Pillbox

Phipps presents stunning floral display

The Sunken Garden room hosts one of the many charming and well-executed displays that comprise Phipps Conservatory's recently opened annual spring flower show, entitled The Secret Garden. (credit: Kelsey Scott/Operations Manager) The Sunken Garden room hosts one of the many charming and well-executed displays that comprise Phipps Conservatory's recently opened annual spring flower show, entitled The Secret Garden. (credit: Kelsey Scott/Operations Manager) The Secret Garden displays a variety of vibrant flora, such as this daylily. (credit: Kelsey Scott/Operations Manager) The Secret Garden displays a variety of vibrant flora, such as this daylily. (credit: Kelsey Scott/Operations Manager)

Combining the whimsy of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and the powerful punch of a colorful flower at the end of a dreary Pennsylvania winter, the Phipps Conservatory’s annual spring flower show once again exceeds expectations.

The show, named after the book upon which it is based, is arguably the most celebrated event the Conservatory puts on throughout the year, attracting more amateur photographers than the butterfly garden does caterpillars. From the moment visitors enter through the glass doors, nods to the classic story are sprinkled throughout the exhibit, which spans the entire premises.

The jewel-colored tulips and white-picket fences that first greet viewers set the tone for the exhibit: magical, old-fashioned, and sweet. In stark contrast to the dreary weather Pittsburgh seems to be cursed with, the show is a breath of fresh air. Filled with flowers of every imaginable color that were traditionally found in gardens of Victorian England, the garden beds also incorporate winding stone paths and charming statues.

Signs in each room explain the connections between the flora and the literature. Though the ties to the book could have been stronger and better explained, the effort is there, and Phipps never fails to wow visitors with the simple beauty and flawless execution of its exhibits.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is the Wild Garden portion of the Secret Garden. Ferns line the window boxes, tulips bloom cheerfully, lilac-colored blossoms whisper of a magical concept called spring, and rocks wind their way to a pond.

Though the Wild Garden’s layout was clearly intended to be the standout room in the exhibit, the Riotous Victorian Pattern Garden in the main alcove stole the show. The garden is fashioned in a bold pattern that includes bursts of orange, yellow, and red flowers, green foliage, and the stark white of pebble paths. At the center is a sophisticated fountain with a Romantic-revival statue. The stately palms guarding the corners of the brick walk only further the image of Victorian perfection. This room in particular is so stunning because of how well it goes with the architecture of the Conservatory. Somehow, the light streaming through the white glass panes and domed ceilings manage to complete the vision of travelling back in time.

The exhibit is fabulously colorful, exciting, and deliciously serene at the same time. The sign in the Wild Garden brags that “the mystery surrounding the garden was one of its greatest charms.”

The mystery of how Phipps manages to produce mind-blowing shows that enchant visitors of all ages is indeed one of its greatest charms. And thank Mother Nature for it, because after a seemingly endless winter, goodness knows that Pittsburgh could use a Secret Garden of its own.