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.




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.



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.



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.




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.





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.


Both Sides of the Glass

This time of year, a few hours in a conservatory renews the spirits. You may not have thought about looking in from the outside of the building, but the view from the other side of the glass can be very interesting.
































































These photos were made during two trips – one to the WW Seymour Botanical Conservatory in Tacoma, in November, one to the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle in December. Both glass houses are over a hundred years old, and they’re kept going thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers. Here’s to those hard working people who maintain the plants, the facilities and everything else that keeps these wonderful resources running and available to the public.

The photos:

  1. A Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) inside the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle.
  2. Dead leaves push against the glass, seen outside the WW Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma.
  3. More dried leaves pushing against the glass at the conservatory in Tacoma.
  4. A palm stem with coarse fibers surrounding the leaf sheath, inside the conservatory in Tacoma.
  5. A jumble of conservatory plants, including Spanish moss, or Tillandsia usneoides. That’s the familiar gray epiphyte which, draped heavily on live oak trees, is characteristic of much of the American south. It’s not a moss and it’s not from Spain – the original range was southeastern N. America, down through Central & S. America to Argentina. Now it has been introduced in other locations.
  6. A graceful orchid at the conservatory in Seattle.
  7. Dried plants settle against the windows of the WW Seymour conservatory in Tacoma.
  8. Ferns against the window at the conservatory in Tacoma. This photo was taken with a vintage lens, the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm F/1.4.
  9. Palm leaves, alive and healthy, inside the conservatory in Tacoma. Also taken with the Takumar 50mm F/1.4.
  10. Looking up at palm fronds in the conservatory in Tacoma.
  11. A single orchid petal in the conservatory in Seattle.
  12. A cactus inside the conservatory in Seattle.
  13. Same.
  14. I think this is a fan aloe, Aloe plicatilis, aka Kumara plicatilis, a South African plant. Seen at the conservatory in Seattle.
  15. I could look up at palms all day. Inside the conservatory in Seattle. This was taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  16. Inside a vestibule at the conservatory in Seattle, plants are pressed up against the windows. Taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  17. A complex shot – looking across a conservatory room, through windows to another room, with reflections. Taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  18. An orchid display (maybe Dendrobium sp.) anchored by maidenhair ferns at the conservatory in Seattle, taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  19. The Coleus plants were going strong at the conservatory in Tacoma, and made an interesting picture as they pressed against the glass. I walked all around the conservatory, getting as close as I could to it, to find scenes like this.
  20. A view of the front of the WW Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma. It’s a small one, but it’s full of Victorian charm!



The Pleasures of a New Camera

Saturday was another gray, wet day, added to a month of near record-breaking rain. Indoors seemed like a good place to be, but I was eager to try out my new camera. I thought about Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory – should be perfect – so I drove over.

I can’t resist a glass house.  This one is small, well kept and comfortable. Built in 1912 in a traditional Victorian design, it is centered around a central palm house, with a seasonal display house and a fern house on either side. At the ends of the broad, spreading building are a cacti/succulent house and a bromeliad house. For Christmas an old model train is set up in the seasonal house and surrounded by poinsettias – nothing new or novel, but it’s a sweet tradition.

I started in the cactus house.

The new camera is an Olympus, the first Olympus I’ve owned. It’s a micro four thirds, or ILC – interchangeable lens – camera. They’re smaller than DSLR’s but do just about all the same things. The market for ILC’s is growing as the technology improves. The DSLR market is dropping off, but of course the edge is owned by smartphones, Go Pro’s and drones. I’m not ready for a drone or a Go Pro and my smartphone isn’t versatile enough.  I like a smaller camera but compacts don’t cut it –  I want to use different lenses, be able to focus manually, have an articulating LCD screen and a viewfinder – just for starters.

My last camera was a Panasonic Lumix G3, also a micro four thirds. A few months ago the LCD screen died. So every photo I’ve taken for the last couple of months has been kind of blind – I can’t review shots on the screen, can’t use it to see settings – nada. Repairing the screen costs almost as much as replacing the camera (no surprise!). I started looking at alternatives – maybe it was a sign that it’s time for a different camera.

In a local camera store I held an Olympus OM-D EM-5. Very nice. The lenses I already have for my Lumix would fit it.  That’s huge. Then I tried the EM-1 – even nicer! It had a film camera feel, the buttons and grip were comfortable in my hands, it was solidly built, with WiFi and weatherproofing (I can be rough on things).  Though it’s not a new model, the salesman said a huge firmware update was due in November, with many performance enhancements, like focus stacking.  I thought it over, waited, thought some more…

Then Santa came – hurrah! (Santa’s an expert at finding the best deal).

It’s always a learning curve when you move to a different system and this one is a lot more complex than the Lumix. Things got prickly.

At times I felt like tearing my hair out.

I persevered and found a good video online that reviews the camera – that made a big difference. Who writes those manuals, anyway???

I took a few photos around the house, trying to figure out the focusing. Then I went out. It was Christmas afternoon, and I got to the good espresso place just in the nick of time – it was closing early.  (First things first!)

The rain stopped for a moment so I went to the lake, two minutes from the cafe, to try the camera outdoors.

This is straight out of the camera, nothing at all done to it. The camera did well with poor and difficult lighting.

It still felt alien though, and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.  There are a million options on this camera – for example, you can see in the photo above that I was using the 16:9 image size option, for a long, skinny landscape shot. When you’re not familiar with your camera, finding the button or series of clicks or whatever to change options is torture! I really didn’t want every single photo to be in those proportions. You just have to spend some time figuring it out.

Back at home I started playing with a setting called Art Filter, which I think is unique to the Olympus cameras (other than the hundreds of special effect apps you can download onto your smartphone). There’s pop color, sepia, watercolor, vintage, pinhole, etc. One intrigued me  – soft focus.  I thought it would be good for plants and flowers.

It was. I was impressed with the smooth tones and retention of detail.

I wasn’t using a tripod. That’s impossible in a space like the conservatory. Besides, I’m an impulsive, walk-around kind of photographer. I brought three lenses with me. I quickly removed the 20mm in favor of a macro and used that one lens the rest of the afternoon.

The camera has five direction image stabilization built into the camera, and I think it made a difference. As the day wore on and the ambient light grew dimmer, I could still get sharp detail with very little noise.



On to the other houses –

A fallen Alamanda flower.

The palm house has orchid displays.


I framed a photo looking up through a giant Monstera deliciosa leaf.  This is the kind of high contrast shot a lot of cameras would have trouble with – not this one.

The mature leaves have these cool holes and are called fenestrate – the French word for window is fenetre, so there you go! This plant is a vine and an epiphyte. It has aerial roots, and produces tasty fruit, though I’ve never had it.

Went crazy with the soft focus here –

Spanish moss (Tilandsia useneoides) is plentiful in the Bromeliad house, and epiphytes of many types hang from supports everywhere.

I don’t know what this flower is; it was hanging at about face height. It looks like a confection dusted with sugar. The conservatory has many delights – a little waterfall set with ferns, a bog garden with carnivorous plants like the red-edged plant above, Nepenthes alata, other odd plants, and many repeating plants, which lend consistency as you walk through.

The photo below was taken with my phone, looking towards the bog area. You can see what a pleasure this place is on a December afternoon.

I love the way conservatory windows steam up.  Two views from inside are above (without filters or special effects), and below, a view from the outside. A Tilandsia of some kind presses hard against the glass.

And the train set-up – I didn’t realize until I got home how old the figures are. I should have taken more pictures of them. Last year, the train blew it’s horn AND blew smoke, but on this day, no smoke. Still nice! And it was the perfect shot for another art filter  – Diorama.

The conservatory from the outside:


I think this camera’s going to be fun.


Wandering through Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory keeps me sane in winter months. It can’t compare to the Enid Haupt Conservatory that I used to visit in New York, but like so many places in Seattle, it has a charm of its own.

The holiday season means pretty lights and a room full of poinsettias – not my favorite plant, but oh well – with a model train running through it. When the holiday cuteness irritates my aesthetic sense the Cactus House, with its quiet gray-green colors and interesting shapes, satisfies. There’s also the Bromiliad House, and a Palm House set with orchids tucked into glass cases surrounded by Maidenhair ferns, so really, what better place on a gray winter day?

Here is an admittedly eccentric group of images from a visit last week:


More From the Conservatory

This cactus has a very blue cast. I wonder what those two furry places are in the center – the beginning of flowers?  In any case, this cactus is an attention getter, with its big size and fuzzy textures.  I’m not one for anthropomorphizing or getting cute, but I have to say, this cactus has the look of a Sesame Street character.

Long ago I had a temporary job in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden – what a gorgeous, magical place to work. I loved it, hard work and all, but weeding the beds in the desert houses is tricky – at least once I got a bottom-full of cactus spines after squatting down to weed in a narrow space.

This is a Tillandsia, a kind of “air plant” that obtains moisture and nutrients through the air, using other plants as a support. These dry looking plants have beautiful gray green color and pleasing symmetry.

This is some kind of Bromeliad. They also absorb moisture from the air, collecting it in the central rosette, where there is often enough water to harbor insects, or even animals, which depend on it. The shiny red and deep green leaves in this species are not at all subtle!  The flower is in the middle, and that’s Spanish moss in the right-hand corner.

As I took the photo on a longish exposure, I turned the lens to zoom out, creating the blur. You could do this with a tripod and get the center more perfectly in focus but I have little patience for tripods.

Next time I have to be more disciplined about noting the names…this is an I-don’t-know plant, in the cactus house.

Another Tillandsia.   The image was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.  I moved the camera a little when I took it, to emphasize the exuberant feeling of movement in the leaves.

Also in the Cactus House, I’m pretty sure this is an agave. These succulent plants bloom only once, and were an important food source in the drier, warmer parts of the Americas where they grow. I zoomed the lens again to blur the image, then made the digital color photo into a black and white image in Lightroom.

All photos taken recently at the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle. It’s looking greener and greener outside here – no need to depend on a conservatory for botanical inspiration. Soon I’ll go out and dodge the raindrops for photos of buds, blossoms and branches.











This week, The Daily Post at WordPress challenged readers to post photographs on the subject of illumination. Here are  illuminations of scenes that brightened my day: subtle auras surrounding hothouse orchids, a crescent moon rising over New York harbor and twinkling lights screening a landmark building in the making.

The first two pictures were taken at Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle. It’s warm, humid conditions contrasted sharply with dry, frosty January air, and it felt good being surrounded by orchids and tropical plants, basking in radiant sunlight that’s in scarce supply during the Northwest winter. Our winter color palette plays the deep greens of Douglas firs and sword ferns off soft grays and browns, but inside the greenhouse, hot colors soaked up the sunlight, casting tropical candy auras around the voluptuous flowers.

At Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, a November sunset created an unusually quiet moment at the edge of the city that never sleeps.  The street lamps, reproductions of posts dating back about a hundred years, seem to tilt because of the wide angle lens, leaning in towards the distant Statue of Liberty. Smudgy gray clouds almost conceal a crescent moon and a plane heading up the Hudson River.

On a cool fall evening in Lower Manhattan, tiny lights threaded through the trees of Zuccotti Park cast pinpricks of light against the still incomplete One World Trade Center.  Over ten years ago this park and surrounding blocks were severely damaged by the 9/11 attacks. New York politics has prevented timely completion of the Twin Towers replacement – you can see a construction crew elevator ascending the corner of the building –  but it is almost finished.  Zuccotti Park also was the site of the recent Occupy Wall Street Movement; on this night, the delicate filigree of honey locust tree leaves against a soft blue sky belied the unrest of the past.

Illumination, along with those light bulbs constantly popping with ideas behind my eyes, allows me to create photographs that I can share with you. Thanks for visiting!

The challenge: