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Suddenly it's spring: The long-awaited season is in full bloom at Phipps

| Thursday, March 16, 2017, 8:55 p.m.
Candy Williams
The rare Himalayan blue poppy only blooms for 3-4 weeks in the spring.
Adam Haas
The “Forest Floor” display in the Serpentine Room features topiary squirrels, frogs, turtles and more in a woodland setting.
Adam Haas
The “Forest Floor” display in the Serpentine Room features topiary squirrels, frogs, turtles and more in a woodland setting.
Candy Williams
An unusual fritillaria imperialis ‘Maxima Lutea’ (Crown Imperial) in the South Conservatory with bright yellow, bell-shaped flowers
Candy Williams
A family of bears is “Stepping Out” in the South Conservatory.

A quick fix to help recover from winter's late hit this week is a stroll through the spring flower show at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where the long-awaited season already is in full bloom.

“Enchanted Forest” is the theme of the new show designed by Jordyn Melino, Phipps' exhibit coordinator, which opens March 18 for a four-week run through Easter Sunday, April 16.

Melino says she wanted to create a colorful and whimsical representation of animals and other woodland creatures coming out of winter hibernation — everyone from the biggest bears to the tiniest bees, all depicted in live plants and natural materials.

The stars of the show are the traditional spring favorites — tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, narcissus and lily — among other perennials and annuals displayed in an array of bright and pastel shades.

A total of more than 71,000 bulbs, with tulips representing nearly half, will grace eight of the 14 display rooms of the glasshouse in a variety of planters, beds, hanging baskets and other containers.

In an effort to keep the flowers looking as fresh and attractive as possible, Melino says the horticulturist and volunteer staff at Phipps will change out various bulbs from two to four times throughout the show's run.

The show begins in the Palm Court with a display titled “Wings of Beauty,” featuring birds, bees and butterflies suspended in flying motion and a chrysalis that develops into a butterfly. Adding splashes of color is a backdrop of assorted daffodils, tulips, snapdragons, ‘Sonic Magic Pink' New Guinea impatiens, ‘Teller Blue Forest' Bigleaf hydrangea and ‘Jan Bos' pink hyacinth.

The South Conservatory, titled “Stepping Out,” offers an impressive vignette featuring a friendly brown bear family emerging from their cozy cottage built into the hillside. Created from natural materials such as palm fibers, parts of pine cones and sweet gum balls, the bears are surrounded by a sea of purple, orange and yellow blossoms. They include vibrant Lilium ‘Orange Pixie' dwarf Asiatic lilies that don't exceed about 8 inches in height, making them an effective ground cover, Melino says.

In the Victoria Room, a mother duck topiary fashioned from dried preserved oak leaves painted white that remarkably resemble feathers, leads her large brood of 50 yellow rubber ducklings across a pond in a “Duckling Parade.”

Melino found a variety of delicate ‘Honeymoon' Fringed Tulips in white with frilly petal edges that she says calls to mind the soft down of a newly hatched duckling. The tulips are featured in planter boxes around the room, along with ‘Ice King' creamy white Double Daffodils, ‘Bright Flair' orange/red Triumph Tulips, ‘Early Springs Sky Blue' Edging Lobelia, ‘Jetfire' Cyclamineus yellow daffodils and more.

If visitors listen closely, they will actually hear the “quacks” of the floating duck family. The show features other strategically placed accent audios of chirping birds, croaking frogs and other sounds of nature, designed to give an air of authenticity to the simulated outdoor surroundings.

“It's nice to enhance the show with another layer,” she says.

Another highlight of the exhibit is in the East Room, where bees are “All the Buzz.” Melino selected flowering plants with predominantly black and yellow shades that coordinate with the color of bees that are swarming around a hive. Four large topiary bees are situated throughout the room.

While in the East Room, visitors shouldn't miss a look at the small grouping of Himalayan Blue Poppy plants planted in front of the display.

“You don't find that shade very often,” says Melino, explaining that Phipps has only 40 of the rare poppy plants in its inventory and they only bloom for three to four weeks in the spring. The noticeably cooler temperature in the East Room is for the benefit of the plants that typically live in the snowy Himalayan mountain range in Asia.

The public will have an opportunity to purchase bulbs from the spring show — including hyacinths, daffodils and lilies — at Phipps' annual Used Bulb Sales from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. April 1, 15 and 29 behind the Outdoor Garden. The charge is $5 for two pots of bulbs.

In addition, for the first time, Phipps also will offer previously displayed show orchids for sale during the April 1 and 15 events for $5 per plant. Bulbs are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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