An Afternoon in Space?

Photo by Melinda Campbell

Before this spring I had not been in the H.P. Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens. Like many things in this area, I had driven by the interesting shaped building, wondered about its contents and promptly forgot about it as it became a speck in my rearview mirror.

This time, however, was different; this time I was going into the Conservatory to stop and smell the roses. Or the hyacinths, in this case.

If you haven’t been to the Rawlings Conservatory, you should take the time to stop on by. The entire building could be looked at in a mad 20-minute dash, or absorbed through hours of observation and reflection. The choice is yours (as is the donation upon entry).

The Conservatory building itself is grand in a toy-like sort of way – you get the impression that it would look splendid miniaturized in a child’s playroom, all dainty and full of secrets. The architecture is simple but stunning, and can conjure up images of carousels, tea parties and secret gardens. And of course, it is the latter that proves to be correct.

An immersion of the senses is the best way to describe a trip through the rooms of concrete and glass, made living by the greenery. And it’s hard to determine which makes the grandest first impression – the surround-sound fragrance or the tactile coloring – as both jockey for your undivided attention when you enter. The chorus of perfume and the sensation of color clash in a war where the winner gets top bidding in your mind and memory. In the end they join forces, enticing you to get to know them better through consideration and time.

Bottlebrush plant
Bottlebrush plant (Callisternon citrinus)

Now, I know you’re probably not supposed to touch the vegetation that grows from floor to ceiling and cascades down windows in a still-life waterfall of leaves, petals and vines. But the soft pillowy flowers of the bottlebrush plant (or Callistemon citrinus, for the science-minded out there) beg for you to stroke it as if it were a kitten, and the prickly cactus challenges you to prove your bravery. Sometimes you just can’t help yourself and you fall victim to the cajoling and taunts. Ah, those tricky flowers!

When I went on my journey through the Conservatory, there were works of art and photos taken from space along the walls. I would learn I had stumbled into a display titled The Garden Galaxy. The final room was designed in a meteoric arch of color and commotion and flowers shot across the sky, in something more pageant than Star Trek. Peeking out from among the blossoms were mosaics of layered glass, created by Yulia Hanansen. Here, among the seemingly fragile petals, the glass art lent an air of delicate strength, reminding the viewer that both glass and flowers are beautiful and strong, but also can be broken. Depicted in these works were stars and galaxies, swirling in frozen movement; a moment set in glass. In another room it was difficult to tell where art and nature diverged, as plants were spray painted and arranged in a way that made a careful observer do a double take: Is that natural? Is that art? Can I cross the boundary to find out?

Mosaic by Yulia Hanansen
Mosaic by Yulia Hanansen

With the benches and the quiet stillness, I could easily have sat there for hours, but life does not stand still, even if some of our fellow inhabitants do. However, it’s nice to have a place where you can step into space and stop to smell the hyacinths, if only for an afternoon. What could ‘B’ more beautiful?



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