Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden

 Recently we dropped off one of the kids at university in Pittsburgh. Coincidentally right next store is the Phipps Conservatory which is home to 14 interconnected glass houses and assorted green spaces between and around the buildings. 

 I don't have a picture of the entrance so let's start in the middle with a shot that shows one of the incredible glass houses.


Phipps Conservatory Japanese Garden Bridge
Inside the Japanese Garden

Bonsai Trees
Bonsai trees planted as long ago as 1960

Small Pine tree with varigated needles
Unknown small conifer with variegated needles


My favorite aspect of the conservatory was surprisingly not the plants but details like the entryway below. Phipps Conservatory was opened in 1893 and I can't help but think that some of it's more interesting Victorian era details wouldn't be built today.

Entryway between conservatory rooms

Weathered urn

Phipps Conservatory Victorian era detail
Air vent with lots of articulation

The above is a small detail that just wouldn't be built today if for no other reason than cost. I suppose 100+ yrs ago the dollar went a little further and we had an abundance of crafts people to make it happen. It seems like a piece of art to me.

Glass art in the garden at Phipps Conservatory
Modern art in the garden

Phipps Conservatory Bromeliads
One of many pots stashed in corners, bursting with plants


The shots of these bromeliads are a little out of order and actually live in different glass houses. The plants below live in the Tropical Forest Conservatory which was my second fav spot. My picture don't do it justice however so they are not included.

Phipps Conservatory Bromeliads

Each glass house holds a different theme. Through the archway below is the Sunken Garden.

Entryway between glass houses

Phipps conservatory  Sunken Garden

The Desert Garden

Phipps Conservatory Desert Garden
The Desert Room was opened in 1902

Many of the plants in this room were not 'desert' plants - but they certainly couldn't grow outdoors year round in the Pittsburgh climate.

Aloe ferox at the Phipps Conservatory
Aloe ferox

If you're admiring the above Aloe tree - we've grown Aloe ferox from seed and have it available for sale in 4in pots.

Tortoise Shell Yam (Dioscorea macrostachya)
Tortoise Shell Yam (Dioscorea macrostachya)

Carrion Plant (Stapelia gigantea)
Carrion Plant (Stapelia gigantea)

Should I be disappointed that this Carrion Plant was not in flower during my visit? Not sure. I believe the 'gigantea' name comes from the large fleshy flower.

Large tree form Euphorbia Species
Euphorbia Species

I didn't catch the species the above Euphonia - it doesn't look like an "Ingens". For context this plant stands about 14ft tall.

Oyster Plant

Ball Cactus (Parodia magnifica)
Ball Cactus (Parodia magnifica)

African Tree Grape (Cyphostemma bainesii)
African Tree Grape (Cyphostemma bainesii)

I'd sure like to grow one of these at home.

African Tree Grape closeup of leaves

The Gallery Room

Phipps Conservatory Gallery Room

Succulent Chairs

Notice the liberal use of Coleus? It's not just here - all over downtown Pittsburgh are large potted arrangements that included Coleus. It was growing so big it appeared like Hydrangea.

Succulent Chairs

Seems having indoor furniture placed outdoors with plants growing on or in them is popular now. In this case the furniture is still indoors but it looks like it's outdoors.

Succulent Chairs

Phipps Conservatory Swiss Chard
Giant rodent rampaging through the veggie patch

The Broderie Room

Phipps Conservatory - Broderie Room
Parterre de Broderie

The French word "broderie" translates to "embroidery" which describes the aesthetic of the parterre garden pictured above. Not seeing it? Imagine the sheared hedge forms as thread woven into the garden floor. I have to admit this was not my favorite room but I appreciate the historical significance. This style of garden design came from a time when nature was considered a force to be tamed.

Center for Sustainable Landscapes

Out the back of the largest, most modern glass house was a terrace which turned out to be my favorite garden area. This section also includes several supporting buildings dedicated to the study of sustainable landscapes. If your interested in learning more visit the official Phipps Conservatory CSL web page.

View of "Froggy Bottom" from a nearby green roof


We lucked out and had the whole place to ourselves that Friday afternoon.


Phipps Conservatory Froggy Bottom Pond
Froggy Bottom Pond in the Summer

Nearby signage also called this area 'Turtle Lagoon" so I'm sure what the official name is for the pond - I like both versions!

Phipps Conservatory CSL

Within the pond were lots of fish which included Blue Gill, Spotted Bass, PumpkinSeed as well as crayfish, turtles and frogs. The pond is a rain water collection basin for reuse around the conservatory.

Phipps Conservatory pond

Phipps Conservatory Pond
A view to the Tropical Forest Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory pond

I liked how the top of this retaining wall looks like a path through a dense wall of green. All this green is very different from my home town.

Phipps Conservatory CSL
The Path that draws the garden visitor onward

Who reading this would say "No, not interested in walking up that path."

Phipps Conservatory CSL

Phipps Conservatory

The building at the top of the path has a green roof - we went to check it out.


Phipps Conservatory CSL Green Roof

Phipps Conservatory Green Roof

Phipps Conservatory CSL Working Greenhouse
Phipps Conservatory Production Greenhouse

The gigantic, working greenhouse in the background looks like a place I'd appreciate a peak at - of course it's the one place not open to visitors. 

About 30 seconds after taking this shot my camera ran out of power :(  Phipps seems like a true asset for the community; I'm a fan. Given that here in Northern California we are experiencing yet another hot, dry, smoke filled Summer, spending time in humid Pittsburgh was a nice change of pace.

There's a lot more to see at the conservatory than I've shown so if you're in the area I highly suggest a visit.


  1. I'm very fond of conservatories in general but these looked particularly interesting. Hopefully, you'll have further opportunities to visit your son and can take advantage of these trips for another spin through the conservatories (camera in land). I even liked the addition of the few Chihuly (or Chihuly-like) pieces of glass, which are overdone in some botanic gardens. And I agree that that air vent was a work of art.

    1. thanks Kris - I'm sure I will go back and explore. It's such a different climate and such different plants (so green!) that its a nice break from our dry, smokey weather here in CA.

  2. Interesting place. I love conservatories of all sorts, and enjoyed seeing these. That high Victorian grate is something else--ceramic? Cast metal? Once upon a time before plastic those were big American industries.

    Thanks for sharing your visit!

    1. I believe it was cast iron. There is definitely an old time grandeur that missing in the clean lines, and modern materials of our present day life.

  3. Wow, what a gorgeous place to visit. My husband's employer had a Pittsburgh location for awhile so we nearly made the trip a couple of times, now I wish we had! I am awe struck over that production greenhouse.

    1. If you happen to be near the area it's definitely worth planning a visit. The universities and conservatory are in a leafy green neighborhood 15-20 minutes from downtown. There's also a lot of green spaces in and around both the campuses which make for nice walks.


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