Popular exhibit returns to Franklin Park Conservatory

Blooms & Butterflies is back at Franklin Park Conservatory. The exhibit, which brings winged insects to the conservatory’s Pacific Island Water Garden, runs through September.

Visitors of the beautiful indoor gardens near downtown Columbus can watch hundreds of exotic butterflies flutter among the conservatory’s permanent exhibition of tropical plants and fragrant flowers. Also within the installation are glassworks by Dale Chihuly and a pond stocked with colorful Koi fish.

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On a recent weekday afternoon I took my 2-year-old daughter Rosie to play among the butterflies. I thought she’d get a kick out of seeing a variety of the specimens up close.

But upon entering the exhibit Rosie seemed more terrified than overjoyed. “Hold me, hold me,” she cried as a blue, winged creature flew by her head.

Rosie had never seen so many butterflies all at once. Nor had she ever seen such big, boldly colored ones.

The exhibit features hundreds of the winged insects, many of which are brought to the conservatory in the pupa stage.

The four-stage metamorphosis of the butterfly begins with an egg that develops into a larva, or a caterpillar. The caterpillar spends most of its time eating before it forms a protective shield around itself called a pupa. Inside the pupa the caterpillar transforms and emerges as a butterfly. The adult butterfly then mates and lays eggs on plants, which starts the whole process all over again. The lifespan of a butterfly varies from one week to a year.

Conservatory visitors can watch butterflies hatch from their pupas and see them be released each day at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

By the time of the release Rosie had grown more accustomed to her new found friends, but she still wasn’t ready to have one gently placed on her hand. Other children, though, lined up to give it a try. They were told not to grab the butterfly’s delicate wings because it could damage their exoskeletons and inhibit their ability to fly.

Photographing the butterflies is encouraged. I found it best to just stand still and wait for them to come to me. Doing so also led to a few landing on my back, causing Rosie to beam with delight.

By the end of our visit we were completely relaxed. The gentle beat of classical music and the gurgling sound of a waterfall were calming. This made the transition to Rosie’s naptime quite easy.

Franklin Park Conservatory, located at 1777 E. Broad St. within Franklin Park, is a landmark set amid 88 acres of outdoor botanical gardens and green space.

Built in 1895, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. It showcases exotic plant collections, special exhibitions, a signature collection of Dale Chihuly glassworks and a permanent light installation by renowned artist James Turrell.

The conservatory contains more than 400 plant species. Collections include orchids, bonsai and more than 40 species of palms in the Palm House.

The conservatory is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday. The facility is stroller and wheelchair accessible.

For more information, visit www.fpconservatory.org.

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Discover how rich-tasting ice cream is made while on a factory tour

I love ice cream, but seeing it freshly made before my eyes somehow makes it taste even better.

On a recent weekday morning I took my 2-year-old daughter to the Graeter’s Ice Cream store on Bethel Road in Columbus to tour its production facility. We also enjoyed a couple of hand-dipped cones, then Rosie released some energy at Graeter’s indoor, ice cream-themed play area called “Scoops and Chutes,” where kids can tunnel through a big, plastic ice-cream cone and teeter totter on a banana.

We were hardly the only ones with this notion, though. The place was packed with other parents and children enjoying the same simple pleasures on the first sunny day in a long time.

Graeter’s has been making ice cream in small batches since 1870, when Louis C. Graeter founded the company in Cincinnati. Its process of combining fresh ingredients with an egg custard, then freezing the mix in a French pot, has stood the test of time. The old-fashioned method is still used today and yields rich ice cream that’s sold in retail stores as well as in ice-cream shops in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and northern Kentucky.

Popular flavors include Black Raspberry Chip, made with black raspberries from Oregon and chunks of pure chocolate, and Buckeye Blitz, made with peanut-butter ice cream and globs of peanut-butter cookie dough and chocolate chips.

Workers at the Bethel Road facility produce ice cream 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Groups of 10 or more can schedule a free, guided tour during these hours, or visitors can take a self-guided tour anytime at their leisure. The tour, which takes about 20 minutes, includes a short historical video and a guided description of what the workers are doing in the production room.

Rosie and I joined a group of local kindergarteners who were on a school field trip.

Graeter’s four-step process begins with making ice-cream flavorings and sundae toppings, such as chocolate, peanut butter and black raspberry, from scratch.

Stage two is mixing all the ingredients to make each ice-cream flavor. The recipes, passed down four generations, begin with a cream and sugar mix that’s poured into 10-gallon milk cans. Special flavorings are added, such as vanilla beans from Madagascar, pure peppermint oil and sweet Georgian peaches. The concoction is broken down into two-gallon batches that are poured into French pots, heavy-duty versions of the vertical freezers used for homemade ice cream.

Stage three involves freezing the ice cream for about 15 minutes inside the French pots. This stage eliminates air pockets, giving the ice cream a rich creamy texture. Workers add chocolate chips if called for, which are created by pouring liquid chocolate into the ice cream as it freezes. Once the chocolate hardens in the pot it’s broken down with a paddle, giving the chips random sizes.

The final stage is hand-packing the ice cream into pint-size and half-gallon containers. Workers pack the ice cream tight to eliminate even more air. Each day workers fill about 2,000 pints by hand.

Visitors also can watch workers make specialty items such as ice-cream cakes, pies and Chip Wheelies, two chocolate chip cookies surrounding ice cream with edges rolled in chocolate sprinkles.

To schedule a tour, call 614-442-7622 (ext. 272). Learn more at www.graeters.com/columbus.

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