A winter visit to warmer climates: Inside the Cleveland Botanical Garden

IMG_1081 This year’s “Orchid Mania” show will be held January 27 – March 11, 2018. The Greater Cleveland Orchid Society Show and Sale will be held Saturday & Sunday, February 17 & 18, 2018.

This is my story of last year’s visit.

It was the first week of March when we visited the Cleveland Botanical Garden. We’d been living through weeks of cold weather with snow and freezing rain. An afternoon in their Glasshouse would be a wonderful escape to warmer climates.

Although we have visited other botanical gardens around the country, we had been to the Cleveland Botanical Garden only once before and that was many years ago. I’m not sure why we haven’t come more often. I suspect that most people never visit a botanical garden unless they consider themselves to be “gardeners.” Unfortunately, people don’t realize what they are missing. You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy the art museum. The same can be said of botanical gardens. You don’t have to be a gardener to appreciate the beauty of plants. While the Cleveland facility is smaller–10 acres plus a Glasshouse– than other gardens we’ve visited, it is still a lovely place to spend half of a day.

IMG_1108It was a weekday and we had no problem finding a spot in the basement parking garage. You take your parking ticket inside and pay when you purchase your admission ticket. Instead of admission tickets however, I decided that it made sense to purchase a membership. I had seen the upcoming events schedule and knew that I’d want to return when the weather got warmer. Even if we came only one more time in the coming year, the membership made sense for us. It also gives a discount in the gift shop plus free and discount admissions at other gardens and museums in both northeast Ohio and throughout the country. When I later read over the list of benefits, it turned out to be one of the best membership deals I’ve seen.IMG_1072

With tickets in hand, we started our visit upstairs in the Guren Art Gallery. The gallery features changing works by local and national artists—painting, photography, and sculpture and other forms of media which take their inspiration from the botanical world.

“Beyond Cuba, Beyond Orchids” by Gunter Schwegler was the featured exhibit during our visit. Schwegler is a local fiber artist who specializes in silk painting. His exhibit filled the small upstairs room and complimented the theme of the current garden show, “Orchid Mania.”

Following our  7spin around the Guren gallery, we retraced our steps downstairs to the “Glasshouse.” Outside the Glasshouse doors, we passed a long and beautifully decorated wall filled with “watercolor orchids.” These vivid colored flowers are made by injecting dye into a small hole in the stem. The hole is covered with wax and within 24 hours the blooms begin to change color.


Watercolor Orchids


Watercolor Orchids

Entering the glass house we were immediately struck by the warm, moist, floral scented air. A sign announced that we were entering, and introduced us to, the “Spiny Desert of Madagascar.” This large Glasshouse was filled with over 1000 blooms of nearly 200 Cuban orchid varieties in every possible color. They were hanging in baskets, settled onto trees,  tucked in and around giant leaves and palm fronds.  We walked along the path, enjoying the bright orchids and other plants –strange and exotic plants like the “upside down” baobabs.IMG_1069Because it was cold outdoors, I’d made the mistake of wearing a heavy sweatshirt underneath my coat. The facility does have a coat room and I would suggest that everyone use it! I never thought to check my coat and had to carry it throughout our visit which was a bother. The sweatshirt I was wearing also meant that I was uncomfortably warm. Inside the Glasshouse, a T-shirt would have been more climate friendly. Lesson learned.

As we rounded a corner, we met a caretaker who was returning a wandering tortoise to an area where two others were quietly resting. We asked a few questions and learned that the tortoise is 40 years old and native to Madagascar. In the warmer weather the turtles are allowed outside in the gardens but in the winter they enjoy wandering the Glasshouse.


40 year old tortoise native to Madagascar

Walking through double doors to the other half of the Glasshouse, we entered the world of “Costa Rica.” This was, for me, an example of saving the best for last. I loved this part of the Glasshouse most of all, with its lush greenery and even a small waterfall. The orchids also continued their magnificent display.IMG_1086

A worker was surrounded by onlookers as she released the day’s newly hatched butterflies. The worker placed butterflies onto the fingers of those gathered around for an up close look. The winged creatures hung on tightly until finally deciding to take flight. They joined what must have been hundreds of others fluttering high and low. There are 50 different types of butterflies living in the Glasshouse and everywhere I looked there they were, making them easy to view and photograph.


Also living in the Glasshouse are birds, reptiles and amphibians.  A bird feeding station attracted several different types of birds including a small green one and another that was the brightest blue I’ve ever seen. We stopped to watch leafcutter ants as they decimated a green plant and carried the cuttings up a fallen tree and along a wire to their colony inside a second hollow log. The unique environment of the Glasshouse shows the interaction between the plants and animals and the climate they live in. For me, it was a wonderful escape from the cold winds of Northeast Ohio.


Leaf Cutter Ants


Overheated and thirsty, we exited the Glasshouse and made our way to the cafe where we sat with lemonades and had a nice view of the outdoor gardens. Being winter, there was little to see but their skeletal stick forms which gave me a mental glimpse of the lush greenery and floral colors that will be present in weeks to come.

Notes: Including a 10 minute pass through the gift shop, our indoor winter visit lasted about 2 1/2 hours. A summer visit with a tour through the 10 acres of outdoor gardens plus lunch in the cafe would likely double that time. Spend half a day here and then walk next door to either the Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural History for a full day of viewing beautiful things!IMG_1134

11030 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106

Cleveland Botanical Garden is conveniently located in University Circle, minutes from downtown Cleveland and easily accessible from most major highways. We are near the Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The Garden is three miles south of I-90 using the Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard exit (#177).




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