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Longwood Gardens Tropical Paradise

by Mary Jasch

I went to Longwood Gardens to see the orchids, but on entering the Conservatory I was captivated by tropical fragrance and lusty palms. Fortified by the scent of South African Weeping Sage, Buddleia auriculata, I embarked on a sensory exploration.

Arresting giant Bismarck Palms, Bismarckia nobilis, are the Conservatory's sentinels-at-arms with silvery, strong fans and slender waists that slink down into a silver haze of groundcover in huge pots.

Everything here is giant such as arrangements of gold and pale yellow orchids backed by waves of viola and blue plectranthus, Plectranthus thyrsoideus, so blue and perfect they look plastic. Chinese podocarpus, Podocarpus macrophyllus, forms dark, clipped hedges, its needles slightly wider and thicker than the usual P. gracilior. Off to the side – and there are many – a narrow house of blooming camellias transports me to warmer climes I’ve seen.

Gardens upon gardens wind alongside a central waterway planted with exotics such as Wonga Wonga Vine, Pandorea pandorana , intermixed with coleus, subtropical sweet viburnum, Viburnum odoratissimum, the intoxicating all-time favorite Primula malacoides ‘Prima White’ and a plant whose flowers resemble aliens from outer space, Osteospermum ecklonis ‘Aksis.’

Into the Exhibition Hall, where the scent of citrus and Crystal Blanca Oriental lilies fills this world, floating over pure green lawn edged in chenille, more lilies, columbine, stock and white marguerites. Lollipop bronze-leaved clerodendron, triangle palms (old friends) and narrow African podocarpus trained 20 feet tall fill the room around planters of grapefruit. Pots and beds of yellow-flowered, grey-leaved euryops surround Cherokee roses growing up columns and beds of bromeliads with bright red and blue flowers.

Nearby, tall tree ferns with moss-covered trunks in boxes with ivy stand in a shallow reflecting pool edged with orchids.

Delicious-smelling Orange Jessamine, Murraya paniculata is love at first whiff. Then through a short hallway draped in orchids and feathered greenery I come to a wall of spidery orchids. Another greenhouse holds a central pink, yellow and blue flower garden and an arch made of two columns with blue Ceonothus ‘Ray Hartman’ tethered as high as possible and Burgundy Ice bougainvillea filling in the top.

The warm and humid Palm House where assorted palms, cycads and philodendron of staggering size – some 3-stories tall – fascinates!

Everywhere, small and large greenhouses and winding tunnel-like habitats all create an exploratory experience indoors. Not to be missed are luminous blue agave and Blue-chalk sticks (Senecio) in the Silver Garden and the Children’s Garden that bewitches everyone.

Definitely go. Even if you miss the Orchid Show it doesn't matter, the real show is the background.

Longwood Gardens Orchid Show: Now thru March 24, though visit these sensual hot houses any time it’s cold outside. The warmth-lovers will swallow you up into another world.

** All photos by Mary Jasch

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