Buds and Blossoms at Phipps Conservatory

UD Group at Phipps Conservatory

Today, the sun was bright and shining on a crisp fall morning, while the University of Delaware Pittsburgh Alumni Club explored the gorgeous greenhouses of Phipps Conservatory.

When I first visited the conservatory, about a year and a half ago, I had anticipated a quick walk-through, a moment of appreciation and an otherwise unexciting look at plants. I quickly learned how wrong I was and how much there is to see and appreciate at Phipps. I had fallen in love with with this secret garden and its natural, flawless beauty, so I was thrilled that we were able to give our alumni the same opportunity.

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For Those in Need of a Little Spring Flower Power

Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory

What would your initial thought be if someone told you there was a building nearby, in your city, where they grow plants for people to look at? Like a zoo, but for plants. And flowers and herbs and whatnot, but basically plants. Wouldn’t you sarcastically wonder how interesting that could possibly be?

That would be about as interesting as watching paint dry. Or for our purpose…as interesting as watching grass grow. Right? I mean, let’s all go stare at plants, because that sounds super fun and definitely worth my money.

Well, there is such a building in Pittsburgh called Phipps Conservatory. And in this place, they grow flowers and plants and trees, solely for people to look at them. In wonder, or awe, or incredulity, or boredom. Whatever the case, this is a plant museum.

This past weekend was my first time visiting this plant museum. I brought my boyfriend, who was in town for the weekend, because I had heard a lot of good things about it (surprisingly, I thought). My brother has taken his girlfriend there around Christmas-time when they have their holiday display, my cousin recently took a trip there and talked about it at Easter dinner, and I even have a friend who used to work there. So I figured it might be more interesting than it sounds.

And it was.

The goal of Phipps is

“to inspire and educate all with the beauty and importance of plants; to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research; and to celebrate its historic glasshouse.”

In my mind, I’d thought that it was solely a decorative luxury. But as we walked on the curving stone paths, through rooms filled with light and green and fragrance, I realized that the point of Phipps was a little bit more. Throughout the glass rooms, there were activities for children and plaques displayed, explaining the importance of “going green” and “sustainability.” One of the rooms was dedicated to fruit and herb plants, such as coffee and bananas and cherries, etc. There was a play “market” for kids where they could pretend to shop and sell (fake) fresh produce. There was a station (not active the time we were there) where kids would pot their own plants. The whole structure, inside and out, was to remind people that plants are important, no matter how small or large or unusual.

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

The featured exhibit that we saw during our visit was the Spring Flower Show: The Secret Garden. The flowers in bloom were incorporated into every display, every walkway, every path, every window and ledge and nook and cranny. It smelled divine. The conservatory was the smell of all the flowers in the world smashed into one building.

I just couldn’t believe how they expertly planted all these trees and shrubs and flowers to make it look like they belonged there forever. You couldn’t even tell that you were indoors anymore. The plants looked permanent, they looked like they were quite at home there. Some had grown over the pathway a little bit; some had grown tall and hung overhead. The only thing that reminded you that this was a greenhouse and not nature outdoors was the fact that every petal and every leaf was perfect. The deer hadn’t come by to nibble on the flowers, storms didn’t wash away the baby plants before they had strong roots, the high winds weren’t there to rip apart the leaves. The flowers were so perfect, they could have been fake. Which made it even more miraculous.

Inside the greenhouse was a world all its own. There were ponds and fish and bugs and little rodents, which I’m assuming is to keep the ecosystem in equilibrium and everything running smoothly. The rooms that were arranged in intricate garden pathways were exactly how I’d always imagined the secret garden in the book might have looked like. A place you could get lost in and not really care. You could just sit among the flowers and be lulled by their natural, flawless beauty.

I may sound like I’m getting a little carried away, but it has been cold and dreary for a long time. This flower show was just what I needed to pull myself out of the winter blues.

It’s not just a plant museum. It’s a magical garden show. But I would recommend going on a weekday if possible, to avoid getting stuck walking behind long trains of toddlers and badge-earning girl scouts.

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Valentine’s Day is a Love-Hate Relationship

loveWell, folks, the whirlwind of Valentine’s Day/Weekend is over and you’re probably back to your normal love-less routine, whether you have a significant other or not. You’re collapsing on the couch after a long day of work, heating a bowl of soup, and flipping through the channels. The romantic cards are still sitting on the counter, possibly displayed on a mantlepiece, but the words in them are all but forgotten. All of the “I love you today and every day because you are my soulmate” refrains, never to be read again. The $100 Cheesecake Factory dinner-for-two will come back to haunt you on your next credit card statement. Incessant nagging will ensue when the garbage doesn’t get taken out and the dishes aren’t put away….

How terrible. This would make a great movie or sit-com, I think.

But I am not this person.

I am the person who likes to celebrate the romance every day. I appreciate the little things. I want the door opened for me when we go see a movie on a Tuesday. I want a letter in the mail just because. I want a “good morning” text when I wake up. I want to spend a Saturday afternoon bowling and insist that I pay because I feel like it. I want to let you pick out the movie this time and I want to send you “good night” texts. And I don’t want this to be overlooked.

I used to want to say that I hated Valentine’s Day. I think that a lot of single girls vehemently insist that Valentine’s Day is a made-up holiday for the couples to rub their happiness in everyone’s faces. And I think that girls in relationships say that they hate how superficial and consumer-oriented the whole things has become. No one wants to be the one to say that they like having an official, national date night. They don’t want to be the one to say that the card they received said the perfect thing. They don’t want to say that the little extra effort that was put in (a reservation at an expensive restaurant, or flowers delivered to work) was actually appreciated.

Everyone wants to say that Valentine’s Day is overrated, a Hallmark-holiday. Everyone wants to hate Valentine’s Day. It’s easier to say how stupid the whole thing is, rather than look like a silly, love-struck puppy, or worse, to be let down and disappointed because the Hallmark-holiday which was over-hyped by the media led you to believe that you would be getting roses and chocolates and a romantic dinner and then your other half, the person who is supposed to know you better than anyone else in the world, forgot.

want to be someone who hates Valentine’s Day. I don’t need it. Like, I said, I already appreciate the little things. I’m already in love every day. Why do I need a designated day so I can celebrate with every other couple all at the same time?

But then I read the words in the Hallmark card and I’m sitting in the restaurant and I’m sipping a glass of wine and I can’t say that I hate it.

This year, my boyfriend and I couldn’t be together for Valentine’s Day, but I planned a trip to visit the day after. The dreaded and much-anticipated holiday approached and I found myself waiting anxiously, expectantly. I had sent a ticket to the Pens game (against the Buffalo Sabres) in the mail to surprise him. (If only I could have seen the look on his face.) I imagined all kinds of cute things he might do. I was even hoping for something generic, like flowers at work, or a romantic card, or a box of chocolates. I got nothing all day. A “Happy valentine’s day” text in the morning and then nothing. So imagine my disappointment–my willingness to say how much I hated Valentine’s Day. (Will boys ever get it right??)

Then I visited and we had a wonderful weekend that completely made up for it. I did get the Hallmark card that made me smile with every word. I got a delicious lunch out at a restaurant I had never been to. I got an artsy trinket to keep and display wine corks (much better than flowers, I thought) and I got to drop the first cork into it Saturday night.

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Yes, we might all go back to our normal routines now that this love-sick weekend is over. We might not get cards every day, or have date nights all the time. Some nice things might be taken for granted because we’re not really thinking about it. Maybe we’ll all try to enjoy the little things and say we don’t need the big romantic gestures. But this one day out of the whole year is a nice little reminder that a little extra effort is always appreciated, no matter what day it falls on. And as much as I “hate” Valentine’s Day, it is a day where all the world is celebrating love. What day could be better than that?