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Discover Mid-America — February 2004

by Ken Weyand

Probably the next best thing to traveling south to sunny getaways this winter is to spend some time in one of several botanical gardens in Mid-America. You’ll find displays of tropical foliage in climate-controlled conservatories and greenhouses, exhibits of desert plants and exotic flowers, and other botanical wonders. Zoological parks also mix flowers and plants in climate-controlled exhibits with animals and birds.

Special events include exhibits of spring bulbs and flowers, special orchid displays, birding walks, workshops, lectures, and even horticultural therapy sessions.

Some of the major botanical gardens that offer climate-controlled plant and floral environments are explored here. Others that have interesting facilities but with limited inside displays are listed in a separate compilation. Visit a botanical or zoological garden this winter, and you may find yourself in a tropical paradise – without the airfare. -- KW

Hands-on family activities (right) are among the many events
planned throughout the year at Chicago Botanic Garden. (Photo courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden)

Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Road
Glencoe, Illinois
(847) 835-5440

Since 1890, the Chicago Horticultural Society has promoted gardens and gardening. Over the years, the group sponsored flower shows, victory gardens, horticultural lectures and more. In 1972, the Society opened the Chicago Botanic Garden on 385 acres in Cook County. Today the Garden features nearly two million plants in 23 different gardens and three native habitat areas. Waterways comprise 81 acres, including nine islands and six miles of shoreline. A total of 34 species of wildlife can be found in the garden, and birders have identified 252 different species.

Wintertime visitors will enjoy three greenhouses featuring nearly everything from aloe varieties to sky flowers. Winter blooms include delightful surprises such as bougainvillea, bromeliad topiaries, orchids, Brazilian jasmine, jungle geraniums, and much more. Breakfast, lunch and snacks are available year-round at the Garden Caf».

The Chicago Botanic Garden is open daily, 8 a.m. till sunset. Admission to the Garden is free. No pets are allowed. Parking costs $8.75 per car, with a special rate of $5.75 for seniors on Tuesdays. Some 900,000 persons visit the Garden annually.

For more information, including an interactive map, visit www.chicago-botanic.org or call (847) 835-5440.

Denver Botanic Gardens
1005 York Street
Denver, Colorado
(720) 865-3713

Completed in 1951, the Denver Botanic Gardens boasts more than 15,000 plant species from such far-away places as Australia, Africa and the Himalayas. The Gardens’ 23 acres are open all year. Featured gardens focusing on regional themes include Western Panoramas, Sacred Earth and the Heirloom Garden. Other gardens are the Water-Smart Garden, Dry land Mesa and the Laura Smith Porter Plains Garden, which offer drought-tolerant gardening models and showcase native and adapted plants that thrive in Western gardens.

Visitors during the winter will enjoy the Tropical Conservatory, featuring tropical plants from around the world in a climate-controlled environment. Thousands of exotic specimens can be observed from winding paths or viewing decks. Children love climbing the Banyan tree in the middle of the Conservatory. A new exhibit, the Cloud Forest Tree, showcases thousands of orchids and other rare plants.

Outdoor gardens and botanical displays include the Birds and Bees Walk, Children’s Secret Path, Cutting Garden, Down Under, Drop-Dead Red Border, Dry land Mesa, Flytrap Forest (carnivorous plants), Gates Montane Garden, Herb Garden, Heirloom Garden, High Plains Perennial Garden, Japanese Garden, June’s PlantAsia, May Bonfils-Stanton Memorial Rose Garden, Mile High Border, Monet Garden, Rock Alpine Garden, Romantic Gardens, Sacred Earth Scripture Garden, Shady Lane, South African Plaza, Victorian Secret Garden, Wildflower Treasures, Woodland Mosaic, and Yuccarama.

The Botanic Gardens also maintains separate facilities at Chatfield Nature Preserve, a 750-acre wildlife and native plant refuge in Littleton; and Mt. Goliath, a high altitude interpretive site and rock garden on the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway.

Learn more by visiting www.botanicgardens.org or call (720) 865-3500.

Denver Zoological Gardens
2300 Steele Street
Denver, Colorado
(303) 376-4800

The Tropical Conservatory at the Denver Botanic Gardens features tropical plants from around the world in a climate-controlled environment. (Photo by Scott Dressel-Martin, courtesy Denver Botanic Gardens)

Bird World’s rainforest exhibit at the Denver Zoological Gardens contains plants native to the rain forest, along with many tropical birds that fly, waddle and swoop past zoo guests. Like similar domed environments, the atmosphere is moist and warm, offering a welcome contrast to the chill of winter.

One of the most popular zoos in the U.S., the Denver Zoo is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. October through March, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April through September. Admission gates close one hour prior to closing. October-March admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $5 for children 3-11. Parking is free. Feb. 2 and 14 are free days.

For more information call (303) 376-4800 or visit www.denverzoo.org

Des Moines Botanical Center
909 E. River Drive
Des Moines, Iowa
(515) 323-8900

The geodesic dome of the Des Moines Botanical Center is a recognized part of the Des Moines city-scape. Under it, a tropical rain forest is recreated, with hundreds of plants and flowers basking in the climate-controlled warmth and humidity while their Midwest counterparts lie dormant under several inches of snow.

Owned by the City of Des Moines, the Center was completed in 1979, replacing a city greenhouse that had been acquired in 1939. Until very recently it was administered by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Touted as one of the most popular cultural attractions in Iowa, the Center nonetheless has come upon lean times, and the administration of the facility has been handed off to the Water Department, which plans some remodeling , including the Garden Gate Caf», which will be closed until April 1.

For more details, visit www.botanicalcenter.com.

The Missouri Botanical Garden boasts the Climatron® Conservatory, one of the first geodesic dome conservatories in the U.S. (Photos courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden.)

Missouri Botanical Garden
4344 Shaw Boulevard
St. Louis, Missouri
(314) 577-5141

Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is the oldest botanical park in the country. The 79-acre Garden, located in the heart of St. Louis, is a National Historic Landmark and a center for botanical research, education, and horticulture display. Featured attractions include a Climatron conservatory, a 14-acre Japanese garden, a Home Gardening center, Victorian garden, and the Shoenberg Temperate House.

During the winter, visitors enjoy the Climatron Conservatory, one of the first geodesic dome conservatories in the U.S. and housing a living tropical rain forest.

The Climatron houses a living tropical rain forest. (Photo by Elizabeth McNulty)

The Brookings Interpretive Center features interactive displays showing how plants and animals interact. The Shoenberg Temperate House features plant species from warm, dry regions, carnivorous plants and a Moorish garden.

The William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening offers a gardening library and information sources. A volunteer staff of Master Gardeners helps visitors plan gardens and test garden soil.

The Seiwa-en Japanese Garden, although outside, is at its best in winter, especially when snow enhances the view. Colorful koi fish in the lake can sometimes be seen in winter.

The Margaret Grigg Nanjing Friendship Garden uses few plants and many decorative pavilions, trickling water, bridges and pavements. Tranquil in winter, it is worth a visit.

The Linnean House, opened in 1882, houses the Garden’s camellia collection, and is the oldest continuously operating display conservatory in the U.S. The camellias are at their prime during February and March. In addition to the indoor displays, several outdoor gardens featuring fountains and pools can be enjoyed throughout the year.

The Linnean House, the oldest continuously operating display conservatory in the U.S., houses the Garden’s camellia collection. The camellias are in their prime in February and March. (Photo by Jack Jennings.)

The Ridgway Center includes a Garden Gate Shop, Orthwein Floral Display hall, Garden Caf», Monsanto Hall (art exhibitions), and the Spink Gallery, housing the Boehm porcelain collection.

“An Orchid Romance” flower show, running through March 14, showcases the Garden’s collection of more than 8,500 tropical orchids. Some species date back more than 100 years. A sample of the orchid collection is on view years-round in the Beaumont Room atrium in the Ridgway Center and rotating Climatron orchid displays. Admission to the show is $3 for adults, $2 for seniors 65 and over, in addition to Garden admission. Members and children 12 and under are admitted free.
The Missouri Botanical Garden is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Admission is $7 for ages 13-64, $5 for age 65 and over. Members and children 12 and under are free.

For detailed information, visit www.mobot.org. Call the Garden Infoline: (314) 577-9400 or toll-free: (800) 642-8842.

Lauritzen Gardens
100 Bancroft Street
Omaha, Nebraska
(402) 346-4002


Lauritzen Gardens, Omaha’s Botanical Center, is a 100-acre urban oasis. Located in the neighborhood of the Henry Doorly Zoo, Rosenblatt Stadium and the Old Market, Lauritzen Gardens is comprised of 13 outdoor garden areas plus a 32,000 square foot visitor center completed in 2001 that includes a 5,000 square foot floral display hall with seasonal plant displays.

Winter visitors at the visitor center will also be treated to a cafe with freshly prepared food; a gift shop with garden gifts, books, etc.; a resource library; classrooms for adult and youth activities; and banquet areas and community room. Nearly 90,000 persons visited Lauritzen Gardens in 2002.

Lauritzen Gardens is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Christmas,

Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. (Beginning May 18, Twilight Tuesdays will be in effect, with the Gardens open at 8 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays.) Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children 6 to 12. There is no fee for members or children under 6.

Upcoming events include a Spring Bulb & Flower Show, which began Jan. 16 and runs through May 10. An Easter Family Day is set for Saturday, April 10. Workshops, classes and other programs are offered throughout the year.

For more information visit www.omahabotanicalgardens.org.

Inside the Conservatory at the Myriad Botanical Gardens
in Oklahoma City. The architecturally-acclaimed “living plant museum” spans the length of a two-acre lake.

Myriad Botanical Gardens
100 Myriad Gardens
(Reno and Robinson Streets)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
(405) 297-3995

When wintertime makes the environment cold and bleak, Oklahoma garden enthusiasts escape to a tropical paradise in the middle of Oklahoma City, the Myriad Tropical Gardens. A total of 17 acres of landscaped gardens surround the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory, the Gardens’ focal point.

Opened in 1988, this architecturally acclaimed “living plant museum” spans the length of a two-acre lake. Inside are more than 1,000 species of exotic plants from around the world. It is divided into two climate regions: the Rain Forest or Humid Tropics Region and the Dry Mountain or Monsoon Climate Region.

Plants in the Conservatory include palms ranging in size from 12 inches tall to 50 feet; cycads, or “living fossils” which flourished in the time of the dinosaurs; gingers; bromeliads; orchids; euphorbias; begonias; and more.

The Crystal Bridge and Gift Shop are open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Adult admission is $5.

For more information, visit the website: www.myriadgardens.com


Topeka Zoological Park
635 Gage
Topeka, Kansas
(785) 368-9180

Flamingoes mingle with visitors at the Tropical Rainforest in the Topeka Zoological Park. (Photo by Ken Weyand)
Called by some the oldest domed rain forest exhibit west of the Mississippi, the Tropical Rain Forest at the Topeka Zoological Park has long been a haven for area residents and visitors seeking a respite from winter. The facility, housed in a 125-foot diameter geodesic dome and featuring waterfalls and pools, recreates a tropical habitat for animals and plants. Mynah birds, nicobar pigeons, flamingoes, toucans and other birds can be found, along with sloths, bats, tamarinds, otters and other mammals. Tortoises and iguanas live in the exhibit but there are no snakes. Tropical plants include ficus trees, several varieties of palms, bamboo, tiger grass, philodendron, hibiscus, and yuccas.

The Park is open daily except Christmas and New Years. Gates are open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the grounds remaining open until 5 p.m. Admission is $4.50 for adults, $3.50 for seniors, and $3 for children 3 to 12.

For more information, visit www.topeka.org. Friends of the Zoo also maintains a website at www.fotz.org .

And some others …
Other botanical gardens in Kansas, Missouri and surrounding states are listed below. Most of these have mainly outdoor facilities with heightened activities during the growing season, but many have interesting programs during the winter as well. Special events are listed below. Be sure and call to confirm schedules, hours of operation, etc. before making your trip.

Botanica, the Wichita Gardens
701 Amidon • Wichita, Kansas • (316) 264-0448 • www.botanica.org

Powell Gardens
Kingsville, Missouri. • (816) 697-2600 • www.powellgardens.org

Botanical Gardens
44 N. School Ave. • Little Rock, Arkansas • (501) 443-6638

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