Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a must-see Columbus attraction, and not just for lovers of exotic plants. In addition to 900 plant species, this innovative space that celebrates the beauty of both nature and art is home to butterflies, a grand Victorian greenhouse, and an impressive collection of glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly.
The oldest portion of the conservatory building, a palace-like greenhouse, is now home to 43 species of palm tree. The “Palm House” was built in 1895 and inspired by a “glass palace” at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. In the early 1990s it was restored so that Columbus could host AmeriFlora, a major horticultural exhibition. Since 2008, it is lit up in the evening by “Light Raiment II,” a 2008 installation of colored lights by artist James Turrell.
Inside the conservatory, you’ll find four gardens representing different biomes, as well as an orchid collection. Outside, you’ll find several large gardens including the “Grand Mallway” in front of the Palm House, a conifer collection, a daylily garden, a children’s garden, and a bonsai house.
Franklin Park was the first conservatory to host a seasonal show at which visitors can get up close and personal with live butterflies. Botanical gardens in other cities now have similar programs, but you can only experience the original “Blooms & Butterflies” here in Columbus between March and September.
Dale Chihuly is an American artist known for bringing the art of glassblowing into the realm of large-scale sculpture. There are many places to see a Chichuly—museums and botanical gardens around the world have hosted exhibitions, and many have pieces in their permanent collections—but Franklin Park Conservatory is a great place to see the breadth of his work. His 2003-2004 exhibition “Chihuly at the Conservatory” here was so popular it nearly doubled attendance, and the Conservatory’s benefactors purchased nearly all of the pieces to display here permanently. In addition, the Conservatory is currently (through March, 2020) hosting a second exhibition by Chihuly entitled “Chihuly: Celebrating Nature.”
Cover image: WKC/Analogue Kid, CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.