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Home > Our City > Buffalo My City > Buffalo My City Watercolors > 32-A Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens (1995)

32-A Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens (1995)

Narrative by - David M. Rote
(Narratives are copyrighted)

The southern-most jewel in Buffalo's Olmsted park system is the 160 acre South Park which proudly showcases this magnificent 1890's Victorian-era conservatory, built by the greenhouse firm of Lord and Burnham. The interlocking iron framework and glass panes provide a structure of great stability and offer a unique habitat for tropical flora and fauna, especially for a northern climatic area such as Western New York.

Iron became the hallmark of 19th century architecture along with glass, one of architecture's greatest liberators. England's John C. Loudon introduced the idea of glazing bars in wrought iron which could be rolled into thin sections and curved to flowing curvilinear forms for glass house construction and soon thereafter a new method of glass manufacturing allowed sheets up to 6 feet to be produced. Sir Joseph Paxton applied these principles to his great conservatory at Chatsworth in 1837 and in 1851 to his Crystal Palace in London. Inspired by Paxton, Richard Turner engineered the Belfast Palm House in 1839 and together with Decimus Burton, created the Kew Gardens conservatory in the 1840's which was to become a standard followed across the world for erecting these massive glass botanical enclosures. In Buffalo, E.B. Green's Market Arcade Building, D.H. Burnham's Ellicott Square Building and Jeremiah O'Rourke's Old Post Office Building (now Erie Community College downtown campus) all employ the principles of iron and glass in their skylighted central courts.

Since 1981 the county of Erie has owned the conservatory and the immediate Botanical Gardens (approximately 12 acres) while the remainder of South Park is owned and maintained by the city of Buffalo. The great central dome (Palm Dome) is 67 feet high while twin end domes rise to a height of 36 feet. The south end dome to the viewer's left, is the conservatory's "Show House" where special floral displays are featured throughout the year, especially Spring, Autumn and the spectacular poinsettia extravaganza in December. The north end dome is home to a beautiful waterfall and a skywalk, surrounded by ferns and hydrophytes which thrive in the humid atmosphere of Western New York's only walk-through rain forest.

A children's Learning Garden was made possible through a grant from Citibank, NYS and is located in the southwestern quadrant of the conservatory adjacent to several areas devoted to changing displays. Four growing ranges and a potting area not open to the public provide areas where plant cuttings are rooted and where plants are potted for the exhibition areas. Prominent displays of cacti, orchids and fruit-bearing trees are enjoyed as one moves easily through the well-maintained walkways.