Monday, October 12, 2009

The Tropics in Winter

Fall is fickle. I’d love to get outside and enjoy the crisp air and changing colors and bring you a work of L.Architecture with which to enjoy the usually excellent October weather. But now we have snow! So I’m going indoors.

courtesy Saint Paul Parks and Recreation

The Como Park Conservatory (formally called the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory since its major renovation in 2002) was built in 1915. It is a stylistic descendant of the famed Garfield Park Conservatory (built 7 years earlier) in Chicago, which was designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen. Jensen’s glass-barn architecture and exquisite Fern Room changed the thinking behind these indoor plant display places forever. Conservatories transformed immediately from showcases of specimen plants, each in its own pot, to true gardens, overflowing with plants like an actual jungle.

The Fern Room at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory

But while Garfield still has a few rooms devoted to the specimen-driven style, Como is all environment. The Palm Dome, just behind the main entrance, has myriad coconut and date palms festooned with bomeliads and air plants. The North Garden is centered on a still central pool. The Sunken Garden is a formal space with changing seasonal displays that is popular for weddings (in fact, I got married there almost exactly seven years ago – maybe another reason I have conservatories on the brain right now).

from the Como Zoo and Conservatory website: the Sunken Garden decked out for fall

The 2005 addition of the Como Zoo Visitor Center, which is connected to the Conservatory, allowed for the addition of an updated, fully-accessible Fern Room (though I still think the old one was better in its encrusted canyon-like way) and permanent bonsai and orchid collections. The Visitor Center also has Tropical Encounters, which brings animals from the zoo together with plants from the Conservatory.

What’s great about the Conservatory is it’s all glass. So when you’re standing amongst the palms and enjoying the humidity, you can still see the rain (or snow or sleet) outside. It’s a little mind-bending and very satisfying.

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