The Domes
A Botanical Masterpiece

Milwaukee, WI

March 28, 2002

As we passed through Wisconsin we decided to spend a few days and relax.  Those days in Cincinnati had been hectic and it was nice to just sit and let the world go by.  This was not to be as Laura scanned the various attractions and found a nice article on a place called the Domes.  The Domes are three steel and glass geodesic structures that were built in 1964 as a show place for Milwaukee. These stand in a well-defined garden area which has an assortment of trees and shrubs. Each dome has a different theme played out in plants, arranged in a most attractive manner. Two of the domes have permanent displays. The one on the far left is called the show dome.  This structure has a changing theme.  Anything from a formal Japanese garden to a street in Dickens' London, or perhaps a Caribbean beach.  About 5 different displays are done annually.  Each show takes months of planning and preparations with the actual changes being made in about 2 weeks.  While we were there, the two week change was going on so there was nothing to see in that room.  The other two domes maintained permanent displays. We wandered into the middle dome to find it had an arid theme.  Cactus stood on all sides. In the middle was a large South African tree called a big tooth Euphorbia which held my attention for a while.  The deserts of the American southwest as well as Africa, Madagascar and South American are represented. There is a world-class  collection of cactus and other succulent plants thriving in a natural setting complete with an oasis of palms and grasses.  The temperature is kept high and and the humidity low.  This area was not without its strange and beautiful flowers of the desert, scattered here and there . The other dome displaying a permanent selection is the Tropical Dome.  Here the temperature is high but humidity is just as high. The humid air, bird calls and high temperature sets up an environment which is quite  foreign to Wisconsin with its cold winters and cool summers.  There are over 450 species of tropical plants displayed around a similar walkway that travels more or less about half way between the outer wall and the center of the dome. This creates a profusion of color and aroma in  the areas to either side, in a structure of no more than 15000 square feet. It is estimated that better than half of all the plants in the world come from the tropical areas,  an area of no more than 7 percent of the earth's surface.  The center of the sphere is the main attraction  This tropical pool is lined with an array of flowering plants, all competing with one another to be in the best position to soak up the sun's rays beaming down through the glass dome above. Strolling across the old wood bridge reminded me of days in the Caribbean.  I can imagine the mental change one might have in February, having come in from a cold blustering winter's day to walk or stand in the oasis of warmth, color and aroma.  There has been a structure displaying plants on this location since 1899 when the city built a traditional glass house on the very location that the domes stand today. There once was a sunken garden maintained just south of the building but it was removed in 1994.  The current domes,  which are truly unique structures, were build between  1959 and 1967.  It was a disappointment to find that our timing was such that the show dome was under one of its annual metamorphosis and not available, still the two permanent domes made the afternoon an enjoyable one, and gave us something to remember Milwaukee by.

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