Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rawlings Conservatory, Baltimore

Whenever I travel to a new city, my first sightseeing priority is usually the botanical garden. I recently had to travel to the US for work, but February is not the best time of the year for touring gardens in Baltimore, Maryland. Luckily, I found out I could still get my gardening fix at the Baltimore Rawlings Conservatory. One of the few remaining Victorian conservatories in the world, it was built in 1888 and designed by architect George Frederick. The original Palm House has since been expanded with the addition of several greenhouses and outdoor gardens. Having read about it, and being excitable by nature, I was pretty eager to see it. Unfortunately, I expected a bit too much, so it was somewhat of a disappointment. Everything is very neat and well maintained, but very small.
The original Palm House has some nice palms (15 species), several of which are quite large. A small orchid room connects the old conservatory to the three new greenhouses, each of which has a different theme.

The Mediterranean house is filled with silvery, small leaved plants and shrubs, and the overwhelmingly strong fragrance of rosemary and scented geranium leaves. The greenhouse is completely unshaded, so on the day I was there the plants were basking in glaring sun - very Mediterranean. Next up is the Tropical house, definitely my favourite. After the stark sun of the Mediterranean house, the shaded, humid Tropical house with big leafy banana and papaya trees was a relief. I especially loved a corner with three giant Australian tree ferns.

Next is the Desert greenhouse - not really my favourite habitat, but the giant American agaves were really stunning.

Overall, the Rawlings Conservatory is quite small, but well taken care of and arranged to really showcase the differences between very different habitats. Going from small leaved, shrubby and silvery Mediterranean plants, to giant-leaved, rich green plants, to prickly cacti really makes one appreciate the incredible versatility of plants. Worth a trip if you’re in Baltimore, but certainly not a special destination.

Garden Summary:
What: Rawlings Conservatory, Baltimore, MD
Where: 3100 Swan Dr. in Druid Hill Park Baltimore, MD 21217 [Map]. Best accessed by car. The Baltimore Metro Mondawmin station is a 10 minute walk away, but it’s not in the safest of neighborhoods.
When: Greenhouse is open and can be visited year-round (Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-4pm). The surrounding Botanic Gardens appeared to be more park than garden, but this might also have been due to the time of year (February).

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