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

 

At Aspelund: Peonies & wine June 9, 2020

Fields of peonies are currently in bloom at Aspelund Peony Gardens, rural Wanamingo.

 

JUNE IN MINNESOTA BLOOMS peonies in shades of pink, burgundy and crimson, others white, bending, swaying in the wind, perfuming the air.

 

Such beauty in the many hues and fragrances.

 

Layered blossoms open to the warm sun, their beauty unsurpassed in the book of old-fashioned flowers, the bouquets of long ago brides—our grandmothers, our great grandmothers.

 

This sign along the gravel road marks Aspelund Peony Gardens & Winery.

 

A lovely pink peony up close.

 

At the bottom of the hill, rows and rows of peonies grow against a country backdrop.

 

In southeastern Minnesota, I’ve found a place where fields of peonies grow. Lovely in their beauty against a rural landscape. Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery northwest of Wanamingo.

 

I love how this grey shed provides a blank canvas for the vivid peonies to pop.

 

Each June, Randy and I drive there to take in the loveliness. To enjoy and smell these flowers that once defined our community of Faribault as The Peony Capital of the World. No more. That title long ago gone, we now find fields of peonies a half hour away.

 

So many peonies…

 

I like to study the peonies from sweeps of flowers to single blooms.

 

Love these vivid shades…

 

Aspelund Peony Gardens sells peonies to the public, in the form of peony plants ordered now and tubers picked up in the fall for planting then. While meandering between the peony rows, I overheard many serious conversations about peonies. I come for the beauty and tranquility found in these acres of flowers.

 

The hilltop vineyard offers a grand view of the surrounding countryside.

 

In this rural setting I find a certain peacefulness in sweeping vistas of the countryside, especially from the hilltop vineyard.

 

Rascal, left, roams among those visiting the gardens and winery.

 

Look at that face. Rascal just makes me smile.

 

Rascal helps Bruce and Dawn Rohl at the check-out/peony ordering station.

 

Rascal the dog greets visitors by barking upon their arrival and then wandering among guests. He adds another layer of back-on-the-farm friendliness.

 

From the bottom of the hill, looking across the peony gardens toward the parking area and winery.

 

On this acreage, at this business, gardeners Bruce and Dawn Rohl—a couple as friendly and welcoming as you’ll ever meet—also craft wine. Randy and I wove our way from the peony gardens onto the tiered deck to order flights of wine, mine tasting of elderberries, raspberries, caramel, apples and cinnamon.

 

The tasting room, far right, opens soon, per allowances under COVID-19 rules.

 

One of my wine samples in a flight of four.

 

In the background you can see part of the tiered deck where guests can enjoy Aspelund wine at tables allowing for social distancing.

 

During our June 6 visit, only outdoor service was available due to COVID-19 restrictions. The small indoor tasting room reopens soon. I’d still recommend sitting outside to experience the rural beauty of this place. I’d also recommend wearing masks when passing near others and when ordering and getting your wine. The Rohls encourage masks. It’s the right thing to do for a couple who so graciously open their rural acreage (yes, they live here, too, in the attached house) and business to others.

 

An aged shed near the vineyard.

 

The next week, probably two, depending on weather, promises to offer excellent viewing of peonies in bloom. The garden is open from 4-7 pm weekdays and from 10 am – 4 pm weekends. The winery is open from noon to 5 pm weekends only. Check the Facebook page for any changes to those times. Above, all, delight in the flowers and savor the wine at Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery, one of my favorite spots to visit each June in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A must-see in New Ulm: German Park August 3, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS HAS THE LAKE HARRIET Rose Garden. St. Cloud has the Munsinger/Clemens Gardens. Chaska has the Minnesota Landscape Aboretum.

A view of German Park from the street-side steps that lead to the park at the bottom of the hill.

A view of German Park from the street-side steps that lead to the park. There’s also access at the bottom of the hill so you don’t need to take the steps.

And New Ulm has German Park, centered by a replica of the Bethesda Fountain in New York City’s Central Park.

Stroll the paths and enjoy the flower gardens.

Stroll the paths and enjoy the flower gardens. Or sit and contemplate.

If you haven’t discovered this park in the heart of Minnesota’s most German community, then you need to visit this oasis just a block from New Ulm’s downtown business district. I came across German Park a few years ago and revisited it on the Fourth of July while en route to a family gathering an hour farther west along U.S. Highway 14.

The Angel Fountain centers the park which features an abundance of plants and flowers.

The Angel of the Waters Fountain centers the park which features an abundance of plants and flowers, a picnic shelter and other amenities.

Here, in a tranquil setting of fountain and flowers, my husband, son and I lunched on sandwiches and fruit while delighting in the beauty of this place. There’s a reason the New Ulm tourism website lists German Park as one of the “Top Ten Things to See.” This place, this park, is poetic and pleasing, and just plain lovely.

Gigantic urns overflow with flowers.

Gigantic urns overflow with flowers like these petunias, lilies, marigolds and more.

This is a flower lover's delight.

This is a flower lover’s delight.

These roses, which remind me of the wild roses that grew in road ditches when I was growing up, were nearly done blossoming.

These roses, which remind me of the wild roses that bloomed in road ditches when I was growing up in southwestern Minnesota, were nearly done blossoming.

The pathways are designed to allow visitors a close-up look at the flowers.

The pathways are designed to allow visitors a close-up look at the flowers.

I love these rustic urns, which are so large and heavy it would take several people to move them.

I love these rustic urns, which are so large and heavy it would take several people to move them.

A shady spot to rest.

A shady spot to rest.

The fountain

The fountain is a small reproduction of the fountain in New York’s Central Park. French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan created this fountain purchased in 1998 from an auction house in Atlanta. It is a gift to the city from Barbara Sweasy Haroldson.

Be forewarned.

Be forewarned.

Splashing your hands in the fountain is not forbidden.

Splashing your hands in the fountain is not forbidden.

Water spills over the fountain cherubs.

Water spills over the fountain cherubs.

Angel of the Waters

Angel of the Waters, the focal point of German Park.

In another section of the park, greenery and benches, marked by lovely columns, offer a place of respite.

In another section of the park, greenery and benches, marked by lovely columns, offer a place of respite.

Imprinted on columns is information about what I assume to be park supporters. The August Schell Brewing Company is a major New Ulm attraction.

Imprinted on columns is information about what I assume to be park supporters. The August Schell Brewing Company is a major New Ulm attraction and on the list of “Top Ten Things to See” in this city.

German Park was obviously a community effort. I love when a community works together to create something stunningly beautiful like his park.

German Park was obviously a community effort. I love when a community works together to create something stunningly beautiful like this park.

Local history is imprinted on pavers.

Local history is imprinted on pavers.

Along the street above the park

This granite statue along German Street just above the park honors the German-Bohemian immigrants who lived in the section of New Ulm known as Goosetown.

A portion of New Ulm's downtown business district with the Glockenspiel, another of the city's "Top Ten Things to See," in the background.

A portion of New Ulm’s downtown business district along N. Minnesota Street with the Glockenspiel in the background.

FYI: German Park is located at 200 N. German Street, several blocks south of U.S. Highway 14 and a block from N. Minnesota Street. The Summer Concerts in the Park series at German Park continues every Monday through the end of August. Music starts at 7 p.m.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling