McNeely Conservatory at Como Park (as it is now known) opened in November 1915 and
hosted St. Paul's annual chrysanthemum exhibition, the first time the show was held in one
location. In 1925, the Holiday Flower Show and Spring Flower Shows started their annual
traditional exhibitions and in 1974, the Como Park Conservatory was placed on the National
Register of Historic places. In 2002, the family of Marjorie McNeely generously donated a
financial gift allowing the conservatory to continue to provide a place where bonsai trees
(the largest exhibit in the upper Midwest), ferns (featuring over 100 species), orchids
(including award-winning neo-tropical orchids) and other seasonal flowers can grow and be
enjoyed by young and old alike. I think this is where my love of tulips began! For those of
us who have spent time in Minnesota during the winter, having an indoor nature exhibit like
this to go to and get away from the snow and cold for awhile, is akin to taking a quick trip
to a warmer climate. But it's much less expensive and doesn't require packing a suitcase!
The conservatory's architect, Frederick Nussbaumer, was born in Baden, Germany
where he learned to be a landscape gardener at his father's greenhouse. After living and working
in London as a young man, he came to St. Paul in the late 1870s where he began work as a market
gardener for three years. Soon after that, he became a guard at the workhouse but having been
noticed by the board of the park commissioners for his horticultural knowledge and expertise, he
soon was named Superintendent of Parks, a position he held for thirty years. Not only did
Nussbaumer design the conservatory building but he also added floral gardens, gravel walkways,
pergolas, fountains and ponds to the park.
Nussbaumer's conservatory is one of the few remaining Victorian style glass domed
gardens in the United States. It was modeled after the Kew Gardens in London. As Nussbaumer wrote
in his article, An Ideal Public Park in 1902, "The great mass of people enjoy flowers. They
also pay for the parks." He also thought that there should be no "keep off the grass signs" and
that parks should be available to both the "nature-loving enthusiast and frugal workman" and provide
both facilities for recreation and "objects of attractiveness." The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at
Como Park certainly continues to attain Nussbaumer's ideals.
The 60,000 square feet conservatory took two years to build. The dome is made of wood
and glass and is painted white. Two long buildings flank the dome and the natural light that filters
in through the panes of glass is so bright, you may find yourself squinting or putting your sunglasses
back on! As mentioned above, walking inside is like going somewhere warm, especially in the winter,
and even in the winter, you will find yourself peeling off your jacket within minutes of entering the
conservatory! The atmosphere of the building, coupled with the smells of the plants and the earth, will
immediately transport you.
The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is a great place to visit if you ever find yourself
in the Twin Cities.
Image Courtesy of Como Park Website