Bolz Conservatory

Bolz Conservatory

Part of Ep. 1704 Horsetails, Tropicals & Tree Peonies

Tropical plants are the focus in Bolz Conservatory at Olbrich Gardens in Madison. Curator John Worth gives a tour of a garden, which also is home to birds, geckos and butterflies. Good candidates for houseplants include variegated ginger, Chinese evergreen, Dieffenbachia and orchids.

Premiere date: Jun 24, 2009

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Sometimes Wisconsin's weather is not conducive to being outdoors to garden.  It's too cold, or it's too hot, or it's raining.  That's a great time to come and visit Bolz Conservatory at Olbrich Gardens in Madison.  I'm with the curator, John Worth.  I like to come here to get a taste of the tropics.  It's a very cheap vacation, not too far away.  Tell me about this place, it's been here a while.

John:
It has, it's been open to the public since 1991.  We've had quite a few changes since then.  Obviously, some of the plants have matured.  And from time to time, we add other plants.

Shelley:
It's grown up quite a bit since I started coming here, too.  You've been here since the beginning and involved collecting and getting the plants here.
John:
I did, initially we purchased a lot of plants from nurseries in south Florida.  We also had donations from other conservatories.  I also was very fortunate to travel on collecting trips to Latin America.

Shelley:
Wow.  So do the plants represent the tropics from all over the world or a specific area?

John:
We have plants here from every place from Borneo to South America to Central America.

Shelley:
No wonder it feels like I've traveled when I come here.  You've also got animals, birds and butterflies.

John:
We do.  We have birds, we have koi.  We also have butterflies during the summer.  we will have free-flying butterflies in the conservatory.  You can watch the chrysalis hatch into butterflies.

Shelley:
I love watching the birds scuttle around.  I heard a rumor that you've got geckos.

John:
We do also have geckos.  You may not see them every visit to the conservatory but they are here.  Generally, they like to be in very warm places, so you might see them on some of our heating vents.

Shelley:
Well, with all these plants here, can you narrow them down?  Do you have some favorites?

John:
I do, and one of them is right here.  This palm is native to the Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean.  Very attractive.  It has thorns when it's young to protect it from herbivores.  Part of the foliage turns very bright red in high light so very attractive in that way, also.

Shelley:
One of the things I do when I come here is I'm always going, "I want that! I want that!" Now, the palm is too big for my house.  But when I walked in and saw this variegated ginger I went, "Oh, I want that, too." Are any of the plants here good candidates for houseplants?

John:
There are, and the ginger would be a great.  It has really nice foliage.  The flowers aren't really that attractive, but I think the foliage would really stand out.  Great as a houseplant but you could put it outdoors during the summer.

Shelley:
Now, would I put it in the shade?

John:
You would put it in the shade because too much light would certainly burn the foliage.  In its native habitat, it tends to grow in lower-light areas so keep that in mind when you're growing it outdoors.

Shelley:
But in the winter, I assume, as a houseplant give it all the light you can give it in the house.

John:
Right, it'll be just fine.

Shelley:
Okay, any problems with something like this?

John:
Well, the only thing is, during the winter months some of the foliage tends to brown at the tip.  That's just natural.  That's the normal succession of stems on this plant.  Once spring comes, you can cut the old stem off and new ones will shoot out of this nice, variegated foliage.

Shelley:
So as I see things starting to die back don't panic, it doesn't mean it's dead.

John:
Right.

Shelley:
Well, actually, before we go, I was looking at this.  This is not going to fit in my house.  But it's gorgeous.

John:
It is gorgeous, and it has an interesting story behind it.  It's called a "Panama Hat Plant." It's foliage is used in the manufacture of panama hats.

Shelley:
The stories behind the plants that's how you learn the plants, I think, sometimes.  Now this looks familiar, too.  This actually looks like a houseplant.

John:
Right, this is a Chinese evergreen or Agloaonema.  There are numerous varieties that you can purchase.  Some have plain green foliage some have variegation, such as this foliage.  Very small, petite plants to very large plants and very durable.

Shelley:
Again, would you leave it as a houseplant or would you put it in the backyard as a tropical interest?

John:
You can bring it back out.  You can place it outside during the summer months and bring it in before we have any frost.  Again, it would like a sheltered area outside.

Shelley:
Okay, so some shade.

John:
Protection from the wind, right.

Shelley:
For vertical interest what about something like that succulent looking vine?

John:
Yeah, that's actually vanilla.

Shelley:
Oh, vanilla.

John:
It's actually an orchid, and one of the few that's a vine.  This will flower in the Bolz Conservatory generally early in the spring into the summer.  We will occasionally pollinate some of the orchid flowers and get the vanilla beans the vanilla we consume

Shelley:
Is that something easy for a gardener to grow?

John:
Probably not the easiest.  They tend to need to be fairly old in order to flower.  So it might be a little more difficult.

Shelley:
So maybe an expert orchid grower could play with it, otherwise, stick to something else.  Okay, what about this?  With that spot of sunlight on it, it just glows.  I'm thinking of that, like in the woodlands again.

John:
Dieffenbachias are great plants, very durable.  They come in a lot of different colors and sizes.  They take a minimum amount of care.  If you don't have time to work with houseplants dieffenbachia is a great choice.

Shelley:
Now when I look at the foliage of something like that again, I'm assuming shade but it looks like it might be harmed by high wind.

John:
It would be.  The foliage is fairly thin and it would be torn up very easily in the wind.  So outdoors, keep it in a shady spot keep it away from windy areas.

Shelley:
Kind of sheltered from the wind.  If we bring these outside to beautify our backyards when we bring them back in the house at the end of the growing season we have to be concerned about bringing insects in.  What should we do about it?

John:
Before you bring them in in the fall take your garden hose and wash the foliage.  Wash the underside of the foliage wash the top of the foliage, wash it down very completely and you eliminate a lot of the potential insect pests that you might bring indoors.

Shelley:
Okay, I see one last one.  Actually, there's so many here I could go on forever, but I recognize this one as a coffee tree, because I've had success with this one in my home.  Is it something you'd recommend?

John:
You can give it a try.  Some people have great success, as you have had.  They can be difficult to grow, but a lot of fun.  They have beautiful flowers and the flowers are actually fragrant.

Shelley:
They're beautiful.

John:
Then you will get the green beans coffee beans that will turn red, and finally turn dark purple.

Shelley:
Yeah, you've still got some on there.  I've always wanted to try roasting my own coffee beans.

John:
Give it a shot.

Shelley:
That's the fun here, there's so much to discover.  And some of the ideas you can take home and try in your own backyard.

John:
A lot of possibilities.

Shelley:
Thank you, John.

John:
You're welcome.

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