Conservatory Logo
Conservatory Chronicles
 Issue #43                                                                                                       
 May, 2011
In This Issue
Vanilla Summer
Upcoming Events at the Conservatory
The Story Behind the Sounds
In the Gift Shop
Geeks in Love
Youth Program Survey
Wish List
Wicked Plants Press
Little Shop of Horrors Discount

Conservatory Chronicles


Morgan Davis 
Content Contributors:
Annie Abernethy, Morgan Davis, Eric Imperiale  
Photograph Contributors: 
Morgan Davis, Vanessa Fajardo, Eric Shapiro 

Beware of what lurks in your garden... 

Wicked Plants banner
Visit if you dare!

Visit Us
Tuesday - Sunday

10am - 4:30pm (last entry is at 4:00pm)

The Conservatory is closed on Mondays.




Please note that on Sundays and all major holidays, Golden Gate Park closes many of its roads to all vehicle traffic.

Information line:


$7.00 for Adults

$5.00 for Youth 12-17, Seniors age 65 & over, and College Students with ID

$2.00 for Children 5-11

Free for Children 4 and under


Discounts available to all San Francisco City and County residents with proof of residency
The Conservatory is free to all visitors on the first Tuesday of every month.


The Conservatory Of Flowers is wheelchair accessible for both motorized and non motorized chairs. Handicap permit parking is located at the east side of the building and also on John F. Kennedy Drive in front of the Conservatory. Strollers are not allowed in the Conservatory.




"Sunglasses Suggested"


By the time you read this article, the 1879 Conservatory of Flowers will be on its way to becoming one of the "bright spots" within the 1,017 acres of Golden Gate Park.  The biennial application of "frosting" or whitewashing of our Victorian architectural gem will soon be completed, and on any sunny day, it is highly recommended for you to don your sunglasses to help soften the reflected white glare. Thanks to our many supporters who made helpful donations towards our Conservatory "frosting" initiative!


Summer will certainly be a banner season of brightness in many regards at the Conservatory of Flowers. A riot of colors of the beautiful blooms across Conservatory Valley will compete for your visual attention, and not to mention, the bright eyes and inspired imagination of countless school-age children beams outwardly from within during their summer field trips. Our creative staff and industrious volunteers bring volumes of bright ideas to the Conservatory for innovative improvements, outstanding exhibitions, and popular programs.  In all honesty, we would never be able to fulfill our mission of "connecting people to plants" if not for their inherent, incredible dedication and passion!


So as summer arrives, who is that person behind those "Ray-Bans" gazing upon the Conservatory of Flowers?  In all likelihood, he or she is probably one of our phenomenal members or supporters.   Thank you very much for your ongoing interest and support of the Conservatory of Flowers!


Bright white at night might fight with the moonlight- quite a sight, right?

Brent's signature 

Brent Dennis

 Aquatics Evening

According to Horticulturalist Mario Vega, summer came early to the Aquatics Gallery this year! Several factors have created the 'perfect storm' on the smooth surface of the pond in the east wing of the Conservatory. Improved water quality, increased sunlight, regular feedings, reduced pest populations, and last but not least, healthy fish poop, have interacted with the result of increased vigor of the Aquatic plants. This translates to two lotus blooms, five different varieties of waterlilies in bloom, and countless other colorful, healthy blossoms in the gallery this May. 

 by Eric Imperiale

 Vanilla Collage

Sun shines brightly as cool ice cream graces taste buds and enlivens the inner child. Vanilla's full-bodied flavor has joined us for some of our sweetest memories. Birthdays, weddings, graduations, backyard barbecues, and picnics in Golden Gate Park have all been enhanced by vanilla's richness. Despite its ubiquity as a dessert, however, relatively few folks are familiar with more than the bottle of extract resting in the kitchen cupboard or the shriveled black bean sealed in the confines of a plastic tube. Now you can come face-to-face with the flavor of your fancy. The Conservatory of Flowers' horticulture staff has pollinated the Vanilla planifolia in the Potted Plants gallery. This orchid's natural pollinator in its native Mexico is the Melipone bee but, due to the ephemeral nature of the flowers which only last for one to two days, hand pollination has become the standard. The bean, which is actually the ovary of the orchid flower, should continue to elongate and grow for the next five to ten months as the seeds within the pod mature. Make sure to take advantage of this rare opportunity to get closer to nature and your food. You won't look at vanilla the same again.     

Vanilla fun facts:   

* The genus contains over 50 species  

* The vine can grow to 100ft long  * Vanillin is the major flavor component   

* Vanilla gets its name from the Spanish, Vainilla, meaning "little pod"   

* The Aztecs named Vanilla "Tlilxochitl" or "black flower"   

* The Totonac people who first cultivated vanilla called it "xanat"    

* Vanilla was originally cultivated in Pre-Colombian Mexico    

* Madagascar is the largest producer of vanilla    

* Vanilla beans must be cured to bring out their flavor   

* Vanilla is used in perfumes and aromatherapy   

* Vanilla is used to flavor chocolate


The Conservatory's Vanilla Plant is located in the Northwest Section of the Potted Plants Gallery. As you head towards the Special Exhibit Gallery, look to your right for the vine that climbs.
 Mark your calendars for upcoming engagements at the Conservatory. You can always visit the website for more upcoming programming and ticket information. 

Wicked Plants: An Evening with Amy Stewart

June 1, 2011| 7:00 - 8:00 pm  

Author Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart, award winning author of five books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, takes on over 200 of Mother Nature's menacing plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend in her American Horticultural Society award winning and New York Times Bestseller Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. In this slide show and lecture, Ms. Stewart will discuss the dark side of the plant world.

 Location: Conservatory of Flowers Orchid Gallery

Fee: $10 admission general public/$7 for Conservatory members, includes admission to Conservatory from 6:30 - 7:00 pm. Books will be available for purchase and signing.  

RSVP: Space is limited. Tickets available online now.     



"Crimes Against Horticulture: When Bad Taste Meets Power Tools" with Billy Goodnick, emceed by Garden Photographer and Author Saxon Holt

July 14, 2011| 7:00 - 8:00 pm  

Billy Goodnick headshot

Join nationally known garden writer and landscape architect Billy Goodnick as he unleashes his offbeat, shock-and-awe tactics to teach you how to create beautiful, useful, sustainable gardens. Starting with his rogue's gallery of the bone-headed, disturbingly ugly, environmentally heinous things people do in the name of gardening, Billy shifts gears to explain the simple steps garden lovers can use to boost their own design skills. Billy has been called a "sneaky educator" - entertaining while delivering a useful and serious message about growing a greener garden that's easy on the eyes and gentle on the planet. You'll also learn to detect the early symptoms of Compulsive Raking Disorder and Saturday Morning Syndrome, the leading causes of Crimes Against Horticulture.

Location: Conservatory of Flowers Orchid Gallery

Fee: $15 admission general public/$10 for Conservatory members/FREE to Begonia, Cycad and Orchid Guild Members, includes admission to Conservatory from 6:30 - 7:00 pm. After the presentation, Billy will give away free copies of Fine Gardening Magazine, where he writes his Design Workshop column, and for a few lucky, randomly chosen attendees, his Crimes Against Horticulture Crime Scene Investigation Kit.

RSVP: Space is limited. Tickets available online now.     


SAVE THE DATE: Terrific Pacific After Hours | 6-10 pm | July 27, 2011  


For more event info, visit the website or email Special Events & Programs Manager Morgan Davis. We look forward to meeting you there!


Amy Stewart author photo credit: KC Kratt.  


The Wicked Plants exhibit transforms the west wing into an eerie overgrown Garden. As visitors pause to examine a plant or read a tale of woe, owls hoot, monsters retreat, gates creak and an old Victrola lures visitors onto an abandoned porch. Sound is one of the stealthy elements that completes the room's transformation. These haunting noises are the creations of Andrew Roth. Andrew is a Jungle Pass member, a Bay Area native, and a talented sound designer. His work for the Conservatory has appeared in the past two Garden Railway exhibits and the Wicked Plants exhibit, and a soundtrack of his captured bird calls from Costa Rica currently plays in the Lowlands Gallery.


Andrew Roth Wicked Install
Andrew Roth adjusting speakers during Wicked Plants


On a recent Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to talk to Andrew after he finished a furious, frenzied day in the studio. I admitted to him that no matter how much time I spend in the exhibit, an owl catches me off guard, and I think an actual bird has perched in the gazebo. I also noted that I always notice a new sound. He was pleased. "It's an extensive program - the loop goes on for over an hour. For the Wicked Plants, because it's more ambient, you won't hear the exact same program twice throughout the day. There are 22 sounds loops playing at independent intervals."


In fact, there are over 20 speakers hidden in the room, and there is not just one owl to be surprised by, but three. By harboring so many sounds, the exhibit itself is reshaped. "The room is confined, and has so many hard surfaces. It's a real challenge to have many things happening at once, without a cacophony. I wanted to be able to make it feel like you're deeper in the exhibit by hearing certain sounds in certain places." Andrew thinks of the room in terms of zones. "You've got the desert corner, with the cactus. There are chimes over there to give an arid, empty feel. The other side of the room, literally feet away, is the swampy area. Here are sounds that make it feel like a wet place. And by the Victorian place, a little bit more gothic."


GazeboAny visitor who also experienced the holiday Garden Railway exhibit, senses how the wing feels completely different showcasing Wicked Plants. This feeling is not due just to the layout changes, the addition of the water features, or the missing, whirring motion of the trains and models; much of this is also a manipulation of the sound design. Andrew explains the different strategy behind the design. "The trains sound design is more like an aural circus; the sounds are more in your face, louder. Again, with the constraints of the room, there were two tiers of sounds. Some is localized, but at any given time there was one primary sound, usually a song, for instance the Castro Theater organ. Each sound was much like a carnival barker, vying for attention, versus Wicked Plants, which is much more ambient."


Wicked GatesIf you listen carefully during your visit, you can even hear Andrew's cameo appearance in his own soundscape. "You're sitting on a bench and you hear the Betel Nut being chewed and spit out, suddenly it sounds like someone chewing behind you..." That's him, chewing. Not all of the sounds are crafted specifically for this exhibit, but Andrew likens his trade to painting or cooking. "The better the ingredients, the better the results. I was restoring the parlor door hardware, and just making original sounds in front of the microphone," he explains the creaking noise in Wicked Plants. "It makes the designing, the creation so much easier."


I ask him about the length of the process, when he does create sounds 'from scratch' for the exhibit, and he tells me a tale about the monster under the grate. He notes props are due to horticulturalist Mario Vega, for the suggestion of placing speakers under the grate. "He suggested I put a monster under there. It was maybe even the day before we finished. I was thinking about a Star Wars scene, with slithering, muddy water moving around, so I had my wife, Davina, make an edible concoction, and recorded her running her fingers through it." Literally, crafting sounds from scratch. "Mario said do this, I went home, recorded sounds that night, mixed it and brought it in the next morning. Other sounds I recorded years ago. Ambience can take a few hours each." Note: no food was wasted in the creation of the exhibit; the recipe was eventually baked and fed to their chickens.


Wicked Plants Exhibit by Eric ShapiroWhen I spoke with Andrew, he was working on deadlines for a number of clients presenting at an approaching trade show, and claimed he hadn't been outside in two days. This is a-typical from the staff interactions with Andrew during the exhibit installation, when we see him onsite first thing, and head out with him in the evening. Andrew explained another difference in his work at the Conservatory, versus studio production. "Working at the Conservatory, it's wonderful to see the interactions with people. I don't get to see the people watch or play the movies, games, television work. To see real peoples' reactions to and real-time interaction with the work is more immersed. I like everything I do, but that's what makes it more worthy." His work is not limited to studio production. When I asked where 'fans' can find more, Andrew revealed that his biggest passion are exhibit-based installations. "I did a theme park underwater science adventure for kids in Florida; I've done some ambient sound stuff at Disneyland, as well. That park was always as fascinating to me as anything else - as you approach Space Mountain there are 5 or 6 zones, or the Indiana Jones line at Disneyland, goes on and on, with the tunnels and rumbling, plus the attraction." Andrew laments he has never been to the Harry Potter theme park, but imagines the sound design there is incredible.


I was curious to know if amusement parks are what lead him into the sound business, and he responded that he'd been interested from an early age. His inspirations were actually filtered down through his family; his grandfather founded the Antenna Theater in the 1980s. "I liked old radio shows, because you could sit in the dark and this whole world came to you. Like books, sound lets your imagination really conjure up part of the world." He confesses he crafted audio tours of his house as a little kid. "Visitors would have to listen." He notes that people seem to know more about sound now, and are aware of surround sound, and the experience of movie theaters. "People are conscious of the industry, but still respond to sound in a different way. It gives you an opportunity to direct people without their knowledge. A lot like a bass player, you're holding it together, but not obviously. You're the Wizard of Oz!" Now that sounds wicked. Andrew admits that gore is entrenched in his current work. Beginning with Wicked Plants, he noticed a trend of zombies, ghosts and other evil. "It goes in cycles," he notes. "I don't always work with horror."


Article and photos by Morgan Davis; Porch photo by Eric Shapiro

 Wicked Pints

Congratulations, Dads & Grads! How convenient that Graduation and Father's Day coincide with baseball season. Stock up your dad or your grad's dugout with a brand new COF cap and some shot and pint glasses inspired by Amy Stewart's New York Times bestseller Wicked Plants. Haven't seen our real-life version of the book yet? Throw in a gift certificate, valid on those rare days this summer when the game's not on.  


Amy Stewart Book Collage

 Grads and Dads giftshop

Mugs $9.95

Pint Glasses $15, Shot Glasses $13  

Baseball Caps $13.95  

Edamame Growing Kits $15.95


You can also purchase many of these items online through our digital Gift Shop.

Book art images courtesy of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.






Sunday, June 26, 2011

Flora Grubb Gardens
Dahlias, with Mike Schelp
11am - 1pm, (free)


Sloat Nurseries

Easy Gardening Without Toxic Solutions

June 22 | San Francisco (Sloat Blvd.),  6:30 pm

June 25 |Mill Valley (Miller Ave.),  10 am

June 26| Novato, 10 am

    Join Annie Joseph and Dave Phelps in a discussion on how to keep gardens naturally healthy.


Weddings, Corporate Luncheons, Office Holiday Parties... See how our event spaces will work for your private party. Visit the website for more information or contact Events Manager Morgan Davis at   
Ryan Anson's bouquet photo      Ceremony Photo Maparunga Photography    Orchid Gallery Reception

Photo Credits: Left, Ryan Anson Photography, Middle, Janine Mapurunga Photography  

April Showers Bring May Flowers 

Purple orchid photo by Todd Worley

 THANK YOU to all who have showered the Conservatory with their participation in our spring fundraiser! Your donation will help ensure the continued growth and success of this unique educational and historic living museum. This spring we encourage you to participate in our donation downpour, and bring necessary items to the Conservatory's many elements.

Items include:

MeeFog Misting System      Cool Growing Orchids

Victoria Amazonicas      School Supplies 

Click here to view the online registry for our no-show shower.
Make a donation through our secure online form.  


Alison and Nathan

One of the 2010 COF weddings was the marriage of two creative and crafty minds. Their big day was recently featured in 7x7's wedding blog.

Read the full article online:

 Tech Geek Wedding at Conservatory of Flowers 

Photo Credits: Mapurunga Photography

We are always looking for new ways to engage youngsters and their families. This survey will ask a few questions about ways we can better serve you and your family, and gives you an opportunity to provide feedback on events you've attended.


Please take a moment to complete this survey, which will aid us as we expand our program and events calendar! Thank you to all of those who responded already; great feedback!

Father son train frosting!Frosting




Projector and Screen


1 or 2 Podiums for lectures and presentations


Beverage Containers for Special Events


Garment racks and hangers for Event Coat Check


New stanchions for the entrance


Flashlights for Jungle Guides and Docents


Contact Morgan Davis with items for in kind donation!


7x7 blogs about the sinister exhibit, and offers Christopher Walken as an unlikely spokesperson.

Sunset's Fresh Dirt blog admits its our turn to dig into Amy Stewart's novel and the fun it delivers, and dares visitors to experience it themselves.

Exhibits Director Lau Hodges introduces many of the 'killer plants' featured in Wicked Plants in a behind the scenes exhibit tour on KTVU.

ABC7 News interviews Amy Stewart and Lau Hodges in the exhibit, and discovers which plants was ironically deemed too dangerous to display in the park.
The San Francisco Chronicle crowns Amy Stewart a "garden rock star" in its feature on Wicked Plants.

The Richmond Blog warns you to watch your back, and shares a number of photos of the exhibit. 

Micheal Leaverton of SFWeekly introduces some of the less appealing side effects of the "plants that rack up body counts."          
 Boxcar Theatre's Little Shop of Horrors postcard

Little Shop of Horrors: A black comedy favorite re-imagined specifically for  the Boxcar Theatre Playhouse. Step outside (literally) onto "skid row" on 6th Street as Seymour, a poor, lonely flower shopkeeper, dreams of a better life and a place that's green to share with the woman he pines for, Audrey. When a rare and exotic plant mysteriously appears, he finds the fame and fortune he was looking for, and a whole lot more. This carnivorous plant has a thirst for human blood, and Seymour is just the schmuck to get it. With newly designed puppets representing the man-eating plant from outer space, this fast paced musical keeps you on your feet and your heart pounding.


Get 20% off tickets when you use the discount code COF to purchase tickets in advance!  For tickets and info visit:

Conservatory Chronicles 5

Miss an issue? Looking for a specific article? Read previous issues of the Conservatory Chronicles in our archives.   
Join Our Mailing List