Thursday, December 31, 2009

Uninvited Guests---Integrated Pest Management

In mid-December, five Conservatory Horticulturists began participating in an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Course. Our role is to take the on-line course to give a professional evaluation of it’s use as a secondary educational tool. It is proving to be a fascinating refresher for those of us that studied IPM years ago.

Integrated Pest Management, is a long-standing, science-based, decision making process that identifies & reduces risks from pests. Here at the Conservatory we practice various forms of IPM in our green spaces. We periodically scout for pests, monitor the extent of the damage, and assess our next control strategy.

Often times, biological controls, through beneficial insect releases, provide the control we are seeking. If not, we then may choose to use chemical insecticides. We also have good insect control measures with physical & mechanical maintenance, such as pruning, wiping, or simply rinsing the plants off with water, or a simple soap/water solution.

Our goal as an institution, is to make the best choice possible to maintain the plant collections, and displays with the least amount of impact on the plants and our visitors.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holiday Hits

The 2009 Holiday Poinsettia Show opened in the Sunken Garden, Wednesday, December 2.

A few of the poinsettias we are featuring this season in the garden are ‘Peppermint Twist’, ‘Eggnog’, ‘Cinnamon Stick’, ‘Orange Spice’, ‘Winter Blush’, and ‘Visions of Grandeur’ .

The horticulture staff is putting the finishing touches on the various planters that are placed within the Sunken Garden and around the Conservatory.

One of the varieties we are using is a new one called ‘Polar Bear’. The grower of this variety is the Paul Ecke Ranch. With each plant produced, the Ecke Ranch will make a donation to Polar Bears International. One hundred percent of their donations goes directly to research and education projects in support of polar bears. This is especially nice for us, as we will be opening our new Polar Bear Exhibit on Zoo Grounds in Spring of 2010.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory and AZH

The Association of Zoological Horticulture(AZH) is an organization of horticulturists that work in the specialized field of horticulture. Here at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, 2 of our horticulture staff belong to AZH, Bryn(Tropical Encounters) and Heather(Zoo Landscape). AZH works to highlight the importance of plants within zoos and aquariums, and seeks to support the horticulturist who work in a zoological setting. Zoo horticulture encompasses a wide range of activities which requires a diversity of knowledge and skills in gardening, plant identfication/selection, landscape development, plant animal interactions, plant toxicity, animal browse production, etc. Just imagine a zoo without plants and you'll agree, plants make the difference.
Highlights of the Purpose of AZH:
  • To advance public and professional education regarding the importance of zoo horticulture and its role in the educational, recreational, conservation,and scientific goal of the living natural museum.
  • To broaden the interests of the memberships in the pursuit of the occupations and to improve the standards of efficiency and effectiveness through fostering programs for professional and vocational education.

Recently, Heather(Zoo Landscape) from our staff, attended the AZH annual conference in Jacksonville, Fl. September 26-30 2009. She said it was a great experience for her to interact and learn from fellow zoo horticulturists. Also, she felt the butterfly house and collection/lab was spectacular.

MMC Horticulture Staff

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Poinsettia Production Primer

Our production greenhouses are now in full swing with poinsettia production for our Holiday Show, which opens December 5th. The growing process actually started way back in late June when our small rooted cuttings arrived. Our ace Horticulture staff has been fussing and nurturing the tender plants for the last 3.5 months to produce luxuriant foliage that is free of insects, disease and nutrition defficiencies or excesses. This crop can be rather demanding in its care!

We are now at the stage of there growth when they need the long 13 hours of darkness each 24 hour period, and then for the other 11 hours, they need strong, strong sunshine. We achieve these 13 hour nights by pulling a shade cloth over the plants at 6:00 PM and then opening the cloth at 7:00 AM.

Our Holiday Show this year will feature many new cultivars and will have a warm orange, blush pink, creamy yellow and cinnamon color theme, a little something to warm up our visitors as winter settles in on us.

Friday, September 25, 2009


On September 23, 2009, we had our first succesful harvest of Victoria Cruziana seeds. Victoria Cruziana is one of the three Victoria Platter lilies that we grow or have grown for display in our visitor center pools.

Victoria Cruziana are native to the southern part of South America. It's leaf is lime green and has a 4 inch plus lip. The Victoria Amazonica leaf is reddish in color and has no lip. The Victoria Longwood hybrid is a cross between the Amazonica and the Curziana. It was developed by the world famous Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. It's leaf is red on the bottom and green on the top and it has a smaller lip than the V. Cruziana (about 2").

All three of the Victoria Water Platter Lilies are night bloomers. The first night they open the flower is white. On the second night, the flower turns pink. The flower has a very fragrant pineapple smell to it.
The importance of this harvest of seeds for the Horticulture staff is that producing our own seed is a good sustainable practice versus purchasing seed from outside sources.
Horticulture Staff

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The fragrance is intoxicating!

When you enter the Sunken Garden during the Summer Show, your nose is blasted with a very heavy, spicy scent eminating from the flowers. If you investigate further with your nose, you will eventually find the culprit; our Oriental and Oriental-Trumpet lilies. These wonderful flowers last about 2 weeks in the garden, and our horticulture staff produces 11 crops to cover the 5 month long show.

These tropical looking, and smelling, beauties are reliably hardy in our climate. This seems just too good to be true for our zone 4 gardening . If you visit our gift shop, look for the spent lilies for sale. It is a great time to plant these bulbs and you will be rewarded with flowers in July and August for years to come.

Horticulture staff

Friday, September 11, 2009

Production Greenhouse Glazing Replacement

There are various materials that are required to grow top quality plants like we produce here at the Conservatory. Using quality fertilizer,plants,plugs,seeds and soil(soilless mix) are important parts of the equation. Another important part of the equation is the glazing material covering the production greenhouses and the light transmission level it provides to the plants.

Replacing the yellowed glazing on our production greenhouses, which is happening now, is important during the low light levels of the winter months. During the summer months we use shade cloth to reduce the light transmission level.

The glazing was last replaced over twenty years ago, it had a estimated light transmission level of 50% and was quite yellow. The old glazing material was made of polycarbonate and had a light transmission rating of 81%.The new glazing material is made of impact modified acrylic with a light transmission rating of 86%.

This project only involved replacing the side panels of the production greenhouses. Seven years earlier the roof panels were replaced because of hail damage.

Horticulture Staff

Thursday, September 3, 2009

State Fair Orchid Show 2009

Every year the horticulture department participates with the Orchid Society of Minnesota in an orchid show at the State Fair. This year people can see some of our beautiful specimans on Friday and Saturday September 4th and 5th in the Horticulture building at the fair.

Each year the planning starts well in advance of the actual event. We start to pull together orchids that are beginning to bloom about two months ahead of the actual show. We move orchids to different parts of our greenhouses to either speed up or slow down the blooming.

Every year there is a theme to the show and this year it is "In Your Garden" It will be fun to see what the other exhibits come up with for this. We are planning to create a scene that is in our garden; the conservatory. With the help of our creative orchid team we think we have come up with a nice plan. You will need to visit us at the fair to see the actual final set up!

We need to track and list the plants we enter so that we can make labels and get all the results into our database afterwards. This is a ribbon show which means that our plants are judged against all the other plants entered in this event. This is a bit different than the orchid show that you would see during the Winter Carnival here at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in January. That is typically an American Orchid Society judged show that brings in trained AOS judges who evaluate our orchids in comparison to all previously judged plants of that type. An AOS award is very hard to come by.

We have about 50 orchids in the show this year. After we have all our props and plants loaded into our vehicles we drive everything over to the fair and typically start setting up at 10:00pm After this is completed the judging starts and ribbons are in place by around 2:00am. It is an exciting and fun evening for everyone!

Friday, August 28, 2009


You can find this beautiful Perennial garden on Aida Place, across the street from the historic entrance of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. Shortly after coming to work for the conservatory in 1999, Deb who is now one of our Horticulturists designed the Enchanted Garden, to resemble a butterfly. The center “body” of the butterfly is the asphalt path and the outer perimeter of the garden is shaped like the wings of the butterfly. There are well over 25 different plant species in this area, plus in the spring each year, many annuals are planted for immediate color.

Come and visit this garden soon. All of the flowers are in bloom right now.
Doreen Peterson

Friday, August 14, 2009

So Many Flowers

As the month progresses the gardens are really reaching their peak. All of the areas are beautiful, lush and inviting.
This is a wonderful time to visit the park.
The Skipper Garden

Victoria Water Platters are full size now
Regular maintenance is still in full swing in all
the Conservatory spaces.
Inside everything is thriving and growing.

A visit from the staff at the Des Moines Botanical Center allows us to show off a bit.


We also start to see the end dates for all of our summer interns as they head back to school. We will miss them all.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


We have many volunteers helping us (Scott Stanley and Doreen Peterson) with our daily gardening tasks. These volunteers are a valuable asset to the gardeners, as there is never enough time for us to get everything done outside. In front of the Conservatory there are many beautiful flower gardens which need a lot of care, so volunteers are extremely helpful.

Scott and I have up to nine volunteers on a weekly basis. They normally work in the morning hours; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They help out in the Enchanted Garden, Exedra, Frog pond, and Rooftop gardens, and do other miscellaneous tasks. There are always projects to be done. Mainly this time of the year, it is weeding and dead-heading. Dead-heading is important as many plants will re-flower if the dead or spent flowers are removed.

This picture is of three of our Thursday volunteers with the 9 foot weed. Nancy Feinthal, Terri Tacheny and Joan Sorenson spotted this very large weed that was missed in the middle of Enchanted garden. They climbed right into the middle of the garden and yanked it out. I was right there, with my camera and had to get a picture of it. The weed, we found out, is in the mustard family and it is a very aggressive, fast growing weed!

Doreen Peterson
Horticulture Intern

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Victoria Water Platters are blooming!

It isn't only the remarkably huge leaves that make these plants unique. The beautifully delicate flowers of the Victorias are equally amazing. These night-blooming, sweetly-scented flowers reach up to 16 inches in diameter and undergo an unusual color change. On the first night that it opens, the flower is white and gives off a pineapple scent. It will close up during the next day then re-open the following night, this time the petals will have changed to a deep pink hue. Each flower only blooms for two nights but the plant will continue to produce new buds, ensuring a steady display of flowers every night. Dusk and early morning are the best times to view the blooms. Come see these amazing beauties!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


There is a large motionless Albino frog that sits in the middle of the Frog Pond. The Frog Pond is located across the street of the historic entrance of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.

This frog was donated to Como Park's Conservatory in 1904 shortly after the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. At this time also, the architect Stchikawa, designed a Japanese Imperial Garden in Como Park. The only remaining vestige is this large granite bull frog.

Most people come looking for the pond with the frogs in it, but in reality, there is only a pond with a stone frog and most likely ducks. Ducks like to live within the safety of the pond after their eggs have hatched. I have watched the mother ducks leading her babies towards the pond, sometimes coming from a few blocks away. When the ducks arrive at the pond the mother duck "tells" them to jump in and soon they are all in the water and out of danger. It is very cute to watch, but sometimes the babies tumble in instead of jumping in. Many times we find the adult ducks sunning themselves on top of the frog’s head, and the ducklings resting on the ledge around the frog.

Doreen Peterson, Gardener Intern

Schiller Statue


At the entrance of Como Park, near Lexington Avenue, stands a large bronze sculpture. This sculpture is a standing figure of a man named Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. The sculpture was created by the artist Ignatium Taschner in 1905. It was donated to Como Park by the German citizens of St. Paul in 1907 and is in its original location at the junction of Estabrook Drive and Nason Place.

Johann Schiller was a renowned German philosopher, poet, historian and playwrite. He was born November 10th, 1759 in Marbach am Neckar, Germany. He died May 1805 at the age of 45.

The first play he wrote was called, "Die Rauber". It was a story about a group of rebellious students who enter into a Bohemian forest where they become Robin Hood like bandits and conduct other similar schemes. Following the performance of the play, he was arrested and forbidden to publish any further works.

There are many more interesting stories to be found about Johann Schiller in libraries and on the internet. The German Society of St. Paul, has made plans for this summer to restore the statue to its original state. It has oxidized so badly, that it has taken on a green color, and is in danger of deteriorating further.

Doreen Peterson, Gardener Intern

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Forestry at work

The City's Forestry Department is a great help to us here at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. They have the skills and equipment to deal with plants and trees that are out of our range; in the photo to the left a Kapok tree is being pruned to fit into the North Garden.

When a palm's growing point hits the ceiling in the Palm Dome forestry is able to take the plant out safely so that we can come in and replant a new palm

When a tree becomes a hazard, as this Box Elder tree became in the Japanese Garden next to the Tea House, the forestry crew was able to remove it before it fell.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bromeliads, Orchids and the Jack Fruit

The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory has a wonderful collection of orchids, bromeliads and ethnobotanical plants that are on display all year round. When you are wandering around the Palm Dome you will come across a display of our blooming bromeliads. These epiphytic plants (you would typically see them in the upper canopy of the rainforest) have spectacular and colorful blooms that are are also potential homes for various creatures like tree frogs.

The orchid collection has over 800 different species of orchids so something is in bloom pretty much any day of the year. We display our orchids in the Palm Dome, North Garden and in a special viewing window that is at the end of the Orchid greenhouse. Our collection focuses on plants that are native to Central and South America. The MMC is a USFW Plant Rescue Center for confiscated orchids that have been illegally brought over international borders. Most orchids are protected under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)


The Jack Fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) bears the largest fruit in the world; commonly weighing between 10 adn 60 lbs. Our Jack Fruit tree is in the North Garden and since it is a young tree the fruit is still fairly small. This fruit is edible and tastes a bit like a banana, though when it is ripe it has the smell of rotting onions so a person may need to acquire a taste for it! Come see our Jack Fruit and the many other interesting and unusual plants that are on display in the North Garden.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Spring continues

The Galapagos yard has been sodded and a few boulders (20 tons of field stone) were brought in to keep the Galapogos from going into the Bird Yard. No, the Gardeners did not have to lift or move those by hand, a front end loader was used. Mainenance was on hand to help with this large project

The Blooming Butterfly Exhibit is fully planted and is awaiting the arrival of the butterflies. Many annuals and tropical plants including palms and other trees were used. The "BBE" is scheduled to open June 19th, just in time for Father's Day weekend.

The Bird Yard wall has been completed and it looks great! First thing the Gardeners do is to prep the wall by bringing a tiller on top and tilling it well. Then they put in a slow- release fertilizer to promote lots of blooming. This year the garden was planted with St. Bernard's Lily, Cordyline, Verbena, Petunia and Sweet Potato Vine