Three months after the opening of The Leaf, we sat down with Rhonda Halliday, our Indoor Horticulture Supervisor at the Park, as she shared her experience being on the team that nurtured The Leaf from vision to reality.

The Beginnings

Rhonda remembers hearing about the building before it even had a name. Like every member of our horticulture team, she was so excited about a new indoor planting space.

“When I saw a model of the new building for the first time I was astounded at the architecture and my imagination went wild at all the plants we could incorporate into such a large space. I desperately wanted to be part of this project.”

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Rhonda Halliday, Lead Gardener

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As the building was being designed and constructed, our horticulture team was busy envisioning the indoor spaces and selecting plants to bring The Leaf to life.

The choice of plant material for The Leaf was determined by Senor Director of Horticulture Gerald Dieleman and our Horticulture Curator Wade Meisner. They worked for years with a team of landscape designers and growers from nurseries in Florida and California.

The team took a comprehensive approach when planning The Leaf, carefully considering the specific requirements of each plant in terms of light, soil, and humidity. They evaluated the amount of sunlight each area of the space would receive throughout the day and selected plants accordingly, giving each species the best chance of thriving in its designated location. They took soil type, temperature, and humidity levels into account when considering which plants were selected and where they would be placed.

The Arrival of the Plants

Rhonda explained that before the team could begin receiving plants, they needed to make sure we had a safe space to store them as installation would happen over the course of a few months. The team created a 28-foot-tall shade structure near the greenhouses in the Park that could store about 1500 trees and plants. In addition, they also had an area closer to The Leaf, away from the construction, for the temporary storage of additional plant material.

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The plants arrived over the course of four months on six semi-trailers that were packed from floor to ceiling. Unloading these trailers was a huge job. It often took the entire day and help from multiple Park departments to offload the vehicles.

The biomes were planted in layers from largest plants to smallest, to reduce the damage to already placed material. It was a challenging task as our team was installing larger trees and palms, some of which were over 20 feet tall and weighed between 1000-3000 pounds.

“Really, it became like an intricate puzzle trying to figure out the safest and most efficient way to get the plants in the building and installed in their beds,” Rhonda explained.

Through thoughtful planning and attention to detail, our horticulture team has created a space that not only looks beautiful but also supports the health and well-being of the diverse plant life contained in the biomes.

Opening Day

After months of installing plants, the focus shifted to our visitors who would be in the biomes to enjoy the displays. Rhonda said that opening day was full of excitement mixed with a little bit of anxiety.

“For months it had been just our space and though we were so proud of what we had helped to create and excited to share it, we hoped that the beauty of the final product would be seen and appreciated by our visitors in the same way our team did.”

Opening day was a great success and visitors continue to come from near and far to explore The Leaf! The building was developed to showcase the universal human connection with plants, and the horticulture team has witnessed this aspect come to life.

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“We hear comments from our visitors about a plant bringing warm memories of where they grew up, of a family member they used to garden with, or a spice that connects them to a recipe passed down through generations,” Rhonda reflected. “In The Leaf, we are able to maintain a diverse collection of plants from around the world that allows us to connect with so many people from different walks of life.”

There are people who come to the biomes almost every day and new visitors who have heard about the incredible space and need to experience it for themselves. People sit and sketch, write in journals, sit with a coffee and talk with friends in this warm airy space where they can come and relax or recharge throughout the year.

Continuing to Grow

Now that The Leaf is open, the challenging job of the horticulturalists is to keep the biomes looking their best with daily watering, misting, pruning, and removing spent flowers or fruit. They monitor each plant for harmful pests or pathogens and treat them in the safest and least invasive way possible. The Leaf needs to remain a healthy environment not only for the plants but for the visitors who come to enjoy them.

The plants are still adjusting to their new home and the team is adapting to how the plants develop within the space. As time goes on, life in the biomes will continue to grow and evolve, creating an ever-changing and lush atmosphere.

Currently, Rhonda is dreaming about the biomes after a year of growth. “As the days get longer and the plants come out of a period of slow winter growth, I am hoping that we will see for the first time these plants at their finest.”

We invite you to come and be awed and inspired as you find yourself immersed in the world of plant life here at The Leaf!

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