In the midst of a long winter with its landscapes of white on white, strolling through the rooms of vibrantly colored flowers at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul begins to feel something like being inside the morning cartoons. The conservatory is one of those rare places in my native Minnesota this time of year where you can get close to nature without wearing three layers of clothes. Inside this poor man’s tropical vacation, pores open, eyes brighten.
I spent most of my time taking in the Holiday Flower Show in the Sunken Garden, the conservatory’s version of a rotating gallery. The show features poinsettias every year, and this year’s installment was filled with varieties bearing names like “DaVinci,” “Monet Twilight,” and “Premium Picasso.”
Jill Heim, one of three gardeners who help maintain the Sunken Garden’s exhibits, says the inspiration behind the artist theme was (foremost, of course) to delight the general public, but also (more guiltily) to keep the show fresh and engaging for the gardeners themselves.
Only a few breeders in the world are working on new poinsettia varieties, Heim says, striving to draw out new colors and patterns, better performance, and more vigor. The conservatory’s gardeners noticed that a number of new varieties bear renowned artists’ names, and voila—a theme was born.
Even the accent plants, delicate bursts of purple called ageratum, were included because recent series bear names like “Artist Blue” and “Artist Purple.” I pointed out that this tie-in wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the show—didn’t that make it kind of an inside joke for those garden nerds able to pick up on it? Chuckling, she said that while that wasn’t exactly the gardeners’ intent, she supposed there might be something to it. Sometimes it’s the little things that help get us through winter.