Visiting Mitchell Domes

Visiting Mitchell Domes

December 21, 2010


Mitchell Park Conservatory, or "The Domes."

This weekend, I stopped by Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Conservatory, known to all as "The Domes." Much of Milwaukee has a wonderful retro flair, with storefronts sporting lettering and signage seemingly unchanged from the 1950s and 1960s. The Domes are also a vestige of this era, having opened in 1964 (with the ribbon cutting by Lady Bird Johnson, no less) and stepping inside, you feel like you've entered a relic from another time.

The 1964 World's Fair, held in New York, was meant to showcase the technology of tomorrow. If you've seen any of the remnants of the '64 World's Fair, the structures built for the Fair have a wonderful sense of the future as envisoned by the Jetsons: a little hokey, quite corporate, and brimming with hope for a space-age future. (Racine, next door to Milwaukee, has the Golden Rondelle, S.E. Johnson Wax's contribution to the World's Fair, and in New York, we have the Unisphere and the Panorama of the City of New York.) The Domes have no direct link to the Fair, but its construction is clearly from the same era--built in a time when civic engagement was considered a goal for many public projects and when showy, space age-style architecture was in fashion.

On Sunday, all of Milwaukee was blanketed in snow and it was amazing to walk into The Domes, which comprises three greenhouses, where everything was warm, green, and growing.

Garden Design - Orchids

Orchids (Zygopetalum crinitum, above) grow from the walls in planters in the Tropical Dome. 

The first dome is the Tropical Dome, which is quite balmy and warm inside. Inside is a mix of unusual and more commonly seen plants, including the requisite orchids that are a part of every greenhouse.

Garden Design - Sausage Plants

The fruit of the sausage tree, Kigelia africana.

Garden Design - Air Plants

A ball of air plants (Tilandsia bergeri ) hangs in the tropical dome, needing no soil to form a globe of whorls.

Garden Design - Old Man Cactus

Fuzzy old man cactus (Cephalocereus senilis) sprouts among its cacti friends.

The Desert Dome is a mix of cacti and other plants suited to dry climates. Unexpectedly, I saw some patches of geraniums as well.

Garden Design - Geraniums

A patch of Pelargonium carnosum.

Actually, these are not technically geraniums. Though they are commonly called geraniums by many gardeners, these plants belong to the genus Pelargonium, sometimes known as  "scented geraniums." True geraniums belong to the genus Geranium, and are sometimes called "hardy geraniums."

Finally, the last dome, or the "Show Dome" is a rotating series of flower and special exhibits. Having visited the Domes before, in the spring, when it had a train show running through the plants, I personally find this dome the most tourist-y and clearly designed for photo opportunities. (See the glittered plant stems placed among the pointsettas below.)

The Domes are definitely worth a visit if you're in Milwaukee, as one of the most iconic attractions for the city, especially in the winter when nothing else is blooming in cold Wisconsin snow.

Garden Design - Pointsettas

Swaths of pointsettas decorate the Show Dome.

Mitchell Park Conservatory
524 S. Layton Blvd.
Milwaukee, WI 53215
(414) 649-9830