Friday, March 11, 2022

The desert garden of my 20's—Part Three of Conservatory Week

Today is the third and final installment in my look at the two conservatories that helped educate me on the magic world of plants. Today we look at the fantastic—if small—desert garden at the Volunteer Park Conservatory ... 
Back in my 20's I spent many a rainy day tucked in here, enjoying the warmth and plants unlike any around me outside.

That's a nice stapelia! Looking beyond, to the glasshouse behind the conservatory... 

I see the words "Sharon Priebe Education Wing". Curious, I searched for info but all I could find was that in pre-COVID times plant sales and plant swaps were held there. Something I'll be keeping an eye out for on future visits.

Ah, such a beauty...

Agave parryi var. huachucensis, I believe.

Euphorbia opuntioides

Euphorbia decaryi

Wow! A huge crested Euphorbia lactea. I'd love to know how old this monster is.

I think this cool spider-mum impersonator is Senecio scaposus.

Pachypodium lamerei

Kumara plicatilis, formerly Aloe plicatilis

Playing with the light...
And a look back over my shoulder...

Such a perfect desert vignette, in Seattle...

I neglected to take a shot of the building from out front, so this image taken from inside the east wing will have to suffice; "Designed in the Victorian style made popular by glass buildings like the Crystal Palace in London, the conservatory was built from a pre-fabricated kit purchased from the Hitchings Company of New York, and erected by Parks staff for a total cost of less than $20,000." (sometime in 1911-12)

"The Volunteer Park Conservatory is one of just three historic glasshouses on the West Coast. The other two are the W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory in Tacoma's Wright Park and the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park." (source) Of course this tidbit has me wondering why the Gaiser Conservatory isn't included in that short list, it must not be old enough? Not fancy enough? Spokane isn't "West Coast"?

Mammillaria elongata 'Irish Red'

Mammillaria bocasana

"One little-known fact is that the conservatory is a registered repository for illegally imported plants, including orchids, cacti, and cycads, seized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. When such plants are received from USFW agents, they are quarantined for 30 days. After that they remain in the conservatory collection and cannot be sold, although they may be traded to other botanical institutions or used in propagation." (source

So that agave pup the US Customs agents confiscated from me at the Toronto airport (which was a pup from one of my plants in Portland, used as part of a decorative hairpiece) might be somewhere in the conservatory collection? Ha! What are the chances? Slim I am sure.

Another look at the silver spikes of Senecio scaposus, and with that we're back at the beginning of the arid house...

As I wrap up this week's look at the two conservatories I've been lucky to live so close to, I thought it worth asking; what is it about conservatories that elicit such strong opinions, my own included. Back in 2010 on a post I wrote: "I have somewhat mixed feelings about conservatories. Done well they can inspire and transport you to far away, mysterious lands. Done poorly they seem like a zoo for plants (specimens behind bars and pathetically ripped from their natural environments), or worse." On that same post a friend commented: "I've never been a big fan of conservatories (plants should be outside, free!)

What do you think? 

I stand by my remarks above, and I think that the idea that plants belong outside is one that fails to consider location in the equation. People living in places that have long cold winters benefit from having a place to go that fills them with the wonder only plants or garden can bring. Plus the magic of walking into a glasshouse and being transported to a far away land, to me that's priceless. Exposure to plants you wouldn't otherwise be able to see, what a valuable experience.

Which brings me to news I am thrilled to share. Portland has been without a conservatory, the only city in my triad of Pacific Northwest homes to not have a glasshouse filled with plants. Thankfully however, that's going to change! I snapped this screen shot during a recent Hardy Plant Society of Oregon ZOOM program "Connecting to our Natural World: ​Portland Botanical Gardens" with Sean Hogan and Kate Bodin"...

That's a sketch of what the conservatory at the Portland Botanic Gardens might look like. I am thrilled, positively thrilled. There are a couple of sites being considered for the gardens, and lots of info is available on their gorgeous website: here and Instagram here. While I don't think this glasshouse will be within walking distance of my home, I will still be there all the time! Go Portland Botanic Gardens!

All material © 2009-2022 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. Wow, if I had such a fantastic conservatory near me, I'd go there all the time. The nice thing about growing plants under glass is that they don't get dirty the way they do outside!

    1. I wonder about pest management?

    2. Pest management is such a pain in greenhouses. Scale insects are the worst. Once they get established, you might as well just throw them away. The nice thing about the outdoors is that it is harsh enough that it really knocks back some of the more severe greenhouse pests. Conservatories with happy, healthy cactus and succulents are a yes for me. But a definite sad experience if the plants are sick and don't blend well together.

  2. Mammillaria elongata 'Irish Red'... can anyone say 'Cheetos' :-D
    Mammillaria bocasana also look like a snack (everything looks eatable to me, I hadn't had breakfast yet).
    If I gardened in a warmer climate, I'd plant all sorts of Senecio: Senecio scaposus has a particularly interesting and lovely shape. Your close-ups of the barrel cacti are so good!
    Its hight time you get your own conservatory in Portland, the sooner the better, regardless of that one commenter's point of view. I'd hate to think what he'd have to say about zoos.

    1. I hauled back a gorgeous Senecio scaposus from one of my trips, it did great in the garden for the summertime, then I didn't bring it in before it got too cold and it sort of melted.

  3. I'm pro-conservatory, although in my area the few that exist are small and generally house tropical plants that couldn't otherwise survive the dry conditions here. House plants are a variation on that theme and, while I've far fewer of those than I once had, I couldn't be without them altogether either. The specimens housed in the Volunteer Conservatory look great, and are possibly in better shape than anyone could find in their native settings. I look forward to hearing more about the proposed Portland Conservatory.

    1. I can't wait to start sharing updates about the Portland Botanical Gardens and things start to really happen!

  4. Conservatories are great teaching tools and several of the colleges in our area have them for that purpose. That was my learning place, too! I've never thought of them as a 'zoo for plants!' In many instances today, both zoos and conservatories are assisting in the cultivation of plants and animals that are extinct in the wild in order to repopulate those areas. A cause that is becoming more critical by the day.


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