For the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s team of horticulturists, the Spring Flower Show is an act of love
Tulips have been gaining on roses as the favored flower of Valentine’s Day, a flower trend that Como horticulturist Bo Akinkuotu says is easy to understand. Not only are tulips said to signify true and perfect love, he says, “they also come in practically every color, and they give us all that first sign of spring that we all look forward to seeing.”
In keeping with decades of tradition, tulips will also be the star players in the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s Spring Flower Show, scheduled for March 25 through April 30. But getting nearly 10,000 bulbs to bloom on cue for the show’s four-week run requires a full year of tender loving care, especially from Akinkuotu, who is responsible for this year’s tulip crop. “This is my first time managing the tulips, so the pressure is really on,” he says. Here’s a look at how the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s horticultural staff makes it happen:
1). Planning for the Spring Flower Show happens nearly a year in advance, as the Conservatory staff take down the previous season’s show, study which plants performed best, and create a new design for the year ahead. While many bulbs can be recycled and reused, funding from Como Friends helps to keep every flower show feeling fresh, providing for the new varietals and exotic bulbs that winter-weary Minnesotans long to see every spring.
2). By fall, Como’s backstage growing space begins to fill with crates of spring bulbs, which are potted up in stages by Como’s horticultural staff and a team of community volunteers. The majority still come from the Netherlands, where more than 90 percent of the world’s tulips are farmed.
3). Thanksgiving Day is the unofficial deadline for getting up to 10,000 tulips and supporting players like daffodils, hyacinth, and ranunculus into pots and ready for winter. With their roots just formed, the spring bulb crop moves into a backstage cooler for up to four months. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s climate control system—recently updated thanks to contributions to Como Friends—is critical to the process, creating the cold conditions that spark the flower formation within each bulb.
“Conserving resources is part of our mission at Como Friends, so we’re happy to support the beautiful flowers people will see this spring in the Sunken Garden, and to provide shoppers the opportunity to reuse the bulbs and make their gardens look great,” says Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends.
4). The warm-up starts in early March, as horticulturists move each bulb back into the growing range, rising soil temperatures help the flowers to mature within the bulbs, with early flower stalks emerging in time for the show’s debut on March 25. “Getting the timing right here is critical,” says Akinkuotu, adding that with pricey plant material, “we want to get the biggest bang for our buck.” The chilly temps visitors may notice in the Sunken Garden help to keep the flowers at their peak for longer.
5). Each year, Como grows about three times as many tulips as will fill the Sunken Garden, so that as each bloom peaks and fades, horticulturists can swap in a fresh flower. Once they’ve made their debut in the Sunken Garden, hundreds of bulbs are then recycled and sold each year at Como Friends’ Garden Safari Gifts for replanting in garden beds and backyards all over the Twin Cities. “Conserving resources is part of our mission at Como Friends, so we’re happy to support the beautiful flowers people will see this spring in the Sunken Garden, and to provide shoppers the opportunity to reuse the bulbs and make their gardens look great,” says Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends. Be sure to follow Como Friends’ Facebook page for announcements about this frequent sell-out event.