every year to buy his work. He recalls one particular birdhouse he made “with dowel posts that looked just like a Victorian two-story with a big porch on it.”

Was that the most favorite birdhouse he ever made?

“They are all my favorites,” Shinn said.

Michael Petrie’s HANDMADE GARDENS exhibit for PNC Bank was a vertical garden featuring folk birdhouses made by Williamstown, New Jersey resident Joe Shinn, who makes and sells them seasonally in front of his Black Horse Pike bungalow.

Michael Petrie came across Shinn’s birdhouses one day last summer while on his way to a trade show in Atlantic City with his wife, writer Kathye Fetsko Petrie. The two were on the Black Horse Pike when they simultaneously spied the birdhouses in a “For Sale” display up ahead. Both Petries were instantly struck by the vernacular charm of the birdhouses and bought a truckload of them to sell at HANDMADE GARDENS.

When Joe Shinn took the Petrie’s on a tour to see hundreds of more birdhouses he had stored on his property, the idea to also use Shinn’s birdhouses in the PNC vertical wall exhibit seemed obvious.

The exhibit aptly became named Pour Les Oiseaux. In English:For the Birds.”

“What attracted me is Shinn’s creative use of materials and collected things,” said Michael Petrie, who admits he sees in Shinn a kindred spirit who likes to make things. “His work down-to-earth, authentic and genuine. He’s a unique personality, a “tinkerer,” whose creative outlet is building birdhouses. Shinn won’t call himself a folk artist, but that is what he is.”

See a photo and read an article by Gretchen Metz about our Flower Show exhibits online at the Delaware County Daily Times website and the Daily Local News website.

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Michael Petrie’s HANDMADE GARDENS • P. O. Box 7, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081 • 610.505.8262 •