Phipps showcases international flowers

A decorative fountain surrounded by flowers is part of one of the many exhibits in the current show. (credit: Gabriela Pascuzzi/) A decorative fountain surrounded by flowers is part of one of the many exhibits in the current show. (credit: Gabriela Pascuzzi/) A bee gathers nectar from a flower in Phipps Conservatory. (credit: Gabriela Pascuzzi/) A bee gathers nectar from a flower in Phipps Conservatory. (credit: Gabriela Pascuzzi/)

Fragrant smells, bright colors, and chirping birds await visitors of the Phipps Conservatory Spring Flower Show. Described as “a trip around the world” on the Phipps website, the month-long show offers plenty of variety to engage patrons of all ages and tastes. From interactive displays to tranquil spots, this year’s show lets viewers escape the hustle and bustle of campus in exchange for some peace and quiet.

The main atrium includes large, brightly colored, stick figure-esque pieces of art, adding to the show’s playfulness and serving as a nice introduction to the bombardment of vibrantly colored flowers to come. Another piece of artwork in the atrium includes cut outs of the flags of each country represented in the show: the United States, Greece, France, the Netherlands, China, Sweden, the French Polynesian Islands, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, Germany, Holland, and Ireland.

Housed in the Serpentine Room are tulips representing Holland and the Netherlands. Shades of bright yellows, oranges, and purples combined with the room’s tall ceilings allow for a beautiful view of the tulips lining three of the walls. Amid signs describing the flowers of the region stand large, wooden, brightly painted tulips with pairs of clogs fastened to the bottom of the tulips for decoration. The exhibit is made possible in part by the Distinctively Dutch Festival. Supported by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Distinctively Dutch Festival focuses on bringing contemporary art, performance, and culture from the Netherlands to Pittsburgh in exhibits like this one.

Some rooms have themes set in a broader context than just a country, like the orchid room. Boasting hundreds of orchids of different shapes, colors, smells, and sizes, winding along a small river swarming with koi fish, the room includes educational signs for visitors answering the question, “What is an orchid?” According to the signs, the orchid is a member of the largest and most advanced blooming plant family, and there are approximately 35,000 orchids and 80,000 orchid hybrids throughout the world.

The exhibit honoring Japan is outside, unlike the majority of the other exhibits. Away from the hum of other patrons and secluded on a corner of the roof, the exhibit features a variety of bonsai trees set on wooden tables, a small waterfall running through the middle, and more swimming koi fish.

The exhibits for China and France are organized to be observed, as opposed to most others that can be walked through. The China exhibit is outfitted mainly in red and gold, described by the accompanying placard as colors of good luck and good fortune for the year to come. The France exhibit includes tables and chairs reminiscent of a Paris street café and was topped with a miniature Eiffel Tower.

The exhibit representing London includes a bright red, life-size telephone booth. Upon further examination of the flowers in the room, patrons will notice they are specifically arranged by color to resemble a large British flag. Other features to watch for include an interactive fountain in the room on Greece and a children’s market with plastic food to teach younger guests about eating locally and choosing healthy options.

The Tropical Forest India exhibit will be at Phipps for the next three years and focuses on sustainability. Larger in size and scale than any other exhibit, the room features winding paths and displays intended to replicate actual Indian markets. According to Phipps employee Kara Gilbert, “They sent two people from the horticulture staff to India for research. They were there for five weeks, I think, so they did a lot of research throughout different sections of India to represent the plants that you see here.”

Gilbert also explained the process behind getting exhibits in and out of Phipps. Before the summer show, there will be a two-week blackout period while old plants are taken out and new plants put in their place. In the case of the India exhibit, about 80 percent of the plants from the previous forest were removed to make room for the new forest. The removed plants are either saved for use in later exhibits, or composted for use with the new plants.

Gilbert thanks the volunteers for the speedy turnover in new exhibitions. “We depend a lot on our volunteers,” she said. “Our volunteers are wonderful, they come in and help rip out plants and plant new ones.” Thanks to the work of these volunteers and the Phipps staff, the Spring Flower Show offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in an around-the-globe adventure of nature.