This fountain is made up of hoses from the Dramm Corporation along with some of nozzles from the company too. Photos by Doug Oster

Gardening Green with Doug — Watering Is Art

By Doug Oster


July 28, 2020

The sound of spraying and splashing water fills the air while Jordyn Melino laughs posing for photos in a pair of fishing waders. She is knee-deep next to a fountain made of colorful garden hoses gracing the center of a dark pool in the Victoria Room at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It is always a wonderful surprise to see what the associate director of exhibits comes up with when designing one of the seasonal flower shows, and this fountain is no exception.

Melino has been designing shows for years here and has created a different look in this room at least 40 separate times. The stunning, colorful fountain is her latest spectacle, part of the Summer Flower Show, “Back in Bloom.”

This fountain, though, was originally slated for the Spring Flower Show, “Spring is in The Air.” Unfortunately, just as that show was getting ready to open in March, COVID-19 shut everything down. “Not a single person got to see it,” said Melino. In her customary positive tone though, she sees the glass as half full. “It’s interesting, I got to see half of the spring show,” she said, reflecting on the installation. “Now that I can see it, I can improve on it for next year.”

Her entire spring show design will be installed next season. “It’s a relief, she said, “I was heartbroken that we spent a year designing a show, got almost to the finish line, and everything shut down. I was devastated, but there’s more important things going on.”

It began in 2019 when she pitched the theme for the spring show to committee members who are part of the team that helps put on each show. Everyone in the room lit up when she mentioned the fountain’s design, said Melino. Originally it was to be interactive — visitors would be able to control the fountain — but safety concerns about spreading the virus nixed that idea. “Hopefully in the future we can bring it back to its full grandeur,” Melino said with a smile.

She drew inspiration from artist Bertrand Lavier who created a similar fountain in London. Melino went to work on designing the fountain, figuring out the size, height, and scale for the room. “I wanted to take advantage of the height in the Victoria Room,” added Melino. She then sent off drawings and specifications to Visionary Effects, a local company who has built other exhibits over the years for shows at Phipps. “They have extraordinary craftsmanship,” Melino said of the business. “Across the board they are great.”

The whimsical fountain is created by 100 or so garden hoses in a rainbow of colors from the Dramm Corporation, and also uses some of the company’s nozzles too. “We went with Dramm hoses because we could get them in a variety of colors,” she said.

When the folks at Dramm heard the news and saw a photo of the fountain, they were thrilled. "Form often follows function, but in this case it is clear — watering is art,” said CEO and CFO Hans Dramm.

Jordyn Melino, associate director of exhibits at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens wears a pair of waders while posing with the fountain in the Victoria Room.
These detailed designs are what Jordyn Melino sent off to Visionary Effects to create her vision of the fountain.

As the fountain sprays into the dark water which looks impossibly deep, Melino gives up a little garden design secret. “What we use is concentrated beet juice to dye the water black,” she said. When asked where one gets concentrated beet juice, she responds laughing, “that’s a good question.”

The fountain stands out as another creative addition to the ephemeral shows that have captivated visitors.

“We can do traditional fountains all day, but that’s not what we do here at Phipps,” Melino said with a laugh. “Something made out of found objects puts a smile on our visitors’ faces.”

The fact that this creation has persisted after the spring show is a testament not only to its creativity, but beauty too.

“It’s just so joyful,” Melino beamed, “that when we had to switch courses for our summer show, we decided this happy installation should stay.”

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is open, but tickets must be purchased in advance. Here are the details.


Doug Oster writes a weekly column for The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter. He also the host of The Organic Gardener Radio Show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio 1020AM. 

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