Fabulous Phipps Conservatory

Pittsburgh — the butt of all the jokes we Penn Staters used to tell when I attended that university — constantly surprises me. It’s a lovely city, and possibly one of the prettiest places in Pittsburgh is Phipps Conservatory. Phipps offers a visual romp of color and surprises, between lovely blooms and foliage to the glass art of Chihuly to other artwork and creative displays of plants.

Although I visited in the summer, Phipps is a great place to bring the kids over the holidays!

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a public garden set in Schenley Park, not far from the campuses of Pittsburgh University and Carnegie Mellon University.

The gardens were founded in 1893 by steel and real-estate magnate Henry Phipps as a gift to the City of Pittsburgh. Its purpose is to educate and entertain the people of Pittsburgh with formal gardens (Roman, English, etc.) and various species of exotic plants (palm trees, succulents, bonsai, orchids, etc.). Currently, the facilities house elaborate gardens within the 14 room conservatory itself and on the adjoining grounds.

In addition to its primary flora exhibits, the sophisticated glass and metalwork of the Lord & Burnham conservatory offers an interesting example of Victorian greenhouse architecture.

In 2007, Phipps teamed with glass artist Dale Chihuly and his Tacoma-based team of glass blowers. They worked together to create a marriage of hand-blown glass and living plants. Following the closing of the exhibit, the conservatory retained four prominent pieces: the fabulous and amazing Welcome Center chandelier, that reminded me of Medusa…

the hanging gold star in the Desert Room, that rather obviously (but beautifully) evokes a sense of the glaring sun beating down on the dessert below…

…. the celadon and purple gilded Fiori, itself looking as if it’s some exotic plant, in the Tropical Fruit and Spice Room. The room contains tropical and sub-tropical fruits, nuts, and spices such as citrus fruits, bananas, allspice, papayas, cinnamon and coffee.

In addition, there are 26 smaller pieces by Chihuly in the Conservatory’s permanent collection including six multicolored Macchia (wavy, shell-like bowls) and

13 amber Cattails and 7 Paintbrushes, all of which are installed in the Palm Court. You come upon these pieces by surprise — they’re nestled in the interior garden landscape, and they take your breath away.

There are surprises in the gardens as well, including a display of Rube Goldberg-inspired interactive contraptions that pleased and amazed the kids I saw at the gardens, including one little toddler who simply (and eventually vocally) didn’t want to move on…

Getting there: 1 Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Hours: Open daily, 9:30AM–5PM

Dogs: No, sadly. But kids, yes!!

Website: www.phipps.conservatory.org

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