We’re heading back into the deep freeze here in Minnesota, which is the best time I know of to visit the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul. The Como conservatory is a popular destination for northerners seeking a break from the cold, dry air that we experience this time of year.
The Sunken Garden was closed the day I visited as workers put together the displays for the annual Winter Flower Show, this year entitled “Super Bold,” which opens this Saturday, Jan. 13, and runs through mid-March. The horticulturists were setting up lots of deep purple cyclamen, pansies and azaleas, which reminded me of a certain professional football team with its eyes on the Super Bowl.
Even without the Sunken Garden, the Como conservatory is a joy to walk around and soak in the moist air. I was surprised how many people were there, even on a Wednesday afternoon. The conservatory includes several displays about the plants that produce spices, such as cinnamon and black pepper. A Calamondin orange tree arched over one of the walkways, heavy with small, bright oranges. Palm trees and other tropical foliage plants give the Como conservatory a pleasant, jungle feel.
One of my favorite plants was a foliage plant called rattlesnake calathea (Calathea lancifolia). A popular and easy to grow houseplant, the leaves are long and lush in the conservatory environment. The have oblong spots arranged along the leaf that certainly do remind you of the skin of a rattlesnake. With a background of ferns, the leaves stood out amidst the greenery.
Como is known for its Japanese Garden as well as the conservatory, and overlooking that garden is a room filled with bonsai trees. Several bonsai azaleas were in bloom in colors of red and pink. On warmer days, walking through the Japanese garden is pleasant, even in winter, because Japanese gardens are more about shape and texture than they are about bloom.
The Como conservatory has a variety of events throughout the winter, including free Sunday afternoon concerts and a Valentine’s Dinner in the Sunken Garden. If you have never been to the conservatory before, let this winter be the time you visit.