Leave it to the dog days of summer to take its toll on gardeners and non-gardeners alike. For the gardener, our seasonal plantings have matured, and we might be at a crossroads of what to do next. With the summer heat, we might be in need of new ideas. Worse yet, some of you may have given up on a few tough spots or thrown in the towel, ready for another season and a fresh start. A simple cure for these gardening conundrums might just be a little garden tour get-away to refuel a gardener’s creative energy level.
There are so many fabulous public gardens throughout the world worthy of the airfare, but too often we forget the treasures that are close at hand right here in the Twin Cities area. Fortunately for us, these close-at-hand gardens are full of great ideas whenever we need them. Here are a few of my favorites that make great mini getaways this or any time of the year.
One gem right in our backyard is the Lake Harriet Rose Garden and Peace Garden. The Peace Garden boasts unusual conifer and perennial plantings in a surreal natural setting, while the Rose Garden across the street is a more formal affair with clean lines, ornate fountains, and almost always a photographer or two trying to capture the beauty of this jewel of the Minneapolis Park System within their lens.
Not far away, right off Minnehaha Parkway near the Minnehaha Falls you will find Longfellow Gardens, another garden maintained by the Minneapolis Park Board. The gardens are planted above the hustle and bustle of Hiawatha Avenue and are made up mostly of perfectly designed annual beds with a speckling of perennials here and there. I love to visit Longfellow Gardens for a quick garden pick-me-up as it is pint sized, very accessible, and nearby other beautiful destinations like the Minnehaha Falls, and the scenic Minnehaha Parkway and River Road. The gardens are well designed, showcasing new, unusual, and workhorse plants, great color combinations, and there are always butterflies galore.
On the other side of the river, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in Saint Paul’s Como Park offers a great refuge on rainy days under the historic glass of this Victorian era conservatory and über state-of-the-art modern annex full of educational demonstrations. Unusual tropical plant collections are not to be missed, but my favorites here are the conservatory’s Bonsai Collection and the nearby Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden (the Japanese garden is currently closed for renovation, but will re-open in 2013 better than ever).
For a short drive out of town, venture out to Noerenberg Memorial Gardens on the North shore of Lake Minnetonka. This hidden treasure is meticulously nurtured by the Three Rivers Park District with funds set aside by the Noerenberg family who donated the site for public enjoyment in 1972. The gardens are very well designed with a sophisticated mix of herbaceous annuals, perennials, hardy grasses, and woody trees and shrubs. I have always been impressed by the utter beauty of this out-of-the-mainstream garden, but I think the gardens are at their very best in late summer and into fall.
Last, but never least, is the vast acreage of the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen. Countless demonstration gardens, plant collections, and events offer something for everyone. Don’t plan on seeing everything in one visit, as that might prove impossible. Rather, like most of these great public gardens, come back again and again to truly appreciate the magic, beauty and inspiration each season offers.
Scott Endres is co-owner of Tangletown Gardens and Tangletown’s Wise Acre Eatery on 54th and Nicollet in South Minneapolis.