“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” — John Muir
This year, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum celebrated its 60th anniversary with a gala and other events that offered the public an opportunity to commemorate the milestone.
But one doesn’t need a special occasion to enjoy the splendor of the Arboretum. And as autumn draws near, the lure of its sprawling grounds grows especially sweet with thoughts of apples, pumpkins and colorful leaves.
Dr. Leon Snyder started the Arboretum in 1958, a time when it was much smaller than the more than 1,137 acres it encompasses today. Located on Highway 5 in Chaska, the Arboretum is a part of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), which includes agriculture, horticulture and plant management, and animal management. 00-
As a nonprofit, the Arboretum’s gardens are maintained by over 800 volunteers. “We have to make a lot of things happen on the cheap,” said Susie Eaton Hopper, public relations/media specialist for the Arboretum. “And since I live like that anyway, I can really appreciate what that means.”
The Arboretum offers walking tours that begin at its visitor’s center. The tours include stops at all the larger display gardens and serves as a way to introduce visitors to its grounds and buildings. Its main transportation artery, Three-Mile Drive, takes visitors through the Arboretum, and a free Beeline shuttle makes stops along the route.
Among the most popular of the 32 display gardens is the Japanese garden, which Hopper says is ironic considering that it has no flowers. It does, however, have a nine-foot waterfall. Other gardens include the annual garden, hosta glade, maze garden, wildflower garden, and the rose garden, which is a popular place for weddings.
Though Three-Mile Drive is closed Nov. 1 through Apr. 1, the Arboretum offers over 20 miles of hiking trails, and during the winter months, eight miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails.
“What the Arboretum is about is trying to give the home gardener ideas, as well as those of us who just love nature and beauty and serenity and trying to keep mentally healthy,” Hopper said.
Besides inspiring home gardeners, the Arboretum teaches children about plant life, so admission for children 15 and under is always free. At the Learning Center, children can learn and read about plants, and there is a green play yard for children five and under. Also, children of all ages can experience hauling water for plants and digging in the soil.
“There are specific camps that are all about raising plants and also [learning how to] help to harvest them and to make snacks and things at home,” Hopper says.
The peapods program gives children, ages three to five and an accompanying adult, the opportunity to learn how to grow plants and teaches them about pollinators and bees. At the Learning Center, displays and videos also help children to learn about bees, and its pollinator garden is set up to attract bees.
Just one-and-a-half miles west of the Arboretum stands its research center where grapes and apples are grown. Harrelson, First Kiss (just released last fall), and its most notable, Honey Crisp, are among the 28 commercial varieties of apples they have developed that are on the market.
“If you want to buy apples that we’ve developed at our AppleHouse [open from late Aug. through early Nov.], there are usually 35-50 different kinds of apples … that you can buy,” said Hopper. They also offer 200 different kinds of pumpkins and gourds.
Hopper noted that global warming is having a noticeable effect on the Arboretum. “We see changes in the growing seasons,” she said. “We see birds here that used to be Southern birds that now come here because it’s not as cold as it used to be.”
Though spring was late in coming this year, last year they tapped sugar from their maple trees on February 3 — it is usually done the first week of March.
“For visitors, they get to see more gardens; we get to make more gardens and we get to keep them longer now than we use to,” Hopper explained. “I can’t really say that anything is really good about global warming, but that’s one upside to the issue.”
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is located at 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska MN 55318. It is open every day of the year with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Upcoming events include the Arboretum’s first outdoor music festival, AppleJAM at the ARB, on Sept. 13, and Select Weekend Apple Tastings, September 29-30 and October 6-7. For more information, visit www.arboretum.umn.edu or call 952-443-1400.
Vickie Evans-Nash is a contributing writer and former editor in chief at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.