It didn't take long for the owners of Petals Lane in Roxborough to select their concept for the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show. Soon after Brittany Gillespie and Michael Phinney learned that this year's event – entitled "Brilliant!" - would honor British floral and landscaping design, they decided upon "The Mad Tea Party."

 

To Phinney, "the crazy hat" worn by the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" is symbolic of the couple's life as married business partners. "We're a crazy husband and wife team coming up with ideas all of the time," he said with a laugh. Gillespie agreed. She said the two are always looking in catalogues and thinking about displays. While some spouses prefer that their partners not bring work home, Gillespie and Phinney have built their lives around their studio, sharing their Roxborough house with plenty of workspace and a reception room.

"We really love it, we do," said Gillespie.

A shared artistic passion 

The two have always known one another as floral designers. They met nine years ago while working at Robertson's Flowers in Chestnut Hill. After they began dating, Gillespie, who studied horticulture at Temple, and Phinney, an education major at Arcadia, realized they knew enough to start their own business. "We thought, 'we can do this,'" said Gillespie.

Eight years after realizing their vision, the two have built Petals Lane into one of Philadelphia's primary destinations for floral design and artistic consultation. Petals Lane is a preferred florist for the Jose Garces Restaurant Group, NFL Films, and Philadelphia Phillies charity events.

Both Gillespie, 30, and Phinney, 32, identify wedding design as a shared passion, a perfect platform to execute their artistic skills. Phinney attributed much of their business success to Gillespie's attention to customer service.

Gillespie smiled. "I'm good with brides. I'm good with their mothers."

The couple considers their two invitations to present as "Major Exhibitors" at the Flower Show to be the highlight of their careers. At last year's Hawaiian-themed event, Petals Lane recreated a wedding rehearsal dinner on the beach in "Pineapple Pa'ina." Their display won the Invitational Floral and Maintenance Awards.

Preparing for the 2013 show 

After selecting "The Mad Tea Party" once the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society announced "Brilliant!" last year, Gillespie and Phinney watched Disney's animated "Alice in Wonderland" and Tim Burton's 2010 version starring Johnny Depp. The two started compiling images and details, sharing them aloud with Phinney's mom, who sketched the first draft of their woodland tea party.

Now in the final days before assembling their showcase, the staff at Petals Lane has assembled wrought-iron gates, a model hatter's hat, a black and white tile floor, flower moss, and mushrooms created from fabric. This week, Gillespie expects to start receiving the hundreds of thousands of flowers ordered from their wholesaler several months ago. As she and other members of her full-time staff checks and tends to the orders, Phinney will concentrate on the mechanics of measuring and placing the exhibit's hanging chandeliers. The two are also awaiting a shipment of "Wonderland Bronze" from the Robert James Workshop in Dorset, England. Artisans from the Robert James Workshop will be available at the exhibit to discuss their cast bronze sculptures of the Wonderland characters.

For their display to be a success, Gillespie and Phinney want their audience to experience the "natural and whimsical elements" of "The Mad Tea Party."

"They should be able to take it in, to feel what it is, to be a part of it," said Gillespie.

The 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show runs from March 2-10 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.