How to Find A Desert in the Rain

I largely enjoy the Pacific Northwest climate but I am a desert girl at heart. And when there has been one too many rainy days and a desert escape isn’t in the cards? This weekend I headed to the cacti and succulents room at the Volunteer Park Conservatory to soak in some summer feelings. And I couldn’t help but admire and wonder about the architecture.

Palms reach up into the tallest part of the conservatory roof.

The idea of a greenhouse is very old: as early as the 1500s, the wealthy cultivated citrus fruit and other delicate, warm-clime plants indoors. The golden era of the greenhouse was the Victorian era in England (look no further than the conservatory at Kew Gardens). Technology and public interest made greenhouses more affordable and popular.

Cacti peering out into the rain.

The conservatory at Volunteer Park is in style with the greenhouses of the Victorian era, not just in its architectural design but in its methodology of plant presentation and division. It offers five “houses” that represent different environments around the world. The conservatory was actually manufactured in New York, shipped to Seattle, and assembled onsite by the Seattle Parks Department.

Example of the wheels that open the ceiling panels.

Not only is the conservatory’s design beautiful, it is highly functional. Wheels and levers allow panels in the ceiling to be lifted for ventilation (see adjacent photo); pipes beneath the planter shelves warm the spaces. Each room, consistent with its plants, has a specific temperature and humidity.

Palm House: 72 degrees, humidity >60% (includes orchids, tall banana, ginger, palm) the perfect room to walk into from the cold and the rain!

Seasonal display House: 65 degrees, humidity <50% (seasonal plants with bright colors and smells, currently bulbs, lilies, cyclamen, and hydrangeas)

Cactus House: 72-80 degrees, humidity <50%

Fern House: 72-80 degrees, humidity >60% (includes tropical plants and even some carnivorous plants!)

Bromeliad house: 72-80%, humidity >60% (bromeliads grow on rough surfaces, such as trees or rocks. Pineapples are actually bromeliads!)

Would you have a favorite room?


Volunteer Park Conservatory.

Looking to read a little more? Head over to the Friends of the Conservatory site for more about the Volunteer Park Conservatory. And, did you catch it? I previously wrote about Volunteer Park here.


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