Water Platters Make Triumphant Return
to Como Park
St. Paul, Minnesota USA
by Soni Forsman
Click images to enlarge
After an absence of 100 years, Victoria waterlilies
returned to St. Paul, Minnesota's popular Como Park in 2005.
New water gardens were included in an expansion of the park's
1915 Conservatory and the addition of a 65,000 square foot (6039
square meter) Visitor and Education Center. The glass house is
the centerpiece of the 450 acre (182 hectare) city park.
That first summer, the display of seven Victoria 'Longwood
Hybrids' and a dozen tropical waterlilies exposed a new generation
to water platters, water gardening at the Conservatory, and teased
visitors to watch for bigger and better aquatic plant displays
in future summers. They have not been disappointed.
I was honored to consult with the Conservatory horticultural
staff in 2005 to bring back the Victorias, from seed procurement
to final placement in the heated pool. As we strolled amongst
the Victorias and tropical waterlilies -- maintaining,
pruning and grooming -- it was very rewarding to talk with visitors
about the new water gardens. The most frequently asked question,
"What is that (Victoria)?"
One of the large islands of marginal plants that
add drama to the unheated pool
In 2008 the heated pool showcased Victoria amazonica,
Victoria cruziana, Victoria 'Longwood Hybrid',
the small (possible new species) Victoria and Euryale
ferox. Day and night blooming tropical waterlilies grew among
the Victorias. Huge "islands" of marginal plants
were backdrops to an extensive display of tropical and hardy
waterlilies and lotus in the massive unheated pool. The eight
foot (2.4 meter) wide water gardens outline the new addition
and Conservatory expansion and are always available for public
The park's first lily pool was located southeast of the present-day
conservatory and was called the Aquarium. Centerpiece in this
pool was Victoria regia as V. amazonica was known
during the Victorian era. They disappeared from the park in the
early 1900s as the trees surrounding the Aquarium matured, shading
Postcard of the original lily
pond in Como Park >
The 9,000 square foot (836 square meter) expansion to the
Conservatory includes a room under glass devoted entirely to
ferns and fern allies. It replaced the 1915 fern room where only
one species of fern lived due to the limestone construction.
Now 150 species of fern and fern allies reside in the room of
charcoal-gray lava rock. The expansion also includes a bonsai
gallery, an orchid house, and a children's gallery for hands-on
< Ferns and fern allies flourish in their
own room under glass
Three more garden rooms make up the Conservatory -- the palm
dome, the sunken garden, and the north garden (a garden room
devoted to beneficial plants). These rooms are original to the
Conservatory and were restored in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Most evident to the public was new glass that replaced the cloudy
fiberglass panels on the walls and ceilings and all garden rooms
are now handicapped accessible.
Palm trees stretch up into the
Victorian glass dome >
The palm dome houses towering palm trees that reach into the
classic Victorian glass dome. The formal sunken garden has five
flower shows a year -- winter, spring, summer, fall and holiday.
It is the favorite locale for weddings and photo opportunities.
A collection of food and spice trees and plants grow in the north
A walkway connects the Conservatory with the Visitor and Education
Center. It is the primary entrance to the Conservatory and the
only entrance to the adjoining Como Zoo, which began with unsolicited
donations of animals in 1897. Approximately 1.9 million people
walked through doors of the new addition in 2007.
Map from www.comozooconservatory.org
The Visitor and Education Center is contemporary in design so
not to distract from the Victorian glass house. It has classrooms,
an auditorium, a year-around cafeteria, and a gift shop. Taking
center stage in the addition is the soaring Tropical Encounters
Exhibit, a neo-tropical rainforest. It is a joint venture between
the Conservatory and the Zoo to bring plants, animals and aquatic
life indigenous to that region together in one exhibit.
The value of this historic Victorian landmark to the city, the
state and horticulture was recognized in 1974 when it was placed
on the National Register of Historic Places. The Como Conservatory
was renamed the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in late 2002 in
recognition of a substantial donation from St. Paul's McNeely
family. The endowment assures that the Conservatory will remain
"green" into the future.
The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is open 365 days a year.
Hours are 10 am - 4 pm October through March and 10 am - 6 pm
April through September. Cost is a $2 voluntary donation for
adults and $1 for children.
More images from Como
Park Zoo & Conservatory >
Como Park Zoo & Conservatory Web Site