I first discovered Belle Isle in 2015 when a friend took me there for a surprise visit. I was living in Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan was just a 20 minute drive from my house. The Park has lots of wonderful attractions from a beautiful fountain built in 1925, beaches, wooded nature walks, and more. My absolute favourite part of Belle Isle and one of the hidden gems of Detroit is - the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. The conservatory was closed (its closed Monday and Tuesday) that day and though we were unable to walk inside the plant haven, we admired the brilliant artistry of the exterior. The building so majestic and the grounds so pristine, you can’t help but stop to take it in and admire it all. A bit disappointed that we were unable to go inside, we planned a trip for just a few weeks later to explore the entirety of Belle Isle and the conservatory.
The Conservatory was originally called The Horticultural Building but its name was changed in 1955 to Anna Scripps Whitcomb. It got its new found name from the daughter of The Detroit News founder James E. Scripps. Anna gave her 600 orchids collection to the conservatory. 600 orchids! So amazing right?! I wonder how many varieties and colours existed in her collection. Also, what kind of castle did she live in to house all these plants? If you ever want to donate your 600 plant collection - I will gladly take it.
It's documented that in the mid 1920s the conservatory had an annual average of 1.5 million visitors. Thats a lot! Though I was unable to find how many visitors the Conservatory sees these days, I usually find going on a week day can make for a quite calm and serene visit. Going on the weekend or a holiday you might have to sit in a room for a few minutes to catch a quiet lull.
It is the oldest continually-running conservatory in the United States and is divided into five distinct sections: the Palm House, the Tropical House, the Cactus House, a sunken Fernery, and the Show House. The Cactus house is my personal favourite.
The Cactus House. Its home to a majority of the succulents and cacti that you’ll find in the conservatory. Its climate is warmest out of all the rooms which is a pleasant treat during the late fall and winter months.
Steps away from the conservatory you’ll find 20 greenhouses. The first being built in 1903. I find greenhouse to be so beautiful. Clear glass structures filled with plants in a climate that is kept warm for all the growing plant creatures - so amazing! Whenever we visit the conservatory I like to take a stop and look into the windows of the greenhouses to see what plants are being cared for outside of the conservatory.
All in all I would highly recommend visiting Belle Isle for all of its wonderful amenities. Especially The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, not only is it the oldest conservatory in the United States, its my personal favourite plant haven out of all 10 conservatories that I’ve visited all across North American and East & Southeast Asian countries.