Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter pruning

The horticulture staff has been busy this week pruning trees inside the Conservatory. Pruning is essential to maintain the health of our plants and the aesthetics of our displays. Although we prune trees all year-round on an as needed basis, winter is when we do the most extensive pruning. We face unique challenges growing plants in an indoor environment versus an outdoor landscape. While plants outdoors have all gone dormant during the cold months of winter, the plants inside the warm, tropical-like Conservatory continue to actively grow. Although the temperatures inside the Conservatory remain relatively constant throughout the year, the short days of winter bring a significant decrease in the amount of sunlight that the plants receive. Much of the tree pruning we do in winter allows more light to reach the understory plants which would otherwise struggle during these months of reduced sunlight. Pruning is also necessary to control the size of our trees. The potential mature height of many of our tree species is greater than the height of the Conservatory itself. It takes a continued effort to cut back trees that would naturally grow well beyond the ceiling. We are constantly amazed at how quickly the plants grow back after being pruned. Our work is never done!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Holiday’s are here!

The Horticulture staff has been busy this week installing the 2008 Holiday Flower Show in the Sunken Garden. A Typical show change lasts five days. On the first day, the previous show is dismantled, a process that only takes a few hours. It takes the remaining four days for the staff to install the new show, meticulously positioning thousands of plants to create the breathtaking floral display. This year’s show has a carousel theme to coincide with the 95th anniversary of the Cafesjian Carousel located here in Como Park. The show features six of the original wooden carousel horses in amongst the poinsettia plants. The flower beds are planted with a gradual variation in plant height to mimic the up and down movement of a carousel. The effect is a wonderful visual sensation of seeing an actual carousel in motion. This show will open on Saturday Dec. 6 and runs through Jan. 19.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sunken Garden Carousel Show

This winter's Sunken Garden Holiday show is almost here! This year's show is unique because it will feature six carousel horses from the 95-year-old Cafesjian's Carousel. The horses are original to the carousel that was constructed on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in 1914. The carousel was removed from the fairgrounds in 1988, and has been in the pavillion at Como Park since 2000.

The featured plants of the Holiday Show are the tradtional poinsettias, with celosia, coleus, and begonias as accents. The poinsettia cultivars chosen for this show are 'Carousel Pink' and 'Carousel Dark Red', in keeping with the theme. The approximately 1000 poinsettia plants have been grown from rooted cuttings in our on-site greenhouses since early summer. The Sunken Garden will be closed the week of December 1st-5th to change out the fall mums and create the new exhibit, opening oficially on Saturday the 6th.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Winter's in the air!

It seems like only yesterday we were fighting 90 degree heat and sweating all day. Now we have dug out the long underwear and our hats and mittens, and braved our first snow of the year. The seasons have quickly changed, which means the outdoor staff's job duties change. We went from watering, to pruning; from deadheading to pulling annuals and cutting back perennials. This is the time where we rake lots of leaves, and do a lot of fall cleanup. All of the annuals get pulled out and many of the perennials will get cut back for the winter. One thing we do is collect some interesting grasses and other prennials we have cut, and make a winter display in some containers. This is an easy way to spruce up a boring container or window box that might otherwise sit vacant all winter.

The zoo and conservatory have been a bit more quiet these days. There are still plenty of things to see here, and the grounds take on a special beauty with a layer of snow on the ground. Many animals are inside for the winter now, but you can still come view them 365 days a year! Though the outdoor seasonal staffs' time here is coming to an end, soon spring will be here, and we will be back in full force.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Interns play a very important role as members of the horticulture staff at the conservatory. This week two of our interns have completed their work with us, and we are featuring an interview with Doreen, who has worked along side us since last spring.

How did you become interested in Horticulture?

Doreen: My father was a gardener in his spare time. Every spring he would have all of us kids go to the store with him to pick out seeds to plant. My favorite seeds were Celosia and Snapdragons. My father had a fabulous yard, which he built all of the gardens himself. He designed and built all of them by hand, hard work & sweat.

I got away from gardening for a few years and worked in various jobs, none of them in gardening. Always in the back of my mind, I wanted to get into the horticulture field, but did not pursue it, because of my needing the security in my current jobs. All of the houses I lived in, I had very nice gardens. My current home, we bought in 2001, and I designed most of the gardens around it. My best design was my boulder job, but I had hired a company to come in to build it. It was a traffic stopper! I had complete strangers coming by to talk to me about it, and “who designed it?" So, one day I decided I am going to go back to college to get my degree in the field.

Where did you go to school and what were the requirements involved?

Doreen: I decided that since it had been so long since I was in college, I would attend Century College in White Bear Lake. It would be a smaller setting, more adults and close to my house. Being as I was 48 years old, I decided I would go for my Associates Degree, which is a 2 year Full-time program. I was working part-time for a healthcare clinic, so it would be easier for me to do classes part-time. Also since I was not getting Financial Aid or student loans, it would be cheaper for me each semester. The program for the degree is 64 credits. Most of the classes except the generals would be in the greenhouses at the school. Century is a very “hands on college” and they have their own plant sale in the spring. All of the labor was done by the teachers and the students and the proceeds went directly back into the program along with a $1000.00 scholarship given out yearly.

How did you find out about us?

Doreen: I decided that I wanted to work eventually in a government position in horticulture because of the excellent benefits and stability. I looked online for City, County and State Jobs in horticulture. That is where I found the Intern Position that was available. I talked to my instructor at Century and was told I could use my Internship 1, 2 and 3 there. I got my paperwork together, updated my resume and got a couple of reference letters together, and sent them all in. I actually met one of the gardeners at an Orchid Society meeting, and I also knew a woman who volunteered at MMC also. So I interviewed and got the position. It started out as an unpaid position for approximately 90 hours. When the outside crew came back in the spring for the season, I was hired on as a paid intern and got an additional 180 hours towards my Internship 2 & 3. I stayed on as a paid intern almost until the end of the season; my last day was November 4th.

What was your favorite part at MMC?

Doreen: When I started, I was working on the inside with the gardeners in the Sunken Garden, the North Garden, the Fern Room, the Palm Dome and various other duties as assigned. I loved all of it. How wonderful to be “working” inside in the winter in a warm and sunny place with all of the wonderful plants and gardens. It was fabulous!

Then in late March, when the outside crew came back, I started working outside with them. I guess working outside was really my favorite part. It was always something different and new. I really loved the designing aspect of the projects, and my crew leader gave me plenty of opportunity to help plan. I also really enjoyed building the Butterfly Exhibit and planting the Gates Ajar.

Any advice for other people wanting to study Horticulture or interested in Internships

Doreen: If you have an interest, go for it, right away. Check out the various schools and see which schools have the more hands on training (It’s easier to learn). If you are interested in Internships, check out websites online, check the Como Zoo website, check with your advisors at school and get involved. Some schools have Gardening clubs.

What will you miss about us?

Doreen: I will miss the public walking by and thanking me for my work, complimenting me, or asking questions about my job. I will miss all of my co-workers thanking me for helping them. I will miss the meetings I was included in where I was part of the team and was asked for my ideas and suggestions. Most of all, I will miss the Gardens.

Thank you,
Doreen Peterson
White Bear Lake, MN

We, the horticultre staff, would like to thank Doreen, and all of our interns, for the enthusiasm, new perspectives, and help they each give us.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

From here to there: Transplanting!

Due to some new construction and storage areas in the planning on zoo grounds, this week some of the horticulture staff had to find a new home for some existing shrubs and a tree located near the Visitor's Center. These shrubs have been in this area since shortly after the Visitor's Center was built about 5 years ago. We had to move one oak tree and about 30 other shrubs. To help with this task, we called in Shermik Tree Farms, located in Stacy, MN. Their company has the equipment capable of moving shrubs and trees. They came prepared with a large tree spade, a spade for a skid steer, and a U-blade for digging out shrubs.

Before any digging could be done, it's very important to locate underground utilities. Call Gopher State One Call before doing this sort of project. Their services are free, and they can be reached at (651) 454-0002. Since our project was right by a building, we had a lot of underground utilities to worry about, but once we determined it was safe to dig, things went smoothly. The gentlemen at Shermik did a very nice and efficient job for us.

It's also important to know when is the best time to transplant the type of shrubs or trees you are dealing with. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to transplant before the buds break in the spring, or in the fall until the ground is frozen. Once the leaves start to change color, or even when the leaves drop is a good time in the fall. The timing worked out perfect for us. One thing that is a bit of a challenge this late in the season is getting water to these newly transplanted shrubs. Our seasonal water lines have been turned off for the season, so we have to bucket water out to them. It is important that shrubs aren't transplanted into dry soil in the fall. They need enough moisture for them to make it through the winter. Overall this was a very successful project, and we saved some plant material from more construction.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thinking Spring...Already?

The Conservatory's horticulture staff, along with much appreciated help from volunteers, is already preparing for next spring's Sunken Garden Flower Show. Like most of the Sunken Garden shows, we begin planning nearly a year in advance. In this case all of our bulbs for the 2009 sping show were ordered this past summer. Over 10,000 spring bulbs, including tulips, hyacinth, and narcissus, have arrived in the past few weeks and are being diligently potted up by staff and volunteers. The bulbs are planted in our "recycled" potting mix (this consists of the old rootballs and used potting media that have been ground up and pasteurized to kill any pathogens).

Once potted up, the bulbs are watered in and placed in our walk-in cooler. Here they are receive a cooling treatment that basically mimics the natural winter dormancy that the bulbs require to produce flowers. The pots remain lined up on shelves until specific times next spring when they are moved to our greenhouses and warmed to induce new gowth. This allows us to recreate the ephemeral beauty of spring in the Sunken Garden by the end of March--long before most of us Minnesotans see it in our gardens at home.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fall Flower Show on KSTP

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bye Bye Victorias!

The victoria waterplatters are sadly coming to an end for the season. These tropical plants are native to the Amazon, and are not enjoying our cool weather here in Minnesota. Even though the water is heated to a toasty 80 degrees, it is time for them to come out. These plants all get composted when we take them out of our pools. Once they are out of the water, they dry up and get papery, and crumble. We cut off all of the pads and buds, and leave the crowns, or the growing points of the plants in the soil they are planted in. Once all of the plant material is out, we will drain the water and dig the crowns out of the soil.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Fall Show Begins This Weekend

The conservatory staff is spending the remainder of this week completing the installation of this year's Sunken Garden Fall Flower Show. This display is predominated by chysanthemums, but also includes ornamental peppers and rex begonias.

While mums are an autumnal standard in American horticulture, they have been cultivated for thousands of years in China. The plants we grow today are hybridized versions of the original species; there are various flower shapes, colors, and habits.

The conservatory received 1600 rooted cuttings of the mums back in late June and the horticulture staff has been growing them in our greenhouses since then. Mums require short day-lengths (which are actually longer dark periods) in order to set flowers. In the 1940's growers discovered that this is the key to inducing uniform flowering on mum crops. Today, we use black shade cloths to manipulate the amount of light exposure our mums receive each day to ensure a very uniform and predictable crop. We also use cultural techniques, like bud removal, to create different growth habits. Since our greenhouse climates are carefully controlled by a computer system, we can also vary the plants' temperature exposure. This can allow us to "speed up" or "slow down" flower development as needed. All these elements help create beautiful and healthy plants for the display.

The Fall Flower Show opens this Saturday, October 11, at 10 a.m. Be sure to visit the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory's Sunken Garden to enjoy this lovely display.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Water Garden Tear Down

As the seasons change here in Minnesota, there are many plants that need to come in from the harsh elements of winter to be stored for next spring. One main area where this happens is in the water gardens. The water gardens have been on display in the pools in front of the Visitor's Center since early June this year, but many of those plants are tropicals and need to be taken in for the winter. Throughout early September, there have been a couple of gardeners collecting many of the plants from the pools. Some of the plants have storage organs such as tubers or rhizomes that can be collected and stored in a cooler until planting next spring. Others need to be taken in and dried down to go though a dormant period. Some we keep wet and green all winter long, and are almost treated as house plants. Some plants we will just grow or buy next spring. There are many different requirements for the vast variety of plants grown.

To help with this process, on September 19th we had a great group of students as well as their supervisor come from AFSA High School to help us tear out the plants and soil from the water gardens. We focused only on the Marginal Side, or unheated pool, which had about ten 60 gallon horse troughs as planting containers. The first step was to chop down any remaining foliage that was not going to be saved. Then we composted the top layer of soil that had all of the roots in it. Last, we had to empty all of the soil from all of the tubs so we could remove them for the season. This was a long day of some pretty physical labor, but with all of the help we were able to get it done.

The Victoria side of the pools is still filled with plants, because the water in that side is heated to 85 degrees, allowing the plants to withstand a little bit more cold. However, if you haven't seen these beautiful plants yet, come and see them soon because depending on the weather, they will be coming out within the next week or so.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Biological Control at the Conservatory

The horticulture staff faces a number of challenges when it comes to keeping the conservatory's plant collections looking their best. One of the most constant is dealing with pest insects attacking the collections. Having so many plants in contained environments, their density and year-round growing seasons create a great opportunity for pest insects to make themselves at home. At the conservatory, we try to choose the most effective and people-friendly (we are open to the public every day) options. The most interesting of which is biological control, or the use of one organism to control the population of another (undesirable) organism. Sure, there are sprays to kill bugs, or even the simple removal of a pest. But introducing predators and parasites to kill pest populations is far more exciting!

Since we grow plants year-round and in such high density, they are much more suceptible to pest attacks. If one plant harbors an insect, chances are the plants nearby eventually will , too. There is no freezing or dormant season,like there is outside, either. We regularly monitor our plant collections, looking for evidence of the unwelcome insects feeding on our plants--this could be something as obvious as spots on leaves or flowers, or something as minute as the perpetrators themselves. We receive shipments of "good" bugs, as often as weekly, and release them in areas where we know we have an issue. The beneficial organisms are often specific to certain pest insects; they are usually predators or parasites that prefer certain species. We can order them from a catalog and recieve them within a week.

Be sure to look around the conservatory and you may see some of our good bugs in action--sometimes there are ladybugs wandering around looking for an aphid snack. This may sound awfully gory, but there is a satisfaction to knowing that the bugs responsible for ruining a stunning flower, or destryong the leaves of a specimen tree, are being devoured by another insect. Or maybe I am just a vindictive gardener....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reusing Container Plants

Every year on the zoo, we have about 35 planted containers on display around the Visitor Center and Main Zoo Building. This season there were a variety of plants including sumac, purple fountain grass, Japanese blood grass, gazanias, and sweet potato vine planted in the containers. For the first time, we decided to grow a perennial shrub in our containers to later be planted on zoo grounds. The sumac was planted in the containers as a 1-3 gallon nursery sized plant. Throughout the season they have flourished and are now about 4 feet tall.

Now this week we have taken the zoo pots off of display and are harvesting the sumac to be planted alongside the lion exhibit. Sumac is a great plant choice for this area because the lions like the shelter the plants provide, but visitors will still be able to peer through the plants to catch glimses of the lions. We are in a race against the clock as to when the plumbers will shut off our water, so it is essential that we get them planted while we still have access to water to get them watered in. It's amazing how quickly the growing season winds down.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Environmental Maintenance in the Fern Room

Like all of the Conservatory's display rooms and greenhouses, the Fern Room maintains specific environmental conditions. These conditions help create a healthy atmosphere for the fern collection, as well as an interesting and distictive experience for our visitors. The conservatory's fern collection consists of over 100 species of ferns and fern allies. Most of our ferns are native to Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii--places with climates that are very different from the hot, hot summers and frigid winters here in Minnesota. To create the best display for these plants, we rely on a computer system to monitor and maintain environmental standards in the room. The space is cooled in the summer by motorized vents, fans, and a fog system; it is heated in winter with radiant heat from a system of hot water pipes. The ferns not only require specific temperature ranges, but also higher levels of humidity. When the humidity falls below a specified range, mist nozzles automatically turn on to fill the air with additional moisture. Without these controls, it would be impossible for us to display such a large collection of these types of ferns.

We have reached a point where the heat and mist systems we rely on so heavily are in need of maintenance before the cold days of fall and winter. Between the 8th and 18th of September, we will be repairing our heat system and replacing mist nozzles to ensure peak performance for the upcoming winter. While this will temporarily impact access to the room for us and visitors, it will help us be sure we can maintain the best possible conditions for our beautiful collection. We are working daily to keep the plants out of harm's way as the scaffolds go in, allowing workers to complete the installation with minimal impact to the overall display.

The current Fern Room has been open since 2005, replacing a much smaller and less accessable space. Since the opening of this room, we have been able to expand our collection to include larger species, like the towering tree ferns, and some more unique plants, like the staghorn ferns growing up the rock wall.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory at the Fair

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory had a special booth at the fair this year. The theme this year for the exhibit was "Orchids on a Stick." Many brightly colored orchids were featured. There were over 350 plants to be judged overall contributed by variety of sources. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory won first place in the category of less then 30 plants and also the special prize of Best Exhibit overall. They also won another special ribbon for "Best Specimen" plant which was awarded to Coilostylis ciliaris . Overall Como Park Zoo and Conservatory won 13 First place, 7 second place and 5 third place ribbons as well as the two special ribbons.

Also during the week the lights will be left on in the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. Stop by during the evening to get some great pictures of the lighted dome.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In time for the fair

The chrysanthemums in the greenhouses are growing well for the fall show. In the past week the mums have been on short days. This means that an automated black cloth in the greenhouse is pulled to give the mums no less than thirteen hours of darkness every night so they will bloom at the right time.

Preparation for the state fair orchid show has also begun this week. This is an annual ritual for the hort staff. Right now gardeners are selecting orchids for the display that will be in the horticulture building on Friday the 29th and Saturday the 30th of August. Gardeners are planning the setup for the display which will be judged and compared with other entries during the short time they will be exhibited. Next week will be busy for these staff as they will be putting the structure together for the display, taking it down for transport and reassembling it again once they reach their destination at the fair. Let's hope for more ribbons!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Working with Education

Today the horticulture staff was able to work with an education camp called "Behind the Scenes." The 16, 6th through 8th grade students or campers have the opportunity to work with the horticulture staff on 4 different projects.

The first project was releasing beneficial insects in the Fern Room. In this case, they released lady bugs. The campers get a dixie cup full of ladybugs and are directed around the room and informed where they can release the ladybugs. We are pretty sure this is their favorite of the 4 projects.

The second project was potting up papaya, that were started from seed and also, potting up an experimental cordyline, which is considered a grass-like tropical, from the original six packs into 4 1/2" pots.

The third project is washing pots. This consists of a big tub of water and disinfectant soap. Since we recycle our bigger pots at Como we need to wash, dry and store them to be used again. The campers felt like they were washing dishes but since everyone was a little wet we think they had a good time playing in the water!

Last but not least, they got to come out on zoo grounds and help horticulture staff beautify a island of trees right across from the Gorilla Exhibit. This consisted of cutting back some daylilies, raking around them, picking up bigger sticks from the evergreens, and then mulching the bare areas. They realized that it was hard work but some thought they could go home and help their families in the garden now! We appreciate their hard work, although some tasks or projects are not that fun, we believe they still had a good experience when they were finished.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Exhibit work and Victoria news

This morning the two gardening staff members that work on the zoo grounds did their magic while performing a scheduled maintenance of the plants in the lion yard. Gardening staff on zoo grounds must communicate regularly with zookeepers in order to perform their regular duties and schedule exhibit work with zookeepers.

Today gardening staff could access the exhibit while the lions were off exhibit. Zoo gardeners have a lot of work to do before 10am so that visitors can enjoy the animals on exhibit. The specific task for today was requested by a zookeeper, that the gardening staff remove burdock plants since they produce seeds that stick to the manes of the lions. Gardening staff that work on zoo grounds have to be especially diligent to search for and remove any weeds that appear that may be potentially toxic to the animals. Other tasks performed in the lion yard were handpulling weeds, mowing, and deadheading flowers. The lions are now enjoying the hard work.

On the conservatory side, the Victoria waterplatters are now in bloom consistently each night. If you haven't seen them yet, come check them out!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Victoria's are ready to bloom!

Our Victoria waterplatters are getting ready to bloom. These are a must see if you have not done so yet! As you may recall 4 years ago we were able to bring the Victoria water platters back to the Como Zoo after being absent for nearly 100 years. Every year it is quite a process that happens behind the scenes to get these looking as awesome as they do year after year!

The flower is also so unique on the Victoria's that it deserves a seperate explanation. The Victoria's are night bloomers. Right at dusk, sometimes earlier in the day, you can see the flower bud crack open. This is a sure sign we would have a flower that night. The first night the flower is white and it has a pineapple scent to it. The second night it reopens and it is now deeper pink. After it has opened twice, it is considered a spent flower and we would remove it. This grooming happens on a daily basis throughout the whole pool.

In South America, where they are native, a Scarab beetle would be the main pollinater of Victoria's. In Minnesota, we tried for the first time last year to pollinate by hand, using a small, soft paint brush. It was a lot of hard work and many hours put in and unfortunately were unsuccessful. We will keep trying till we master the art though!

The water gardens will be up and running till early fall but that is all weather dependent of course! Horticulture staff that work on this day in and day out do a wonderful job! It is the best we think its every looked!! Great job fellow staff!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pot recycling

Staff on the Como campus are constantly brainstorming ways to have a positive impact on the environment. Como even has a team of staff called the green team that does just that. The following is the result of one idea that came out of this group.

The horticulture department at Como go through lots of plastic pots, cell packs and trays. In the greenhouse behind the conservatory, horticulture staff grow plants for display in the conservatory, the zoo grounds, the carousel, como town, the butterfly garden, and even the water gardens in front of the visitor center. You may not know that we also grow annuals for other portions of the city of St. Paul including, but not limited to, Como golf course, Midway Stadium and downtown St. Paul. In the process of growing all these plants from seed, cuttings or plugs, the plants are often times transplanted from one pot to another, from a pot to a flower bed or moved from a pot to the compost.

Aren't you curious what we do with the pots when we are done with them? I'll tell you. The short answer is that they are reused but since the soil that remains in the pots potentially harbors pathogens and other pests that could damage future crops, our used pots are routinely washed and sterilized by volunteers before they are reused. Reusing pots reduces our costs and saves space in the landfills since plastic gardening pots cannot be recycled through the regular plastic recycling programs. All pots at the conservatory do not get washed however. After a while some pots and are inevitably broken and must be discarded. A year ago the conservatory was still throwing all the extra pots into the garbage. Como's green team was still looking at ways to reduce waste and one team member found that there was in fact a recycling program for plastic gardening pots through the Minnesota Nursery and Lanscape Association. The information for this program was posted on the MNLA website and in the Star Tribune in 2007. The recycling program continues this year and today gardening staff loaded up the van with plastic pots for the second trip this year to have our plastic pots recycled instead of putting them in the trash. Homeowners can do this too. A handfull of garden centers accept the pots so its best to find out before you go.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hot, Hot Days

Once again it is that time of year where no matter how much water you drink it still doesn't quench your thirst! It has been difficult conditions for the horticulture staff to work when it is so hot and humid. The staff that work on the zoo landscape battle the lack of in ground irrigation. So they are constantly moving hoses and sprinklers to keep grass green and plants happy! The staff that works inside battle the obvious lack of air conditioning since that would not be feasible in a greenhouse. Plus, over half of the displays in the historic conservatory are tropical environments. Adding to that there is a real lack of air flow inside, we count on a few ceiling fans and some help from mother nature once and awhile. Everyday something has to be watered when its so warm and humid and throw in some high winds and you have the cards stacked against you!

Besides keeping up with watering in the gardens, we have routine maintenance, which consists of weeding, deadheading (removing old flowers), mulching, trimming, etc. Our new Blooming Butterfly Exhibit has kept everyone extra busy. We are all trying not to fall behind in our work because it will be that much harder to deal with down the road. Although some things are couple weeks behind from our late spring which helps us out a little. We deal with these conditions year after year but, we certainly don't look forward to the hot and humid days!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Water on hot days

On these hot days it can be difficult to stay cool. The gardening staff don't have waterfights or go swimming in the pools even when tempted. We do have to drink lots of water, wear hats and take breaks if necessary.

The plants are at somewhat of a disadvantage. The plants inside the conservatory rely solely on the gardening staff for their water needs. Gardeners water the collections of plants on display by hand. This can take a couple hours in the morning before the general public starts to enter the gardens at 10am.

Two of the display rooms, Tropical Encounters and the Fern Room, have an additional method of cooling which increases humidity in these rooms called meefog. Meefog involves a series of nozzles which add water vapor to the air. In Tropical Encounters these nozzles are placed throughout the exhibit, often near the ground. In the Fern Room these nozzles are on the ceiling. Many visitors who walk through the Fern Room will notice the mist as they walk through this room. Meefog is not a method of watering. The mist does not provide enough moisture to keep the soil wet. It does reduce the rate that water is lost from the fern fronds and helps protect roots from drying out.

In the Fern Room, increasing the humidity is quite important to the health of the plants in that room. The fern collection includes many tropical species that require a higher relative humidity than that which occurs in Minnesota.

Did you know that the tree ferns in the fern room not only have roots in the soil but also have roots on their trunks? The higher humidity helps preserve the health of these plants. In fact, water is an essential part of the fern life cycle. Where flowering plants have pollinators that participate in fertilization of those plants, ferns use water to reproduce. That's something to think about. Reproduction in ferns occurs without flowers on a microscopic level after spores germinate. The result is a new plant, ferns don't produce seeds.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Flowers for Fall and Winter

The weather has finally felt like summer and now the gardeners are already thinking about fall and winter. They have been working hard on preparing plants for the fall and winter flower shows. Just recently they have received 1,600 mums and are waiting on a shipment of poinsettias. There are rows and rows of mum seedlings in the greenhouse that are being cared for. The mums are planted either singly for taller plants or 3 to a pot for smaller plant.

Fall Flower Show

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Recycle at the Zoo

On Wednesday, June 25, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory hosted a press conference announcing the new recycling program. Eureka created new blue recycling bins where plastic, glass, aluminum cans, milk cartons and juice boxes can be recycled. The events of the day consisted of a student message board explaining why it is important to recycle at Como Zoo and the press conference included a short show from Sparky showing how to recycle. Eureka will be visiting Como Park Zoo and Conservatory once a week to take inventory on how well the program is running.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sunset Affair

This year, Travelers Sunset Affair presented by McGough, will be held Thursday, July 24, 2008 at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. The theme is Summer Matsuri. Celebrate the evening with Taiko drumming, colorful kites and many other activities in honor of the Japanese culture. For more information please visit

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sunken Garden flowering plant care

Every morning before the conservatory opens, the gardening staff are hard at work making sure the plants on display in the public areas are sufficiently watered, fertilized or otherwise cared for. Staff work independently or with other horticultural staff in our various display gardens. Today, some of the oriental lilies in the Sunken Garden were replaced with more oriental lilies because the flowers on the older plants had faded. Horticulture staff are often accompanied by volunteers that help keep the gardens looking good by dead-heading spent flowers. In horticulture, faded flowers are called spent flowers and the removal of spent flowers is called dead-heading.

In order to care for the flowering plants in the sunken garden, old and faded flowers are removed along with broken plants that are damaged by daily traffic from visitors or events such as weddings. Old flowers are removed not only in order to maintain an aesthetically pleasing garden but also to promote the production of additional flowers on a plant. Plants put a lot of energy into producing flowers and seed. When old flower structures remain on a plant, they may develop seeds and as a result may stop producing many new flower buds. Try this on geraniums and petunias.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Summer is here!!

Finally! Even with the cool weather, it seems like we can finally say that summer is here! The spring projects are finished and the weather is really starting to warm up. The Gates Ajar, located near Como Lake, is finished. Staff are watering the plant material on the Gates twice a day. This will slow down to once a day once the material roots into the soil base.

And the Blooming Butterflies exhibit is open! The many butterflies can be seen resting on the tropical plants under the yellow, black and white building covering.

The Dakota Skipper Garden, located in the Bird Yard on the Zoo grounds, is 90 % planted. This means annual plants have been installed. Como Town annual bed plantings are completed. Look for these splashes of color as you walk around the Zoo grounds! Watch the hillside near the Blooming Butterflies as the staff install additional annuals.

Enjoy the beautiful weather!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Victoria waterlilies have been planted in the VC pools for the summer season. They looked so big and crowded in their 8’ diameter tanks in the greenhouse. Now that they are out in a several thousand gallon pool they look much more at home! Each plant only covers an area of about 5 square feet, by the end of July they should reach as much as 25 square feet! We are being challenged with our cool spring right now, as these giant waterlilies prefer water temperatures of 80F day and night. The heating system in our pools has been working overtime to accommodate them. Hope for some sunshine and warm weather, and then they’ll really grow!

Aquatic marginal plants have also been added to the VC pools! With the wonderful help of volunteers, we were able to plant the entire display in one morning! There will be additional plant material added to the containers as it becomes ready in the greenhouse. As these plants root into their new homes for the summer, watch them burst into bloom. Look for all colors of a sunset, from Reds and yellows to purples and soft pinks accented by tropical looking foliage.

The pool displays are not done yet... we will continue our plant palette by adding a wide variety of tropical and hardy waterlilies to both pools. The pools will feature both night and day blooming varieties.

The horticultural preparation for Como's Blooming Butterflies has been intense for the past three weeks. Working around the unusually cold weather while dodging the electrical, plumbing carpentry and masonry work, the tropical floral gardens were deftly installed by horticulture staff and interns. Just in time for the June 3rd preview of Como Friends and invited guests, all the landscape design elements of the 2,500 square foot space coalesced into an elegant butterfly friendly habitat. Plant species selected for their flowering nectar or roosting potential for the Lepidoptera were obtained through nursery sources from Florida and California as well as home grown in the MMC production greenhouses. A floral nectar tree is the centerpiece of the exhibit; a unique feature to butterfly exhibits which varies the display height of favored nectar plants thereby offering views at all eye-levels. Two fourteen foot Weeping Podocarpus, or African Fern Pines (Podocarpus gracilior) are striking trees. Upon closer inspection, roosting butterflies appear through the soft green vegetative canopy. The native and exotic butterflies released into the exhibit garden have been nourished and protected by this garden designed specially for all their needs save one - host plant species for breeding.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gates Ajar is being planted

The Gates Ajar, located near Como Lake and the Lakeside Pavilion, have been planted for many years by the gardeners from the Conservatory. The Gates, representing the open gates to Heaven, have been planted in the same location for at least 80 years. The first gates were planted in 1894! It takes at least 100 hours of work to install all the cuttings of alternanthera and the plants of echeveria in the shapes of various Masonic symbols. The plantings must be watered at least twice a day, every day. A number of gardeners generally work at the gates daily, usually in May, to install the small plants. The frame of the gates is wire, mudded over with a moist soil mix. Tools are used to make a slanted hole that the small cuttings are slid into. The design is sketched into the mud and the plantings follow the outline.

There is still plenty of work to complete at the Gates before they are completed for this year. Take a few moments and wander over to the Como Lake area and admire this historical planting!

The Butterflies are Coming!!

Even with this very cool weather, the Blooming Butterfly exhibit with it's tropical plants is still on schedule to open June 6th! The outside covering has been installed and the building looks like a giant monarch caterpillar! The folks installing the covering actually used an open area in front of the Conservatory to spread out a huge plastic sheet, lay out the netting and paint the design on the netting. This area was surrounded by caution tape for a few days while the "skin" dried in the sun. Crews have been busy bringing in the soil for the planting beds as the walkway and the bed edges are finally completed. The largest plants are planted in the ground and the crews are bringing in rocks and smaller plants today. This is going to be a great addition to all the other wonderful things to do and see at Como!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This cool Minnesota weather has slowed and held back many of the outside plantings. The tulips are still beautiful in the Butterfly Garden in the front of the Conservatory. The Birdyard wall, with the orange tulips in full bloom, is a wonderful accent for the flamingo's as they wade in the pool. The Blooming Butterflies Exhibit is starting to look like an exhibit! A shipment of tropical plants arrived yesterday and included pentas, palms and other butterfly friendly plants. These plants will be installed soon---the weather needs to warm a bit and the remaining flooring and planting bed edges need to be finished.

The bananas are heading out of the greenhouse tomorrow. These were started from seed about 18 months ago. The nights need to stay above 50 degrees before these huge plants can be set outside to acclimate. These plants are headed for the east side of the Primate House on Zoo grounds. They are too large to fit in the Zoo pots this year!

The Sunken Garden is blooming and a number of plants have already been replaced as they have reached their prime. Many lilies are filling the air with their perfume and the level of maintenance in the room has increased for the volunteer groomers as well as for the staff.

The Children's Gallery is full of children and adults most days. The plants in the replica conservatory are growing well under the new grow lights. Just as with every other area in the Conservatory, Staff are checking this area daily to see how the plant material is adjusting to this new location.

The Bonsai are on exhibit! It is great to have part of the collection on display at this time of year. Staff are assisted each week by volunteers from the Bonsai Society of Minnesota, assuring that the plants are always well cared for and maintained at exceptional levels.

The North Garden Pool is back to normal. The pool was filled, the dye was added and the fish were returned this past week. We could not repaint the entire pool this year so hopefully that might happen next year.

And the Victoria Water Platters are growing very rapidly! The plants that were started from seed in late February are already filling the inside and outside tanks!

The pool in front of the Visitor Center on the side closest to the Carousel is being heated as of today. There are heating lines in the pool bottom that maintain a pool temp in the low 80's. The Victorias need lots of warm water to grow and thrive. Watch for these giants as June approaches!

And then there is BOB.... the Amorphophallus titanum has withered to almost nothing at this point. Staff are watering the soil occasionally to keep it moist and hoping that the leaf stage will soon appear. Soon, all that could remain visible is the large empty looking pot! It will be interesting to see what happens next!

It has been another busy week here at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory as we ready for the Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

North Garden Pool cleaning this week

It is May and time for our annual (or almost annual) pool cleanings. The Sunken Garden pool was cleaned during the last show change. This week, the North Garden Pool is being drained, cleaned and repaired. We have a good system in place to empty the pools and remove the koi. The zoo aquarist directs the netting of the fish and their transport and storage until the pool can be refilled and declorinated. For this move, the koi are being held in our garage in 100 gallons tanks with bubblers. The hope is that the koi will be put back in the North Garden pool sometime this coming weekend.

This winter, staff noticed a constantly wet area in one of the planting beds in the North Garden. It seems as if the large kapok tree that was previously growing poolside may have cracked the pool edging. This was confirmed as the water level in pool was lowered this week. Another large broken area next to the Travelers Tree was also discovered. Trades staff fixed both cracks today and we hope to fill the pool tomorrow! Someday, it is hoped that the entire pool could be painted black. Maybe next year!

The trades staff also took care of another historical problem today! For many years, as toys, glasses, cameras, cell phones, rings, earrings, car keys and every other item imaginable have fallen into the pool, it has been very difficult to retrieve these items at the time they were lost. There is a deep sump pit near the viewing area where all the treasures tended to congregate. No more! A wonderful stainless steel mesh cover was placed over the large pit today. So if your precious items fall in the pool, there is a better chance you might get them back before the May cleaning!

The pool surrounding the porch area of the Visitor Center is finally full and looking ready for the marginal plantings. Watch for these stunning plantings as the weather warms up! The pool in front of Tropical Encounters is being prepared for the Victoria Water Platters. Staff were busy today adding soil to pots buried in the rocks. Fertilizer was added directly to the soil as it was placed in the pots. This will save hours of staff time as additional fertilizer, which is normally added weekly in the form of plant tablets, will not have to be added for about two months. This pool is actually heated to give the Victorias the warm temperature that is needed for their growth.

Come visit! There is always something going on here!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Summer is here

The Sunken Garden Summer Show is open and beautiful! It took five days to remove the spring show plant material, prep the planting beds, plant and water in all the summer plant material for this show. The tulips, daffodils and lily bulbs are dry and ready for the bulb sale on May 17th. The growing houses, that seemed so full before the show change, are still bursting at the seams with material for the outside gardens. Flats and flats of annuals are lined up on the benches in many of the greenhouses!

There are tubs of aquatic plants scattered throughout the growing areas, full of plants growing larger for the front pools. Some of the Victoria Water Platters are already measuring 6" across their pads! Remember, these were started from a seed the size of a pea in February this year. The Victorias have the potential to have pads up to 5 feet wide in our heated pool in front of Tropical Encounters by the end of the summer! Keep an eye on the front pools as the weather continues to get warmer. The pools were filled over the weekend to check for leaks. And of course, there were leaks spotted, so the water is being drained out and the mason has been called to repair them.......

The large decorative pots are being planted for the Zoo grounds this week. The pots are set out on our service road where they can be filled, planted, watered and then eventually placed around the Zoo grounds. There might even be some huge banana plants, started from seed about 18 months ago, filling a few of the largest pots! They are a wonderful chartreuse green!

The Japanese Garden looks very serene and very calming. The pools are filled and there are fern fiddleheads starting to emerge under some of the trees. Come and see this wonderful garden!

The Alternanthera cuttings have been taken for the Gates Ajar. The Gates, located by Como Lake and the Pavillion, have been planted for over 80 years in their present location. In past years, volunteers and staff have spent hours making the cuttings, sticking the cuttings in trays of soil and then placing the cuttings in the propagation house to root. This year, a wonderful group of about 20 volunteers took the 4000+ cuttings on Monday in record time!! What a deal! Prep work on the Gates could start as early as the end of next week.

The Butterfly Garden in front of the Conservatory has some lovely tulips in bloom as well as Scilla and the pots in front of the Conservatory and the Visitor Center are filled with an assortment of pansies. There is color inside and outside now!! Come visit!