Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, and Plants, Flowers and Gardens at Como Park
Como Park and Como Zoo started life in the late 19th century, when the city of St. Paul was given a gift of three deer. The city collected more animals like elk, foxes and buffalo, who lived in a fenced-in pasture at the brand new Como Park.
Como Park has been home to horticultural activities since the 1880s, when an ingenious tropical lily pond was grown, using warm water from the park superintendent’s house nearby.
The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory opened in 1915. The elegant steel and glass structure is beautiful and worth seeing in its own right. The Conservatory fills with sunlight, and on a winter's day it is a wonderful respite from the cold.
The conservatory has several planting areas, water features, statues and sculptures. Fish ponds are mesmerizing for small children. If you visit with older children, have them look out for plants with which they are familiar with the produce they grow - for example banana, coffee bushes, and cocoa trees.
One of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory's popular attractions are the five annual flower shows, where the conservatory is filled with stunning flowers, following a seasonal theme. The scent is incredible and can be almost overwhelming. The five shows follow the seasons: there is a Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and a Holiday flower show.
The beautiful conservatory is a very popular place for wedding and receptions.
The Japanese Garden displays Japanese trees, shrubs and sculpture. The Japanese Garden is open seasonally. St. Paul's sister city, Nagasaki, donated the Masami Matsuda (a prominent landscape architect) design for the garden. It's an enchanting, serene place.
The Japanese Gardens hosts a lantern lighting festival every summer, which is lovely but extremely popular - if you plan to attend, arrive early.
The Gates Ajar, flowers and plants covering the walls around a set of park gates, also date from the 1880s. Almost every summer, thousands of plants and flowers are used to create intricate designs covering the walls around the gate. The Gates Ajar are on Lexington Avenue, near the Como Pavilion.
Tropical Encounters Exhibit
Opened in 2006, the Tropical Encounters exhibit combines zoo animals and conservatory plants into a mini-jungle. Animals include great big fish, snakes, various creepy-crawlies, and free-flying birds. A challenge for visitors is to try to spot Chloe the sloth, concealed somewhere in the trees.
Visiting Como Park Conservatory and Gardens
Como Zoo and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory are open every day of the year. Yes, Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day too.
The zoo and conservatory open at 10 a.m. and closing time depends on the season. The zoo is open until 6 p.m. in the summer, and until 4 p.m. in the winter.
Admission to the zoo, conservatory and gardens are free. Visitors may make a donation (suggested donations are $2 for an adult, $1 for a child) but it is optional.
There is a small parking lot outside, and cars usually have to spill over onto the streets to park on the weekend. Watch for parking restrictions if you park on the street. During the summer, a free shuttle bus runs from parking lots outside Como Park, and it's free to use. Follow the signs from the zoo to the parking lot.
For food, there is the Zobota Cafe, with plenty of kid-friendly food and some decent adult food, and a full Caribou coffee bar too. Ans seasonally, there is a concession stand inside Como Zoo grounds which sells fries, burgers and hotdogs.
The Como Zoo store is large, attractive, and full of everything from nice quality gifts, gardening supplies, souvenirs, and cheap animal-themed nick-nacks.
Como Zoo is a couple of miles north-east of downtown St. Paul. Here's driving Directions to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.