Garden Visit: Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens

Baltimore

A few weeks ago (with advice from Houzz), I delved into things you can do now to help ready your garden for spring. And of course, one thing you can do is gather inspiration for your 2014 gardening plans! It's only fair that I heed my own advice, so I decided to take a short bike ride to our local conservatory — a great way to spend some time escaping from the cold weather.

Originally named the Druid Hill Conservatory, it was established in 1888 and has grown from the original Palm House and Orchid Room to include three greenhouses, two display pavilions, and outdoor gardens. A major renovation began in 2002 and included a Mediterranean House, a Tropical House and a Desert House. The conservatory finally reopened to the public in 2004, when it was officially renamed The Howard P. Rawlings Conservatory. But it is (and will probably always be) affectionally called the Baltimore Conservatory by locals.

Back in 1874, when the idea for a conservatory was given the green light by the city, a committee was formed to help design and plan the new structure. One of the committee members traveled to Europe to visit the famous Kew Gardens of London, which was the model for the new design. And an interesting fact to note: The Conservatory is the second-oldest steel framed-and-glass building still in use in the United States today (and the last remaining conservatory of the four that were built in Baltimore in the 19th century).

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One of the most memorable events since the conservatory reopened has to be the "Agave Watch of 2013". In nature, agaves can take up to an average of 30 years to bloom, and unfortunately, once an agave blooms it signals the end of the plant's life cycle. This has given agaves the nickname “Century Plants”, because they bloom only once in their long lifetime.

In March of 2013, the Conservatory's blue agave (that stood at an impressive 8 feet tall and 13 feet wide) began to send out a flower spike. It was growing so tall and so fast that the glass in the ceiling had to be removed in April to accommodate the spike. While the top 6 feet of the spike was lost in a wind storm near the end of June, the remaining buds bloomed into a yellow flowery show on July 4th, and the agave was removed at the end of the month. In an amazing coincidence, the Variegated Agave (which was the centerpiece of the Desert House) also started to bloom around the same time. It really was a site to take in, and the talk among my fellow gardeners around the city at the time. You can see a slideshow of the agave in bloom here.

If you are passing through the area, I highly recommend a trip to the Baltimore Conservatory. They even have a small variety of plants from their greenhouse available for purchase, as well as free workshops and demonstrations for adults and children. If you would like more information on visiting the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens, you can find all the details on their website.

(Image credits: Kimber Watson)

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