GLASSHOUSE IMPRESSIONS

This week we headed into Seattle to meet friends at a historic Victorian-style conservatory. It had been years since any of us had been there so everyone was looking forward to wandering through the glasshouse greenery together. The opportunity to photograph in a conservatory again was very exciting – the last time I visited one must have been in 2019, in Leiden, Netherlands. We live a fair distance from urban centers and many public spaces were closed due to pandemic restrictions, so visiting glasshouses has not been in the cards for several years. This trip was a shot in the arm, even if our favorite part of the conservatory, the cactus house, was closed. Wearing a mask in a warm, humid environment is tedious, as is using a camera while wearing a mask. But nothing’s perfect and we’re grateful for the pleasures we have, particularly when we can share them with friends. Here’s a group of photographs from the day, along with a few words about conservatories I’ve known over the years.

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Whether you call them conservatories, glasshouses, or greenhouses, they are some of my favorite places in the world. They age beautifully; the example at Volunteer Park is over a hundred years old and seems to look better all the time. (I’m glad I’m not the one responsible for maintenance!) One of the gifts of urban living is being able to visit a conservatory in cold weather – a house made of glass, filled with plants, warm and fragrant with life – what could be a better antidote to the winter blues? Growing up, I never had that experience but in my 30s, I began to get familiar with magical crystal palaces where plants are nurtured to provide visitors with exotic, out-of-season pleasures.

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For a few years when I was in my mid-thirties, I worked at a New York City public garden called Wave Hill. The greenhouses at Wave Hill contain choice collections of cacti, succulents, and alpine plants but I was busy with the task of developing the garden’s first visitor cafe. The lush grounds and quiet greenhouses were a pleasant backdrop to the workday that I appreciated but rarely had time to enjoy. Five or six years later, through sheer luck, I landed a temporary position at the New York Botanical Garden Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a stately Lord & Burnham design with a 90-foot-high glass dome flanked by five large houses on each side. Being behind the scenes at an iconic institution that houses major research and educational programs was a treat, even if all I was doing was the grunt work of pushing heavy wheelbarrows around and weeding the cactus gardens. I felt lucky to be there every day. Almost twenty years later I made the long pilgrimage back to the conservatory from my apartment at the other end of New York City. Waiting to hear the results of critical negotiations regarding my job with the New York State Department of Health, I calmly readied myself to accept whatever happened. The grand glasshouse was a refuge that day.

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A more modest glasshouse became a favorite place to linger when I lived in New York City’s Staten Island. The Snug Harbor Botanical Garden’s old conservatory was filled to bursting with tropical and semi-tropical plants; in fact, palm trees regularly broke through the roof windows. On weekends I spent long afternoons wandering through the gardens and conservatory, camera in hand, exploring what could be done photographically in a richly rewarding setting. Sadly, the glasshouse is now closed to the public but it still functions as a propagation house for the garden.

In 2012 when we moved to Washington State, I found two conservatories to explore: Volunteer Park in Seattle and the W.W. Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma. Every winter I devoted at least one day to luxuriate in the fresh air of a glasshouse, surrounded by exotic plants, camera in hand. In 2013 a camera club I briefly belonged to arranged an afternoon shoot at the University of Washington’s Biology Greenhouse, which isn’t normally open to visitors. What a treat that was! Now I live almost two hours from the nearest conservatory. I miss the multi-sensory delight of slow walks through warm, humid, green places, especially in the colder months. But I digress…the point is that I’ve been visiting conservatories for years. During that time I’ve evolved a particular way of being in them, seeing them, and photographing them. It’s not a typical visitor’s view. Pretty pictures of brightly-colored flowers aren’t really my thing. Instead, there are patterns and textures or views of a mechanism that cranks the windows open. My favorites are the images made by looking through the steamy, whitewash-coated windows of the conservatory.

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Seattle’s Asian Art Museum is also located in Volunteer Park. Completed in 1933 in the Arte Moderne style, the landmark building was unfortunately closed the day we were there but that didn’t prevent me from finding inspiration.

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The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th photos were made with a vintage lens (and adapter). The Asahi Pentax Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4 prime lens was introduced in the 1960s. An all-metal, manual focus lens, it’s bright, sharp, and is known for smooth bokeh. #10 & #12 were made with an iPhone SE.

A suite of photos made looking through conservatory windows is here. A brief post with photos from the NYBG Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is here. A winter visit to the Volunteer Park Conservatory post is here. A post about the W.W. Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma is here and more photos from the Volunteer Park and the W.W. Seymour Conservatories are here.

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47 comments

  1. I love your eye for picking out patterns and shapes to photograph. Itโ€™s not at all the way I look at the world, but it is refreshing to see that view of things in pictures. All of these are beautiful!! I am adding these two places. To visit if we ever make it back to the Seattle/Tacoma area. Wonderful post, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your open-mindedness is admirable, Peg, thank you. Seriously, it’s what we need more of in this world. I get the “if we ever” feeling but let’s hope you do get back to Seattle/Tacoma before too long. If you go to Volunteer Park, parking is usually easy and there’s a nice cafe only a few blocks away called the Volunteer Park Cafe. Great food & pastries – a comfortable, neighborhood kind of place. The Tacoma conservatory is quite interesting and is also in a park. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. They are beautifulโ€ฆamazing floraโ€ฆfunny I just set up our foto Friday for a visit to our conservatory ๐ŸŒฟ๐ŸŒธand Iโ€™m also reminded when you sayโ€ฆwearing a mask in a warm, humid environment is tedious, as is using a camera while wearing a maskโ€ฆI found that yesterday at the museumโ€ฆahhh sighโ€ฆgood thing weโ€™re surrounded by beauty Lynn. Thank for sharing always joyful ๐Ÿ’hugs hedy

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    • Yes, the tedium of masks is even worse in those warm, humid environments. But you and the group are going to have fun! As you said, it’s a good thing we’re surrounded by beauty. Happy Sunday!

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  3. A very interesting blog ๐Ÿ™‚ I also like botanical gardens very much and like to visit them. Your photos are very beautiful and especially nr 4 and 8 caught my eye from a photographic point of view. It must be a great experience to work in a botanical garden. Coincidentally, I also visited the botanical garden in Leiden this year. Here in Belgium we have our National Botanic Garden of Meise (near Brussels). Their archives and herbaria contain very important seed collections from all over the world. If interested, I will ad the link : https://www.plantentuinmeise.be/en/
    Kind regards,
    Rudi

    Liked by 1 person

    • For we Americans, it was a real treat to spend time in such an old institution with a long, interesting history. We only scratched the surface of Leiden University so we need to go back! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m sure I would love the Belgian National Botanic Garden. The ‘Strong Coffee’ exhibition there sounds like it was fun. ๐Ÿ™‚ Maybe I’ll get there someday. Seed collections are important with monocultures and agribusiness sprawling across the globe. It’s good to hear they’re maintaining a big collection & herbaria.
      Thanks for the link and for mentioning what caught your eye – those two images have soft-focus areas in them, something that I gravitate toward. Have a good week, Rudi!

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    • Great, they’re my favorites, too. I wanted to do more of that but there were not many possibilities – even in that space, I was balanced precariously between pots and things, hoping no one would see me and say stop. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The world needs more dirty windows….but maybe not at home. Thanks Harrie!

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  4. Nice one!

    “Instead, there are patterns and textures or views of a mechanism that cranks the windows open” ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿ’ฏ

    โœจ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ•‰๐ŸŒฑ๐ŸŒฟ๐ŸŒณ๐ŸŒป๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ•Šโ˜ฏ๐Ÿ‰โœจ

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    • Aren’t those old window cranks or whatever they’re called nice? I love the mechanics in these places. This one also has actual pieces of slate that edge the waist-high beds of flowers and plants running down the sides of the houses. Some kind of plastic is expected there but no, it must be the stone slabs they used way back when they built the place. And underneath them, where the heating pipes are, maidenhair ferns take root wherever they can. You’d love it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  5. This admiration for greenhouses is very curious and especially for the details that no one would notice/photograph, such as dirty and damp glass. But you got some beautiful pictures!
    The links in the post allow you to discover beautiful iron and glass architectures. Of that kind, I’ve only visited Kew Gardens greenhouses in London once and loved it.It was really entering another world.
    “Domesticated” or wild, nature always offers us beautiful moments and details!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kew Gardens is a place I would love to see. I can believe that it was like entering another world! Domesticated is a good way to put it, and it’s nice to keep a foot in both worlds, right? Thanks for your comment, Dulce.

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  6. I love the light and the colors here! Especially this shimmering light, where the colors seem to melt into each other (#8), I also like the detail in #9. The building is fantastic! I am a big fan of this period and I love these patterns and ornaments. You are absolutely right, these conservatories or glasshouses are so beautiful, especially the old ones. There once was one in the Berggarten, but it was destroyed in the last war. What a pity. But you are lucky to have so many of them around in so many places in your country, also you have to travel to them today. At least you worked in one for a while! I envy you ๐Ÿ™‚ When I read the title, I was waiting for your photos taken through glass! Fascinating like always ๐Ÿ™‚ I will follow the links when I have more time. Have a good week and take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s nice to hear that you instantly thought there might be more photos through the windows. ๐Ÿ™‚ Only one small corner made that possible and I almost had to balance on one foot to do it because the floor was crowded with plants in pots. It’s too bad that I didn’t focus more on the ornamentation, now that you mention it, I love it, too and it deserves more attention. I was telling Graham, above, that they used actual slate (the stone) pieces for the edges of the long beds of plants in pots that follow the sides of the houses, and underneath, where the heat is, maidenhair ferns like to grow. Happily, they don’t tear them out, they just let them be. That’s really too bad about the Berggarten conservatory, sigh. Thank you, Almuth…have a good week and don’t forget to rest. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  7. Oh Lynn these are so beautiful. Too much beauty to pick out a favourite, though I will say I especially love the ones through the moisture-laden windows. And the ones taken with the vintage lens. And, and, and . . . .
    It was somehow coming across your photos through conservatory windows that led me to follow your blog.
    And now I’m inspired to go visit Vancouver’s conservatory.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess they are very much a city phenomenon so I can understand how you might not spend much, or any time in them. But if you ever have to be in a city, see if it has a conservatory. I can’t imagine you not loving the experience. Maybe we can think of #16 as a string of holiday lights, eh? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks, Gunta!

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  8. Oh , sorry, this morning I wrote a comment here, but I can’t find it. So just a new enthusiastic short feedback, that once again it’s wonderful to follow your eyes, your remarks and your gorgeous photos of the glasshouse conservartories: Difficult to find the faves, because there are so many! I love glass houses, too.
    Here it’s late by now. We’d say Good night . Have a nice day, though! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Perfect seasonable timing, just as the snow starts, your beautiful conservatory pictures are great to visit and revisit. Growing up we always walked a couple times each winter through the conservatory in Rochester, and a few times the much larger one in Buffalo, both of them in Olmsted parks. Milwaukee put up some huge beehive-shaped glass domes, very 60’s-looking, like something from the NY World’s Fair, and I like the desert one a lot. I like walking in the winter, but sometimes it’s nice to have a respite from sucking in ice crystals, or lint from your scarf, and breathe in a rich humid, humus-y smelling warmth, or dry clean desert air.
    I like the quiet drama in #9, and the tendrils in #11 gently resting on the curved pipe. And #16 is such a tranquil Japanese landscape.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Another reader said she didn’t think she’d ever been in a conservatory, and she’s a plant enthusiast. It’s good to hear that your family visited conservatories. Milwaukie’s desert dome sounds like just the ticket today because it’s raining once again. Your description of winter walk annoyances makes me smile – we’ll probably only get one or two snow days here so those days seem far away. Did I ever tell you that when we were kids in Syracuse, we made tunnels in the snowdrifts in the front yard? I remember looking UP at the drifts on the side of the driveway. At some point, my father would give up shoveling and park at the bottom. Your characterization of #16 is wonderful, thanks for that, Robert! Have a good week.

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  10. You can find beauty anywhere!

    This past weekend you were working through your image files, and I was crawling under barbed-wire fences, and across dry pastures and through coffee and cacao patches – and returned home with – gasp – a few tiny ticks. Eeek! At least we didn’t stumble upon any poisonous snakes (nada reptile) but the weekend was full of a polar-opposite experience from yours in the botanical world.

    Your images always reflect your profound love for that world. They remind me of those cold periods of winter, and how wonderful it was to step out of the cold and into the humidity-drenched mini worlds of tropical plants.

    How great that you could get some bone-strengthening work done with those heavy wheel barrows! I’d much rather do that type of work than rote exercises in some generic gym or workout room!

    Happy Thanksgiving! Love, Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lisa, it’s great to hear from you! It sounds like you were on a birding trip…an adventurous one. We’ve had a few encounters, too. Tuesday I saw a beautiful dark morph Rough-legged hawk at close range. I’d never seen one up close before – when perching, there was not a single light-colored thing other than its beak and eyes. Really cool. Also, I saw a wing-tagged hawk that’s part of a successful program to remove birds of prey from airports. I reported it and am waiting to hear from the bander. On Sunday I saw 4 mature Bald eagles fighting over a kill that turned out to be a rabbit. One flew away with it to dine at an eagle nest. Lift-off with the big rabbit was a struggle. ๐Ÿ˜‰ So the birding is getting good again after the late summer doldrums. I’m glad you found the ticks and assume you successfully pulled them before they did any damage. Take care of yourself, amiga, and Happy Thanksgiving, such as it may be, back to you. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  11. Glasshouse is a special topic for me, Lynn. Greenhouses have always fascinated me, but they have a special meaning in connection with our acquaintance. It started around the time you posted some greenhouse photos on Lenswork, remember? Perhaps in your text you pointed your finger to the reason why we feel so connected to these buildings: you say that they age in beauty – like us ๐Ÿ˜‰. And how happy I am about another chapter in your biography.
    This new series of pictures is a little different. How should I describe the change? It is a different coloring (?) in some of these pictures that connects the subject very closely with the background and the overall lighting. This is very noticeable to me in pictures 1, 4, 7 and 11. In picture number 9, even the green seems to contain a hint of purple and pink.

    Your interest in the technology behind the exhibition buildings corresponds completely to my enthusiasm for museum architecture, it has happened that I found the buildings and technical systems more interesting than the current exhibition.

    After this walk through the greenhouse with you, I feel pleasantly warmed and prepared for a few winter days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t remember that our friendship began with those photographs – that’s nice, because I think of them as possibly my best work but they’re not the kind of image that everyone likes. And oh, if I could age as beautifully as a classic conservatory, wouldn’t that b nice? I must change my thinking…remember, beauty inside…
      It’s also nice to read that you appreciate more biographical content, thank you so much, Ule. Your observation about the colors is interesting…I definitely see what you mean in #9, where both the pink flower and green leaf have lots of blue in them. Mostly that was just the way it was. You’re right about #1,4,7 & 11 having similar hues within the frame. I can’t say why that is. I think separate decisions led to a similar outcome. In #1 I wanted to emphasize that beautiful little white curl (sexy, right?) so I darkened everything else. In #4 I wanted the background to drop away so I blurred it a little more (I think) and played with the colors so the background would not draw attention away from the orchid. I think it was the same for #7. In #11 I tried different presets to see which one would bring the most drama. I just looked at the developing history in LR – it was a split tone black and white preset that I made further adjustments to. It was challenging, trying to photograph in the warm conservatory with a mask on – ugh! And I needed reading glasses sometimes, which fogged up. Double ugh! Joe carried my jacket. He’s a prince, as you know.
      There’s another photographer I follow who loves museum architecture and has made some great architectural photos – Jane Lurie. She lives near Los Aangeles.That city is great for architecture. Where you and I live, the possibilities are limited! ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Thank you, this has been good!

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