While gardeners love to stroll through acres of lush foliage and splendid blooms, we also love to educate ourselves. And what better time to learn something new than when the ground is frozen and there's not a leaf in sight. Of course, I'm speaking from the tundra here in Ohio, and I know many of you live in areas where gardening season is year-'round. Regardless, hundreds of arboretums and botanical gardens beautify our nation and offer a wide range of educational projects and exhibitions. To find one near you, visit this link for a list of United States arboreta.
A Few Personal Favorites
My maiden name was Krohn, so I'll start with the Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati, Ohio. (No relation, that I know of.) Though Eden Park's first greenhouses were built in the 1880's, the Conservatory was constructed in 1933 and began a tradition of offering educational exhibits to the public. The Conservatory has more than 1,000 different species categorized in six permanent displays: The Tropical House, The Palm House, The Floral Display House, The Bonsai Collections, The Orchid House, and the Desert House. Just strolling through these magnificent indoor gardens is enough to take the chill off winter, but if you're looking for something more, take a look at these offerings.
An annual Holiday Floral Show runs from November through the first week in January, and holds a plant sale right after the show closes. An Early Spring Show begins on January 30 and runs through March 7. This year's topic is "Discovering the Plants of the Americas." Krohn Conservatory is open 365 days of the year from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and admission is free. Visit the Krohn Conservatory for a virtual tour.
If I think Ohio is cold in winter, I should probably reconsider that. Westminster, Colorado's Butterfly Pavilion showcases this fascinating species all winter long, beginning in September and running through the end of March. The premier exhibit is the Tropical Odyssey which follows the life of a butterfly from South America to the Butterfly Pavilion. Learn about the metamorphosis of many world species such as the Blue Morpho, the Owl, the Zebra Longwing, and the Malachite; be introduced to butterfly farming for profit, which helps protect native rainforests. The exhibit is interactive and fun for both kids and adults. And if you like creepy crawlies, this is the place to interact with tarantulas, scorpions, beetles, and giant millipedes. (Count me out.)
A pear tree fan espalier.Traveling back to the eastern part of the country, pay a visit to Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, and Arboretum in Bristol, Rhode Island. The gardens are magnificent in season, but the mansion is a delight to visit in winter. The estate covers 32 acres overlooking Narragansett Bay, midway between Newport and Providence. Interesting programs at this venue include a January weekend open house called Christmas at Blithewold; a workshop with Lee Reich on Espalier Fruit Plants and Specialty Pruning; a Household Botany Workshop covering early European and Native American botany and traditions presented by Judith Sumner from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Chihuly Glass Art at Franklin Park
Returning to Ohio, check out the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus. One of my favorites, Franklin offers many magnificent permanent displays and a fascinating array of special exhibits. From January through the end of February, the Pacific Island Water Garden is host to waves of hundreds of orchids. This experience can soothe even the most frazzled post-holiday attitude. For seventeen years, the Conservatory has hosted "Blooms & Butterflies" in March, transforming the Conservatory into a tropical wonderland. Daily butterfly releases, hands-on activities in the Butterfly Discovery Center, and the opportunity to interact with more than 100 species from around the world. And in 2010, Franklin Park again displays Dale Chihuly's breathtaking glass artwork in the latest exhibit, "Chihuly Reimagined." Thousands of individually blown glass elements are beautifully integrated into the lush flora of the gardens.
Franklin Park isn't just a pretty place to visit-the Conservatory offers myriad classes and programs throughout the year, and many in the winter months. Try decorative leaf casting, the art of watercolor or drawing gardens, making glass tile mosaics, or learn to bead. Prefer to listen rather than "do"? Lectures include: Cacao trees and how chocolate is made; the Breadfruit tree and its significance in Mutiny on the Bounty; Sago Palms, a plant from the Jurassic period; and, the amazing, beautiful epiphyte-the orchid. Want a gardening "how-to" session? Orchid Facelift, Houseplant Workshop, Basic Floral Design Workshop, Discovering Tea, or Thrifty Gardening should provide an interesting and educational day. The Conservatory is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Another Ohio arboretum is nestled in the southeastern part of the state in Licking County near Newark. Dawes Arboretum covers almost 1,800 acres with 8 miles of hiking trails. Even in winter, one can drive through the grounds on the four-mile auto tour, and enjoy the stark beauty of Mother Nature at rest. The Education Center doesn't rest on its laurels during the cold months-outdoor activities still abound, as well as workshops and activities for those who prefer to stay warm. Dawes especially caters to activities and educational programs for youngsters, and the Discovery Center is fascinating. One corner of the room has been developed to include a honey-bee hive inside the room (well protected by thick plastic) and a viewing bay window that allows you to watch the bees come and go through the slot in the wall. Regular programs for kids 12 and under are held year around. For grownups, a Home Gardening Series covers such things as composting, vegetable and perennial gardens, and the correct way to grow from seeds. You can learn to make a rain barrel, or prune correctly, or try your hand at bonsai. And everyone's favorite-Maple Syrup Madness! Watch sap drawn out of the resident sugar maple trees, then see the process that produces that sweet elixir. You even get to taste it. Dawes Arboretum is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.
The final stop on this short list of arboreta is the beautiful Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (pictured at the beginning of this article). My last visit there was in February 2008, and the experience was wonderful, filling me with hope that winter wouldn't get the best of me. The Conservatory was hosting an exhibit of the wonderful Chihuly works that blend so beautifully with plants and flowers. Outside the crystal clear glass walls, the snow covered everything, reflecting the light back into the building and giving the feeling of being in a crystal globe. Currently, Phipps is promoting the Tropical Forest: Headwaters of the Amazon, displaying the exotic plants and cultures of the region. Through January 20, the Winter Show includes a Frabel Glass Exhibit by internationally known Hans Godo Frabel. "Orchid Fever" runs through the end of February. Also in February, you can meet the graduate students who benefitted from the Botany in Action program that supports fieldwork in botany and ecology. Other workshop sessions include simple floral design, glass mosaics using salvaged stained glass, knitting with natural fibers, origami, and several about growing orchids. Phipps Conservatory is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fridays).
So if you're feeling the winter blahs, there's a cure at an arboretum near you!
Photo credits: Krohn Conservatory, Wikipedia, courtesy Greg Hume
Espalier, Wikipedia commons license, no credit noted
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 18, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)