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Art is alive at VanderVeer

DAVENPORT -- Steeped in rich botanical tradition, the conservatory at VanderVeer Park in Davenport is a cultural institution, VanderVeer Conservatory horticulture director Susan Olson said.

Dispatch/Argus Photo By John J. Kim

VanderVeer Park and Conservatory volunteer Jackie Arvidson walks down a pathway of poinsettias during the Davenport conservatory's annual Christmas display. The botanical showcase features seasonal displays throughout the year.

``A conservatory such as this is a cultural institution, much like an art museum or the Putnum,'' Ms. Olson said.

``It's part of all the entities available for people to visit that give them the chance to enrich their lives and experience phenomenon that they can't in other places.''

The tradition of VanderVeer Park as Davenport's premier botanical site began with the purchase of 33 acres between Brady and Harrison streets and Lombard and Liberty streets in 1885 for $13,500.

In 1896, plans were presented by a board to build the first conservatory in the area. A year later, Lord and Burnham built the first conservatory in what was then Central Park, which became VanderVeer Park in 1911, in honor of A.W. VanderVeer, a Park Board commissioner from 1890 to 1911.

A staple in Victorian society, a conservatory traditionally held palms, citrus trees, plants and other items that were too fragile to be displayed during cold months. Brought out onto the grounds in the spring, elaborate carpet beddings of intricate tapestry designs with flowers were a welcome sign of beauty and rebirth in the area.

``Sadly,'' Ms. Olson said, ``budget cuts and not enough staff have hindered such carpet bedding today.

``However, with the strong interest within the last five years in the conservatory and the creation of `Friends of VanderVeer,' people are working hard to develop the park and show the connection of its history with horticulture -- showing the rich fabric of tradition that takes place here.''

The conservatory is open throughout the year. Depending on the season and foliage available, stunning displays are created.

With the poinsettia display coming to a close in January, February's showcase will feature azaleas and spring bulbs. March signals snapdragons, April and May, the lily, and the summer begins outdoor displays of roses, foliage and tropical plants.

Chrysanthemums in October and November mark the beginning of fall, and finally, everything is torn down after Thanksgiving to set up a holiday display of evergreens, lights, wreaths, garlands and poinsettias.

The four seasons create an ongoing circle of renewal and growth in the conservatory.

``Approximately 25,000 to 30,000 people visit the conservatory and other features of VanderVeer each year,'' Ms. Olson said.

The conservatory is closed on Mondays, but is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Tuesday is a free admission day. Admission on other days is 50 cents each and those age 12 and under are free.

``One hundred years of history are contained within our facility, and we pride ourselves on continuing the rich history of the conservatory -- exposing people to the educational and artistic sides that gardening has to offer,'' Ms. Olson said.

Through the public's participation in classes offered by the conservatory, bits and pieces of its legacy can reach out into the city, she said.

``In this way,'' Ms. Olson said, ``people are given an insight into plants and gardening that they may be able to incorporate into their daily lives.''

-- By Elizabeth Trego (January 26, 1998)

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