The Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens are located in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to the outdoor gardens, several buildings provide controlled environments for a variety of plant life from all over the world. The Victorian era Palm House exhibits towering palms and other tropical plants in the original glassed-in iron and wood conservatory built in 1888. The historical Palm House is the centerpiece of the gardens and is the second oldest building of its kind in the United States.
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The Desert House recreates the extreme climate of the desert, where temperatures can range from 10°F overnight, to 125°F during the day. Plants on display include cacti, succulents, small shrubs such as yuccas, and Joshua trees. The Orchid Room features over 30,000 species of orchid and over 100,000 hybrids. The conservatory displays orchids during their blooming period, which creates a year-round exhibit of spectacular color. The Tropical House is a large enclosed greenhouse that replicates the tropical climate surrounding the equator. Plants on display are from all over the world, including Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. The Mediterranean House mimics the dry summers and damp winters of Southern California and parts of the Mediterranean Basin. Rosemary, geranium, and bay trees are among the best-known plants in this collection.
Outdoor gardens include the Sundial Garden, the centerpiece of which is a sundial from 1890 gifted to the City of Baltimore by the Waltersville Granite Company. The sundial records the solar time (different from today’s clocks) of several worldwide cities, including Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, London, Calcutta, Cape Town, and Cape Cod. Over 30 outdoor flowerbeds span the 1.5 acre property.
The Howard P. Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens opened in 1888 as the Druid Hill Conservatory, named for the area of Druid Park in which it is located. The glass conservatory was designed by George A. Frederick, the same architect who built Baltimore City Hall in 1867. Conservatories were first seen in the 16th century as a way for wealthy homeowners to cultivate citrus fruits during the winter months. They rose to popularity in the 19th century as a municipal feature and to showcase tropical plants, and also served as a venue for social events.
In 2002, the 114-year-old Palm House was closed for major renovations, and reopened in 2004 with the addition of the Tropical House, Desert House, and Mediterranean House as well as a new name. Howard Peters Rawlings, for whom the site is now named, was a former Maryland House of Appropriations chairperson. Known as “Pete,” Mr. Rawlings was the first African American politician to hold the powerful role in the Maryland legislature. The conservatory and gardens celebrated their 125th anniversary in 2013 with a variety of signature fundraising events. The conservatory is a Baltimore City Landmark and is listed on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties and the National Register of Historic Places.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Tours of the conservatory and gardens are self-guided. A cellphone tour is available for those interested in learning more about the history of the site and the plants on display. Docent-led tours are available for groups. In addition to tours, in-depth programming for adults includes lectures and workshops. Master Gardner Plant Clinics are among the most popular. Lectures are themed around gardening, the great conservatories, and architecture of the 19th century, and there are also author talks. Children’s programming includes a weekly Plants and People program, which offers hands-on exploration stations, science demonstrations, and a Sprouts program geared towards pre-school children. Seasonal events include the Druid Hill Farmer’s Market, a weekly market on site during the summer months, the Holiday Poinsettia display, and a springtime bulb show, which offers hyacinth, tulips, and daffodils for sale.
Past and Future Exhibits
The Emergence Art Series features Baltimore area artists. The second annual event will be held in October and includes an art exhibit and auction at the Greenhouse Gallery as well as an opening reception and fundraising dinner.
Druid Hill park, in which the conservatory is located, is a notable urban park founded in 1860, just 2 years after the creation of New York City’s famous Central Park. One of the oldest public parks in the United States, Druid Hill is home to some of Maryland’s oldest growth forests, Druid Hill Lake, and several historical structures. The park is a National Historic Landmark.
3100 Swann Dr, Baltimore, MD 21217, Phone: 410-396-0008