A design by interior designer Bill Kolano located in the South Conservatory. The clothing, rug, tablecloth and most other materials are made of live and dried plants.
Photo by Paul g. Wiegman
Or, as they’re referred to locally: flahrrs.
Very few of us take much time to stop and smell the roses. We’re content to occasionally note that a neighbor has planted something lovely and colorful, briefly consider doing the same in our own yard, then forget about it and go back to watching TV.
But whether or not you’ll ever be pruning anything near your patio, every self-respecting Pittsburgher should take time to enjoy one of the finest and most historic collections of flora in America. The fabulous Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is now a ripe 118 years old, and the Oakland landmark will open a new summer show this weekend. They’re calling it “Living Harmoniously with Nature,” and it is, like everything at Phipps, something to see.
Phipps threw down a challenge to some notable Pittsburgh interior designers for this one. The idea was to turn a room of the Conservatory into a sustainable space that incorporates renewable, green materials—in an innovative way, not merely paying lip service to the environment—and, of course, shows off some summer flowers.
“Traditionally, sustainable design has been thought of as stark, but the reality is that the quality of sustainable products is now often superior to conventional counterparts in function and appearance,” said Phipps executive director Richard Piacentini in a press release. “We want to inspire people to make changes in the way they interact with the world.”
This means outdoor structures built from recycled barn wood, a living room set made from discarded street signs, green mannequins dressed in (vegetable) formal wear at a dinner scene, feng shui fire and water arrangements, and more. Also, of course, the flowers: dahlias, hibiscus, lantana, and more.
A trip to Phipps is an absolute must, and if you’ve never been there before, this might be the perfect show—a cross of science, nature, installation art, design and more. There are plenty of ways to look at “Living Harmoniously with Nature,” and it should hold something for everyone.
It’s also a cheap date/family outing/what have you. Grown-ups are $12, and kids are $9 (little ones two and young get free admission). For less than you’d spend at the movies, you get one of our region’s most enduring attractions.
You also get Oakland, which is beautiful in the spring. Take a stroll around campus and beyond—the Cathedral of Learning, Carnegie Museum, Stephen Foster Memorial and more statues than you can shake a hibiscus at are all within walking distance of Phipps.
If you’re looking to make a night of it, there are no shortage of excellent dinners to be had ‘round these parts. I stick to my favorites, though, and that means Lu Lu’s Noodles on South Craig. I am unable to resist gigantic, perfectly constructed, fresh noodle dishes, and while I do not partake of the bizarre beverage known as bubble tea, this is definitely the spot for it if you’re so inclined. If you don’t mind a minor mess of flying noodles, it’s a great place to take the family as well.
If you want a dinner that’s a bit more grown up, peruse the fine wine list across the street from Lu Lu’s at Lucca Ristorante and Wine Bar. ‘Tis the season for the covered outdoor patio, and you’ll find a healthy selection of pasta dishes to pair with that wine. “Living Harmoniously with Nature” at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden, 1 Schenley Park, Oakland. May 14-Sept. 27. Open daily, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Adults, $12; seniors and students, $11; kids 2-18; $9, kids younger than 2, free. Info: 412-622-6914, phipps.conservatory.org.