Q&A: Como horticulturist talks flower shows and apartment plants

A&E caught up with Paul Knuth to learn about Como’s seasonal flower shows and why he became a horticulturist.

Horticulturist Paul Knuth poses for a portrait at the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory on Thursday, April 4.

Jasmin Kemp

Horticulturist Paul Knuth poses for a portrait at the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory on Thursday, April 4. “We can grow it right here and then I can see 1,000 people coming in enjoying it, so it’s very rewarding,” Knuth said of his job at the conservatory.

Ksenia Gorinshteyn

The setting: Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. More specifically: the Sunken Garden. 

A man stands near the door. As A&E steps into the garden, he reaches out his hand to introduce himself.

“Hi, my name is Paul,” he says. “Welcome to my office.”

Paul Knuth, a University of Minnesota alum, is a horticulturist and supervisor at the Como Conservatory. He’s been planting, ordering and growing here for almost 30 years.

A&E sat down with Knuth to learn more about where his interest in flora came from and what it takes to put on a flower show.

What made you interested in horticulture?

I was a sophomore in high school looking for a summer job and there was a local greenhouse. It had a strawberry farm, so I started working in the strawberry fields when I was in high school. In the fall when the strawberries were done, they needed help in the greenhouse.

The rest is history. I just loved working in a greenhouse.

What’s a typical day at the conservatory like?

With a greenhouse, you have to make sure the environment is correct and that all the equipment to create that environment is running properly. It’s like a car: if you don’t have any brakes, you won’t be able to stop. You’re creating an artificial environmental system so you’re relying on the cooling system, the fog, the lighting, the heating system.

We’re out in the conservatory from 7 to 10 a.m. Our staff are in various rooms and they’re planting and watering and fertilizing, and [in the Sunken Garden] we’re changing plants every day. After 10 [p.m.], we go behind the scenes in our production greenhouses where everything you see there is growing. 

I do a lot of ordering, planning, buying supplies — all of the things that go into producing all of this. I bop on out [to the Sunken Garden] a couple times during the day to make sure the environmental systems are working properly.

What goes into planning a flower show?

Planning for all of these shows — it never stops. It’s continuous [and] sometimes we’re planning multiple shows at the same time. We try to be one year out, so right now we’re trying to think about next year’s spring show [because] we have to order that stuff pretty soon here. 

We’re continually planning, ordering, receiving, growing and showing. It’s just this thing that never begins or ends. It [can be] 30-below out and we’re in here talking about buying tropical hibiscus for the summer show. It’s a very organic, brainstorm-y type of process. 

I always think of [the Sunken Garden] as more of a cut flower arrangement you get for your birthday, [rather than] a landscape like your garden outside. …

It’s go time, Skippy. Every day.

What plants would you recommend for apartments and dorm rooms?

There are so many good, tough houseplants that can take abuse — like if [you] over water or under water. Pothos is one of them, it’s got vine-y green and gold leaves. The Chinese evergreen is another good one. These plants actually clean the air. Like say you’ve got formaldehyde coming out of your couch, it’ll clean it out of the air. It humidifies and it’s pretty. They’re really tough. You can’t kill them … almost.