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The Gazette KCRG
Posted May 12, 2012
Noelridge Greenhouse offering warm respite in Cedar Rapids for 40 years

CEDAR RAPIDS — A fuchsia bougainvillea blooms near banana trees ripe with fruit, while the fragrant scent of gardenias perfume the air.

The bougainvillea at Noelridge Greenhouse in Cedar Rapids is one of the oldest plants, having been in the greenhouse its entire forty years. Taken on Friday, May 4, 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)

The tropical ambience isn’t set in the south, but inside the Noelridge Greenhouse, which Sunday celebrates 40 years of providing a colorful, warm respite in northeast Cedar Rapids.

“The building as you see it was here 40 years ago and it’s still here now,” says Kristie Benzine, 47, who started full-time at the greenhouse in 1984 and is one of two staff members, with horticulture specialist Lori Farmer.

The 15,000-square-foot greenhouse — three production houses along with two sections used as the plant conservatory — opened May 13, 1972, with a Mother’s Day open house.

As it has for the last four decades, an open house is scheduled for Mother’s Day – May 13, 2012 – from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Kristie Benzine

Benzine says up to 2,600 people attend the annual Mother’s Day event, with nearly 3,000 at the annual Easter Showcase, a two-day open house.

Noelridge Greenhouse was built in 1970 to 1971, replacing three smaller ones at Bever Park in southeast Cedar Rapids.

Had plans come to fruition, the site would have sported a large exhibition dome, Benzine says, showing architectural designs from 1969.

“So technically, (the building) was never finished,” she says, citing insufficient funding as the likely cause.

Glass in the greenhouse is replaced periodically, a victim of vandalism, hail and heavy snow, but the aluminum structure is the same.

Caesar, a blue and gold macaw, lived at the Noelridge Greenhouse for about 30 years. (photo/City of Cedar Rapids)

Spectators during early years of the open houses remember Caesar, the  macaw who lived at the greenhouse office and was brought into the conservatory for the events.

The blue and gold macaw, donated by a Cedar Rapids doctor, was at the greenhouse almost since its inception, but died in 2004 of natural causes during a routine visit to the veterinarian.

Caesar has been outlived by some of the plants at Noelridge that were moved from the Bever Park greenhouse, including the bougainvillea, a flowering tropical plant that is aggressively trimmed to avoid spreading wildly, and a large jade plant.

Benzine says some of the cacti also are among the oldest plants in the conservatory. Many plants were donated by Cedar Rapids residents and others are purchased to add to the collection.

A new “spaghetti” system allows individual geraniums and cannas to be watered, but otherwise, volunteers water plants by hand.

Volunteer Darlene McGovern of Marion, left, and volunteer coordinator Jean Snyder of Cedar Rapids trim plants so they will grow back thicker at Noelridge Greenhouse. Plants raised at the greenhouse are planted in gardens at Cedar Rapids city parks, in planters in downtown Cedar Rapids and at the Eastern Iowa Airport. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)

The volunteers, known as Friends of Noelridge Greenhouses and Gardens, started after the city reorganization in 2007 eliminated many manger positions, including city horticulturist Dale Huddleson, who had worked at the greenhouse since its inception. Full-time staff was cut from three to two, while other duties were added, such as greenhouse classes.

Bill Snyder

Nearly 40 volunteers now help with the 60,000 or so seedlings and cuttings for the city’s gardens, transplanting and tending the plants at the greenhouse until they go into parks, downtown and outside city buildings.

Volunteer coordinators Bill and Jean Snyder of Cedar Rapids are well-acquainted with the greenhouse.

“We’ve been coming to visit since it opened,” says Bill Snyder, 78, recalling visits to early Mother’s Day open houses with their children and his mother. “In the wintertime it’s nice to be in here when there’s a foot of snow outside.”



The jade plant, seen framed by another cactus, has been at at Noelridge Greenhouse in Cedar Rapids since it opened 40 years ago. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)

The Mother’s Day Showcase at Noelridge Greenhouse celebrates its 40th anniversary from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 13, at the greenhouse, 4900 Council St. NE. Admission is free.

A banana tree grows at Noelridge Greenhouse. Workers and volunteers eat the bananas as well as the lemons and oranges that grow in the greenhouse.(Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)

Photos, bed designs, greenhouse plans and other memorabilia will be on display. Visitors can see hundreds of blooming plants, educational exhibits and live butterflies by ButterFliz of Iowa.

Hanging baskets, books about nature and gardening, honey, greeting cards and handcrafted jewelry will be available for sale.

Call the Noelridge Greenhouse, 286-5762, for more information.

For more photos, see: www.TheGazette.com/Life


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