Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Columbus' Franklin Park Conservatory is an Overdose for the Senses

A Chihuly Sculpture in the Victorian Palm House

      Franklin Park was the centerpiece for Ameriflora, an international horticultural exhibition in 1992 to commemorate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.  The Victorian conservatory, originally built in 1895 and modeled after the Glass Palace of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, was renovated and expanded to host the garden extravaganza.  When Ameriflora became a financial disaster, the future of the Franklin Park Conservatory was in jeopardy.  WIth a handful of dedicated staff and volunteers, the institution began a rebirth.  In 2003, Dale Chihuly at the Conservatory became a blockbuster exhibition increasing attendance substantially.   Many of the pieces were purchased afterwards making it the largest collection owned by a conservatory or botanical garden.  The works are throughout the display houses adding organic color.  Since then, the Franklin Park Conservatory has become a showplace and major attraction for the city.

A Chihuly Ceiling in the Himalayan Collection
The Monstrous Chihuly in the Pacific Island Water Garden
A Butterfly in the "Blooms and Butterfiles" Exhibit
A Staff Member
Releases Some Butterfiles
      On my recent family visit in Columbus, we decided to spend an afternoon visiting the annual "Blooms and Butterfiles" exhibit which debuted in 1994.  FIrst stop was the emergence center where dozens of the insects morph into butterflies before your eyes.  Everyday at 1 and 3 p.m. about 50 new butterflies are released into the Pacific Island Water Garden. The display house is a spectacular backdrop for the creatures with viewing areas at all different elevations.  The exhibit runs through September 11.

Some Young Visitors
Admiring the Chihuly Balls
and Large Koi

     Our visit continued outside in the Bonsai Garden with two organic "huts" large enough to sit in and enjoy the view outside.  Entering the Victorian Palm House, we realized that we had the whole "palace" to ourselves.  What a respite from the packed butterfly exhibit!  The area is host to weddings and special events with north and south pavilions to be added in the near future.  Returning to the expanded exhibit areas, we traveled through the Desert, Lowland Rainforest, and Himalayan Collection finishing up at Botanica, the conservatory gift shop and greenhouse.

Bonsai Garden and Living Hut
Victorian Palm House
Desert Garden Sculpture

      It was time for lunch so we checked out the Garden Café where Chef Stephanie Adams daily creates a menu inspired by the garden.  Many of the herbs and produce used are grown on the grounds of the conservatory at the ScottsMiracle-Gro Community Garden Campus.  Most of us chose the Mediterranean Chicken Salad Sandwich, which I  decided to share with my sister so that I could also try the Very Berry Soup and Scone.  The chicken salad was packed full of flavors from sesame seeds to vegetables and served on a dense multi-grain bread.  The soup was served cold and couldn't have been prettier or more infused with a mix of seasonal berries.  The scone was filled with cranberries, blackberries, and bananas for a moist, yet firm, free-formed confection.  My niece chose the Cottage Cheese and Vegetable side dish.  It was creamy and filled with the vegetable flavors and herbs.  Orders are placed at the counter with the dining area in the atrium and clean up is on your own.  The creative menu is definitely worth a stop when visiting the conservatory.  Or, if you're near Franklin Park, you can visit the café or gift shop without paying admission to the greenhouses.    

Mediterranean Chicken Salad Sandwich
Very Berry Soup and Cottage Cheese and Vegetable Salad
Dining Area for the Garden Café

      As an added attraction, every Thursday from 5:30 to 10 p.m. is Cocktails @ the Conservatory, an event featuring a full bar along with small plate hors d'oeuvres.  Regular admission prices are charged but you receive $10 in beverage and food tokens.  Live entertainment is provided and you can also tour the conservatory.  After dark, James Turrell's Light Raiment II is an outdoor light show presented nightly throughout the year.
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