Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Monday, November 21, 2011

SAGBUTT at the Volunteer Park Conservatory

This past Sunday, I met up with Paula, who writes Petunia's Garden, at the Volunteer Park Conservatory on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Paula and I are members of a group called SAGBUTT,  a loosely organized group of garden bloggers in the Seattle area that gets together once a month for a local outing. SAGBUTT stands for Seattle Area Garden Bloggers United To Talk. I missed the last two meetings, one because I had friends visiting from out of town, and the other because I wasn't feeling well. But on Sunday, which dawned very cold and frosty, but sunny, I made it into town.

The Volunteer Park Conservatory was built in 1912 and was fashioned after London's Crystal Palace. It's located on Capitol Hill in Seattle, in Volunteer Park, which was designed by John Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. It is a Victorian glasshouse, manufactured in New York, shipped to Seattle and assembled by the Seattle Parks Department, at a now amazing cost of $5,000. The Conservatory is a historic landmark which is approaching its 100th anniversary. Its structural integrity has begun to fail over the years, and it is currently in the middle of a phased renovation process. The Conservatory works with the US Department of Fish and Wildlife as a rescue center for plants that have been illegally brought into the country (We didn't see any of those, I don't think they display them).

The Conservatory consists of five rooms or houses that represent five different growing environments -- The Palm House, the Seasonal Display House, the Cactus House (which was unfortunately closed, so no pictures), The Fern House and the Bromeliad House.

Well, I'll shut up now (mostly) and show you my photos. The first few are a bit foggy, the lens (and my glasses) fogged up immediately when I entered the building. It was warm and very humid inside.

There was a selection of beautiful orchids displayed in cages, probably to keep people from picking them. I managed to poke just the the lens of my little point-and-shoot camera through the openings for pictures.

There were a couple of enormous staghorn ferns on display.

The Fern House was a lesson in leaf texture and contrast.

This Epiphyllum oxypetalum was in a hanging pot. I had one several years ago, but it became too top-heavy and I ended up passing it along to another gardener back in Massachusetts.

This one had several buds, and looks like it's close to flowering. The flowers open only at night, and according to what I've heard, they can perfume a large area.

There was an interesting selection of very poky bromeliads.

I thought these looked like critters that could be crawling across the ocean floor.

The Seasonal Display managed to be evocative of autumn foliage, while not actually using any autumn leaves.

For a wonderful account of a 2011 summer visit to the Volunteer Park Conservatory, please visit a blog from Portland gardener Ann Amato-Buttitta, called The Amateur Bot-ann-ist.

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part One, The Seasonal Display House 

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part Two, The Cactus House 

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part Three, The Palm House 

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part Four, The Fern House

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part Five, The Bromeliad House




  1. What a magnificent conservatory, every gardener's dream place to spend several enjoyable hours. Your pictures are outstanding, Alison. That 'little point and shoot' of yours could put some of the big guys out of business. I thought you were so clever to poke your lens through the wire cages to show us the orchids, unobstructed. Bet all those fat lenses out there were very jealous! The colours, shapes, textures and varieties of all the many plants on display are mind bogglingly glorious! And every single plant looked to be in perfect health. I loved seeing all the ferns (Staghorn, Maidenhair, Bird's Nest, Asparagus), the huge Trumpet Vine, Prayer Plants, Peace lilies, the airplants, stelitzias, cycads, various palms and the crysanths at the entrance, mixed with those delicate Maidenhair fern fronds quite took my breath away. I wondered why my glasses had steamed up, too, then I realised it's because we were in the tropical garden. What an eden it was. I loved your very apt description of those leggy bromeliads looking like creatures creeping across the ocean floor. The large boulder in the foreground only added to the similarity. Another wonderful post, thank you, Alison! I will visit Ann's blog when I have some free time.

  2. Alison, I can see why you love where you live now. So many great gardening events and places to visit. The conservatory is stunning. And to think it's already 100 years old? Amazing structure.

    So many plants I have never seen before, they are just marvelous. SAGBUTT had me laughing, around here we have a daylily society known as the BADBUDS. (Bay Area Daylily) I used to belong to them, but now our only membership is in GAG (Green and Gold) hosta society.

    Wonderful post, Alison!

  3. Great tour through the conservatory, Alison. You've reminded me that I'm missing our own delightful Allan Gardens -- must go soon to get my lenses steamed up. Don't you just love those (I think they're) Calathea with the purple undersides. What amazing things nature does, all on its own, eh?

  4. Oh my goodness glory this Ozark Farm Chick has died and gone to heaven. Honey, my gardens are all brown and barren and this truly feeds my OCFD (Obsessive Compulsive Flower Disorder) A little disorder I named myself! Heeheehehe!

    Your pictures are just stupendous sweetie!

    God bless ya from the cold hills and hollers of the Missouri Ponderosa!!! :o)

  5. My bad....

    I just wanted to let ya know there's a place. 'Just sayin'........

  6. Hot and humid just like where I live, and so many of the plants look familiar. I am always awed by people that manage to grow plants that are from other areas. they certainly all look very healthy - I love the orchids, and the overgrown paths. that sounds like a wonderful visit you had.

  7. Thank you for sharing your trip with those of us who live far, far from this kind of place to visit. I think I commented on the individual pictures elsewhere. I don't think I commented on the staghorn fern. Any kind of fern is eye-catching. That one was spectacular.

  8. Gorgeous photos, Alison! The glasshouse itself reminds me of the one at Buffalo's Botanic Gardens. I don't remember whether that one was an Olmsted project, although I know he did do at least one park in Buffalo.

  9. You got some wonderful photos of the conservatory! Have you seen Sara Chapman's book Flowers of Volunteer Park Conservatory? I reviewed it on The Gardening Life, my blog. It is beautiful!


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