Want a Tropical Vacation Without Leaving Pittsburgh? Visit Phipps’ ‘Ocean of Color’

The Conservatory’s celebrated orchid and bonsai show is back — with an aquatic twist.
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When you think about winter in Pittsburgh, you might picture a landscape of cloudy gray skies, tall gray buildings and barren gray trees. This year, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is determined to bring some vibrancy and color to the season. 

It’s all part of Phipps’ “Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show: An Ocean of Color,” the latest in a long-running series of annual shows highlighting the orchid and bonsai plants, which opened Jan. 15. 

“For this year’s theme, we knew we wanted something highly tropical and aquatic to complement our “Tropical Forest Hawai‘i” show, which will run concurrently with this show starting on Saturday, Feb. 19,” says Joe Reed, director of marketing and communications for Phipps. 

The aquatic theme is present in the decor and design of the conservatory. A rainbow school of koi-shaped windsocks hangs from the glass ceiling of the Palm Court. Fish-shaped statues spit water into fountains and hold flowers in their mouths. Water flows in ponds and fountains throughout the conservatory, and some rooms — including, for the first time, the Sunken Garden — are even home to live fish.

Orchids and bonsai plants have been part of the conservatory’s permanent collection for decades. 

The orchid collection started when Charles D. Armstrong, owner of the Armstrong Cork Company, donated 800 rare orchids worth $50,000 to the conservatory in 1931. Today, Phipps works with the Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania to curate the Barbara Tisherman Slipper Orchid Collection year-round.

The conservatory began hosting dedicated orchid shows in the late 1990s; it added tropical bonsai in the early 2010s.

Even though the show features the same two plant families each year, Reed says there’s always something new and interesting for guests to see.

“The orchid family has more than 28,000 currently accepted species globally, which means that there are endless possibilities in terms of variety, and every bonsai is unique thanks to the decades of careful artistic pruning it receives,” Reed says.

While visiting Phipps, guests can also see the “Garden Railroad: Bridges and Tunnels” exhibit, which features iconic Pittsburgh scenes in miniature form — including a functioning Duquesne Incline, closed-for-construction Liberty Tunnels, and the infamous sinkhole bus of 2019 in a Downtown street. 

Both the Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show and Garden Railroad: Bridges and Tunnels will end March 6. Phipps is open 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays – Thursdays, and 9:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 

Members and nonmembers must reserve their tickets online in advance. 

Categories: Things To Do