Location: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland

Featured guests: Lauren Delorenze, greenhouse production manager, and Giovanny Giraldo, horticulturist responsible for the orchid collection

3 things that surprised me:

1. If you’ve visited Phipps, you’ve seen the massive greenhouses full of palm trees and ferns and orchids and cacti, but to keep all those plants looking great and to prepare for upcoming shows, there is an equally large area in the back for staging. From a hallway just off the Tropical Forest, you can reach a series of eight secret greenhouses that are split up into 16 different climate zones. Each zone is carefully regulated in terms of temperature, humidity and light levels to create a range of growing conditions.

2. Lauren explained that planning for one of the seasonal shows at Phipps starts more than a year in advance. First, a committee decides between a few potential concepts before in-house designer, Jordyn Melino, presents an initial design for the show. Once approved, Lauren and another plant buyer begin ordering all of the plants, often as small 1-inch plugs that they’ll continue to re-pot as they grow. Lauren’s currently in the middle of growing all of the plants for the upcoming spring and summer shows. She says they probably purchased somewhere around 10,000 plants for the spring show that will open in March. Since a tulip can’t bloom for the entire duration of the show, they have to switch them out once a week to ensure that all visitors are greeted with an impressive floral display.

3. Giovanny is responsible for the orchid collection at Phipps, which he estimates contains around 3,000 plants. Phipps is also home to one of the most important slipper orchid collections in the world. The plants are called “slipper orchids” because their blooms resemble little ballerina shoes.

One thing that didn’t make the final cut: When a plant is no longer needed at Phipps — perhaps it’s grown too large — it’s often passed on to the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium or the National Aviary. There are not many places in Pittsburgh that can accommodate a 15-foot palm tree. It’s fun to think that an old tropical plant at Phipps could become a new hangout spot for one of the Aviary’s sloths.

Additional info: You can read more about Phipps, learn about upcoming shows and purchase tickets at its website.

Want more Yinzer Backstage Pass? Check out our visit to the central Prantl’s bakery in Greensburg to discover how they make their iconic Burnt Almond Torte.