I’m not one to shy away from winter. I appreciate a fierce snowstorm or two (though Boston’s winter may be a bit much even for me)—the scrape of shovel against cement, icicles hanging like stalactites from the gutter, my fleece hat pulled low over my ears. But as January gives way to February, and the relentless Nebraska wind blows hard into the early days of March, I grow weary of the soot-smeared snow, the days unfurling gray, one into the next. And so, as March roars in like a lion, I go searching for verdant life and warmth wherever I can find it.
One might argue that manicured gardens and greenhouses are a weak substitute for the wildness of nature. In fact, naturalist writer Henry David Thoreau suggested exactly that when he claimed, “Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Yet as I stand on a barren hilltop overlooking Omaha’s belching smokestacks, I might disagree, at least on this barren March day. Behind me, a lush world of ponytail palms, exotic orchids and scarlet cyclamen beckon just beyond glass walls.
Lauritzen Gardens is a 100-acre urban oasis, a hidden sanctuary overlooking the Missouri River and the city of Omaha, Nebraska. This past October 2014, the Gardens opened the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory, a 20, 000-square-foot, $21-million space nestled into the steep hillside.
As my son pushes open the glass doors of Temperate House, we are greeted with the refreshing cadence of trickling water and the sights and scents of early spring: cheerful pansies nodding their smiling heads, delicate magnolia blossoms, a profusion of magenta and ruby cyclamen bursting in raucous pockets throughout the room.
“I want to go slow and take my time, ” Noah says, and we all agree; it’s best not to rush this process. The path wends beneath a pergola, and we stop to admire the spiky leaves of a sago palm before drifting up the stairs.
The humidity of Tropical House hits us heavy and moist as we follow the path past palms spread wide like the fans of giants, succulents and bromeliads, the graceful, fern-like leaves of the Royal Poinciana. We gaze up at the cacao tree and the coconut palm and peek into the pitcher plant’s spotted pods, noticing the hair-like bristles running down one side. Now that I’ve seen it up close, I understand why insects swoon in its presence. After all, who could possibly pass by that voluptuous red lip?
We shed our jackets. A warm mist falls from the ceiling, beading our hair and skin, and Rowan’s cheeks flush in the heat. Suddenly the boys and my husband have had enough and head back to the main building, but I turn and retrace my steps through the Tropical and Temperate Houses, unwilling to relinquish the lush warmth just yet.
When I finally make my way back to the main building, I notice Lauritzen is featuring an art exhibit. At first I scoff – the exhibit includes 14 pieces, all comprised of LEGOs, and with two boys, I figure I’ve seen all I need of “LEGO art.” But I quickly change my mind when I catch glimpse of the enchanting pieces themselves – a regal praying mantis, an ethereal humming bird, a monarch butterfly poised on milkweed – and how the kids, my own included, are drawn to them. “Nature Connects 2, ” aims to integrate art, play and nature, and artist Sean Kenney – who calls himself a “professional kid” and owns four tons of Lego bricks – makes his living doing exactly that.
On the drive back from Omaha to our home in Lincoln, I see from the extended weather forecast displayed on my phone that March has no plans to relent just yet. As I sink deeper into the seat, heat blasting from the dashboard vents, I’m grateful for the opportunity I’d had to glimpse spring and earthy wild—both living and LEGO—before facing the March lion once again.
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Post and photos by Michelle DeRusha.
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