It’s a cold, windy winter night in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – time to head indoors for a little holiday magic at a local historic landmark. Read on to join me for a visit to the remarkable Phipps Conservatory at Christmas time.
125 Years of Phipps
2018 marks the Phipps Conservatory’s 125th year, and with that milestone comes a host of improvements and renovations.
The building has never been in such great shape. Most notably every pane of glass was replaced and the striking, soaring ogee on top of the main Palm Court greenhouse was restored.
What is an “ogee”? Its the distinctive architectural molding and arch curve formation on top of the glasshouse. Seven big aluminum trusses form the ogee, which is filled in with aluminum ribbing and over 700 panes of glass.
Those decorative fleurs-de-lis are 8-foot-tall!
The ogee brings the profile of the building back to its original design. This part of the glasshouse had been missing since 1937.
It looks fantastic towering over the entrance.
Inside Phipps Conservatory
I’m here for the “Holiday Magic: Let it Glow” annual light display. The event takes over the interior and exterior of the Phipps Conservatory at Christmas. Inside, every room transformed to meet the Christmas theme.
Trees are made from all sorts of plants; from stacks of poinsettias to stacks of succulents – even a Christmas tree made from feathers.
Follow these charming little votives to the next room.
In the Victoria Room, a dazzling 22-foot Frasier fir is dressed with many shining ornaments and glittering incandescent bulbs. Red and gold ribbon hang just above the reflecting pond and are drawn together in an intricate ribbon at the top of the tree.
Poinsettias, the classic Christmas plant is a staple in many rooms.
Covered in fruits and frosting, this larger than life gingerbread house looks good enough to eat.
In the main room, these beautiful “chandeliers” hang from the ceiling – the candles are actually blooming cacti.
A medallion above the entrance to the South Conservatory shows 1892 when construction of Phipps Conservatory began. This medallion hung on the original Conservatory entrance.
Through the arches under the medallion and into the next room we find a holiday must have – a train set!
Phipps Garden Railroad
This large room is buzzing with activity as kids of all ages watch the trains snake through the many buildings and bridges that make up this fictional land. Some of the buildings are interactive. A press of a button will bring a sawmill or a streetcar to life.
A favorite is a miniature version of the very building we’re in now.
Chihuly at Phipps
Living in Seattle, I see Dale Chihuly’s artwork all the time. But I was surprised to see so much of his glass in these gardens. The 2007 exhibition Chihuly at Phipps: Gardens and Glass was a major event seeing over 400,000 visitors in less than a year.
Having seen some of the photos from the 2007 exhibition, these types of botanical gardens shows must have served as the blueprint for his home museum Chihuly Gardens and Glass, in Seattle, WA.
Created specifically for this spot, Desert Gold Star hangs just inside the entrance to the Desert Room.
Chihuly is not the only glass artist on display at Phipps Conservatory. I loved these Longfellows by Hans Godo Fräbel.
These giant blue pitcher plants created by glass artist Jason Gamrath have become home for a little coqui frog.
Phipps Winter Light Garden
Outside, and covered with a light dusting of snow, is the Winter Light Garden. Lots of lit up trees, orbs, tunnels, and more here worth exploring. I very much favored the indoor part of Holiday Magic; and not just because it was 20 degrees outside.
Heading back inside, the humidity caused my camera and glasses to fog up just like the greenhouse’s panes of glass.
Visit Phipps Conservatory at Christmas
Holiday Magic: Let It Glow runs through early January. Admission is $17.95 for adults, $16.95 for seniors and students, and $11.95 for children (ages 2 – 18). The Magic goes late into the night, with the Phipps Conservatory closing at 11 pm nightly. Be sure to plan ahead and order your timed entrance tickets online. Parking can be difficult at peak times, but you can opt for Valet for an additional fee.