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Tulips at the Arboretum

In May, tulips take center stage at the Arboretum.

Of trees and anniversaries

Arboretum's summer exhibit launches yearlong anniversary celebration

By Pauline Oo

June 2, 2008

You can thank the apple for giving birth to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

In 1908, the University of Minnesota created the Fruit Breeding Farm on 80 acres near Victoria, Minnesota, to develop apples that could thrive in the harsh conditions of the north. (Up until then, apple trees that were brought in from other parts of the country couldn't survive the extremely cold winters or hot dry summers.) Success with the apple fueled interest in cold-hardy research of shrubs and plants. In 1958, a 160-acre arboretum was established.

Today, the more than 1,000-acre Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 45 minutes southwest of Minneapolis, is the largest public garden in the Upper Midwest. It features model landscapes and natural areas with plant collections specially designed for the northern climate. The Fruit Breeding Farm, now known as the Horticultural Research Center because it also breeds and tests varieties of shade trees, shrubs, and ornamental grasses (in addition to fruit trees, berries, and grapes), is located just a mile west of it.

"This year we're celebrating all that research and a birthday," said Arboretum director Peter Olin during a reception in May to launch the "Treeology" exhibit and a host of other anniversary events (listed below). Olin, who has overseen the Arboretum for 24 years, will retire this month. Some highlights of his tenure are the construction of the Oswald Visitor Center and Horticulture Therapy Lab, as well as the creation of the Spring Peeper Meadow wetland restoration.

U plant biologist John Ward helped "Treehenge" designer Judy Grundstrom with the scientific labeling of her art installation. Photo by Chris Opsal

Exhibit kicks off birthday celebration

Treeology, which runs through October 12, includes the "Art 'n' Trees Trail"--18 juried art installations inspired by trees and our relationship with them; a series of interactive learning stations (for example, lift a "Birthday Tag" to check a tree's age); and fun facts about 15 outstanding Arboretum trees, including the oldest, tallest, and weirdest.

The Arboretum received about 80 entries for the "Art 'n' Trees Trail" exhibit, and five judges chose the final 18 based on a set of criteria. In addition to inspiring visitors to see and cherish trees as living beings, each art installation had to be easily maintained and tree friendly. For example, all the wood used in "Treehenge" (see photo) is red oak that had already been cut down by a local tree-care business. In other words, the wood was waste that was recycled into the art piece. Each winner received a $2,500 stipend toward materials and labor for installation.

"We're very excited about this exhibition," said Olin. "Trees are the heart of our work here at the Arboretum."

With sprays of fabric representing shafts of light, "Emergent" encourages visitors to reflect on their own memories of trees.

And it all started with the apple tree. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on Highway 5 in Chaska is part of the U's College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences. Admission is $7 for adults; free for children under 15. Summer hours are Monday through Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For directions, see visitor information. For more information about the plants at the Arboretum, see Gardens and Collections.

Anniversary events "Great Hall of Honor"--51 colorful posters in the Oswald Visitor Center depict the most significant fruit and plant introductions produced by the Horticultural Research Center; through Dec. 31.

Toast & Taste in the Gardens--a party featuring Minnesota food, wine, beer, and entertainment; Friday June 13, 6-9 p.m. (Tickets are $45; reservations required)

Anniversary Gala in the Gardens--a 1950's cocktail party with dancing; Wednesday, June 18, 6-10 p.m. (Tickets start at $250; reservations required; see gala.)

Ornamental Hardy Plant Research Symposium; Thursday, June 19, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Free Family Day in the Gardens; Sunday, June 22

For more information about each event, call the Arboretum at 952-443-1400.