Succulent Surroundings

The Potawatomi Conservatories

Without knowing any better, one could pass the Potawatomi Conservatories without ever knowing the stunning foliage and lush tropics that thrive just inside. It’s these hidden gems within our city that make it such a unique place to call home. 

I step inside and immediately my five senses take in the surroundings: a warm, humid like atmosphere and floral aroma embody the entrance. It sounds as if I’ve walked into an exotic garden with the small waterfall, while a variety of plants encase the greenhouse spaces. I’m instantly brought back to my reality when Morris, the greenhouse cat, greets me at the door. He’s quite the unexpected resident but seems to enjoy calling this place home. I suppose it’s obvious why, with a warm and inviting interior and a vast amount of discovery to be made. 

It’s possible to lose yourself inside; each plant has a story to tell within the confines of the three rooms. The Arizona Desert dome instantly takes me on a journey around cacti, agave and other arid plants from the Sonoran Desert. The heat is seemingly oppressive; I could close my eyes and feel as if I’m in the heat of the desert and not in South Bend. The space is quiet, yet volunteers bustle about caring for the plants, ready to offer their knowledge on the vast varieties of tropics.  

It’s a place for tranquility and appreciation for plant life, but new additions to the spaces in recent years have created a much more immersive and environmentally friendly experience for visitors.  DJ’s Sensory Garden and the Green Roof are the most recent additions. The sensory garden was designed to be an accessible space for meditation and education and was created in memory of longtime South Bend resident, DJ Miliken.  The Green Roof was installed by local Non-Profit Greening in South Bend, in collaboration with the Botanical Society of South Bend. Installed to provide wildlife habitat, energy savings and storm water retention, changes like this promotes environmental sustainability and keeps our city green for years to come.  

Conservatories such as this one play a key role in the battle to preserve biodiversity. Not just a space to breed and protect endangered plant species, conservatories have played an important role to educate the public in an ever-changing global climate.  

Founded in the 1920s, the Conservatory continues the tradition as a living museum, providing a glimpse of rare and non-native plants to visitors. The hidden gem can provide a respite for many during the harsh winter months, along with year-round activities like yoga. There are a number of ways to get involved throughout the year. Those interested in playing a part within this important building are encouraged to visit