Sara Chapman, our new President, with our former Executive Director, Anthonio Pettit.
1. What attracts you to the Conservatory?
What first attracted me to the Conservatory was that it was a lovely place to take out-of-town guests for a charming, all-ages family activity on a cool and cloudy fall day. I so enjoyed that afternoon. When I had more company visiting a few weeks later, I thought I’d take them, too. I figured that I wouldn’t mind seeing it all over again. I was so surprised to find that the displays were completely different! Now I know that there are six major changes a year, and smaller updates as things go into and out of bloom. It certainly makes sense that the displays change, but somehow I didn’t realize that there could be such a huge difference from one visit to the next. It made me want to go back again and again. And I haven’t ever been disappointed.
So for me it is the magic of the plants, in their sometimes startling and always beautiful combinations, in that exquisite gem of a glass building, in the further beauty of the Olmstead park. And free parking!
2. Do you have a favorite House/Season/Flower?
I admit I am partial to the Seasonal House. The abundance of flowers and color and fragrance, so tastefully arranged by Senior Gardener David Helgeson, just floats my boat. All those ferns and grasses make the space look like one giant bouquet, just for me. Now that there are benches to sit and contemplate the lushness, it is better than ever.
The Conservatory has the biggest effect on me when it is cold and gray out. January and February especially are a slice of heaven in there. The staff works so hard to get the azaleas and bulbs to bloom early so we can have a glimmer of spring to keep us hopeful in Seattle’s dark season.
As for my favorite flower, I think it has to be the enormous vines of the Ecuador Pink brugmansias (Angels Trumpet). The Conservatory displays are different every year, but one summer the entire Palm House dome was filled with them, blooming with hundreds or even thousands of huge pink flowers. It felt like the forest primeval, in the beginning of time. It began my love affair with brugmansias, and now my own potted brugmansia (a gold color) perfumes my entire house with only one or two blossoms—but only at night. I would love to smell those thousands of pink blooms in the Conservatory one night!
3. Have you been to the other two Victorian Age Conservatories on the West Coast?
Yes, I have visited both the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and the Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma. They are very different than ours, and although beautiful in their way, in my opinion, cannot compare with the VPC.
I’ve also been lucky enough to visit the huge Victorian glass Enid Haupt Conservatory in the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York City, as well as the one (not Victorian) in Longwood Gardens outside of Philadelphia. The Haupt Conservatory, like everything in NYC where I grew up, is on a giant scale that dwarfs the West coast ones. But the truth is that even though it is enormous, with eleven houses, and impressive, I did feel that some of their spring displays could have used the refinement and tasteful genius of our own David Helgeson. Not that I’m prejudiced.
4. Why do you Volunteer?
This is a harder question to answer. Why, indeed? Life is so busy, and so many things need doing.
Even living in Normandy Park, near Burien, I feel that the Conservatory is something that is mine, that is all of ours, something that everyone in Seattle and the Western Washington area can enjoy and feel tremendously proud of.
I found that as the Conservatory drew me again and again, and fascinated me so much that I was inspired to do a book about its flowers and how they changed throughout the year, I wanted to know more about it, and feel part of it in a larger way. I wanted to know how it worked, and wanted to help as many people as possible share the bliss I feel when I visit. I have a marketing background and felt I could contribute something useful by joining the board of the Friends of the Conservatory. I want everyone to know about it, and be inspired to visit many times, and support this unique and marvelous place.
Thank you for this opportunity to talk about the Volunteer Park Conservatory, one of my favorite subjects.