by Chelsea Hess-Moore
Since 1937, Hershey Gardens has been a staple of horticultural education and botanical beauty in Hershey. What started as a request from Milton Hershey for a seasonal rose garden 79 years ago has grown to be much more. As of July 1, 2016, the gardens opened their newest and biggest addition yet – The Milton & Catherine Hershey Conservatory, including the much-anticipated butterfly atrium.
“Conservatories are not new to Hershey,” explains Anthony Haubert, communications and public-relations specialist for the M.S. Hershey Foundation. “They were built in the 1900s by Milton and Catherine Hershey to display plants in the winter. The conservatory’s design is inspired by the one built at High Point in 1909, at Milton and Catherine’s home.”
The conservatory is now the new entrance for the gardens. Before guests even reach the inside, the overlook at the front of the building provides one-of-a-kind scenery. Guests get a breathtaking panoramic view of major landmarks in Hershey, including Hersheypark, Hershey Theatre, the town of Hershey and the town’s historical smokestacks from the original chocolate factory.
Walking through the main doors opens up to the welcome pavilion where guests can purchase tickets to the gardens. The lobby is decorated with 22-foot-tall potted palms. Hanging from the 37-foot-high ceiling are 65 stained-glass butterflies, handcrafted by local artist Luise Christensen-Howell and Claudia Christensen of Glasshaus Studio, all varying in size and unique, individual design. Off to the right is the entrance to the education and horticultural wing.
“Currently, we have three educational kiosks that focus on butterflies,” says Mariella Trosko, director at Hershey Gardens. “We have moveable planters done by local artists, and the center fountain is done by the students of Milton Hershey School. After hours, this area can serve as an event space for receptions, banquets and other special events.”
In the conservatory, the main attraction is the addition of the butterfly atrium. As guests approach the atrium, they are briefed on rules for the safety of the butterflies.
“Stay on the path, watch your step and don’t pick the flowers because that’s food for the butterflies,” says Dan Babbitt, associate director at Hershey Gardens. “We also check everyone once the tour is over for stowaway butterflies so that we ensure we don’t lose any.”
Walking into the atrium offers a tropical feel for the guests. The sound of running water and the view of a variety of trees and plants consume guests’ first impressions.
“For the atrium, there are 566 plants and 180 cultivars total,” says Brooke Umberger, conservatory supervisor, butterflies and plants.
Umberger took great time and effort in choosing the plants for the entire conservatory, traveling all the way to Florida to learn which plants are best and eventually choosing the 1,300 plants that now call the conservatory home.
Highlights of the atrium include the plants, a chrysalis cabinet, a live wall with a sculpted water feature done by local artist Shane Morgan and, very fitting for Chocolatetown, a cacao tree, the tree that makes chocolate possible. As expected, the stars of the atrium are the nearly 50 species of butterflies. Averaging 500 butterflies at a time, in midday, the atrium is swarming with a colorful abundance of butterflies.
“An adult butterfly’s average lifespan is about two weeks,” says Babbitt. “So we are getting new shipments in every week. We get our butterflies from butterfly farmers from around the world. All these butterflies started their lives in their place of origin.”
The tropical look of the atrium also comes with a tropical feel as the temperature ranges from 78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, the most appropriate feel for both the butterflies and the plant life.
Thanks to the indoor atrium and conservatory, the gardens are now able to offer more educational opportunities to schools in the area.
“We created the conservatory to honor Mr. and Mrs. Hershey. The building was inspired by them, and some of the purpose is also inspired by them, such as to increase our educational purposes,” says Trosko. “We get to work with children the entire school year. The gardens open right when school lets out and closes right when school gets back in. So, it was always difficult for school visits. Now, we already have a lot of trips lined up for the 2016 school year.”
With so much inspiration stemming from Milton and Catherine Hershey, it is fitting that the conservatory is the first and only structure to be named after both of them.
The addition of the conservatory and atrium is a far bigger venture than Milton Hershey was able to see beyond his requested seasonal rose garden 79 years ago. For him and his wife, their passion for horticulture and year-round conservatories are brought to life with this brand-new, long-awaited, year-round conservatory that now complements the gardens.
To learn more about the conservatory, atrium and gardens, visit hersheygardens.org.