Sustainable Design at the Winter Flower Show

Reusing, reducing and recycling is one of the secrets of Como’s Sunken Garden

Horticulturist Rylee Werden has fond memories of visiting Como with her mother and grandmother. “We always came to see the flowers together, so having the chance to design a flower show that connects with the Winter Carnival Orchid Show is really an honor.”

This season’s Winter Flower Show is a storybook example of an English-style cottage garden, with dense green foliage, deep pink and purple flowers, and a casually unkempt style—as if the garden is bursting out to fill its stone boundaries after years and years of growth.  

“I was really inspired by the plant loropetalum which has a really nice weeping tree form and pretty flowers that I thought would make the pond look sort of enchanted,” says horticulturist Rylee Werden, who designed the show, her first for the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. “From there I started building in more pinks and snowy whites and icy blues to play with the winter season. And the Winter Carnival Orchid Show coming later this month is what inspired me to use two of the flowers, a snapdragon called ‘Snappy Orchid Flame’, and a Viola called ‘Orchid Rose Beacon’”.

While most of the flowers you’ll see in this season’s show were grown from seed or plugs back in September, many supporting players in the Sunken Garden’s canopy were drafted from the Conservatory’s expansive greenhouse, design choices that are helping to make Como’s five seasonal flower shows more sustainable. For instance, the small birch trees featured in the Winter Flower Show were recently culled from the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden. 

“Visitors seem to really love how they look, and we’re always excited to find a new use for what we already have,” says Werden. In fact, when the winter show is complete, the cuttings will be converted into birch poles for use in next year’s holiday plantings. 

“As often as we can, we also try to give the plants and trees we use in the Sunken Garden a second life somewhere on campus, or in the community,” says Como’s horticultural curator, Dr. Lisa Philander. For years, spring bulbs pulled from the Sunken Garden have been recycled and resold through Como Friends’ Garden Safari Gifts, with proceeds that help pay for the next year’s bulb show. Your contributions to Como Friends are also helping the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory start a new on-site compost system with the capacity to turn tons of spent plant material into rich compost for future flower shows and gardens. 

Making smart use of resources—from existing plant collections and from contributions from people like you—has helped Como Park Zoo & Conservatory keep its tradition of  five rotating flower shows going for nearly 99 years. Thank you!

To sponsor the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s Sunken Garden visit: 

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