Dow Gardens conservatory reopens

After being closed for renovations, Dow Gardens invites the community to see what’s new in the conservatory, originally designed by Alden B. Dow. in 1975. The new design includes a water feature, light-filled lobby, LED lights, floor-to-ceiling windows, and zones for various plant life. Oct. 4 marked the first official day of reopening. 

Display Horticulturist Abbey Claerhout has been with Dow Gardens for 15 seasons, but this role is a new one for her. On a typical day, Claerhout designs and plans for new plant material, cares for and maintains existing tropical plants in the conservatory and other interiorscapes throughout the campus. 

The plant exhibit space is now one large open room, instead of three individual rooms.
Claerhout says revisiting the conservatory space took careful thought, design, and planning. “Our newest additions include the front entrance foyer that has a large gathering space and updated bathrooms, an inner vestibule that will improve our traffic flow and butterfly containment, as well as a redesigned water feature that has nine falling water spouts and planter boxes. The plant exhibit space is now one large open room, instead of three individual rooms,” she says. 
The conservatory was designed by Alden B. Dow.
Walking through the space’s bright, airy foyer, the eye is drawn upwards thanks to a halo light. The restrooms have warm, inviting tile work. Strolling through the inner vestibule leads you to a tropical plant exhibit. “Once you are through those doors, lush greenery and the sound of flowing water greet you,” Claerhout says. “Flowers, vines, small trees, and water-living plants are all things you can find in our newly renovated space.”

The space was also renovated to be more energy efficient, with 432 double-pain pieces of low emissivity glass, allowing for sunlight. The inverted side walls also feature an additional 62 pieces of glass. 

The new space also includes a separate section to be dedicated to the butterfly and chrysalis displays, allowing better flow-of-traffic. A popular spring exhibit, Butterflies in Bloom, has been on a two-year hiatus. Visitors can experience thousands of butterflies from all over the world, from a brand new window, offering an up-close view of their metamorphosis. 

“Once you are through those doors, lush greenery and the sound of flowing water greet you...”
“As the new Display Horticulturist, I am excited to have visitors come and experience a tropical getaway any time of the year,” Claerhout says. “I love changing out the displays and adding new plant material, so stay tuned and plan on coming throughout the year to watch it transform season to season.”

Upcoming Dow Gardens events include the Halloween Hike in October, Christmas Walk in December, Butterflies in Bloom in March/April. 


Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at