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Garden Hopping In Minnesota

perennial border

I was in Minneapolis over the weekend visiting relatives. My brother-in-law Steve is a forest entomologist, his wife Jeanie is a weed scientist, and I’m a perennial guy. When we are at a garden, he’s looking up, I’m looking down, and she’s looking in-between. My wife Carolyn is a medical researcher and not a “plant person,” so she just enjoys the flowers.

Steve and Jeanie have a traditional perennial border (6 feet wide, a hundred feet long) that would look totally at home in my yard, if I had sun instead of shade. And that much energy. After the usual disclaimers of “we’ve had so much rain this year; you should have been here last week when…it’s too bad you won’t be here next week when…, etc.,” we toured the garden and I took photos. Although the winters are long and cold, many of the perennials that we use here in the DMV do fine in Minnesota. In fact, with longer summer days, cooler nights and ample rainfall, some plants (monarda, daylilies, hostas) are much more lush than ours usually are by mid-summer.

We took advantage of a fine summer day to visit one of the great US public gardens: the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The gardens are superbly maintained, with no weeds in sight. I have visited many public gardens over the years, and it seems that the first section that is abandoned is the rock garden, as they require a lot of upkeep. The rock garden here is large, full of flowers, labelled and a place where (on a cooler day) you could spend an hour or two. It’s maintained by the Minnesota Rock Garden Society and they must be a dedicated group.

Prairie Soil

The Arboretum also has a large short-grass prairie planting with the occasional bur oak, a reminder of what the area looked like 200 years ago. We strolled through and I was jealous of the prairie soil, black and crumbly (friable, in soil-speak) and fantasized about filling my suitcase with it and bringing it home on the plane. I settled for a photo since actually moving soil about from place to place is a good way to introduce bad things (weed seeds, etc.) to a new area.

As a perennial fan on a hot day, the section that I like best is the Hosta Glade, which I guess is contains a half acre of mature hostas–over 300 cultivars, all labeled. It takes me back to twenty years ago, when we grew and sold over 20,000 hostas a year at Behnke’s. This was back when deer weren’t standing on every street corner–smoking, looking tough and eating your hostas when the sun goes down.

I further recall visiting this garden back in the early ’90’s when I was here for a Perennial Plant Association national meeting, and this was the one area that I remembered. I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else.

Public gardens are always inspirational. So are gardens of friends and relatives. If the deer haven’t leveled the planting field at my own garden by the time I get back, I might even plant some more hostas.

Larry Hurley, Retired Behnke’s Horticulturist

Larry Hurley

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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