Historical Changes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Historical Changes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Article by Joanne Jones

The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens first opened in 1893. Since its opening day, many changes have been made. New greenhouses have been added and rooms have been redesigned over the years. The following is a review of the changes that have taken place at Phipps since its opening day.

From 1896 to 1897, construction took place on the very first addition to the conservatory. The new room was named the South Conservatory and it was quite large in size. Then, in the late 1930’s, glass and brick walls were added to the South Conservatory in order to split it into three rooms. The two new rooms that were created were called the Tropical Fruit and Spice Room (located to the right of the South Conservatory) and the Gallery (found on the left).

In 1902, a second addition to the Phipps Conservatory was built. Its original name was the Cacti House, but it is now called the Desert Room. At first, visitors could not walk around in the Cacti House; they could only see it from a terrace that looked out over the room. It wasn’t until the late 1930’s that visitors were able to walk through the Cacti House to see the plants up close.

Aquatic gardens were added later. The first pool was built in 1910 and the second pool was built in 1939. In 1996, a statue of Neptune (the Roman god of the sea) was restored and moved from Highland Park to the second pool. The aquatic gardens remain a favourite of many visitors to the conservatory.

In 1939 the Cloister Garden was added to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. A 17th century book called Hortus Floridus, which featured illustrations of botanical art, inspired the greenhouse. Then in 1966, the room was redesigned. It is now called the Broderie Room and is sometimes referred to as Parterre de Broderie. Translated to English, it means “embroidery on earth.”

Like many other greenhouses at Phipps, the Sunken Garden originally had a different name and has been remodeled over time. Its first name was the Charleston Garden and later it was renamed the Cascade Garden. The garden at that time had water flowing down concrete steps and the back wall was modeled after a Southern mansion. In 1963, the garden was redesigned and renamed the Sunken Garden. It now features a stream in the middle of the garden, with three brick fountains rising up from the stream and garden beds along the sides of the room.

Even the outdoor gardens have been remodeled. The Perennial Garden was renamed the Outdoor Garden and in 1986, it was expanded to cover one acre. It used the original hardscape created in 1935. The Outdoor Garden now features fountains, herb and medicinal gardens, conifers, wildflowers and more. Its breathtaking views make it a popular place to book outdoor weddings and other functions.

Construction efforts from May to September of 1991 concentrated on turning a storage area into the present day Japanese Courtyard Garden. Hoichi Kurisu, who has won several awards, designed the garden. He was able to transform a small space into a serene landscape that includes a pond, stream and wooden bridge.

Another important update at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has been the restoration of the Phipps Hall of Botany, which was completed in January of 1999. It was originally built in 1901 to teach botany to high school students. The City of Pittsburgh later took over the building in order to use it for administrative offices.

In 1967, the original entrance was replaced with a new entrance in order to create space for offices and meeting rooms. In 2004, work began to update the look of the entrance so that it was more interesting and would compliment the original design done by the Lord and Burnham firm in 1893. The work was finished in March of 2005. Not only was the design updated, but it also incorporated environmentally friendly practices to make the new addition LEED Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Starting in 2007, the Phipps Conservatory began a multi-year expansion project. This project will concentrate on creating new office and educational spaces. It will be interesting to see what the new space will look like when the work is completed in 2010.

About the Author

Learn more about the history of the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden. Once there, you will also find amazing photos of both the indoor and outdoor gardens at Phipps. Then take your time to check out our Picture Gallery for reviews of other gardens and conservatories around the world.

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