By Ann Jamieson
The sign by the door reads “Smell me.” Pots of fragrant gardenia bid the traveler to stop and indulge in their heady fragrance. Norfolk Island Pines stretch to the roof, lantana cascades down a stone wall, natural light illumines the interior. Stunning butterflies in cobalt blue, fire red and shimmering chartreuse flutter by. Hmm, did someone beam us to Florida?
No, this haven of greenery and warmth exists close by us at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. Although an interesting and fun place to go in any season, it particularly beckons after a long and brutal winter. Craving an escape from a season of negative temperatures and non-stop snow, New England and New York residents can warm themselves in tropical temperatures amidst verdant greenery, brilliant multi-color birds (including the Gouldian Finch, a native of Australia and the most colorful bird in the world), as well as the aforementioned butterflies. Enormous, brilliantly colored koi inhabit the pond. Reptiles also abound; thankfully they reside in covered fish tanks.
Powderpuff, orchids, caliandra, hibiscus and chenille plants populate the conservatory with color and exquisite forms, and most of them are as attractive to the butterflies as they are to us. Some of the butterflies you’ll see include Blue Morphos, Cattlehearts, Piano Keys, Zebra Longwing and Scarlet Swallowtail, and they hail from all around the world.
Located conveniently on Route 5 about equidistant between Yankee Candle (so big you are handed a map upon entering and chock full of much more than candles) and Richardson’s Candy Kitchen (a favorite place to stop for homemade, mouth-watering chocolates), Magic Wings does more than lighten spirits deadened by winter. It entertains and enlightens.
The first room you enter, the display room, unveils such mysteries as what butterflies eat, how some survive the winter (by overwintering in their chrysalis, which is how we get our first butterflies in the spring), the difference between butterflies and moths, and the life span of a butterfly (about two months). In addition there is an educational video.
Displays of stick bugs and leaf bugs amaze—can you spot the bug against its leafy background? Tanks of poison dart frogs, residents for the past 12 years, surprise people with their delicate, brilliant beauty. Piles of Madagascar hissing beetles, which can reach two to three inches, have a certain bizarre fascination. Hard to believe some people keep them as pets!
If you’re hungry the cafe is a great place to eat. Homemade soups (a corn chowder was on order the day we visited, lusciously creamy and sweet with no lack of corn and big chunks of potatoes, it proved the perfect lunch on a frigid winter day ) and home baked goods, along with sandwiches, pizza and hotdogs and hamburgers are all available. Their clam chowder has even won awards at a local chowder cook off! Be sure to sit in the sun drenched tropical atrium when you eat.
Even the bathrooms are butterfly themed, as the tiles on the walls were made by art students from the Full Circle School in Bernardston, Massachusetts. Their assignment was “See butterflies in your minds eye and paint what you see.”
The family owned and operated enterprise has been in business over 15 years. Kathy Fiore’s father George Miller started in 1998 as the general contractor to build Magic Wings. Becoming fascinated by the project, he chose to become a partner. Within three years, he brought his daughter and son (also George) into the business. Both off doing other things, they had absolutely no plans to open a butterfly conservatory. “You never know where your path will take you,” declares Kathy.
On staff is a horticulturist for the plants and an entomologist specializing in butterflies (lepidopterist) for the butterflies. The conservatory is relaxing and beautiful, and Kathy encourages all her hard working employees to take a breather and go spend time there. “After all, that’s what we’re here for!”
Magic Wings is also available for bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, and other events.
The 8000 square foot building houses around 4000 butterflies and is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours are nine to five except in the summer when they are open until six. For more information give them a call at (413) 665-2805 or take a look at their website, www.magicwings.com