Located two miles east of downtown Columbus, Ohio, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden is a horticultural and educational attraction that is a popular tourist spot for those visiting the greater Columbus area.
This 88-acre facility is home to hundreds of plant and tree species, arranged in attractive outdoor gardens or located within the facility's expansive conservatory building, the architectural centerpiece of the attraction. It is the mission of Franklin Park Conservatory to "promote environmental appreciation and ecological awareness for everyone. Our unique botanical collections provide lifelong learning opportunities in a friendly and accessible setting, which preserves tradition and provides a refuge for the soul.''
Sitting on the land that was once the site of the Ohio State Fair, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden was officially established in 1895. It was built around a grand Victorian-style conservatory/greenhouse, which was modeled after the Glass House from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and Columbian Exposition. That glass structure, now the Palm House, would eventually be listed in 1974 on the National Register of Historic Places.
For the first few decades, the conservatory housed animals as well as plants, but they were moved when the local zoo opened in 1929. Through the 20th century, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden enjoyed moderate success but was thrust into the limelight in 1992 when it hosted AmeriFlora, an international exhibition. On the heels of this event, the directors decided to add a seasonal butterfly exhibition in 1994 and, in 2003, hosted an exhibit of works by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly and then purchased the entire exhibit, making this conservatory the only one in the world to have a collection of Chihuly works. The Chihuly collection attracts hundreds of visitors each year.
Guests still come mainly to view the flowers, plants, and trees, however. The Entry Plaza is home to a variety of colorful species that vary with the season, including a holiday showcase and winter interest garden in the colder months. The Bride's Garden, added in August 2008, uses white as a unifying color and includes fountains, detailed stonework, winding paths, and trees with heart-shaped flowers. The Cascades Garden includes beautiful waterfalls, native perennials, and a variety of small wildlife, meant to be an oasis in the middle of the busy city.
Inside the Palm House, visitors will find 43 species of palms from throughout the world, many that are endangered. The North Conservatory consists of three different biomes. The Himalayan Mountain Biome includes species found in a temperate mountain climate of about 9,000 feet above sea level; the Tropical Rainforest Biome is indicative of eco-systems located along the equator in Asia, Africa, and South America; and the Desert Biome includes plants that can survive in sparse rainfall. The South Conservatory houses the Pacific Island Biome, which represents the eco-system of a volcanically-formed island.
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden also hosts about a half-dozen special exhibitions each year and sponsors a number of educational programs for the general public. Classes for adults include garden walks, bonsai growing, art classes, lectures, and gardening programs. Family programs feature hands-on activities for ages 5 and up. Summer week-long camps are also offered for children up to grade 8.
The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden is open year round from Tuesday through Sunday and on particular Monday holidays. Guided and cell phone tours are available and there is a caf‚ and gift shop on the premises.
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