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!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Birth of Coffee

On Saturday, The Birth of Coffee Exhibition photographer and author Daniel Lorenzetti and Linda Rice Lorenzetti visited their exhibit at the Majorie McNeely Conservatory and signed books and visited guests. (and some staff too!)

The exhibition runs through Wednesday and has some fantastic photos of the many cultures involved in the coffee industry.