Find rare blooms at the Friends of the Conservatory Plant Sale

Spring Plant Sale images (1)

James Whetzel buys an orchid at a previous Friends of the Conservatory plant sale

James Whetzel buys an orchid at a previous Friends of the Conservatory plant sale

Mark your calendar for the Friends of the Conservatory Spring Plant Sale from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, on the lawn outside of the Volunteer Park Conservatory (1400 East Galer St.).

The Spring Plant Sale features unique tropicals, orchids and rare cacti that are similar to the plants that grow in the Conservatory.

A percentage of the Spring Plant Sale proceeds directly support the displays and collections and the remainder support the Friends of the Conservatory and the group’s educational programming.

Plenty of free parking is available.

If you have questions, please email

More information can be found online at

Friends of the Conservatory members may start shopping at 9 a.m. and will receive a 10 percent discount. To become a member, please visit

Join Volunteer Park Trust for Spring Restoration Day


Join the Volunteer Park Trust from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 26, for Spring Restoration Day! Volunteers will be removing invasive plants, mulching and applying burlap to prevent future weed growth in a large bed near the Highland Street entrance at the west side of the park. Gloves and tools will be provided, but people may bring their own supplies.

The group will gather at 10 a.m. at the Black Sun sculpture across from the Asian Art Museum. No garden experience is necessary and kids are welcome.

This gathering is a wonderful way to meet neighbors, give back to the park and learn more about Volunteer Park Trust.

The Trust will provide doughnuts and coffee! For more details, visit the Spring Restoration Day event page.

It’s spring in January inside the Conservatory

Volunteer Park Conservatory Cactus House

Volunteer Park Conservatory Cactus House


Oh, the weather outside is frightful. But the Palm House is so delightful. A balmy 72 degrees in fact.

The Volunteer Park Conservatory underwent a $3 million capital improvement project last year, and winter is a perfect time to check it out.

The renovation reinforced the iron structural framework in the Seasonal and Cactus houses of the century-old Victorian-inspired building. The improvements included expanding walkways and installing new exits to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADT) and adding event lighting.

new grow house

New 1,550-square-foot multi-purpose grow facility at the Conservatory

The project also replaced a 1920s-era production greenhouse with a modern 1,550-square-foot multi-purpose grow facility to increase production space, and provide an area for educational classes and workshops.

The completed renovations mean Seattleites have a beautifully remodeled respite from the January rains. Within the five glass houses, you can find orchids, cacti, palm trees, carnivorous plants, and most importantly, heat.

This week, the Conservatory’s Seasonal House will fill with the new spring collection. Take a stroll through the greenhouse blooms and forget about the naked trees outside.

The Conservatory offers docent-guided tours of the houses and its plant collections by reservation. Tours last from 30-60 minutes and are free (minimum two weeks’ notice required). Call 206-322-4112 for more information.

Experience Magic After Dark in Volunteer Park Conservatory, Dec. 19

Magic After Dark

Holiday Giftshop 2014It’s one night only, and it’s happening tomorrow! The Volunteer Park Conservatory will be open from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. The Conservatory at night is a special kind of magic, especially when the holidays are near and the displays are in full majesty.

This Friday, Dec. 19, for one night only, you can experience the Conservatory’s spectacular holiday displays after dark. Come see the standard gauge Lionel No. 384E Conservatory Express chug its way through the Seasonal House accompanied by live music from local musician James Whetzel.  Conservatory Opening 12_7_14 (7 of 56) 2

As a special thank you, Friends of the Conservatory members will receive a 20% discount on all purchases in the Palm House Gift Shop. The shop has gifts for all ages including locally-sourced and handcrafted items such as tropical houseplants and succulents, decorative pots and containers, handcrafted jewelry, books, games, toys, soaps, lotions, original artwork, cards and postcards.

For more information, visit the Conservatory website.

A holiday in Volunteer Park

Public encouraged to join Volunteer Park Trust for the third annual holiday celebration with choral groups, 500 luminarias and treats

Performers at the 2013 Holiday in Volunteer Park (Photo credit: Sean Sherman

Performers at the 2013 Holiday in Volunteer Park
(Photo credit: Sean Sherman

Thursday, Dec. 11, 6-8 p.m.

Where: On the main concourse of Volunteer Park from the water tower to the Conservatory

What: Come one, come all for a fun, festive, family celebration! Sing carols, watch and listen to lively performances from local groups (including The Beaconettes, Total Experience Gospel Choir, Seattle Academy Onions, Columbia City Community Chorus, The Mother Pluckers, Seatown Sound, Sing Noel and Edge Performing Arts and Dance), enjoy delicious complimentary treats and drinks and stroll paths lit by hundreds of luminarias. Admission to the Conservatory and Seattle Asian Art Museum will be free.

Who: This event is hosted by Volunteer Park Trust and sponsored by Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle Parks Foundation, The Friends of the Conservatory at Volunteer Park and Seattle Asian Art Museum.

For more information visitt:



Rare corpse flower is blooming at Volunteer Park Conservatory

Seattle’s very own corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) is currently in the early stages of blooming at the Volunteer Park Conservatory.

Corpse FlowerThe specimen was donated to the Conservatory in 2006 from the University of Washington Botany Greenhouse and this is the first time it has bloomed since then. It takes from 7 to 10 years for the plant to make a flower, making this a rare event. And yes, the flower smells like…rotting flesh.

It is a tradition to give the corpse flower a name and a naming contest is currently under way. You can enter the contest in person at the Conservatory’s Palm House or tweet it to @Ivan_Von_Katzen.

The Volunteer Park Conservatory is located at 1400 E Galer St., at the north end of Volunteer Park. It is open Tuesday-Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and there is a $4 admission charge ($2 for youth age 13-18; free for kids 12 and under). The Conservatory is closed on Mondays.

The Conservatory’s Seasonal House and Cactus House are currently under renovation.

For more information about the Conservatory, please visit

Connect to the Friends of the Conservatory about this event via and through Facebook at

For information about the naming contest, visit

Volunteer Park promises a breathtaking dahlia display


In 1913, the dahlia was established as the City of Seattle’s official flower, and the Board of Park Commissioners requested that the flower be planted in suitable quantities throughout local parks.

If you make it to Volunteer Park this summer, you’ll be glad they did.

The Puget Sound Dahlia Association, the Northwest’s largest and most active dahlia club, has maintained the dahlia garden in Volunteer Park for 30 years.

VPark 2014-4

On May 17, 15 volunteers converged to till the grounds and plant hundreds of dahlia tubers. Part of the bed was left untilled since it held over-wintered dahlias, which will be the first to bloom. The rest of the grounds were organized along the bloom forms classification, with open-centered varieties in the north bed.

Mystery bloom

The dahlia plot is located near the Volunteer Park Conservatory. The plot is planted every May and is dug up in the fall. To view the flowers in all of their glory, visitors should stop by in August, but the growing season usually lasts from July through early fall. The small plot boasts a variety of dahlia colors and forms.

Get creative in the Conservatory: It’s never too late to learn with Lifelong Recreation

Summer program registration opens May 20


Artist Lisa Snow Lady, left, leads a tour through the Volunteer Park Conservatory where she is teaching a Lifelong Recreation class this spring.


Last year Mary Hsu was traveling in Japan when she came across a woman sightseeing with an open sketch pad in front of her.

“She was making the most beautiful drawings,” Hsu said. “I thought to myself, I want to do that.”

Last week, Hsu was at the Volunteer Park Conservatory for a sketching and watercolor course taught by artist Lisa Snow Lady. The class, offered through Seattle Parks and Recreation Lifelong Recreation, teaches participants how to document their individual journeys through drawings and paintings.

Snow Lady is a visual artist and has a degree in ornamental horticulture. She said teaching a class in Volunteer Park is a perfect way to draw on all of her strengths.

“I want the class to be loose sketching, like you’re traveling,” Snow Lady said. “We have plenty of places to explore right here: the Cactus House, the Palm House. We can pretend we’re somewhere exotic.”

Participant Linda Pauw earned an art degree in college and recently started drawing again.

“I have seen Lisa’s travel sketchbooks, and I’m in awe of them,” Pauw said.

Lifelong Recreation participant Shari Congdon practices sketching a tulip during a warm up exercise.

Lifelong Recreation participant Shari Congdon practices sketching a tulip during a warm up exercise.

Many of the students have past artistic experience and are looking to sharpen their skills. Student Pam Generaux taught art for 30 years in Seattle schools but had never received formal watercolor training.

“I love being a part of a class and exchanging ideas,” Generaux said.

Generaux demonstrates that it’s never too late to learn a new skill or improve an existing talent. The Lifelong Recreation course is designed to be a relaxed atmosphere where people can feel comfortable exploring their surroundings.

“It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake,” Snow Lady said. “It’s just paper, and it’s just ink.”

Snow Lady requires participants to use pens for sketching so they’re not tempted to erase and work under the constraints of perfection.

This class, which is also offered in the Japanese Garden, was created three years ago. Lifelong Recreation Specialist Cheryl Brown said she’d like to see participation increase.

“This is one of the few opportunities we have to use these venues,” she said. “This has been a great partnership that has opened up the doors of these beautiful specialty spaces to artists of all kinds.”

Student Shari Congdon said the location was one thing that drew her to the class.

“What a great opportunity to come to a beautiful place and sketch.”

Another art course held in the Japanese Garden and Volunteer Park will be offered this summer.

Lifelong Recreation offers a wide range of fitness and social programs designed for people 50 years or older; however, this specific art class is open to anyone over 18. Summer registration opens on May 20.

Gardener remembers her journey to help koi thrive in Volunteer Park

Nancy Cifuentes, gardener at Volunteer Park, wrote this letter on the day that the koi were moved from lily ponds and taken to a winter quarantine with the Washington Koi and Watergarden Society. The koi will be adopted out to society members in the spring. 

October 9, 2013

Today is the day we moved the fish.  I sit here, flushed and bemused, happy and sad—like a kid worn out at a birthday party, ready to cry from too much fun.  I watched my friends caught, examined, and put in a big tank.  I said goodbye to each one as they left for lives that will be much better than what I could provide.

Let me explain: I’m the Volunteer Park gardener who was in charge of the fish ponds from 2003 when the ponds were dedicated until today—October 9, 2013—when the koi were rescued.

Neighbors and media watch as the koi are captured in preparation for removal.

Neighbors and media watch as the koi are captured in preparation for removal.

Everyone has heard of dog, cat, and horse rescue, and there is also fish rescue.  Koi are magical living jewels, and the Volunteer Park koi have lived in risky circumstances here for years.  Koi are susceptible to water acidity, pathogens, bird and animal predators, and human vandalism.  In this very public space there are many variables that I could not control.  Not only did they survive through the years, they thrived: today, when examined, they were pronounced to be in excellent condition.  A triumph!  Credit for this goes to the koi professionals who taught and encouraged me and held my hand through all the difficulties over the years: Robert Miller of Remcofish; the staff of Reflections; the inimitable Chuck Jensen, Volunteer Park volunteer; and the outstanding Diane Torgerson of Oasis Watergardens.

My learning curve was steep—very steep.  Or, to use a more watery metaphor, I was thrown into the deep end of the pool and told to swim: “Here are your ponds, Nance, have fun!”  I blundered about and put together a koi maintenance program.  After a few years, Chuck Jensen said, “Whatever you are doing, Nancy, just keep doing it.  With fish keeping, prevention is everything!”  I worked to keep wildlife off the ponds and to treat the possible pathogens they left behind, but more and more waterfowl decided this was the place to feed and breed.

People were worse than waterfowl, without the excuse of being unable to read the signs: they tossed in food, condoms, and beer cans, you name it; they let their dogs swim in the pools and sometimes swam in the pools themselves.  Often people who were tired of caring for aquarium fish dumped their aquarium contents into the pools, which introduced exotic pathogens.  It required an enormous amount of water to maintain a habitable pH (acidity level).  Each year, I extracted from the pools nearly a ton of decomposing vegetation, storm debris, and winter debris.  The gravel filters had to be regularly vacuumed.

Despite all best efforts, some fish did suffer injuries and die.  In 2007, vandals poisoned the south pond, killing everything including the algae.  Later, one giant perfect fish died after being fed an apple fritter.  Herons fished in the ponds with their beaks, people fished in the ponds with fishing poles.  The idea of putting a protective fence around the ponds was nixed as being infeasible.  It was a discouraging, unworkable situation.

Finally, with the help of kind co-workers, we got okayed to move forward.  The Japanese Garden helped arrange the wonderful thing that happened today.  Gil Gillman and his assistant Michael from Peaceful Ponds have taken all the koi, to be quarantined in 1500-gallon tanks over the winter, maintained at 70 degrees and fed five times a day—Fishy-Heaven!  In the spring, the Koi and Water Garden Society will place the koi in homes that are well-equipped to love, care for, and protect them.

Today, I sadly said goodbye to my each of living jewels.  I told them how pretty they are, which I tell them all the time.  It was a real goodbye because they know me like I know them.  They knew my voice and came when I called.  When I was in the pool, suited up for maintenance, they swam in a cloud with me.  I had not previously understood the social and personal nature of fish, their capacity for affection and friendship.

I am very grateful to all who helped facilitate this koi rescue.

The koi will over winter in quarantine after which they will be adopted to Washington Koi and Watergarden Society members in the spring.

The koi will over winter in quarantine after which they will be adopted to Washington Koi and Watergarden Society members in the spring.

I know I am not the only one who will miss these lovely living jewels.

Nancy Cifuentes

Don’t miss it! Friends of the Conservatory Fall Plant Sale is coming up on Saturday, September 14

The Friends of the Conservatory Fall Plant Sale takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, September 14.

The Fall Sale offers primarily tropical plants, succulents and cacti for sale, similar to the plants in the Conservatory. Frequently selected plants from the displays and collections are included in the sale.

The Palm House and Gift Shop are also having a sale on September 14, so stop by to find the perfect plant and pot!

A percentage of the proceeds from the sale provide direct support to the Gardeners’ displays and collections, and the remainder support Friends of the Conservatory and the programming it offers to the public.

New this year: Friends of the Conservatory members can start shopping at 9 a.m.!

The Friends of the Conservatory (FOC) is a nonprofit organization formed in 1980 to provide financial, educational and events support for the Conservatory. The FOC helps fund the Conservatory’s orchid collection, pays for descriptive tour materials and environmental education, and contributes to the Plant Acquisition Fund. Working with Conservatory staff, the FOC also organizes educational activities and hosts events, such as the popular annual holiday open house and the plant sale in May.

The Conservatory is located in the north end of Volunteer Park at 1400 E Galer St.