Annual Phipps Conservatory winter flower show a feast for the senses
One of the most anticipated new additions to this year's holiday flower show and light garden at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is the opportunity for visitors to avoid the traditional long lines to view the annual show.
Phipps is introducing a timed ticket system that enables guests to reserve their visit time in advance — similar to Walt Disney World's popular FastPass program — for “Holiday Magic!” which opens Nov. 24.
Phipps spokeswoman Jenna Bodnar says they have had a great response to the new program.
“Timed ticketing makes it easier for people to have an enjoyable experience,” she says. “They can go online and choose their time and date of arrival and number of tickets for adults and children and get an email confirmation before they visit.”
Bodnar says timed ticketing is recommended, especially during peak days, Thursdays through Saturdays and Dec. 20 to Jan. 1. Tickets can be reserved in advance on the Phipps website, by visiting the welcome center at Phipps or by calling 888-718-4253.
Once inside, visitors will be treated to new displays featuring more than 2,300 poinsettia plants in 24 varieties and assorted colors, special lighting and props in vignettes depicting a sit-down winter feast, Santa's workshop (with visits scheduled from the main man himself) and a colorful New Year's Eve celebration.
Jordyn Melino, Phipps exhibit coordinator, is the designer of the conservatory's winter flower show, along with Terra Design Studios, South Side. She also designed this year's Garden Railroad in the South Conservatory that features a “Treasure Island” theme.
The focal point of the railroad display is an island with a working Fountain of Youth and interactive push buttons that enable kids to hear a pirate telling jokes and play a game to look for hidden treasure.
Melino — who prides herself on her ability to repurpose props from past shows — says the pirate theme made good use of a large pond left over from the summer show. She added a color palette of bright lime greens and reds in plantings of kalanchoe and other tropical plants. Animatronics for the railroad scene were created by Paul Widek, Phipps' maintenance technician.
The designer also reimagined a use for gold chargers from her wedding in September as part of a 20-place formal table setting for a “Family Feast,” the theme of the Sunken Garden. The tables feature place settings of gold formal dinnerware and are bordered by “Eckespoint Classic Red” poinsettia and “White” florist kalanchoe.
Also in the Sunken Garden is a selection of historic Pittsburgh photos from Phipps' archives, including a portrait of philanthropist Henry Phipps, who presented Phipps Conservatory to the city of Pittsburgh as a gift in 1893. The picture frames feature a variety of live succulents, which also were used to create some fancy cupcakes for dessert.
Some other highlights in the winter show include:
• In the Victoria Room, a massive, locally sourced, 21-foot Fraser fir tree is decorated with oversized ornaments, swags, bows, candles and lights, surrounded by window box plantings of “Ice Punch,” “Infinity Red” and “Autumn Leaves” poinsettias, “Wedding Dance” white amaryllis, “Red” Kalanchoe and English ivy.
• In the Broderie Room, the “Peaceful Night” theme is depicted in soft white tree lights and stars suspended from the ceiling. Two new poinsettia varieties — “Christmas Joy” and “Christmas Party” — are among the plantings.
• In the Winter Light Garden outside, lighted orbs, trees, fountains and a tunnel of lights sparkle along with a new addition of illuminated gift-wrapped boxes.
• During Candlelight Evenings, with extended hours until 11 p.m., live music and glowing candles lighting the walkways add a special ambiance to the displays.
• Santa visits in the Gallery from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23, in addition to Nov. 27 and Dec. 18 to 22. A family photo with Santa is free with Phipps admission.
• Special Family Fun Days from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 26 to 30 will feature a variety of free educational activities with the price of admission.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.