Marjorie McNeely Conservatory | Accidentally Wes Anderson

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory

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Saint Paul, Minnesota | C.1915

Photo Credit: Carrie Sawyer

Within Como Park shines a gorgeous glass conservatory that creates unique habitats for plants to survive the bitter cold Minnesotan winters. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is also connected to the Como Zoo and they are referred together as the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. Both are owned by the City of Saint Paul and are a division of Saint Paul Parks and Recreation.

In 1873, the city acquired 260 acres of land around Como Lake that would become a public park. Horace Cleveland -a well-known landscape architect in the Midwest – was commissioned to design the park system. As development on the park progressed, in 1886 Cleveland met professional gardener Frederick Nussbaumer while attending a botanical conference in Paris. Cleveland convinced him to come work for the developing park in Minnesota, and Nussbaumer would later become the park superintendent.

Nussbaumer continued to beautify the park, adding fountains, lily ponds and the likes. In 1897, the first additions to the “zoo” would be donated to the park – three deer, later followed by goats and elk that were kept in their respective enclosures.

Nussbaumer also had a hand in helping to draft the 60,000-square-foot conservatory, which opened its doors in 1915. A beautiful architectural structure, the conservatory is home to a wide variety of rare plants from all over the world. It effectively creates the feeling of a reverse snow globe where visitors can escape the snowy atmosphere of the city’s winter months.

Beginning in 1987 the building underwent a major restoration with the replacement of the glass panes, an updated heating system and new electrical lighting added along with all new growing patches. A few years later the conservatory received the Hortlandmark Award from the American Society for Horticultural Science for their incredible care at maintaining the glasshouse and providing a grand example of horticultural education. The Conservatory was officially placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

The crown jewel of their collection is the amorphophallus titanum, so called ‘Corpse Flower’ on display. Before producing its single bloom, the Corpse Flower has been known to grow upwards of seven inches every day, reaching maturity at heights up to 12 feet tall, and emitting an overpowering stench reminiscent of rotting flesh when it is in full bloom. Luckily the conservatory has a plethora of more pleasant-smelling flowers for those with sensitive noses.

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