The Story Behind the Eye-Catching Bed Designs in Forest Park

Summer Displays Bring Beds — and Sea Monsters — to Life in Forest Park’s Zones

Don’t be alarmed if you think you see the Loch Ness Monster emerging near The Boathouse at Forest Park this summer.

The six-foot-tall, sweet-potato-vine-covered sea monster topiary joins a giant octopus to greet Boathouse visitors as part of this year’s summer displays in the Park. The brainchild of Forest Park Forever Horticulturalist Faith Warren, the watery creatures reflect the lake theme of the Boathouse’s other seasonal plantings.

“We’ve chosen a lot of blues, greens, and whites this year to convey the idea of water, with a splash of yellow to add a pop,” Warren says. “My fiancé, Charlie Tamborski, volunteered his time to create the frame for Nessie and the octopus in his workshop. The octopus will be finished out with eight legs covered with dried willow branches we created earlier in the year.”

But Warren’s creative work is just a small part of the horticulture team’s work in Forest Park this spring. In April alone, the Forest Park Forever Horticulture team spent nearly half of their time mulching, maintaining ornamental beds and planting, with 90 percent of all ornamental beds receiving some kind of maintenance.

Completing the work required massive amounts of materials:

  • Twelve staff members joined seasonal workers and volunteers to apply 330 cubic yards of hardwood mulch and 216 cubic yards of leaf mulch — seven semi-truck loads’ worth — to nearly 88,452 square feet of bed space in Forest Park.

  • The Forest Park Horticulture team and volunteers also planted more than 5,000 perennials and 56 trees.

  • Teams replaced nearly 6,000 square feet of failing Hameln pennisetum grasses with 2,500 prairie dropseed plants in the beds along Government Drive.

How do they do it? The key is dividing the Park into seven zones, based on geography, efficiency and amount of work required in each — and partnering with the City of St. Louis.

“Our goal is to balance the labor among our teams,” says Horticulture Superintendent Roman Fox. “We don’t want one team to have twice as much to do as another team. The zone system helps us share the work.”

The results are stunning. In addition to the Boathouse work (Zone 2), Art Hill (Zone 3) and the World’s Fair Pavilion (Zone 5) have also been transformed for the summer.

In the beds in the front of the Saint Louis Art Museum — redesigned since last year to improve irrigation — eyepopping-color from two types of salvia, two varieties of gomphrena and seven other species will frame the area’s iconic scenes at every turn, from the Apotheosis of St. Louis to the Grand Basin below and the museum itself.

“The goal is to accentuate, not to compete with, the surrounding environment,” Fox says. “What goes into the plantings depends on how the area is being viewed, enjoyed and admired.”

A good deal of psychology also goes into the individual plantings. For example, the Boathouse display is designed for an area where people are on foot and taking their time before enjoying a meal or a drink. But at the World’s Fair Pavilion, Horticulturalist Hilary Sears chose a background of purple baron millet and a foreground of lime time coleus and supertunia silverberries to create blocks of colors for passing motorists.

Still, she has included a touch of whimsy.

“If you could look down on it from above, it would look like a giant eyeball, with a show of color in the middle surrounded by the ‘white of the eye’ on the outside,” Sears says.

Meanwhile, at the Dennis & Judith Jones Visitor & Education Center (zone 1), beds are filled with a mixture of perennial and annual plants because the area is used year-round.

“Some of the plants are native and some are tropical, but they all work together to create spectacular displays for our visitors throughout the year,” says Fox.

But no matter where the displays are placed or how intricate they are, Fox adds that much thought also goes into how the plants will change as spring turns to fall again.

“What you see in June or July will be very different by September, but it will still be dramatic and beautiful,” he says. “Our plantings are designed to keep people coming back for more.”