After 14 months of construction, the Milton & Catherine Hershey Conservatory at Hershey Gardens is conducting a "soft opening" this week in advance of its official July 1 opening date. The highlight of the 16,000 sq ft conservatory is the much-anticipated Butterfly Atrium, which will feature an ever-changing array of hundreds of butterflies year-round. The Butterfly Atrium's hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter months. The Atrium is included with admission to Hershey Gardens, which will increase to $12.50 ($11.50 for seniors 62+ and $9.00 for kids ages 3-12; children under 3 are free). The price of a family membership is expected to rise slightly as well.
The Conservatory adds significantly to the 79-year-old Hershey Gardens, a 23-acre botanical garden that got its start from Milton Hershey's request to "create a nice garden of roses." An educational wing will improve the Gardens' mission to provide educational and cultural enrichment—in 2015, more than 4,000 students attended educational field trips and classes at the Gardens and that number is expected to increase as the Gardens will be open for more of the traditional school year.
Another change: a new lower parking lot with wide paths that are easier to navigate with walkers, wheelchairs and strollers. The Conservatory now serves as the main entrance to Hershey Gardens and guests entering the large front doors walk into a welcome pavilion with a soaring glass ceiling some 37 feet from the ground. Several palm trees and 65 stained glass butterflies crafted by local artist Luise Christensen-Howell look right at home in the Welcoming Pavilion. Ticketing has also moved to the Conservatory, along with the gift shop (with some nice new butterfly-themed merchandise.)
The Butterfly Atrium itself is one of only 25 year-round tropical butterfly atriums in the United States and will feature hundreds of butterflies in an ever-changing variety (50-60 species at a time will be on view), including some tropical butterflies never before seen in Central PA. The Atrium is kept at a constant temperature of 80F with 70% humidity, an optimal atmosphere for the winged residents.
A large chrysalis cabinet allows visitors to watch as butterflies emerge from their chrysalids—if you've seen the chrysalid cabinet at the Gardens' seasonal butterfly house in the Childrens' Garden, you'll appreciate the much better view the new larger cabinet in the Conservatory provides. The 2500-square-foot atrium includes a landscape of tropical plants, including (of course) a cacao tree. Plants were specially chosen to host the wide variety of butterflies and include nectar-bearing plants and flowering vines. A wall of foliage provides a backdrop to a stunning sculptural banana leaf-shaped water feature designed by Lebanon County artist Shane Morgan.
The Educational & Horticultural wing of the Conservatory balances the Butterfly Atrium and provides a 12-month opportunity for education. The wing is easily converted to a grand meeting space and will make a spectacular reception area for winter weddings. Planters with casters allow the greenery to be moved and reconfigured easily.
Architecturally, the Conservatory complements the design of the Hotel Hershey. The design draws inspiration from a conservatory built in 1909 at High Point, the home of Milton and Catherine Hershey. The Hersheys built glass conservatories as a way to display plants during the winter; their conservatories began to draw visitors anxious to escape the cold winter weather amid a greenhouse filled with tropical foliage.
The Hershey Gardens is a non-profit entity operated by The M.S. Hershey Foundation. For more information about the Gardens and the special events it frequently sponsors, visit the Hershey Gardens website.