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Conservatories offer a ‘tropical’ getaway

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Updated: May 21, 2014 5:40AM



Had enough of the cold and gray? A mini tropical getaway is just a tank of gas and a few hours away, or less, at several conservatories offering lush greenery, balmy temperatures, beautiful flowers in bloom and more.

Butterfly Kaleidoscope opens tomorrow at the White River Gardens at the Indianapolis Zoo. Monarchs, blue morphos and giant owl butterflies are among the hundreds of butterflies of about 40 different native and exotic species that can be seen flying within the Hilbert Conservatory every day through Sept. 2.

Check the schedule to see the releases of newly emerged butterflies, stop near one of the glass feeding stations, or visit the patio, a new space designed for closer encounters with the butterflies. Each offers visitors a unique experience.

The Hilbert Conservatory is a lovely spot to visit regardless of the weather. The conservatory is within the three-acre White River Gardens, which is adjacent to the Indianapolis Zoo and included in the zoo admission. The zoo also has many great indoor exhibit spaces that also make it a nice destination regardless of the weather. The indoor exhibits include the Oceans exhibit with aquariums and a shark touch tank, the adjacent dolphin show and the Deserts Dome.

The White River Gardens and Indianapolis Zoo are at 1200 W. Washington St. in downtown Indianapolis. Current hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. CDT Mondays through Thursdays, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. CDT Fridays through Sundays.

Standard admission varies by projected attendance and currently ranges from about $13 to $18 for adults, and $10 to $14 for children ages 2 to 12. For more information, visit www.indianapoliszoo.com.

Vibrant azaleas and beautiful camellias are among the fragrant and colorful blossoms in the spring flower displays on exhibit through May 11 at Chicago’s two conservatories. Both also have rooms filled with giant tropical plants, many of which are now in bloom, and paths that take visitors past reflecting pools, water features, and through a fern room filled with giant ferns and palms whose ancestors would have been found in Illinois 200 million years ago. And admission to both is free.

The Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., is one of the largest conservatories in the nation with more than two acres of tropical greenery and landscape art housed within the historic climate-controlled glass structure. Sadly, a hailstorm in 2011 did significant damage to the structure, which still is being restored with intermittent closures of parts of the building.

The Garfield Park Conservatory also offers a variety of programs and special events, including a photography exhibit, beekeeping and composting classes, and programs targeted to families with children, all set in a unique garden venue.

Plant Party Play Dates are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through April and feature programs that explore sounds associated with plants.

The sounds made when you eat vegetables is the topic this weekend, and the sounds of a rain stick you build yourself is featured next weekend.

Juicebox is a free performing arts series at the Garfield Park Conservatory targeted to toddlers. A music, dance and storytelling program in a tradition from India will be offered from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday. A contemporary dance performance is scheduled for April 5.

The Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 N. Stockton Drive, has a lot packed into a smaller space. The blooms in the orchid room are especially unique and beautiful. And the conservatory is just steps away from the north entrance to Lincoln Park Zoo, which also features free admission.

Butterflies are Blooming makes the claim of being the largest temporary tropical butterfly exhibit in the nation, and it runs through April 30 at Meijer Gardens and Sculpture, 1000 E. Beltline NE in Grand Rapids, Mich., about a 21/2-hour drive from northwest Indiana.

Each week, the garden will receive about 800 chrysalides and cocoons of more than 40 different butterfly and moth species native to North and South America, Asia and Africa. They are placed in an enclosure where they complete metamorphosis, and lucky visitors might be there at the right time to get a closeup view as the delicate creatures emerge and unfurl their wings.

The butterflies are later released into the 85-degree, 15,000-square-foot tropical conservatory to fly freely and land among the plants, feeding stations and even garden visitors.

At 9 and 11 a.m. CDT on Saturday, a specially developed butterfly ballet will be performed in conjunction with Butterflies are Blooming. Admission is $8, or free for children age 2 and under, and includes pre-performance activities for children and post-performance photo opportunities. Register online at www.meijergardens.org or call (616) 975-3147.

The conservatory also includes Victorian, carnivorous and arid gardens, but that is just a small part of the 125-acre Meijer Gardens. The beautiful outdoor grounds include garden, seasonal and farm gardens, trails and an impressive sculpture park. The interactive children’s garden offers a variety of butterfly-related activities.

Meijer Gardens hours are: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. CDT on Mondays, and Wednesdays through Saturdays; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for students and seniors, $6 for ages 5 to 13, $4 for ages 3 and 4, and free for children 2 and under.

For more information on the gardens, call (888) 957-1580 or visit www.meijergardens.org.



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