MSHS to serve Northern gardeners through education, encouragement, and community. Through a variety of educational programs, classes and conferences, and by publishing an award-winning magazine, Northern Gardener, MSHS helps its members and the general public to be better gardeners in USDA plant hardy Zones 3, 4 and 5. MSHS’ plant donation network, Minnesota Green, started in 1988, serves the greening efforts of volunteer gardeners throughout the state. Minnesota Green promotes grassroots efforts to revitalize communities by coordinating the donation and distribution of nurseries and greenhouse’s flowers and trees to be planted in public spaces statewide.
It is the mission of MSHS to serve Northern gardeners through education, encouragement, and community. Through a variety of educational programs, classes and conferences, and by publishing an award-winning magazine, Northern Gardener, MSHS helps its members and the general public to be better gardeners in USDA plant hardy Zones 3, 4 and 5. MSHS’ plant donation network, Minnesota Green, started in 1988, serves the greening efforts of volunteer gardeners throughout the state. Minnesota Green promotes grassroots efforts to revitalize communities by coordinating the donation and distribution of nurseries and greenhouse’s flowers and trees to be planted in public spaces statewide.
MSHS was formed in 1866, as an association of fruit growers who took on the challenge of growing apples and other fruits in a northern climate. Two years later, the association became the Minnesota State Horticultural Society to recognize the importance of all phases of horticulture development in rural and urban Minnesota. In 1873, the Minnesota Legislature approved an act providing for the publication and distribution of 2000 copies of all the transactions of the society. 1894 marked the birth of one of the longest continually published horticultural magazines in the country: Northern Gardener, formerly known as Minnesota Horticulturist.
One year later, in 1895, MSHS accepted garden clubs and professional horticultural societies as affiliated members, and they became an important source of members. During this time MSHS worked to render service to gardeners who were strictly amateur, while retaining the support and interest of professional and commercial groups. In 1943, MSHS placed great emphasis on victory gardens to help the war effort. As interest and activity in competitive flower shows increased, MSHS worked out a procedure for qualifying and certifying its own Show Judges.
As the membership expanded, MSHS outgrew its offices in Alderman Hall at the University of Minnesota and moved to a new location at 1755 Prior Avenue N., just north of Larpenteur Ave. and the University of Minnesota’s Agriculture campus. After about twenty years at that location, MSHS began searching for a new location that would better serve its members and the gardening community. In 2009, that location was found in Roseville, and the organization moved a short distance away to 2705 Lincoln Drive. A staff of 7 employees works from that location. A Board of Directors comprised of an executive committee, at-large members and other representatives governs MSHS. The business is operated as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3). A Chief Executive Officer oversees the business operations and serves as liaison to the staff, board, and members.
Membership in MSHS is open to anyone interested in gardening and horticulture. Basic membership is $62 for a one-year membership. Benefits include six issues per year of Northern Gardener, discounts on classes, programs and conferences, use of an extensive reference and lending library, discounts at local and regional nurseries and garden centers, complimentary tickets to Twin Cities Home Shows, a monthly e-newsletter, a 15 percent discount on all purchases in the Center for Northern Gardening bookstore, and for new members, a $25 merchandise credit with White Flower Farm and 25% discount on their first purchase from the bookstore. Members of garden clubs receive a discounted group rate. MSHS also has Commercial Memberships for nurseries and greenhouses. Benefits of the Commercial Membership program include advertising, complimentary copies of the publication and for those who choose the option of offering a discount to MSHS members, a stream of eager northern gardeners. A Corporate Membership Program is also available with special discounts and benefits of a group rate.
Educational Programs, Classes, Conferences
Educational programs and classes, covering a wide range of topics for all levels of gardening interests, are held at the offices on Lincoln Drive and at garden and landscape centers around the state.
MSHS instructs and certifies judges for horticultural shows and provides guidelines and information on horticultural exhibiting. By supporting a network of districts throughout the state, MSHS offers speakers, support for statewide horticultural events, and representation of MSHS staff at regional events.
Individuals and groups who have volunteered for 15 or more years in the interest of MSHS are eligible for the MSHS Life Award. These people have furthered MSHS goals through board volunteerism, regional promotion, consultation, development of parks and garden spaces, speaking at regional events and garden clubs, or other participation with communities or the general public. A MSHS Bronze Award recognizes achievement that spans a significant period of time and makes a major impact on northern horticulture.
The Minnesota Green Award – for excellence in community gardening – is awarded to an organization, group or individual that has organized and implemented the most innovative and successful community greening project actively involving volunteers. Other awards include The Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association Award for excellence in contributing to community livability, The St. Paul Garden Club Award, for outstanding achievement in community vegetable gardening, The Joseph Priley Award, for excellence in community beautification, The K.E.E.Y. Award (Kids, Education, the Environment & You) for outstanding contributions to further youth environmental education and The MSHS President’s Award, for outstanding contribution to Minnesota Green, and The Governor’s Certificate of Commendation to acknowledge significant contributions in community greening efforts.
Northern Gardener Bookstore
The Northern Gardener Store stocks a large assortment of books related to gardening in northern climates (zones 3, 4 and 5), gardening tools, T-shirts, and gift items. The extensive reference library is open to the public. MSHS members may check out books and videos from the lending library.
Those of us who dig in the northern dirt owe a lot to the 19th century New York journalist Horace Greeley. When the Easterner proclaimed 'I would not live in Minnesota because you cannot grow apples there,' hardy Minnesotans took what he said as fightin' words. It was 1860, and Minnesota was a new and sparsely populated state with just under 200,000 homesteaders. With hopes of making Minnesota as attractive as possible, as well as sweetening their own lives with the fruits they grew to love back home in the East, the spirit of the northern gardener surged. Ardent efforts paid off, and in 1866, 20 varieties of Minnesota grown apples were exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair, held in Rochester that year.
Inspired by success, a small group of aspiring orchardists met on a rainy evening of the 1866 fair to discuss creating a forum to share their ideas and experiences. The result was the formation of the Minnesota Fruit Grower's Association. Two years later, the group's name was changed to the Minnesota Horticultural Society to recognize the importance of all aspects of horticulture in the development of rural and urban Minnesota. In 1873, the official and current title of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society (MSHS) was adopted and publication and distribution of the society minutes commenced. These published minutes grew into Minnesota Horticulturist (now Northern Gardener), making the official publication of the society the longest continuously published magazine in Minnesota.
The road from hardy apples to hardy azaleas wasn't built overnight, however. Though the development and growing of apples continues to be alive and well in Minnesota, other pursuits have taken the lead over the last 150 years of outdoor efforts. Around the turn-of-the-20th century, attentions turned toward the growing of ornamentals (plants whose primary purpose is decorative). This attention to beautifying one's home was no doubt a byproduct of the gardener's newly discovered confidence in the ability for things both bold and beautiful to grow in the North. With only a few strong diversions along the way, most notably the growing of vegetables to aid in the efforts of the world wars, MSHS has focused the greater portion of its efforts throughout its nearly 150 year history on the growing of ornamentals, particularly for the home landscape.
Probably the greatest surge of interest in home landscaping and the use of ornamentals followed the post WWII housing boom. Young GIs returning home from over-seas, turned their attentions to education, careers, family and creating a home. Thanks to President Roosevelt's GI Bill, these dreams were made possible through free education and guaranteed loans to buy a house. In a few years, the suburbs were born, filled with newly constructed homes and barren, muddy lots. The sense of victorious pride which filled Americans during the economically strong, post war years inspired homeowners to turn their new homes into comfortable, attractive showplaces. Plus, the babies being born at record pace would soon need a place to play. The American love affair with the lawn began.
In her entertaining, enlightening and nostalgic book Minnesota Gardens, Susan Davis Price writes; 'Generous weed-free lawns typified the post-war years. A well groomed carpet of grass outdoors was an extension of the plush, indoor wall-to-wall carpeting in newly built ranch-style homes.' Not only did grass feel good under the feet, it looked good and solved the problem of what to do with all the space around the house. It also gave the kids a soft landing when they played.
Condensed from a U of M Extension publication and featured in the April 1953 Minnesota Horticulturist, Leon Snyder proclaimed: 'A good lawn is the most important single feature of any home landscape. It's like the canvas on which an artist paints his picture--a pleasant background for the flower and shrub border and the cool shade of the lawn trees.'
So, with what were homeowners covering their blank canvasses? An early 1950s Minnesota Horticulturistproclaimed a 'More Flowers, Less Shade Mode for Modern Homes.' It stated 'Modern houses with their picture windows and complete absence of visible foundations, do not require a continuous band of green to conceal a high foundation and tie the house to the ground as the landscape designers used to say.' The article went on to say 'To relieve the appearance of the house from bareness, a frame about it is desirable. This is now being supplied in most cases by flowers, with a few shrubs and evergreens used as accents at the house corners, where two walls meet, and at similar focal points.'
A thumbing through of the Minnesota Horticulturist of the 1950s reflects a pre-occupation with colorful annuals in the home landscape. Oft-featured favorites include: zinnias, marigolds, petunias, asters (all colors, except, most notably, yellow), ageratum, pansies, violas, phlox, salvia and verbenas. Color ruled, as homeowners began to concern themselves with how the landscape appeared from the inside as well as to the passerby. An April 1949 issue of the magazine sang the praises of the modern front-yard garden: 'Modern door-yard gardens are as simple as possible in design, in order to center attention upon the beauty of the flowers. These are grouped in masses of one color, so arranged that each mass harmonizes with and sets off the others, and all provide a pleasing decoration for the house.'
So, were people planting anything but annuals? You bet they were. Daylilies, iris, mums and peonies were the frequently reported perennials at the time with a particular emphasis on the growing of roses. A regular column, 'Roving with Roses' by Richard S. Wilcox, a past director of the American Rose Society gave down to earth advice and introduced new varieties to readers. Flowering shrubs such as lilacs, mockorange, honeysuckle and spirea led the pack of woody plants. It's easy to see why nearly every pre-1970s yard has a trio of bridal wreath spirea, lilacs and peonies The tree with the most buzz surrounding it appeared to be the 'Radiant' flowering crab introduced by the U of M in 1958. It was described as 'compact and upright in growth habit with sturdy, wide angled crotches. This form makes the variety ideally suited for landscape purposes on smaller properties.' The foliage had a reddish cast, the flowers a deep pink and the fruits stayed on the tree to feed the birds.
The executive committee of MSHS, prompted by the Men's Garden Club of Minneapolis (an affiliated garden club of MSHS), recognized the ever-growing interest in hardy ornamentals. Together they determined that there was a fervent need for further research and development, as well as a place where northern gardeners could observe these plants in their ideal settings. The committee passed a resolution in 1955 to sponsor the Landscape Arboretum Project. The Landscape Arboretum Project had five solid objectives: to intensify research for hardy ornamentals, to create interest in existing and new plant materials, to provide a living library for study of ornamental plants, to demonstrate proper utilization of Minnesota ornamentals: and, to promote further testing and use in all areas of the state.
Major fundraising to make the arboretum a reality was soon underway. Along with numerous private donations and a large sum raised by the Lake Minnetonka Garden Club (an affiliated garden club of MSHS), the society purchased 160 acres of land across from the University of Minnesota Fruit Breeding Farm in Chanhassen. A year later it turned the deed over to the University with the understanding that the objectives set forth by the society would be carried out and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum was born. Dr. Leon Snyder was named Executive Director and poured his heart and soul into creating a place where Northern gardeners could learn and enjoy. An additional 142 acres were purchased in the early 1960s.
In 1985 the Horticultural Research Center of the University (known as the U of M Fruit Breeding Farm and located just across the road) merged with the Arboretum. The Arboretum continues to focus its efforts on the objectives laid out in 1955 and has introduced over 80 new hardy fruits and landscape plants.
Quite possibly the most exciting ornamental introduced by the U of M is the Northern Lights Series of Azaleas. With a somewhat exotic, tropical look (and hardiness to -45 degrees Fahrenheit), one can only imagine what our ancestors who struggled to develop a hardy apple would think of a hardy azalea. My guess is they would be proud of the work that is still going on in the name of Northern gardening.
No Shrinking Violets
'If it be necessary for a woman to work to earn a livelihood, there is no work she can engage in that is more healthful, more pleasant or more renumerative than horticulture…In the garden she can find ample scope for her ingenuity and skill, of which most women have a plenty, if they are placed in a position to bring it out…The more I study nature, the more I comprehend what heights there are to scale, what depths there are to penetrate, what breadths there are to compass, the more enthusiastic I become…the horticulturist is not always carried 'on flowery beds of ease' to success, but, like all other mortals, they have their trials but there are so many sweets to one bitter.'
The preceding was excerpted from 'Women as Horticulturists' by Mrs. A.A. Kennedy of Hutchinson, as printed in the report of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society's 1891 Annual Meeting.(In 1873, the Minnesota State Legislature approved an act providing funds for the publication and distribution of 2,000 copies of all society transactions, from the time of organization.This marked the beginning of the society's official publication, now known as Northern Gardener.)
In addition to well expressing the passionate spirit that embodies anyone who seeks horticulture as a way of life, Mrs. Kennedy exemplifies the kind of woman who was key in the development of MSHS and horticulture in Minnesota. It's no surprise that women were ardent about gardening during the early years of Minnesota. Since the dawn of time, the Mother of the home has connected instinctively with Mother Earth. In addition to filling the house with color and fragrance, pioneer women knew that the earth had the power to feed and heal. What is exciting to discover is the leadership roles that women played in the days when Northern gardening was just beginning to be accepted as a possibility.
In 1874, a resolution was passed giving women the right to become voting members of the Society (a full 46 years before they could vote in all of the United States). In addition to being active, vocal members and prize-winning floral and fruit exhibitors, women were frequent contributors to the magazine and speakers at annual meetings (to which ladies were 'especially invited to attend). Sentiments expressed in 'Annuals' by Miss Hortense Share of Rosemount, (published in the 1877 Annual Report) once again demonstrate the strong female voice in the Society's fledgling days. 'While preparing to remove to Minnesota, friends often said to me, 'What are you going to do without flowers in that cold country?' 'I am not going to do without; I expect to cultivate flowers wherever I have a home…in a land of strangers I longed for the familiar faces of the old home flowers. With me flowers are a necessity…So I set to work to conquer difficulties.'>
Recognizing the grounding influence of plants, Miss Share joined with other new, hardy Minnesotans to bring what they loved and cherished to Minnesota. Whether it was apples, shrub roses or annuals, these pioneers were paving the way for later northern gardeners. Miss Share lists over 30 varieties of annuals she had good luck with, including alyssum, amaranthus, candytuft, dianthus, morning glory, sweet peas, portulacca, zinnias and exotic experiments such as abronia, escholtzia, and perilla. Also in her list of annuals are flowers now considered perennials in the north: delphinium, poppies, phlox and asters. She also wrote of tried and true techniques. She amended the garden soil with leached ashes, sweepings from the hen house, liquid manure from the barnyard and soot from the stoves 'until everything laughs with bloom and beauty.' Citing chickens as 'excellent scavengers,' she let her flocks reign free in a garden bed infested with worms. The result? 'Not a bug or worm to be seen, not a plant destroyed.' Thank you, Hortense.
Some women parlayed their passions into industry. In 1867, the society membership roster (one year after its formation) included Mrs. P.A. Jewell, who with the help of her husband, founded Jewell Nursery in Lake City, Minnesota. Particularly useful during these early days was an indomitable spirit, exemplified in a report by Anna Underwood (an employee at the Jewell Nursery) at the 1892 Annual Meeting. Anna wrote: 'Failures are lessons and, if followed by improvement, are profitable…there would be no earthly need of horticultural societies, if there were no failures to recount…we must admit that failures are useful, necessary and entertaining to others.' How eloquently (and humorously) Miss Underwood expressed the very nature of true growth.
Throughout the years of MSHS, women continued to play an active role. During the 1930s, society membership rose dramatically due to the large influx of newly formed garden clubs. Female membership grew particularly strong as the Society worked at attracting gardeners of all experiences and interests. As Northern gardeners became more and more expert at growing flowers, the interest in artful arrangement of these flowers also grew. Many of the garden clubs formed for this very reason. The society's magazine recognized this interest by publishing more and more articles on the subject. An introduction to one such article on flower arranging by Mrs. Axel Hansen in the August 1955 issue spoke of this. 'Recognizing that not every woman can leave the children and the chickens…but that many farm and suburban women do grow beautiful flowers and would like to understand better how to enjoy them in the home, we have planned this discussion which might form the basis of a series of simple home lessons.'
To this day, women continue to play key leadership roles in the Society. Past women Presidents include Debra Roos, Janice Frederickson, Diane Emerson, Loraine Augustine, and Mrs. V.E. Nicholson. The first female Executive Director of the Society was Dorothy Johnson (1987-1997). The current CEO is Rose Eggert. Just as gardeners from decades past saw how working the earth could improve the quality of life, women of today embrace its life-enriching powers as well. Though they still garden to put food on the table and add color to their lives, today's woman also sees the value in slowing down and re-connecting to the earth. In today's fast-paced, technologically enhanced world, the pale blush of a rose may be even more of a needed sight than it was 150 years ago.
Throughout Minnesota's history, public gardens have been both a source of pride and a font of inspiration for Northern gardeners. Shortly after discovering that growing things both beautiful and bountiful in the North was indeed a reality, gardeners began to seek out sources of inspiration for their new little corners of the world. They began by looking just beyond their own back yards to their city parks and public gardens; however, public garden spaces were a new concept in Minnesota and not always readily embraced by city officials.
Much like the notion of a hardy apple tree just 30 years prior, the need for public garden spaces was a tough concept for some folks to grasp. Luckily, there were strong and vocal proponents on the side of zone 3 and zone 4 residents. In an article in the 1903 issue of The Minnesota Horticulturist (Northern Gardener), F.M.Dolan of St. Paul postulates that 'the primal object of a public park is to offer to its patrons not only a place of recreation but of rest for body and mind as well, so that going out for an afternoon or evening to commune with nature amidst the beauties of trees, shrubs, and flowers, it is the desire of all to be hidden, as it were, from the busy cares of office, shop, and street.'
Dolan helped set in motion the fundamental importance of public green spaces, perhaps even more for the person who doesn't garden at home. His view on the importance of parks in peoples' lives was personified in his closing remarks on the planting and care of a new park: 'Give your people more parks and your children more open play grounds away from dusty streets and alleys, and I assure you that every little town of 12 or 15 inhabitants will cease to be refuge for three or four doctors!' Modern sentiments would go something like this, 'If there were more parks, there would be fewer psychiatrists.' The power of parks was solidly put in place.
The immense influx of garden clubs into the horticultural society in the 1930s represented a legion of avid gardeners with an active presence. For every club that entered the ranks of MSHS, a public greening space was most likely also created. City parks, nursing homes, and major thoroughfare plantings throughout Minnesota become the calling cards of such clubs. One public planting represents the spirit of so many and helps define a community so well, saying 'We care. We are proud of our city-' It's also a great way for the more experienced to share their knowledge with those who are just beginning to get dirt under their nails. A strong sense of community can't help but be born.
Public garden spaces, great and small, need allies. Larger ones usually have dedicated, knowledgeable staff, but without regular doses of TLC, public greening spaces, especially the smaller ones, can quickly fall under the scourge of neglect. Luckily, such small spaces have a hero in Minnesota Green. A program of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, it was born in the late1980s as a direct response to ever-increasing urban blight, vacant lots, lead-contaminated soil, a visible lack of community pride, and an overall degradation of public land. From the beginning and until this day, the goal is to work one-on-one with the community gardener to develop and maintain public greening spaces.
Today, a great deal of the assistance is through the Plant Donation Network, and the educational focus is on environmental, conservation, and sustainability issues. As reported by Vicky Vogels, MSHS community outreach coordinator and administrator of the Minnesota Green program, the projects involved in Minnesota Green are many and varied. ' The plants go to parks, schools, food-shelf sites, entryways, roadsides, vacant lots, public housing developments, and to beautify commercial districts. Some of the projects teach about food production.' As was the case in 1904 when F.M. Dolan spoke passionately to the MSHS membership, the goal of MSHS and the program is to 'create community and to serve members and the public. The plants are just the vehicle.' (For more information about Minnesota Green, visit the Minnesota Green page.
As was the case at the dawning of community green spaces in Minnesota, it's the need of the people who dig in the dirt to learn and share Northern gardening knowledge that keeps the public spaces alive and growing. How comforting to see that the more people tend their own yards, the more they also need to come together, in one great garden.
Many large-scale, professionally managed parks dot the northern regions. Most were born out of one person's passion. All continue to this day to be a source of inspiration and wonder to gardeners who visit. Some popular destinations include:
Como Park Conservatory
Park superintendent Frederick Nussbaumer, who believed that St. Paul must have a 'recreation ground for all classes of people,' instigated the building of the conservatory in 1914. It remains a premiere exhibit of tropical and indigenous plants.
Built in 1910, this former home of Charles Mayo features a teahouse, sculpture, container gardens, and perennial plantings. Located southwest of Rochester, it is open for tours.
University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus
Created in 1978 by Dr. Robert Mullin, it includes a prairie garden, teaching garden, and formal beds and plantings.
Lake Harriet Rose.Garden
Planted in 1907 by Theodore Wirth, it was only the second public rose garden to be created in the United States.
A gift to Hennepin County by Laura Noerenberg Hoppe in 1972, it is an exquisite example of both annual and perennial plantings.
Established in the 1920s and 30s, this St. Cloud garden includes a formal rose garden and a woodland shade garden.
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
The post-World War II housing boom revived the Minnesota homeowner's need for resources on hardy ornamentals. In response to this need, land was purchased in 1958 and the arboretum was born. This brainchild of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society and the Men's Garden Club of Minneapolis is home to every possible resource for the Northern gardener.
Eric Johnson is a past MSHS membership communications manager and current Northern Gardener magazine writer.