By Mary Heyl
During these final weeks of winter, it’s hard to imagine a time before cold temperatures, gray skies and bare trees. Spring is a distant memory, especially during the fickle weather of these past few weeks. However, there is a place where warmth, greenery, and beauty exist year’ round in Western New York: there’s no better time than now to visit the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens!
Located at 2655 South Park Avenue in Buffalo, the gardens are the perfect place to spend an afternoon enjoying a stunning display of horticulture in one of Buffalo’s most unique and historically significant buildings.
Created from the talent and vision of David F. Day, Frederick Law Olmsted, John F. Cowell, Frederick A. Lord and William A. Burnham, the Botanical Gardens opened in 1900 as the South Park Conservatory, which occupied just over 11 acres of land. The beautiful glass Victorian conservatory was modeled after the famous Crystal Palace in England, and at the time of its opening, was the third largest public greenhouse in the United States and the ninth largest in the world.
The 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo brought a great deal of attention to the conservatory, which had an impressive collection of exotic plants and flowers that drew in tens of thousands of visitors. By 1905, the conservatory had added six more greenhouses; now there are 12 greenhouses for visitors to explore, plus the outdoor gardens.
Over the decades, the conservatory weathered the storms, both literally and figuratively. A decline in visitors during the Great Depression threatened the conservatory’s future until federal funding allowed it to be completely repaired by the original building company, Lord & Burnham.
The infamous Blizzard of 1977 caused considerable damage to the conservatory; however, a dedicated group of volunteers raised public support for the building, eventually resulting in the creation of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens Society, Inc. and its board of directors.
In 1980, Erie County purchased the conservatory and its 11 surrounding acres, which resulted in the conservatory’s official name change to the Buffalo and Erie Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens is now listed on the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places and is officially a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that welcomes over 100,000 visitors each year.
Visitors are invited to explore the 12 greenhouses of the Botanical Gardens, which is open all year, and should return later in the spring or summer to enjoy the beautiful outdoor gardens surrounding the conservatory. Greenhouses include the Palm Dome; Aquatic Garden and Asian Rainforest; Cacti and Succulents; Ivy, Carnivorous Plants and Medicinal Garden; Begonias; Wegmans Family Garden; Orchids; Tropical Plants; Panama Cloud Forest; and Florida Everglades.
Visitors can take a global tour of the most fascinating plants in the world without ever leaving the Botanical Gardens. The cocoa tree, bonsai collection, and papaya plants are just a few of the exotic plants that visitors can expect to see.
The Botanical Gardens is a great place to bring the whole family, as there are activities and events for children and adults. Each month, the Wegmans Family Garden hosts Family Days when children ages 5-12 can explore the gardens according to that month’s special theme. Most recently, the Family Day theme was Rain Forest Exploration, in which children explored the Gardens’ rain forests, tasted tropical fruit, and created some rain forest crafts.
On March 18, the Family Day theme is All About Vegetables, when children can learn all about the different plant parts we can eat! Family Day activities take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are included in the regular price of admission.
Adults can look forward to special events at the Botanical Gardens throughout the year. This weekend, the Botanical Gardens is hosting the Orchid Show on Saturday, Feb. 25 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 26 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be award-winning orchid exhibits throughout the Botanical Gardens, educational programs, and orchids and supplies for sale.
The Botanical Gardens is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is fully handicapped accessible. For more information, visit www.buffalogardens.com and follow them on Facebook.