Winters in Northeast Ohio can be brutal. A visit to the glasshouse at the Cleveland Botanical Garden will warm your spirit and offer an escape to make you forget the snow and ice-covered landscape outside.
The winter show, “Orchid Mania” is held annually. Whether or not you have ever had any desire to grow orchids, you can’t help but be dazzled by these stunning beauties. Bring your camera because obtaining the perfect shot is unbelievably simple when you have so many perfect specimens to choose from.
After parking in the garage where we usually can find a space near the door, we take the elevator up to the first floor to the ticket counter. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children. Instead of purchasing admission tickets, my husband and I purchase a membership. The membership gives us free admission to the botanical garden for the year and also the Holden Arboretum plus several hundred gardens and conservatories around the country. A membership entitles us to a discount in the gift shop that is filled was garden books, tools, jewelry, home decor, garden art, and more. I was pleased to discover that it also saved me $20 off the cost of a silk painting workshop being held later this month. With our first visit to the gardens this year we nearly broke even. Once summer arrives, our membership will save us money.
I always like to save my visit to the glasshouse for last. First, I look around at any main floor displays. On this visit, “Orchid Mania” has just opened and the main hall is lined with a series of boxes. Each one contains a beautiful orchid vignette. The self-contained gardens give me a glimpse of what is to come.
We climb the stairs to the second floor. To the left is the “kid’s room” and if you have young children you may want to spend some time there. We turn to the right and step into the small Guren gallery where art works are displayed to complement the current exhibit. “Hidden Natures” by Gunter Schwegler is a series of intriguing paintings worked on silk.
There is more than one entrance into the glasshouse including one on the second floor but I choose to go back down the stairs and enter through the door beside the sign that says “the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse.” I assume this is intended to be the main entrance. In any case, I like moving in this direction.
The glasshouse is divided into two different environments. Pushing through the first door, we are instantly hit with a burst of heat. A sign tells me that we have entered the “Spiny Desert of Madagascar.” We forget all about the snow falling outside as we wander through this unique environment with twisting trees towering above and turtles crawling on the ground beside us. I’m always reluctant to leave this first section of the glasshouse and sometimes I will wander back to the beginning and go through it again.
Passing through the door from the dry desert and into the steamy “Rain Forest of Costa Rica” is always my favorite moment. The first thing that hits me is the sound. It doesn’t just feel like the jungle. It sounds like one too. Tiny, bright blue and green birds fly through the trees. They land on perches right in front of us to suck the sweet nectar from hanging feeders. Butterflies of every color and variety flutter past our heads. Every afternoon, a new batch of butterflies are released. A caretaker will place and one on your hand where you can get an up-close look before it gently flaps its wings and lifts off toward the ceiling. A waterfall spills from rocks above to create a small river were birds gather to drink and ducks swim. You can watch a colony of leaf cutter ants march along a vine. Climb the stairs or take an elevator to an overhead walkway that puts you into the tops of the trees. Or sit down on a bench and just enjoy the surroundings for as long as you like.
Any time of year the glasshouse is a marvelous experience. During “Orchid Mania” it is even more spectacular. Orchids, large and small in all the colors of the rainbow bloom at every turn. Sunlight hits their translucent petals giving them a magical glow. It’s a gardener’s dream and a chance for even an amateur photographer to get spectacular shots.
I’m always reluctant to leave this jungle world and “Orchid Mania” makes leaving even harder. Fortunately, there is always another interesting place to go. Both the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History are just a short walk away.
“Orchid Mania” runs January 27 -March 11, 2018. Hours are Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 10-5; Wednesday 10 – 9; Sunday noon – 5. The gardens are closed on Monday.