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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Harper, 1, and Aubree, 2, walk through the Fireside Christmas exhibit at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory Sunday. Exhibit runs through January 5th.

Botanical Conservatory filled with sights of Christmas

Cathie Rowand|The Journal Gazette
Vini Dawson tries to get her daughter, Emory Westfall, 8 months, attention for a photographer Sarah Wells at the Fireside Christmas exhibit Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory Sunday. Exhibit runs through January 5th.

When you walk into the showcase garden, it hits you like a wall – the warm, sweet breath of a thousand flowers.

Actually, it's 1,500 poinsettias, says the Botanical Conservatory's business supervisor Linda Miller.

That's more than the usual 1,200 or 1,300 Christmas plants that grace the conservatory for its annual "Fireside Christmas" event, and the greenhouse effect is part of the warm, cozy experience.

On Sunday, the showcase garden was the setting for a special Botanical Winter Wonderland Holiday Gala at 6 p.m. But families and friends have been touring the garden since it opened Nov. 27 to see the flowers and decorations and snap a few holiday photos.

All three indoor gardens are decorated for the holidays, Miller said. The Tropical Garden has lights and big Christmas ornaments, and the Desert Garden has animal figures, such as deer. There's even an outdoor Terrace Garden with lights synchronized to music.

But for most family photos, the showcase garden steals the show with three exhibits decorated to look like rooms in a house.

There's a festive parlor, a library and a trailer-like Vermont house decked for families and friends to strike the perfect pose.

But for some, the best backdrop is the flowers themselves.

The conservatory features some poinsettias you won't see in any floral shops, Miller said.

"It used to be just red poinsettias, but now you see variations in the leaves and colors," Miller said.

She points out magenta poinsettias that have bright pink spots highlighting the veins on their leaves. A couple beds down are pink ruffle leaf poinsettias with bloated, puffy leaves.

All together, the showcase features 27 varieties of poinsettias, including five new types this year a pamphlet calls Advent Red, Orange Spice, Polly's Pink, Tapestry and Tikal Red. Miller said some of the special varieties are sold in the conservatory's gift shop.

Every year, the conservatory has a special poinsettia tree made entirely of the potted plants. This year's tree has patches of bright red, pink, peach and pale yellow.

On a bench in front of the tree Sunday afternoon sat 8-month-old Emory Westfall in her red Christmas dress and matching headband.

Her mother, Vini Dawson of Fort Wayne, squatted in front of the bench pulling a peek-a-boo towel up and down in front of the baby's face to make her smile as a photographer snapped pictures.

The photographer, Sarah Wells, said she frequents the conservatory for photo shoots of all kinds, especially this time of year.

"It's always colorful, and I like the natural light and settings," Wells said.