SOMETIMES, IT TAKES A newcomer to alert us to a part of the city we might have taken for granted. We’ve grown accustomed to knowing Seattle inside and out. Just look at this issue’s many revelations: an inside look at the city’s hottest places to work, a peek into some very personal gardens, even a story from one of those laptop workers hunched over a computer in every coffee shop (who are those guys, anyway?). But we hadn’t entered the Volunteer Park Conservatory for decades. It’s been there for close to a century, so what’s the rush?
Roger Brooks, who joined our staff a year ago to shepherd our home and garden sections, showed us up. He came to us from the Dallas equivalent of Seattle Met, and he had considerable catching up to do to familiarize himself with the local flora. Our astonishing varieties of conifers and Japanese maples look nothing like the tropical hibiscus and crape myrtles he knew from his native Texas. So, he toured plant nurseries, the Arboretum, the Dunn Gardens, and the fine neighborhood gardens that flourish in our temperate climate. While visiting the Volunteer Park Conservatory he stumbled on the unsolved mystery of the plantaholic set.
As a registered repository for illegally imported plants confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, the conservatory houses rare specimens such as tropical palms, cacti, and orchids—a star attraction of the historic greenhouse. The conservatory’s famed orchid collection began in 1921, when Anna Herr Clise, founder of Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, donated 600 orchids to the fledgling institution. Today plant pilgrims come year-round to ogle the exotic bloomers and—as Roger reports in these pages—occasionally walk off with them. Fittingly for a Victorian-style greenhouse modeled on London’s Crystal Palace, the conservatory has been the victim of a modern version of “orchidelirium,” as the Victorians dubbed the obsession of the fanatical orchid hunters of their day. The story may inspire you to check out the conservatory for yourself. And when you go, see if you don’t look for a telltale footprint on the windowsill.