Traipsing Around Town: Taking a break from the winter blues at the Como Park Conservatory

By Taylor Uggla

If you’re tired of sub-zero temperatures and long for a change of scenery, you don’t have to wait until spring break to get it. Head on over to the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park, where it feels like summer the minute you step inside.It’s only a 37-minute bus ride away, and if you drive, parking is free. Entrance to the conservatory is free as well, although donations are appreciated. What better way to spend a chilly afternoon? There are several different indoor gardens to choose from, and each one has its own special focus.

My personal favorite is the Fern Room, a gloriously humid place where you can find more than one hundred species of ferns. A little stone walkway leads you through all of them, and the glass ceiling makes it possible to enjoy the sunlight. There’s even a waterfall that runs down to a tranquil little pool. Nothing could be more relaxing. This room adjoins the Palm Dome, which is similar in temperature and aesthetics but also provides seating and a beautiful display of orchids.

Next you might want to check out the Sunken Garden, which is perhaps the conservatory’s most famous room. Due to its elegance, weddings take place here all year round, and there’s never a lack of children running around the goldfish pool. The garden also hosts seasonal flower shows, and for the next month or so you can check out the winter session, which features azaleas, amaryllises and oriental lilies, to name a few. If you’re one of those people who become ill around the heavily perfumed, however, you may want to skip out on this one-the scent is soothing but strong. If not, enjoy the amazing pink, yellow, purple, and red blooms that provide a refreshing haven after so many months of snow and ice.

Unfortunately, since it is winter, not all of the conservatory’s rooms are open. A few of the inside exhibits are closed at this time, as well as the outside Water Lilies, Japanese Garden and Enchanted Garden (where butterflies hover freely). However, if what I’ve already mentioned just doesn’t do it for you, there’s still hope in the remaining few exhibits for your entertainment. In the North Garden, affectionately nicknamed by staff as the “living grocery, pharmacy and building supply store” of the place, you’ll find things like papaya, pomegranate and chocolate, not to mention an amazing fig tree and yet another pool. It’s like stepping into a jungle for a few hours.

You can also check out the fairly new Tropical Encounters exhibit, a $2.1 million, two-story affair that opened in 2005. Plants and animals co-exist in this space, and as you take the tour you’ll observe turtles, frogs and anacondas. If you’re lucky you might even catch Chloe the sloth. You can learn about sustainable rainforest agriculture here too, with field researchers always around the corner to answer your questions. This is by far the most intense and detailed exhibit, and the first new one in over two decades. You can really lose track of time there, and will be nothing but amazed at its beauty.

So, do yourself a favor and check out the Como Park Conservatory. You’ll have a good time and your stuffy nose will thank you.

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory
1225 Estabrook Drive
Saint Paul, MN 55103
24-hour Information: 651-487-8200
Customer Service: 651-487-8201
Winter Hours: 10-4 daily