Thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens is getting some significant upgrades and renovations this year.
Work has already begun on renovation to the temperate house. The current design and layout features plants that were chosen more for their horticultural value, says Matthaei-Nichols Director Bob Grese. The new temperate house will offer plants re-themed into five main zones that will demonstrate conservation, medicine/wellness, bonsai, bog plants, plants and world economies, and plants in a special display. Bonsai will be displayed behind the rectangular koi pond (currently home to a large grapefruit tree). Medicinal plants will take center stage in the area now devoted to the rotating bonsai display, and a sitting/gathering area will be installed just outside the covered portico that separates the tropical and temperate houses.
Special thanks to Matthaei staffers Mike Stadler and Carmen Leskoviansky for their work getting the stands installed.
Temperate house concept plan

The drawing above shows a concept for the renovated temperate house in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. In the reconfigured space, plantings will be re-themed into five main zones: conservation, medicinal plants, bonsai, bog plants, plants of economic impact or importance, and an area for special displays.

Conservatory bonsai stands

Above: A photo taken in June 2020 shows new bonsai stands installed in the temperate house of the conservatory at Matthaei. The stands are part of the conservatory renovations taking place in 2020. They will display bonsai more prominently than before, when bonsai were displayed in an area confined to the side of the temperate house. (Photo: Mike Stadler.) The benches were made by Jim Olson, the father of Matthaei-Nichols Director of Development Meredith Olson.

Phase One, which began January 6, 2020, addresses some long-standing climate control issues. The most noticeable change happening in early 2020 is the motion-activated glass doors in the area that separates the tropical house from the temperate house. The new doors will help keep the two biomes (tropical and temperate) distinct. This upgrade will allow us to better curate the conservatory collections according to their biome and ensure appropriate plant diversity and vigor.
Work will continue to roll out over 2020. Stay tuned for more stories about the changes happening in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Before: Work in Progress in the Conservatory
The conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

The photo above shows the area under the “bridge” in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens during the removal of old glass doors and installation of new motion-activated doors. This area separates the tropical and temperate houses. The old doors allowed the two zones’ climates to mingle. The motion-activated doors will keep the two climate zones separated, thus keeping the tropical house tropical and temperate temperate. This will also help us choose the best plants for each zone.

After: Motion-Activated Doors Installed!

Matthaei-Nichols Collections Horticulturist Mike Palmer tries out the new motion-activated doors in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The doors will help us better control the climate between the tropical and temperate houses. Prior to the motion-activated doors, regular glass doors were in place. Those doors allowed a large amount of mixing of temperatures and humidity between the two houses. Plants especially in the tropical house need consistent temperatures and humidity.