Tucked away off the beaten path in Baltimore is the conservatory and beautiful Palm House in Druid Hill Park. A mere fifteen minute’s drive through the city from downtown and the Inner Harbor, it awaits visitors with an enchanting world of lush palm trees, banana trees, exotic orchids, cacti and other flora from around the world.
Their ongoing educational and social programs make this a great destination for everyone. You can explore the different houses (tropical rainforest, high mountain desert, orchids etc.) by yourself, quietly communing with unfamiliar exotics or bring the family and let your kids revel in the strangely evocative landscapes.
Not well known is the fact that this Baltimore landmark (now named after the current mayor’s father Howard Peters Rawlings) is the second oldest surviving conservatory in the country after the much better known Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
During the late 1880’s, the city of Baltimore built four glass houses in city parks for the enjoyment of its citizens.
Baltimore was at the forefront of a national movement to bring green space to the public. Well know figures such as Frederick Law Olmstead, father of American landscape design and the designer of Central Park in NY, the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and the grounds of the US Capitol and White House, believed in the restorative effect of well-designed urban green space on the general populace. His vision included public conservatories in many of his designs.
Important to the Urban Green movement of the time was the availability of the urban parkland to all classes of people and the city of Baltimore embarked on one of the most ambitious efforts to make the idea a reality.
The parks and conservatories, were to be places where society could mingle in harmony, in contemplation of the beauties of nature and escape from the crowded, unhealthy conditions of contemporary city life.
Of the original conservatoires in Patterson Park, Carroll Park, Clifton Park and Druid Hill Park, all but the Palm House in Druid Hill Park were later demolished.
Today, the renovated conservatory in Druid Hill Park continue an ambitious legacy, perhaps the most import being education. Kate Blum, who runs the conservatory speaks about it this way: “Kids come through the rainforest house here and see real bananas on real trees! – and they get it… where bananas come from instead of the supermarket shelf.” “Then you can have conversations with them about being stewards of our planet and of the environment.”
“You can’t tell the story without the tactile experience of touching the bananas, the papayas and the coffee beans growing right there on the bushes… and you can’t do that without a conservatory!”
The conservatory at Druid Hill Park is open all year round and is about to celebrate its 125th anniversary! There are regular programs as well as seasonal and thematic displays. Currently from Oct. 27th – Nov. 11th is “The Dragon’s Garden – Elements of the Chrysanthemum”. A recent class in Ikebana Flower Arranging was also very popular.
They promise some great stuff this year as part of the anniversary celebration. Check their website regularly for information on upcoming events and don’t miss this exceptional opportunity on your next visit to Baltimore or make a special trip.