Milwaukee Domes: Exploring the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

By Darcy Larum | October 17, 2018
Image by Darcy Larum
by Darcy Larum
October 17, 2018

In the Midwest, winters can be long and brutal. Those of us who get the winter blues can develop hopelessness and irrational thoughts that winter may never end and we may never see our gardens again. When you experience seasonal affective disorder year after year, you begin to find healthy ways to cope will it. When I find myself suffering from a bad case of the winter blues and can’t just board the next flight to sunny Florida, I have found that visiting indoor greenhouses, nurseries and conservatories can pull me out of that depression.

Open year round, the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, also known as the Milwaukee Domes, is a great place to escape the dreary winter weather. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory was constructed of three glass bio domes by Milwaukee architect Donald L. Grieb in 1964-1967. The Domes were dedicated to the people of Wisconsin by famous first lady, Ladybird Johnson in 1965. Each dome was designed as a different climate type. These three domes include the Desert Dome, the Tropical Dome and the Show Dome. In addition to these three domes, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory also houses a large greenhouse, conference rooms, a lobby, gift shop and a snack & beverage bar.

Desert Dome

The Desert Dome houses a variety of cacti, succulents, desert palms and other unique plants that grow in the hot, arid deserts of Africa, Madagascar, Mexico, South America and North America. This dome is divided into new world and old-world habitats. The old-world habitats of the Desert Dome include rare and endangered desert plants. This dome also houses a pool oasis and an ethnobotanical garden.

In the Tropical Dome, visitors can view a collection of over 1,200 species of tropical rainforest plants from all over the world. These tropical rainforest plants include exotic edibles such as chocolate, banana, vanilla, turmeric, cardamom, starfruit and guava. The Tropical Dome also houses various ponds, streams and waterfalls.

Tropical Dome

The Show Dome hosts five different seasonal displays each year, such as the Spring Flowers Display, the Annual Train Show and the Holiday Show. The floral displays in this dome are changed every 6-14 weeks to match the theme of the seasonal display. The dome also houses a pond and babbling streams. It is the most popular dome for weddings, wedding photography or other special events.

Each dome contains different climate appropriate wildlife, such as birds, frogs, lizards, toads, fish and beneficial insects. No pesticides or chemicals are ever used in the domes, as they rely on a healthy balanced ecosystem and knowledgeable staff to prevent pest or disease. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory also sustains several outdoor gardens visitors can walk through, and a green roof.

Observing Wildlife

Located at 524 S. Layton Boulevard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory is open year round Mon-Fri 9-5, Sat-Sun 9-4 and 9-4 on holidays. Admission is only $7 for adult residents of Milwaukee County or $8 for non-residents with children 6-17 and senior’s admission $5 for residents and $6 for non-residents. Children 5 & under are free. On Mondays, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory offers free admission for Milwaukee County residents. Special admission rates are also included with a Friends of the Domes’ membership. The domes are wheelchair accessible and parking is free.

In addition to self-guided tours, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory hosts educational guided group tours for schools, companies and other groups or organizations, and the domes or greenhouse can be rented during business hours or after hours for weddings, other special events or educational workshops.

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