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Garden Guru: Plant palace is an easy visit

Photos by JOHN PORTER
Glass works depict the freeform movement of nature, at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio.
Glass crafted by renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly welcomes visitors to the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus.
Franklin Park Conservatory has a bonsai collection.
That’s not a plant. The large red and yellow glass sculpture stands out in the water garden at the Franklin Park Conservatory.
Raised beds in the community garden at the Franklin Park Conservatory.

By John Porter

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — This time of year is always busy for me. During the middle of July, I find myself hopping around the country attending conferences.

This year it just so happens that this past week I found myself hopping from one conference in Columbus, Ohio, to one in Mobile, Alabama, with less than a one-day turnaround.

Since I’ve been traveling, I thought it would be good to share some of the nice places I have visited this week. I also have to say that it was much less taxing on my busy schedule during the second conference I attended.

So this week we’ll have more of a travelogue than a “how-to” article. Hope you enjoy it just as much.

Last week, I found myself in Columbus to attend the National Children and Youth Gardening Symposium hosted by the American Horticultural Society. I have attended this conference every year since I became an extension agent, and this year I was fortunate to present with my colleagues Chuck Talbott in Putnam County and Jessica Pollitt, who is the coordinator of our School and Youth Garden Network.

We had the chance to talk about all of the school garden work we have done in our areas with programs like KEYS4HealthyKids and on a statewide level with the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.

During part of our conference, we had an afternoon of tours and a progressive dinner at the Franklin Park Conservatory, which is one of my favorite places in Columbus (of course).

I first visited the conservatory about 11 years ago when I coordinated a visit as president of the Biology Club at Marshall University. I find that most people in our area don’t know that it exists, even if they are frequent visitors to Columbus. It truly is a wonderful gem that any garden lover should visit.

About the conservatory

The Franklin Park Conservatory was built in 1895, modeled after the grand Victorian Glass Palace from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Columbian Exposition. In addition to plants, the conservatory also had animals during its early history, but they moved out in 1927 to form the Columbus Zoo.

The neat thing about the conservatory (basically a big, fancy greenhouse) is that there are individual rooms that contain different landscapes of plants from around the world.

Rooms in the conservatory include a Himalayan mountain biome, desert biome, rainforest biome, Pacific Island water garden, palm house and a showroom with the bonsai collection.

Many of these are truly wonderful sights. Seeing the giant palm trees (one of which is an original tree from the conservatory opening) indoors is awe-inspiring enough.

During the summer, the Pacific Island water garden becomes a butterfly garden and hundreds of butterflies are released to intermingle with guests.

The conservatory also has outdoor gardens to impress. The daylily garden is absolutely spectacular, and you’ll walk through it on the way to their model community garden campus.

The campus was built by the Scotts-MiracleGro company in 2009 and has many different and creative gardens that show just how much fun you can have growing vegetables. The campus also has a kitchen pavilion and outdoor stone oven for cooking classes.

The conservatory is also a wonderful visit for art lovers. Aside from having its own art galleries, the conservatory is also the only botanical garden in the world that owns a signature collection of phenomenal glass art by Dale Chihuly.

The conservatory purchased the $7 million, 3,000-piece collection after a very successful exhibition in 2003-04 (which was when I first visited).

The collection is beautifully integrated into the plant life throughout the conservatory.

Visiting the conservatory

Just a three-hour drive from Charleston, the Franklin Park Conservatory is an easy day trip.

Visiting the grounds and park area is free if you just want to stop by and see the outdoor gardens. To visit the conservatory, you’ll need to pay the modest $12 entry fee ($9 for seniors and $6 for kids 3-17).

The conservatory is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. During the summer, Wednesday hours expand to 10 p.m.

This week in the garden

n Plant peppers for a fall crop.

n Seed summer squash and zucchini for a fall crop.

n Keep the garden watered deeply.

n Can and freeze summer bounty for winter.

John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter at @WVgardenguru and online at wvgardenguru.com. Contact him at john.porter@mail.wvu.edu or 304-720-9573.


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