"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Longwood Gardens Part Two: The Conservatory

(This post is especially for Caroline and Catherine. Wish you were here.)

Well, I promised to reveal the four coolest things I had ever seen in a garden and/or conservatory, and I will. But now there are five. We went back again yesterday and found another way cool thing in the Conservatory that must be included. Hence the small delay in posting. 

Here once again is what the Conservatory looks like from one end... 

...to the other.

Inside there are many rooms, large and small, with different kinds of tropical and desert displays.  There are also outdoor sections, or courtyards within the structure. 

I was especially impressed with the perfect and unusual plant pairings. Here are two of my favorites.

OK, on to the most cool things ever, in no particular order.  First the "Green Wall."  This may look like a bank of elevators, but they are individual, domed, sky-lighted restrooms. The wall is completely covered in different kinds of ferns. It is the largest green wall in North America, and I'll bet its the healthiest.  The plants are just dripping off the walls. 

The experience of walking into this space is complete science fiction. 

Here is a tiny section that was being replaced, to give you a sense of how it's done. Individual plugs are planted into a steel framework of some magical growing medium. The link above will also take you to an article about the Green Wall, with all the facts and figures.

Cool thing #2. The Longwood Organ, housed in a grand ballroom within the Conservatory. Another complete surprise as you are wandering around immersed in plantness, and you stumble onto this!

Behind the ballroom is a hallway with huge windows looking onto all the organ pipes, 
which range from itty bitty 1/4 inch diameter metal pipes...

...to humongous wooden rectangular columns.

The pipes are separated from the ballroom by a fabric wall that vibrates in different ways as the organ is played, depending on which pipes are "blowing." The organ is played electronically several times a day in addition to scheduled live concerts and big deal organ competitions. 

Now, the coolest thing #3, floating in one of the Conservatory courtyards: 

As you can see, Victoria water lilies are immense compared to your regular run-of-the-mill water lilies floating nearby. They are different in other ways too. They have these edges that uncurl and then stand up as the pad develops, and the bottoms and sides are spiked with thorns to keep them from begin eaten. 

You can see in these pictures how they come in different colors, depending on the variety.

In the picture above, a blossom bud is just starting to open. The blossoms are always white the first night they bloom, then they close up (with little pollinating beetles trapped inside!) and open the next night, having changed to pink. (The beetles get to fly away.) Then that's the end of that blossom's short showy life.

This guy is the Victoria caretaker. We saw him there twice, wading around, pruning out the dead flowers and pads, and sharing fun facts.

The ponds in this courtyard hold several varieties of Victoria lilies as well as more standard kinds of water lilies, often mixed together.  Here are a few pictures of the regular lilies - just as beautiful if not as exotic.

OK, hang in there for the 4th cool thing.  The Orchid House. We've seen a lot of orchid displays, as I'm sure you have. But this one was so huge, and so varied, that it positively possessed me. (Oh, and the smell was glorious.) I had to go back a second day to take more pictures. Here are just a few of the more successful ones out of the gazillions I took.

And finally, the fifth cool thing that I had to add as a result of our visit yesterday: the Indoor Children's Garden. Oh boy. My inner child's dream come true. 

It was a miracle of mazes, grottoes, tunnels, spiral staircases, fountains, statues, archways, windows, balconies - all the architectural details that children love. Oh and a few plants too.

There were secret little details to discover everywhere, just at childs-eye level.

There was water to play in and with at every turn. 
Finally! Fountains the kids can just stick their body parts into! 

This was a little row of bubblers that a kid, like Rick, 
could run his hands through as he ran up and down the little ramped passage it was in.

This low arched walkway was lined with mosaics made of beautiful shells, 
again, right where you could touch them.

Fountains everywhere, of every imaginable shape and size, doing all kinds of tricks: ringing bells, overflowing, bubbling, jumping, streaming, spraying. 

This mini-grotto had the smoky dry ice effect. Above it were hanging black stalactites with a snake coiled through them. This was the darkest place in the garden. 


In my opinion this children's garden had just the right balance of scary and wondrous. Or maybe it was tilted a little to the scary side. It certainly wasn't all sweetness, light, talking animals, fairies and unicorns.  It had some tooth!

There was even a child sized mini-chapel with kid friendly chairs and stained glass window. 
(Perhaps it was intended as a safe place to hide or calm down.)

What a perfect place this whole conservatory would be for a family on a cold rainy winter day. It was a perfect day (or two) for me.  Next I hope to write a post about Winterthur, another local favorite, before we start heading west again. Tomorrow we go for some repairs to our hydraulic system, and a day visit to Lancaster, PA. 

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