The Circa 1904 Belle Isle Conservatory is Closing for Renovations

by | Nov 16, 2022 | 1 comment

Last week I visited the Circa 1904 Belle Isle Conservatory one last time before it closed Sunday for renovations. The glass on the dome is being replaced and lead paint removed.


I’ve been visiting the Belle Isle or Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory since I moved to the Detroit area in 1985. I love it and have been with it through the ups and downs. It hasn’t always been as well taken care of as it is now. It helps that it has become a Michigan state park and there are more resources available.

Caution: Construction Ahead

The latest “down” is that the conservatory has closed for major construction. New glass will be installed in the palm house and some lead paint needs remediation. The result will be great for the conservatory, but it means closure until early to mid-2024. I’m sad it is closing, but glad it is being well taken care of so it will last for years to come.

Belle Isle Palm house
This was taken in 2017. You can see the palm tree hitting the glass

The Process

I recently spoke to Jeremy Kemp, the head gardener at the Belle Isle Conservatory and the grounds of Belle Isle. He gave me some insight into the process.

First, it will take approximately 7 weeks to construct the scaffolding and that long to take it down when completed.

They will build a temporary floor at the base of the dome where the curved part meets the walls of the building. Only the curved part of the dome is being worked on.

How will the plants still living under the floor survive? They will install some type of grow lights under the flooring to give light to the plants.

When the scaffolding is all up, it will be shrink wrapped to ensure the lead paint doesn’t escape. You can imagine what a large job this will be.

The Last Palm

The only remaining 1950s Canary Island Date palm below, is slated for removal.

The other palms are already gone as they were hitting the glass. Palms have one growing point and so pruning is impossible. They will not send out side branches like most plants.

Here are some pictures to remember it by.

More pictures

I took quite a few pictures of the plants last week and enjoyed my time wandering throught the conservatory. Below is a video I made for Instgram.

The sausage tree Kigelia africana and the flower scape getting ready to burst into bloom. I wish I could see it.

Old Man Palm

This palm (Coccothrinax crinita) below is so cool! I love old man cacti and this hairy old man palm is along the same lines. The last picture is a close-up of the last date palm.

The Fern Room

The fern room is my favorite, though it is like picking a favorite child. I don’t have one. All the ferns make me happy, though.

The Tropical Room

This is a beautiful room full of flowers and of course, the Children’s Temperance Fountain. The sound of water is magical among all the flowers.

Children’s Temperance Fountain

These pictures are from 2015 and the plants have grown since then. You can see the little girl better in these pictures.

The Show House

This room changes with the seasons, with poinsettias, chrysanthemums, Easter lilies, and azaleas becoming the stars according to the season. It will become a holding place for some of the plants removed from the dome area during construction.

The Desert House

When I was wandering through the desert room, I came upon a wedding party at the entrance to the fern room. I guess their dream was to get married in the conservatory and so they did. Weddings are booked ahead of time but desperate times, as they say. There are many gorgeous cacti and other succulents in the arid room.

My Donated Plant

This Hibiscus schizopetalus used to belong to me but it never bloomed so I gave it to the conservatory. Now, every time I go, it’s blooming. I love it.

hibiscus schizopetalus
I gave this hibiscus to the conservatory.

Looking forward

Though we will miss visiting the conservatory, I am happy that it will be around for generations to come. These renovations will add years to this wonderful building.

Have a great week, plant friends!


The links in this blog post contain affiliate links. If you buy a product through the link, I receive a few cents. Thank you.

More From My Blog

Leave a Comment

1 Comment

  1. kim

    Thank you for the lovely tour of the conservatory . I had no idea it was closing for renovations. Enjoyed your video too !


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest