Do you love conservatories as much as Dea Schofield?
As well as an expert HORTICULTURALIST, Dea is a frequent Tanglewood blog contributor and a fan of CONSERVATORIES! Below, she takes you inside her love of conservatories.
Whether it’s a lowly little propagation lean-to, or a lofty, pedigreed orchid hothouse, I cannot resist the urge to explore them. And this goes back to my early teens when I received my first mini-conservatory, or terrarium, in the mid-seventies. It was really just a garish, modernist, plastic ‘Wardian’ case (invented by Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, who had connections to Kew Gardens). It had an orange base and covering with a light and stood about four feet high. I grew a GYNURA AURANTIACA (Purple Velvet Plant) in it and remember thinking the purple and orange went well together. I also remember wanting something much bigger!
That love of keeping plants ‘UNDER-GLASS’ grew, so that in adulthood, whenever I travel, my first task is to see if my destination has any conservatories or BOTANIC GARDENS in residence. I remember visiting CHEEKWOOD GARDENS in Nashville and finding their humble, vintage, working greenhouses my favorite part of the place—despite them not really being part of the expected tour or especially architecturally gem-like.
There are so many amazing conservatories world-wide, that to choose a favorite is nearly impossible. From the old-school elegant beauty of PHIPPS or LONGWOOD GARDENS conservatories, to the modernism of MISSOURI BOTANIC GARDENS or SINGAPORE’S GARDENS BY THE BAY, one is hard-pressed to say, ‘This is my favorite’. I confess, I love them all. But there are two standouts.
As the crow flies, I live about six miles from the U.S. BOTANIC GARDENS. Not only do I find the large conservatory to be a beautiful structure, but from a symbolic standpoint, I love its proximity to the stony U.S. Capitol—as if ‘someone’ knew Mother Nature needed to remind us of who is really in charge! Standing to the west, the DELICATE GLASSHOUSE is never in the shadow of the much taller legislative building, which does ultimately oversee it’s well-being through the Architect of the Capitol. Being truly ‘THE PEOPLE’S’ CONSERVATORY, it is open 365 days a year and has no admission cost. The USBG is also the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the United States—having begun its first glimmer in the eyes of the forefathers back in the early 1800s. I highly recommend it be top of anyone’s list when they visit the nation’s capital.
But for shear faint-factor, the PALM HOUSE at THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, KEW was the most impressive for me. Like a teeny-bopper seeing her music idol, I had to control my desire to squeal the first time I laid eyes on it! Being not only a plant lover, but a lover of history, beauty, exploration, knowledge, and conservation, Kew’s mystique does it all for me. The various conservatories there run the range from my favorites, the very VICTORIAN PALM HOUSE and larger TEMPERATE HOUSE, to the modern, PRINCESS OF WALES CONSERVATORY—with its emphasis on energy conservation. Everyone should make an effort to visit Kew. Don’t go to London without doing so!
In fact, I say make it a point to seek out the public conservatories wherever you travel, because no matter your architectural taste, there are conservatory gems around the world. They are the perfect marriage of art and science, beauty and knowledge. They remind us of the best of what humanity can create.
Happy New Year and Happy Exploring!