Happy 125th birthday, Rawlings Conservatory. Your full name is a mouthful: The Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens of Baltimore! It’s almost as long as your distinguished history.
Far more than 125 panes of glass adorn your Victorian majesty. You are the second oldest “glass palace” in America. You are the last of five that once graced Baltimore’s well-known parks. Quite a distinction.
My husband and I were proud to be among your admirers at the kick-off of your 125th. We hope you could hear above the crowd as everyone sang your praises: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, via video; her mother, Dr. Nina Rawlings, who spoke of Easters with you, her children and her husband, the distinguished state legislator for whom you are named; ardent admirer Tom Hall of WYPR who lives near you, Gilbert Sandler who spent his childhood hours in the park around you; Councilman Nick Mosby, who said you are a gem of the city and of District 7, Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of Center Stage, who fell instantly in love when he met you.
What defines you is your beauty, outside and in. Your elegant design by George A. Frederick, with steel and glass construction, is simultaneously substantial and fragile. As Nick Mosby said, “History is not cheap!”
And that is why everyone came to you last week. We believe in you. We want people to know you are worth preserving. You are worth it for your statuesque presence that graces the city. We know that you again have reached a precarious point: that the wood on your windows is rotting; your sashes need repairing at a staggering cost of $4500 for every one of your 40 windows; your peeling paint needs refreshing for another $55,000; your iconic cupola needs $68,000 in post-hurricane repairs.
But you are worth it. Not only do you add beauty to Druid Hill Park and Baltimore, you are a destination. Kwame Kwei-Armah said he plans to bring his London friends to see you when he gives them the grand tour of Baltimore. I hope he’ll remind them that you were inspired by their own Kew Gardens.
Besides being gorgeous, you make our city more interesting and livable. You are a quiet refuge. You inspire artists and gardeners. Your prize collections of tropical plants and trees bring the exotic of far-off places to Baltimoreans for no charge, no airfare, no hassle.
You remind me constantly that as a garden writer I need to know more about tropicals and bromeliads. You constantly give of yourself to children, teaching them to respect nature and to think bigger, like your giant agave that resembles a prehistoric creature.
You are a perfect setting for jazz, as we heard the other night with the Michael Raitzk Trio. You’d also be perfect for chamber music.
Your Farmer’s Market, chrysanthemum and poinsettia shows and holiday train gardens, organized by your faithful volunteers and proprietress Kate Blom, draw crowds.
Let’s hope even more people visit you to celebrate this special birthday that has just begun.