Volunteer Park Conservatory in the Spring

The Conservatory, a Victorian greenhouse modeled on London’s Crystal Palace, stands at the north end of Volunteer Park, designed by the Olmsted brothers, in Seattle’s north Capitol Hill neighborhood. Professional horticulturists with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation care for the Conservatory’s collections, including bromeliads, palms, ferns, cacti, and seasonal display plants.

As a registered US Fish and Wildlife repository for confiscated plants, the Conservatory also acquires, quarantines, and later displays restricted orchids, cycads, and other plants seized by USFW agents.

The Friends of the Conservatory, formed as a non-profit organization in 1980, grew out of a 1978 citizens’ campaign to restore the physical structure of the Conservatory. The Victorian glass building had stood for 65 years at the north end of Volunteer Park, the site approved by the renowned Olmsted brothers’ landscape architecture firm in the early 1900’s. By 1978 the Conservatory’s glass panes and wood/iron framework had deteriorated so badly the building had to be closed during high winds.

The FOC, cooperating with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, sponsored the 1980 – 1985 architectural restoration of the Conservatory building. In 1983 the FOC and the City developed a Conservatory expansion plan. The Gift Shop/Resource Center opened in February, 2003. Most recently, in 2004, the FOC successfully led a community drive to defeat a proposed mandatory $5 Conservatory admissions fee.

From its beginning as an emergency restorer, the FOC has continued to evolve, helping the Conservatory fulfill many facets of its mission, including financial, educational, and events support. The FOC helps fund the Conservatory’s orchid collection, pays for descriptive tour materials and environmental education, and contributes to the Plant Acquisition Fund.

Together with Conservatory staff, the FOC also organizes educational activities and hosts events, such as the popular annual holiday open house and the plant sale in May.