Stepping Into Springtime with Sunshine and Rainbows

Starting in the 14th century, what we know as spring today was known instead as “springing time,” because plants “spring” from the ground. It was shortened to “spring-time” afterwards, before being further shortened to just “spring” in the 16th century.

Since its opening in 1897, The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden has produced full-scale flower shows in either the Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer seasons each year.

And, since 2000, the Phipps Conservatory has specifically put on a Spring Flower Show each year for 20 years straight until 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the tradition returned in full force in 2021 and now in 2022.

Every year, the Spring Flower Show is organized around a unique theme with previous ones being: Enchanted Forest, Scents of Wonder, Gardens of the Rainbow, Canopy of Color, Masterpieces in Bloom, and April Showers Bring May Flowers, to name a few. 

The various Spring Flower Shows differ in size and in the ways the flowers are arranged, but still possess similarities to one another. Spring has always been known as a “colorful” season because it is the period when the landscape shifts from the neutral of winter to a bold array of green. The green appears as more of the floral plant life of the Earth comes back to life, and the Phipps Conservatory’s Spring Flower Shows mimic this sentiment.

There is consistently an emphasis on displaying a variety of colors that is reflected in the flowers chosen for each show, the way the flowers are arranged around one another, the props of the show, and even in what the flower show theme is selected to be. This year, the “Spring Flower Show: Sunshine and Rainbows” had  maintained this trend.

The show opened March 19 and ran until April 17. The types of flowers that had been on display were the conservatory’s signature lilies, amaryllis, petunias, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, among other flowers. The show did not not shy away from featuring more obscure plants too, such as the New Guinea impatiens, the Himalayan blue poppy, kalanchoe, nemesia, muscari and lobelia.

In the Palm Court, a room in the conservatory that contains various species of palms and acts as the entryway to the other indoor display spaces, was decorated with oversized prop tulips. In the Victoria Room, featured plant pots arranged to form a color wheel. The Spring Flower Show was also paired with the conservatory’s new Tropical Forest Hawai’i exhibit, which is an exploration of the plants, animals, history and culture of Hawaii.

The Spring Flower Show: Sunshine and Rainbows, was designed by Jordyn Melino, the Associate Director of Exhibits at the Phipps Conservatory. Melino has been in this position for four years and was previously an Exhibit Coordinator at the conservatory for nine years. She led the design team for a number of the conservatory’s flower shows over the years.

Melino, a Jacksonville, Florida native, first moved to Pittsburgh in 2003 to study Environmental Science at Carnegie Mellon University and later completed her master’s degree in Landscape Architecture in 2014 at Chatham University. The conservatory often sends her and their curator of horticulture overseas for research in preparation for exhibits and shows.

In an interview with Alex Sinatra, the Communications Coordinator at Phipps Conservatory, for the Phipps Conservatory blog, Melino discussed what went into installing this year’s spring flower show in a two-week period.

The blog post begins by divulging that the planning for the show had started more than a year ago at the same time as the opening of the Tropical Forest Hawai’i exhibit. The theme of Sunshine and Rainbows was considered a good match because “The Rainbow State” is a nickname for the Hawaii islands due to the frequent occurrence of rainbows in Hawaii.

Sinatra states that Melino found it, “exciting to play with color combinations from the rainbow in the form of lively flower displays.” Planning was one of the most important components to making the flower show successful, given that Melino had only a two-week window to install the four-week-long show.

According to Sinatra’s blog post, the installation schedule for a flower show is created around two months prior, depending on what aspects need to be finished first and what the plan design necessitates. The Broderie Room of the conservatory was completed first for the Spring Flower Show because of how many weddings and events are usually hosted there, so it’s important for the room to “always look photo ready.”

Following that room, the East Room in the conservatory was done. The East Room  highlighted purple and yellow flowers. The remaining rooms were arranged similarly, but with different color schemes. Sinatra details, “each room typically takes 2 – 3 days to turn over while more detailed rooms can take 4 – 5.”

Sinatra then reveals that in the process of getting ready for the show, there are bulbs that have been growing since June 2021, and others that began growing in either October or November 2021.

The Spring Flower Show displays over 72,000 bulbs that get changed around two to four times when the show is happening. In order to pull this off, she states that, “the pots are left in the display and replaced with different flowers at the end of each week.” So, preparations don’t end at the opening of the show.

Sinatra closes her blog post by mentioning how Melino, “notes that the short install window requires a huge team effort, so it is a big sigh of relief when everything is put in place.” 

The phrase “sunshine and rainbows” is typically self-contained with the idiom “life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows,” which means that real life doesn’t just consist of carefree happiness; there can be more hardship in reality than a person realizes.

I think the meaning of this idiom makes the name/theme choice for this year’s flower show all the more rich. Behind all the beauty that was on display, from tulips in multiple colors to the expansive Tropical Forest Hawai’i exhibit, is the hard work that it took to put the show together.

Without the research, design, and physical labor that occurred, the show would not have been as beautiful as it was or generated such a positive energy.

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