Orchid lovers everywhere will be thrilled to discover that there is a relatively new 8,000 square-foot glass conservatory filled with orchids of all shapes, sizes, and colors just outside Charlotte, N.C. This architectural marvel was completed in 2007 and is a primary attraction within the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. The viewing public is treated to a constant rotation of blooming specimens that are pulled weekly from the garden’s 2500+ plant orchid collection located in production greenhouses on the vast 380 acre property.
Retired textile executive, Daniel J. Stowe and his wife, Alene, donated the land in the early 1990’s along with an ambitious 50-year design plan to make the botanical garden one of the best in the world. So far, this growing tourist destination includes 12 outdoor gardens (Perennial, Azalea, Conifer, etc), spectacular fountains, a Visitor center, and 100 acres with woodland trails. The big draw, of course, is the five-story Neo-Classical glass structure which is the only tropical conservatory in the Carolinas.
Once inside, visitors quickly realize that this modern conservatory uses the latest in horticultural technology. Louvers slowly open and close to regulate the air temperature and fogging nozzles periodically pump humidity into the room. Underground is a sophisticated control room which contains a large air handling system as well as a reverse osmosis watering system so that the plants get the best cultural conditions. On the very top of the cupola is a weather station which provides data on outdoor temperature, wind speed, sunlight intensity and rainfall.
The orchids featured represent a nice mix of popular genera along with a few surprises. Hanging from the entrance hall is a bank of unusual pendant type Cymbidium sprays of a chocolate hue. This type of plant must be grown well above ground since the blossoms drape down the side of the pot. Turning the corner, there are several ornate pots full of yellow reed stem Epidendrums, each with tiny clusters of sequential blossoms. The flowers match the canary-colored garden statuary nearby. Farther down the path, there is a grouping of large purple Cattleyas situated just beneath a stunning magenta painting/collage of a backyard garden. It is evident that the designers of this floral experience are “pairing” orchids and artwork – a rather novel idea in botanical circles.
The show-stopper lies just ahead. Anchored to a long stone wall are a series of empty picture frames – each painted black and holding no glass. Three to four complimentary-colored orchid plants are mounted just behind each frame – giving the appearance of live flowers bursting through the canvas. Although this clever theme is sometimes seen on a small scale at local orchid shows, the grandiose nature of this display leaves spectators in awe.
There are many other highlights along this orchid tour, including additional picture frame vignettes, walls of climbing Vanilla, a large tree trunk covered in Bulbophyllums, and a display box holding miniatures.
Future plans for Daniel Stowe include a Children’s garden that is currently under design and development as well as additional tropical conservatories. It is fitting that the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is billed as “The Best of Southern Horticulture.” It is just hours away and well worth the trip.