Last Updated on March 17, 2023 by Jeremy
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Over the course of running Discover the Burgh, we've met hundreds of amazing Pittsburghers doing cool things in the city be it running a restaurant, operating a unique store, publishing on a media platform of their own, and so much more.
Our reviews here often focus on the unique aspects of the place/experience over the people behind it. So to dive a bit deeper, we decided to start this Pittsburgh interview series to get to know the people doing cool things in the city, how they got started, advice they may have for others looking to do something similar, and of course, learn about their favorite places in Pittsburgh!
In this edition, we sit down with Lauren Delorenze, Greenhouse Production Manager at one of our favorite spots in the city- Phipps Conservatory! If you've ever wanted to learn about all the hard work that goes into bringing the seasonal flower shows to life, we have you covered in this one.
About Lauren – Greenhouse Production Manager at Phipps
Lauren Delorenze has been a member of Phipps’ staff for almost 10 years. She began as an intern and is now the Production Greenhouse manager, leading a team that grows and cares for the essential plant material used in annual flower shows and collections.
As a part of the horticulture industry, Lauren has strived to share the positive impact of interacting with and growing plants for the well-being of people as well as the planet. She is continuously focused on not only meeting but also surpassing the horticultural standards at Phipps every day. Her efforts are not isolated to benefiting Phipps; through her work, she supports other local, gardening, non-profit groups and advocates as well.
1) When did you start at Phipps and what got you into botanical gardens?
I started in the production greenhouses as a grower in 2014 after completing my externship at Phipps through Bidwell Training Center.
I have always loved being around gardens and plants and have had an intense curiosity about growing them ever since I was a little kid, growing green beans in a small patch next to my house. The idea of a place where you can experience a rainforest, tropical fruits, palm trees and flowers in the middle of a Pittsburgh winter has always been appealing to me. The idea of coming to work every day in this environment was, and still is, so exciting!
2) How far out do you plan flower shows and how many team members are involved?
Typically, show planning starts about a year, or more, in advance for the designers. A theme is agreed upon by a team of Phipps employees representing all departments, then the show designer will create and submit a final drawing and plant list to the Horticulture and facilities team about eight months before the show — after that, the show starts to come together!
In horticulture, I work with my team in production to plan out our planting schedule and order our plugs, seeds and other materials for what we plan to grow on-site. Then our plant procurement specialist takes over and orders the larger plant materials. We can then get to work on planting and growing! What is so great about this process is that we receive input and ideas from all the departments — everyone is involved! It’s hard to say exactly how many people we have working on the show since it is such a large and multi-faceted process.
3) What is the most memorable show/exhibit that you got to work on and why?
Working on the 2021 Summer Flower Show: The Hidden Life of Trolls was certainly memorable because of the number of live and dried topiaries we created on such a large scale. Horticulture always works closely with our facilities and exhibits team, who create the props and collaborate directly with us during show installs. “The Hidden Life of Trolls” show took this to another level!
I also loved working on the 2022 Summer Flower Show: Monet in Bloom because of the substantial amount of interesting plant material we handled and utilized. Shows at Phipps usually have a more formal look; however, “Monet in Bloom” represented a style that you would see in a cottage garden with a wide mix of textures, colors and sizes.
4) What is the most challenging/rewarding part of your job when working on a new flower show?
The most rewarding aspects of my job also tend to be the most challenging! There are many variables and moving parts to creating a flower show, which causes us to continuously adapt to drawbacks like crop failures or sudden supply problems. These challenges constantly motivate us to come together as a team and find creative solutions. These solutions are often better than what we had originally planned and the process brings new energy and creativity to the project!
5) How often do the gardeners update the rooms to swap out flowers for any given show?
During the year, we have six different flower shows, plus our garden railroad, where all the plant material in eight out of 14 display rooms is completely changed! The remaining rooms, which house Phipps’ collections plants, receive a seasonal update as well. In addition to our show installations, our Horticulturists go through each room daily to replace sad looking plants or deadhead spent leaves as well as perform other maintenance to keep our shows looking pristine.
6) What advice would you have for people starting out in horticulture/design?
My advice for someone starting out in horticulture would be to keep an open mind and be ready to come to work and learn something new every day!
The one thing I have come to understand during my career up to this point is that there is so much I still don’t know. No matter how much knowledge I have, there is always going to be a new plant, new process or new idea shared by my colleagues! In addition, horticulture is a physically demanding job! Sitting back at the end of the day to admire your work is rewarding, but you also need to be able to enjoy the physical process of getting the work done!
A significant initiative within the industry right now is sustainable and ecological garden design — designing beautiful gardens based around native plants that provide habitat and food for wildlife. This ideology is not only a growing trend, but a necessity for the environment!
7) Out of all of the flowers you've seen at Phipps, what is your favorite and why?
I love poppies and anemones! These are typically grown in the outdoor garden area — last year we featured California poppies in the beds outside of the Welcome Center. We are also growing two
varieties of anemone coronaria for the upcoming spring show and they are so beautiful!
Chrysanthemums are also at the top of my list, although these aren’t your typical garden center mums. Every year for our fall show, my team spends countless hours training each mum into different styles for display. They range from a cascading waterfall of flowers to an upright single stem mum and everything in between. It is such an intensive process that Phipps is one of the few conservatories that continues this practice on a large scale in the U.S.!
8) Is there a flower or design element you want to incorporate into a show you haven't been able to yet? If so, what?
I wouldn’t say there is a particular flower, but I would love to grow more perennials — plants that live longer than two years. Unfortunately, they often require a period of cold before they bloom, which makes it difficult to time for a four-week show! While we have been able to successfully grow some, I would like to attempt to incorporate more unique varieties.
9) We know that Phipps hosts several events throughout the year from seed swaps to classes, galas, and more. What is your favorite to plan and/or attend?
I love the Seed Swap! I am not involved in the planning, but I appreciate that Phipps collaborates with other local gardening organizations and institutions to organize the event. It is a great opportunity to meet other gardeners and get seeds for free!
The summer short course is also an event that I would love to attend every year. Our adult education department always book wonderfully informative speakers and it’s a great way to connect with local gardening professionals as well as avid hobbyists!
10) Finally, we love to point our readers to find new places in the city, so what is one Pittsburgh area park or garden you love that our readers should check out?
The walled garden in Mellon Park is a little hidden gem in the middle of the city and it’s free! The gardeners from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy do an amazing job with the borders, which change with each season. The anemone in late summer to early fall are particularly beautiful!
We want to thank Lauren from Phipps Conservatory for taking the time to join us for this great interview. We look forward to the upcoming shows and checking them out with our membership!
Have a request on a Pittsburgher doing cool things we should interview next? Get in touch via our contact page to let us know. Check back soon for more great Pittsburgh interviews very soon!