AT THE RICE COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS in Faribault, an unexpected oasis brings nature into a setting of buildings, grandstand and roadways. It’s a welcome respite, this Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens.
On a Sunday in early July, Randy and I packed a picnic lunch and set out for the fairgrounds garden, a place we haven’t previously lunched. There we settled onto a fountain-side shaded bench, the soothing rush of water creating a peaceful ambiance.
Afterwards, I ambled through these gardens, admiring the plants and blooming flowers. Clematis climbing an arbor. Sedum. Hosta. Lilies and roses and Pig Squeak. Masses of milkweed for monarch caterpillars. Eggplant, prickly pear cactus, Mugo pine and much more.
If you’re into gardening, and even if you’re not, this compact garden patch showcases a wide variety of plants that are beautiful to behold. Some are grown as seed trial plants for the University of Minnesota.
There’s a seed library, too, with packets of seeds tucked into a tiny red house similar to a Little Free Library.
Strategically-placed signs identify plants and provide information about gardening in general. This is, after all, a teaching garden.
But for me, these gardens proved primarily a spot to retreat for a bit, to immerse myself in a place that feels restful, soothing, calming. Connecting to nature, whether in a natural or cultivated setting always, always renews my spirit.
TELL ME: Have you found a similar oasis mini garden where you live?
Please check back for more photos from this lovely teaching garden in additional posts.
I HAVE A MIXED OPINION of birds. I appreciate them at a distance, but not necessarily up close, although I’ve grown more comfortable with their nearness as I’ve aged. Just don’t plunk me in an enclosed garage or other space with a trapped bird. Outdoors is mostly fine.
Recently I observed a cute little yellow bird, a finch, I think, dip into a tree stump water feature at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens at the county fairgrounds in Faribault. With a zoom lens on my 35 mm camera, I photographed the finch briefly splash in the water before flitting away. There was something joyful in that sole moment of focusing on a tiny winged creature.
We need such moments of simplicity. Of peace. Of birdsong, even if this bird isn’t singing. Moments to quiet our souls in the midst of too much busyness and too many distractions. And too much technology.
I remember how my mom loved the Baltimore orioles that one year, quite unexpectedly, showed up on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota flashing orange into the trees. She thrilled in their presence among all the blackbirds, sparrows and barn swallows. In her delight, Mom taught me that not all birds were like the swooping swallows I despised.
In my years of doing farm chores, I grew to dislike the swallows that dived as I pushed a wheelbarrow of ground feed down the barn aisle or shoved cow manure into gutters. That the barn ceiling was low only magnified their, to me, menacing presence. The swallows, I now acknowledge, were only protecting their territory, their young, in the mud nests they built inside the barn. And they ate mosquitoes, which I should have appreciated.
Yet I don’t miss the swallows or the rooster that terrorized my siblings and me, until the day Dad grabbed the axe and ended that.
More than 40 years removed from the farm, I seldom see barn swallows. Rather, in my Faribault backyard, I spot cardinals, wrens, robins and occasionally a blue jay. The front and side yards, however, bring massive crows lunching on remnants of fast food tossed by inconsiderate motorists who find my property a convenient place to toss their trash. I’ll never understand that disrespectful mindset of throwing greasy wrappers and bags, food bits, empty bottles and cans, cigarette butts, and more out a vehicle window.
And so these are my evolving bird stories—of shifting from a long ago annoyance of swallows to understanding their behavior, of delighting in the definitive whistle of a cardinal flashing red into the wooded hillside behind my Faribault home, of observing the feeding habits of crows in my front and side yards drawn to garbage tossed by negligent humans.
TELL ME: I’d like to hear your bird stories, positive or negative.
IN MY FARIBAULT BACKYARD, wild tiger lilies stretch above a tangled mess of greenery, popping orange into the hillside. On the other side of town, domesticated orange lilies grace the neatly-cultivated Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens at the Rice County Fairgrounds.
Also in my yard are scattered milkweeds, food for Monarch caterpillars. In the gardens tended by the experts, a mass of intentionally-planted milkweeds flourishes.
Blocks away from my home, Donahue’s Greenhouse grows one of the largest selections of clematis in the U.S. That’s their specialty. Across town at the master gardeners’ garden, clematis climb an arbor, lovely blooms opening to the summer sky.
Within a short distance of my home is the birthplace of the Tilt-A-Whirl, a carnival ride no longer made in Faribault but in Texas. On the edge of the master gardeners’ garden, a giant strawberry sits. It’s a Berry-Go-Round, a spin ride produced by Sellner Manufacturing beginning in 1987, before the company was sold.
It’s interesting how, in life, so many connections exist. Even in a garden.
Gardens connect us to people, places, memories. A life that touches others goes on forever. I come from a family of gardeners tracing back generations. Vegetables grown in my mother’s massive garden fed me, and my family of origin, for the first 18 years of my life. I worked that garden with her, planting, weeding, tending, harvesting. I left gardening when I left southwestern Minnesota. But I still appreciate gardeners and gardens.
I value the beauty of flower gardens, the purpose of vegetable gardens to feed. And I appreciate, too, the peace a garden brings. To sit among the blooms and plants in a garden oasis like the Rice County master gardeners created is to feel a calm, a sense of serenity in the midst of chaos and struggles and challenges.
Water, especially, soothes me. The Rice County master gardeners understand that and added a water feature to their garden plot. I delighted in watching a tiny yellow bird (I think a goldfinch) splash in the water. Such a simple joy.
And isn’t that part of a garden’s purpose—to bring joy? Joy to those who work the soil, seed or plant, tend and care for that which grows. Joy to those who delight in the all of it.
I feel such gratitude for gardeners, for the nurturing hands that link me to nature. It’s all about connecting to each other in this world we share, in the commonality of humanity.