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Pittsburgh Botanic's annual tour visits artist-created beauties

| Monday, June 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Stephanie Flom's holds a piece of her pottery in her studio at her Highland Park home on Sunday, June 15, 2014.  Flom's garden is part of a garden tour by Pittsburgh Botanic Garden which is featuring the gardens of artists.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Stephanie Flom's holds a piece of her pottery in her studio at her Highland Park home on Sunday, June 15, 2014. Flom's garden is part of a garden tour by Pittsburgh Botanic Garden which is featuring the gardens of artists.

When Stephanie Flom sits in her garage-turned-studio to sculpt ceramics and turn pottery from a wheel, she enjoys the view of her garden. When the garden sleeps in the winter, making ceramics becomes her “gardening.”

Both her art and her gardening relate well, Flom, 58, a Highland Park artist, says.

“I love anything that involves getting my hands dirty,” says Flom, who makes pots, bottles, vases and more.

Besides the messy-hands factor, artists who make visual objects like paintings and sculptures often apply their talents to create another visual work of art — their gardens. This cross-talent awareness birthed the idea of Pittsburgh Botanic Garden's Town & Country Garden Tour, happening June 22. Visitors on the self-guided tour can explore 14 artist-created residential gardens, tended by sculptors, painters, a glass artist and a photographer, among others. The homes and gardens stand mostly in the city's East End — Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, Lawrenceville, Friendship, Highland Park and Shadyside — and Sewickley. Many of the gardens contain pieces of the artists' work, like pots and glass creations.

“It's a perfect match,” says Flom, executive director of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, about art and gardens. Artists and gardeners have a knack for creative problem-solving and aesthetic decision-making.”

Proceeds from the tour will benefit the long-awaited Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, a project 23 years in the making. The botanic garden will transform a 460-acre abandoned coal-mining site near the airport. The first phase of the botanic garden, featuring a 60-acre arboretum with more than 5,000 trees, opens to the public Aug. 1.

Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, an organization created in 1991, has put on the garden tour for 17 years, and wanted to do something different this year with an artsy twist. The hope is the event will spike anticipation for the opening this summer, Kitty Vagley, director of development for Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, says.

Tour officials thought, “What if this is getting old to our fan club? Maybe we should add another dimension this year,” she says. “Of course, gardens and art go together so well. That was the thinking.”

A master gardener or other plant expert will talk to visitors at each site and give them advice for their own gardens.

“We want it to be not only simply enjoyable and visually rewarding — we want it to be educational, as well,” Vagley says.

Tour guests will make a stop at the Lawrenceville garden of glass artist Bernadette Gerbe, whose adjacent home and business studio, Gerbe Glass LLC, are in the same building. The empty-nest, stay-at-home mom discovered her artistic passion by surprise when she took a class three years ago at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. It changed everything, she says. Now, she creates her glass pieces full time, using a torch with rods and tubes of glass. Gerbe makes everything from jewelry to sculptures to small bottles.

One of the things you'll see in her garden is the flower structures she makes by stacking dishes and bowls and bolting them together, then placing a glass piece as the center as the stamen. These sculptures rise from the garden filled with annuals, such as geraniums, in shades of purple and lavender.

“I've always been into gardening. I've always been into creative endeavors,” Gerbe, 50, says.

“I love the idea,” she says about the art-garden combo. “I'm a little sad that I won't have time to go and see the other gardens.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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