Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Peonies, wine & more at Aspelund June 16, 2022

Posing among the peonies in traditional Hmong attire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

OH, HOW STUNNING the traditional Hmong dresses worn by two sisters posing among the peonies in a rural southeastern Minnesota garden.

Among the most vibrant peonies… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Their unexpected presence graced my annual tour of Aspelund Peony Gardens with culture and color on a recent Sunday afternoon. What a delight to encounter these friendly women who say they simply love peonies. Their attire included floral print fabric. They traveled from the Twin Cities metro to this country location northwest of Wanamingo/northeast of Kenyon, site of Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens. After they photographed each other, one sister asked me to photograph them with her camera. I obliged.

The tasting room is to the right, an addition to the Rohls’ home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
A wine flight, on a peacock-shaped wood cut-out. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
Assorted peacocks, the winery “mascot,” can be found in the tasting room. The story behind the birds: Bruce attempted to relocate living peacocks from his father’s farm two miles away, only to have the birds return to their original home. He learned later that peacocks eat flower blossoms. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I try to come here every year in early June to see the rows and rows of peonies in bloom. And to sip wine. This visit, Randy and I met our friend Valerie and her friend Jean. The place was busy. Owners Dawn and Bruce Rohl sell wine and take orders for root peony tubers, available in the fall.

Rascal makes me smile. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Here Rascal the dog welcomes guests up the gravel driveway with raucous barking. I’d barely opened the van door when Rascal ran up and I reached down to pet him. Later I saw Princess the cat weaving through the peonies.

A view of the rural landscape from the vineyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
A tin-sided outbuilding, likely a granary at one time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Grapevines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Those are the nuances which endear Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens to me. The simplicity of this place atop a hill overlooking the Zumbro River Valley, red barn and silo in the distance. This place of towering oaks and tire swing, of old tin-sided shed, apple trees, massive rhubarb plants, twisted grapevines…

A glimpse of the peony rows, all numbered for ordering tubers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

So many fragrant and beautiful peonies… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Ants are drawn to peonies, including to this bud. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

On this June afternoon, the wind blew fierce, whipping lose ends of my hair, dipping peony stems, playing a refrain inside my head of “summer breeze makes me feel fine” (Seals & Croft 1972). I felt mighty fine in this peaceful place among blooming peonies. Some buds remained clamped tight, but likely have opened in the days since my visit.

A developing apple. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I prefer meandering on this plot of land among the apple trees and grapevines and, especially, in the peony gardens. Here assorted shades of mostly pink and crimson flowers bloom. Colors vary from subdued to vibrant. Shapes, vary, too.

One of the more unusual peonies, layered in pink and yellow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

But it’s not all visual for me. I take time to bend close to the blossoms (check for bees), smelling their fragrant perfume which, if you’re a romanticist, may prompt you to reflect on long ago brides gathering peonies from their mothers’ or grandmothers’ gardens for bridal bouquets. They did so in my community of Faribault, storing peonies in the cool sandstone caves along the Straight River to preserve until their wedding days. Faribault was once The Peony Capital of the World. Some of the Aspelund peonies were sourced from those once grown in Faribault.

Guests enjoy wine on the back deck. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Touring Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens has become an early summer tradition for me. I feel comfortable here, at peace, soothed by the wind and the wine and the welcoming conversations. The small scale of the business suits me as do the unpretentious owners and the rural setting. As I watched two young girls sway on the tire swing, pushed by their dad, their happy voices rising, I felt such joy in witnessing this scene.

Sisters in traditional Hmong attire, one taking photos of the other. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

And I felt happiness, too, in that chance encounter with the two sisters from the Cities, celebrating their Hmong heritage in a field of peonies.

Peacock art inside the tasting room. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

FYI: Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens is open from 4 – 7 pm Thursday and Friday, noon – 7 pm Saturday and noon – 5 pm Sunday. Note that the tasting room is small, basically a walk-up and order space. Outdoor seating on the deck and other areas can be difficult to secure during busy times. However, you can order a glass of wine and walk around the gardens. If you want to see the peonies, go now; their bloom period is nearly done.

Click here to read previous posts from Aspelund Winery & Peony Gardens.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Peonies, mysteries & pay June 10, 2022

Peonies bloom at Aspelund Peony Gardens. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2018)

I HAVE SEVERAL TOPICS on my mind today, all unrelated, but a trio of information I want to share.

First up, Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens. This is one of my favorite rural Minnesota places to visit each June. On this 10-acre parcel of land just outside Aspelund (northeast of Kenyon or northwest of Wanamingo), Dawn and Bruce Rohl have created a little bit of heaven. Here they cultivate 50-plus varieties of peonies and also make wine. The couple are the most down-to-earth friendly folks. I always feel welcomed by them and their roaming dog, Rascal.

Peonies will bloom for several more weeks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Now, with fragrant peony buds opening, is the absolute ideal time to visit Aspelund Peony Gardens and walk among the rows of flowers. I do so at a leisurely pace—dipping my nose into the perfumed petals, stopping to photograph these old-fashioned flowers that once graced many a bridal bouquet, noting the lovely shades of pink and crimson.

At the bottom of the hill, rows and rows of peonies grow against a country backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

The gardens are also a business. The Rohls invite guests to stroll the gardens, then order peonies. In the fall, root peony tubers are available for customer pick-up or shipping. Gardens are open from 4-7 pm Thursday and Friday, from 10 am-7 pm Saturday and from 10 am-5 pm Sunday.

On the deck at Aspelund Winery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2018)

Be sure to order a glass of wine to enjoy on-site outdoors overlooking the scenic Zumbro River Valley. And then buy a bottle to take home.

A map included in a Mailbox Mystery created by Matt Stelter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2021)

Next up, Mailbox Mysteries created by OrangeGuy Games, aka Matt Stelter. During the pandemic, this Cannon Falls librarian crafted mysteries to mail to patrons stuck at home while the library was closed. It was a creative outreach program that I learned about while visiting Cannon Falls. I got on the mailing list for those mysteries and found them challenging, informative and a welcome escape from reality.

Now, with the library reopened, Stelter is no longer creating Mailbox Mysteries for the library. But he is selling his mysteries via Etsy through his private business, OrangeGuy Games. Given all the hard work, time and effort he invested in the games, simply letting them languish seems unwise. Thus the Etsy offering. His three mysteries—Spy School, Gangster’s Gold and Cypher Cabin—have been tweaked, updated, fine-tuned and improved. And they are half-price from now until the end of June.

My husband, Randy, at work in the automotive machine shop at NAPA Auto Parts Store, Northfield, in a job he’s held for 39 years. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

Lastly, applications opened Wednesday for the Minnesota Frontline Worker Pay program for those who continued to go to their respective workplaces during the pandemic without the option of working from home. There are income and other guidelines.

At his job as an automotive machinist, Randy resurfaces heads, grinds valves, turns brake rotors, does complete engine overhauls and much more. His work is highly-specialized and in high demand. Few people do the type of work Randy does. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

I’m thankful this legislation finally got passed because, as the spouse of an employee whose job requires him to be present (in the automotive machine shop) and in close contact with co-workers and customers, the risk of getting COVID was (still is) real and concerning.

State officials expect approved applicants to get about $750/each in frontline worker pay, depending on number of qualified recipients. That’s not a lot considering the risk. But it’s something and will help us as Randy is now paying more to commute 30 miles to and from work daily. In less than three months, he won’t have that gas expense as he’s losing his job of 39 years under new company ownership.

Aspelund Winery offers a variety of tasty wines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2016)

And so that’s what’s on my mind today. Peonies. Mysteries. Pay. And a glass of wine.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Wine, wheat & unwinding at a Wanamingo area winery September 25, 2019

Heritage Wheat Demonstration Day at Aspelund Winery.


VISIT ASPELUND WINERY and Peony Gardens between Kenyon and Wanamingo, and you’ll discover a place of peace. I love this country spot. For its quiet setting. Its beauty. The genuine friendliness of owners Bruce and Dawn Rohl. And the wine.


So many lovely peonies in multitudes of colors, shapes and scents. The Rohls hybridize, grow and sell peony plants. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, June 2016.


In the spring, I delight in the peony fields bursting with color and fragrance.


A pile of wheat awaits threshing.


In autumn, the changing hues of the surrounding farmland delight me as I sip wine on the tasting room deck.


Separating the wheat with a treadle-powered threshing machine.


This past Sunday afternoon brought a new experience as I watched the threshing of wheat, then grinding into flour. The winery hosted Heritage Wheat Demonstration Day, part of the Cannon Falls Area Historical Society’s Heritage Wheat Project.


First, threshing the wheat.


Grinding and regrinding the wheat into fine flour.


Bruce Rohl grinds the wheat into flour.


After observing that process, I held a deeper appreciation for the early farmers who worked hard to grow, harvest, separate and grind wheat into flour. What a job.



But, oh, the delicious result—the grainy textured bread…



I didn’t just watch this demo, though. I wandered through the vineyard, already harvested. Photographed a golden apple.


Rows of flint corn border the driveway into the winery.


The Rohls grind this flint corn into corn meal for cornbread. They also grow popcorn, offered for sale and also for complementary tasting with their wines.


Examined the towering flint corn the Rohls grow and grind into corn meal.




I paused, too, to photograph a homemade (I think) vehicle parked on the grounds.


A mug of mulled Lady Cara-Mel wine from Aspelund Winery.


And, of course, no visit here is complete without wine, this time mulled and sipped from a mug. Perfect for an autumn afternoon on the deck overlooking the ever-changing Minnesota countryside.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling