One of very few glass-domed Victorian-style indoor gardens in the US, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory was built in 1914 by the German-born architect Frederick Nussbaumer, and modeled after the Royal Botanical Gardens in England. Found inside of St Paul’s Como Zoo, this indoor garden is home to more than 260 varieties of plants, including palms, ferns, flowers, bamboo, and more.
Under the 64′ tall dome in the center of the Palm room is the below-pictured fountain, titled “Crest of the Wave.” Made by Harriet Frishmuth in 1925, it was inspired by the naturalism that reflected the optimism of the turn of the century. The fountain is surrounded by lush, green fronds of towering palm trees that transport you to warmer climates.
Down one of the wings off of the Palm Dome is the North Garden. This room is home to papaya, pomegranate, fig, mahogany, etc. and also houses a sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi, found amidst a shallow pool and fountain (below). Added in 1957, it was originally outdoors but moved inside due to vandalism. Looks right at home in this lush, verdant setting.
Another stunning feature of the Conservatory is my favorite area, the Sunken Gardens. This southern wing of the Palm Dome is set down about 6 feet into the ground and features a seasonal rotating flower display with a pool running lengthwise anchored by a statue at the end called “Play Days.”
The above images were taken in early spring, and the below scene taken was in the summer season.
The Conservatory always is kept at a constant warm, humid temperature and is a fun place to escape winter’s chill in Minnesota for a day. The cost of the zoo is free, but a $2 donation is suggested. There is a lot to do at the Como Zoo, which will be covered at a later time, but the centerpiece of this place is definitely the conservatory. In warmer months, head outside of take a walk through the Japanese Garden (pictured below).
The McNeely Conservatory is also home to a Bonsai gallery room, an orchid house, and a walk-through ‘Tropical Encounters’ room with animals such as fish, snakes, a three-toad sloth (below), and other critters. I will not go anywhere near the damn tarantula case, ever.
For being a completely free experience (donations encouraged), the Como Zoo experience is an awesome time. There are many things to do here -indoors and out. The parking is always a bit tight and the place can be bit crowded on weekends, but if you can make your way there on a weekday, go for it. This place is grand.
While in the area: Make sure to check out Cafesjian’s Carousel. And if you are here around Labor Day, check out the Great Minnesota Get-Together (MN State Fair). It’s only a few blocks away.