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Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens awash in the glory and color of fall

| Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, 8:55 p.m.
Accenting Jason Gamrath’s glass Darwin Orchid in the East Room are beds and containers of varieties of white and purple garden and spray mums.
Candy Williams
Accenting Jason Gamrath’s glass Darwin Orchid in the East Room are beds and containers of varieties of white and purple garden and spray mums.
The Sunken Garden showcases Jason Gamrath’s glass Blue Columbines with baskets of cascading mums.
Candy Williams
The Sunken Garden showcases Jason Gamrath’s glass Blue Columbines with baskets of cascading mums.
Jason Gamrath’s glass cobalt blue pitcher plants in the Serpentine Room surrounded by rattlesnake plant, sweet potato vine and mums.
Candy Williams
Jason Gamrath’s glass cobalt blue pitcher plants in the Serpentine Room surrounded by rattlesnake plant, sweet potato vine and mums.
Show designer Laura Schoch, a display horticulturist at Phipps, puts the finishing touches on garden mums in the Palm Court.
Candy Williams
Show designer Laura Schoch, a display horticulturist at Phipps, puts the finishing touches on garden mums in the Palm Court.

The changing season offers horticulture enthusiasts and art aficionados one last look at the exhibition of 40 oversized blown-glass floral sculptures created by Jason Gamrath, in “Super. Natural. Fall Finale,” the annual fall flower show at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

From Oct. 14 to Nov. 5, the Victorian glass house in Schenley Park, Oakland, will feature extended hours until 11 p.m., allowing visitors to view the exhibit by Gamrath, a master glass artist from Seattle, in a different light.

Added to the original exhibit that premiered in May is a colorful array of chrysanthemums – including a few new varieties – and other seasonal fall plants arranged by Laura Schoch, a display horticulturist at Phipps.

“The Sunken Garden will have copious amounts of ‘Jackstraw' spray mum, a brilliant yellow mum with quilly, fringed ends to the petals,” she says. “In the Victoria Room is a spray mum named ‘Maryl.' It is a spoon class mum that has pink tubes and red ‘spoons' at the ends of the petals. With a yellow disk center, it makes for a striking mum.”

Schoch has tried to incorporate as many of the 13 different classes of chrysanthemums as possible in her design to showcase the wide variety that can come from this one type of plant.

“We grow garden mums, spray mums and cascade mums, each requiring a different growing technique to bring out the beauty of that particular variety. It takes an enormous amount of effort on the growers to get that method perfected,” she says.

Using the foundation of the summer show plants and replacing them with typical fall show plants and some grasses such as purple fountain grass Pennisetum ‘Fireworks' and coral bells Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose', she says her biggest challenge was to create designs that are complementary to the glass sculptures, while not being too overpowering.

The seasonal change is most apparent in the Broderie Room, the designer's favorite room in the show, where she and the Phipps staff were able to totally switch the color palette from summer to fall.

“The colors of brilliant yellows and rich oranges are so typical of what fall brings us,” Schoch says. “We do not have any Gamrath glass in the room, so I had the liberty to select a different avenue of colors. We have three mum towers draped with ‘Seizan' cascade mums that make a dramatic backdrop for this formally designed room.”

In the Palm Court, visitors are welcomed by two large Gamrath glass floral pieces – ‘Allure' and ‘Clementine' – that are surrounded by orange ‘Pumpkin' pot mums, ‘Ashley Dark Orange' and ‘Afterglow Orange' garden mums and others in varying shades of pink and purple.

The Sunken Garden showcases Gamrath's striking white and blue ‘Columbine' glass flowers with baskets of cascading mums and others in beds, window boxes and elevated planter boxes.

While some plant varieties are repeated throughout the conservatory, the Sunken Garden exclusively will feature one destined to be a hometown favorite – ‘Pittsburgh Purple' spray mums – with rich purple blooms that should be ready to pop by show time, according to the designer.

Schoch, who has been designing Phipps' fall shows since 2011, says the season “can be a wonderful pause before the busy winter holidays to relax and reflect and enjoy this colorful and bountiful time nature gives us.”

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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