[Reviewed and update December 2018]
Towers of poinsettias and trees festooned with lights make Lamberton Conservatory glow against the cold nights of early winter in Rochester, N.Y.’s Highland Park.
The conservatory’s Holiday Show is a popular tradition and setting for holiday photos. It’s one of the many benefits this conservatory, first built in 1911, provides its surrounding community.
A community asset
Lamberton Conservatory is part of Rochester’s Highland Park. This 150-acre park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. Part of it has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The conservatory had fallen into disrepair until 2007. That year, the Monroe County Parks Department spent $1 million to tear it down and perform a historically appropriate reconstruction, maintaining every possible detail of the original design.
“When you walk in, you get a feeling of being transported,” said Beverly Brown, an associate professor of biology at Rochester’s Nazareth College. “On long gray winter days, I just feel like I can uncurl, and it’s nice and green and humid. It’s the best antidepressant.”
Plants boost well-being
Among Brown’s research interests is horticultural therapy, so she knows that there are physiological reasons why walking into a building filled with plants in the dead of winter would lift a person’s spirits.
“I’m very aware of the kinds of impacts just being in greenery can have, including a reduction in stress and an improved sense of well-being,” she said. “That’s another reason that I would like to see more people come to the conservatory. An annual membership for one person is $10. That’s way better than taking anti-depressants all year.”
Brown has spent her fall semester on sabbatical, working on a project to document every plant species at the conservatory on the Plants Map Lamberton Conservatory profile page she established. She is also working to order and install at least 100 Plants Map interactive plant tags within the facility.
“I’m hoping that it will slow people down when they come to the conservatory and get them to spend more time there,” Brown said. “I’m also hoping it can work the other way around, where people discover the conservatory online.”
Combatting plant blindness
Brown tries to help her students overcome “plant blindness,” a concept that describes the all-too-common occurrence of people not noticing the plants that form the backdrop of the places they visit every day.
“I will say to students in a class, ‘How many plant species do you think you passed on your way here?’” she said. “A lot of students will say, ‘I don’t think I passed any.’”
Brown then helps them realize that they likely passed tens or hundreds of species.
“The more we can get people to look more closely at plants, and to understand the essential, vital role they play in our everyday lives, the better off we’re all going to be in the future,” Brown said.
She’s even made some discoveries of her own in the course of cataloging the species in the conservatory on Plants Map.
“I find new plant species all the time,” she said. “And it’s funny, because I’ve walked through and spent hours there, and I thought I’d been very thorough. I have a much greater appreciation now for the diversity of plants that are there and what it takes to keep them up.”
Reaching new plant-lovers
Brown has spent time sitting at the front desk at the conservatory. Seeing the people who come in, and hearing the questions they ask, gets her excited about helping more people discover a love of plants.
“Something that really makes me happy is that there are so many families that come with little kids,” she said.
Lamberton Conservatory does not have a budget for guided tours, and Brown likes that the Plants Map tags will enable visitors to tour at their own pace, using their smartphones to scan the tags’ QR codes to access photos and information online.
She has made sure to take photos of all parts of the plant, so that visitors can get a close-up look of even those plants that are hard to access.
I’m hoping that everyone will look and say, ‘I never noticed that before,’ and start looking for new discoveries themselves,” she said.
To learn more, follow the Lamberton Conservatory on Plants Map.