Spring primroses are flowering in the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens, a 125-year-old historic Baltimore greenhouse.

“This is the only conservatory in Baltimore,” said Sandy Reagan, a horticultural assistant of Rawlings Conservatory. “We are the second oldest glass house in the country.”

The original construction plan of the building dates back to 1874, although its opening day was put off to more than ten years later. Surrounded with a wide green garden, the Rawlings Conservatory, also called the Druid Hill Conservatory, is the only building erected in the European architectural style in the Druid Hill Park. This design was derived from the Kew Gardens of London.

“This architecture is called Victorian Architecture because it’s built during the Victorian time,” Reagan said.

Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory

A look at the outside of Baltimore’s oldest conservatory. (Photo by Eric Stitt/TU Student)

Constructed with white steel, framed in blue-glassed ceilings in Victorian style, this house emerges as a historical and architectural beauty. Its attractiveness not only stems from its classical appearance, but also from the beautiful plants within.

Thousands of plants, including orchids, cacti, lilies and palms, all came from different places and countries before finding a home at the conservatory. Some plants are from California and Florida, but they can come from even more exotic locations like Africa, Spain, and Australia.

“We had probably 3,000 orchids to start with and then we got three different kinds of houses,” Reagan said.

The Palm House, Mediterranean House and Desert House joined the conservatory’s original Tropical House and Orchid Room after a renovation in 2002. The five distinct houses provide the most suitable environments for plants because they mimic the temperature, humidity and solid situation depending on the growing requirements of the flowers, trees and fruits.

With warmer weather approaching, blossoming flowers welcome spring and bestow their beauty as a floral show, which is another tradition kept for over 100 years in the conservatory.

“Every year, since the beginning of this place in 1888, we always did flower shows,” Reagan said.

The conservatory stages three seasonal displays annually. The first is the Spring Flower Show, which ran until April 7. The Chrysanthemum Display follows in autumn and the Holiday Poinsettia Display occurs in winter.

“I love it,” said Kristen Nock, who visited Rawlings Conservatory with her friend and her two little boys. “I will definitely come here again. It’s pretty. Smells good.”

“I like [the] desert,because I’ve never seen it!” Eric, one of her little boys, said.

According to Reagan, up to 500 people visit the conservatory every week, but the number increases during the flower shows.

Some people come here to learn botany, so the conservatory sets up several learning programs targeted to different groups of people including families, adults, students and kids. Adults can ask master gardeners about how to keep their plants thriving, teens learn about the botanical ecosystem and children have fun with hands-on educational gardening projects.


A gardener at the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory works on the new spring gardens. (Photo by Eric Stitt/TU Student)

“Some people really like orchids,” Reagan said. “Some couples love desert plants, and they settle down the desert branch and enjoy the desert. Even a lot of people come from cities or other places. They didn’t know fruits grow in the trees.”

Some visitors come simply seeking the tranquility by staying in these glassed houses for a couple hours.

“Some people just want some place quiet to come. They don’t want to learn,” Reagan said. “They come here because it’s a peaceful place.”

CBS ranked the Rawlings Conservatory as the Baltimore best garden in 2011, and here may be the reason: It is an ideal place for learning, gardening and relaxing with the colorful plants and their redolence.In the future, the conservatory will continue to grow.

“We’d like to be bigger and better,” Reagan said. “We’d like to see it grow.”

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