Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Escape to the tropics in Minnesota at Como November 15, 2018

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The Sunken Garden at the Como Park Conservatory.

 

WHETHER HE SOUGHT A RESPITE from single digit temps or whether he wanted to see the bonsai trees, I’m not sure. But the son wanted to visit Como Park Conservatory before his return flight from Minnesota to Boston on Monday.

 

A section of the conservatory features bonsai trees.

 

So after an early lunch, we loaded his luggage and that of his girlfriend into our van and headed north an hour to the Twin Cities metro. Our oldest daughter and granddaughter joined us at this St. Paul site they frequent. Izzy’s comfortable familiarity showed as her two year old legs ran more than walked. On a slow day at Como, no danger existed of separation from the five adults.

 

 

I could take photos at my leisure without worry of stalling foot traffic winding through lush greenery inside the balmy conservatory. It was a luxury not to feel hurried or pressed by crowds at Como, which ranked as the third top tourist attraction in Minnesota in 2017 with 5.3 million visitors.

 

Heading to the animal exhibits.

 

And it was a luxury to escape temporarily from the cold and snow of Minnesota. With temps dipping to six degrees overnight, winter has arrived way too early. We have a brief respite this week with the temp pushing back up to 40 degrees during the day.

 

A close-up of a mum inside the Sunken Garden where flowers are changed out seasonally.

 

Yes, we dwell on the weather here in Minnesota. My son claims everywhere. He’s probably right. Conversations too often begin with weather. If they stick on that topic, then I’m concerned.

 

 

 

While inside the conservatory, I pulled off my winter garb and focused instead on the florals,

 

 

the greenery,

 

 

the art, the water.

 

 

Anything but the weather.

 

Lovely orchids.

 

These tropics offer an ideal escape if you can’t afford a real escape to warmth or the tropics.

 

As I photographed this bird, I was cognizant of the possibility of mice.

 

When the daughter warned me about mice inside one section of the conservatory, I hurried. I wish she hadn’t told me about the varmints I detest. “I didn’t want you to scream if you saw a mouse,” she explained. Alright then, that makes sense.

 

Art outside the primates building set against a backdrop of snow.

 

And later, when I commented on the stench of manure in the Como Zoo primate and giraffe buildings, she said, “You grew up on a farm.” Yes, I did. A dairy farm. But, in my memory, cows don’t stink.

 

 

Cold temps and construction shortened our time at the zoo. And that was OK by me. I could see the son wasn’t thrilled with viewing caged critters. I, too, felt a certain sadness for these animals. Izzy kept telling us she didn’t like the monkeys, then stood watching them. Next week she might love monkeys. I admired the mama gorilla who turned her back on me when I stepped up to the viewing window.

 

 

Soon enough, we exited the zoo and conservatory complex, bending into the frigid wind on our way to the parking lot. For a short time we’d escaped winter. And now, as warmer temps ease into Minnesota for several days, the cold air moves east, toward Boston.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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An afternoon on a Minnesota peony farm & winery June 8, 2018

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An overview of one of the gardens at Aspelund Peony Gardens, located at 9204 425th Street, rural Kenyon (near Aspelund).

 

WE WERE ON OUR WAY to do some shopping last Sunday afternoon when Randy mentioned a radio ad for Aspelund Peony Gardens.

 

A view from Minnesota State Highway 60 on the way to the peony gardens and winery.

 

That’s all it took to turn the van around, make a brief stop back home for a Minnesota road atlas and bottled water, and then head east on State Highway 60 rather than south on the interstate. I will choose touring flower gardens any day over shopping.

 

Nearing Aspelund.

 

 

 

Now marks prime peony viewing time at the Goodhue County gardens of Bruce and Dawn Rohl. I first met the engaging couple two years ago at their rural Kenyon (northwest of Wanamingo) acreage, also home to Aspelund Winery. They are a delight, the type of neighborly folks who hold a passion for peonies and wine in addition to full-time off-the-farm jobs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both visits I felt comfortably at home, welcome to stroll the gardens and the oak-shaded grounds where the wind sweeps across the hilltop location. I feel as if I’m a world away from reality in this peaceful setting of natural beauty and farm field vistas. Dogs play. A cat roams. A tire swing sways.

 

 

 

 

As I walked through the freshly-tilled rows of peonies, I stopped many times to dip my nose into fragrant blossoms, to study the lush (mostly) shades of pink petals, to photograph the flowers that danced a steady rhythm in the wind.

 

 

There is something endearing and connective and romantic in meandering through a peony garden. The spring flower reminds me of long ago brides gathering blooms from their mother’s/grandmother’s gardens. Young love. Sweet. Poetic.

 

 

It’s been a good year for peonies at Aspelund Peony Gardens, according to Dawn. Perfect weather conditions burst the bushes with an abundance of blossoms.

 

 

 

Lilacs, not quite in bloom, are also found on the farm site.

 

At an open house from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday (June 9/10), visitors can peruse those peonies, choose favorites and select roots available in the fall. The Rohls sell 65 types of peonies and are currently growing 150 varieties.

 

The vineyard.

 

Additionally, they craft wine—from apples, rhubarb, grapes, elderberries, raspberries, cucumbers and more. High Country Spice, made from tomatoes grown on-site, is probably their most unusual wine, one that I loved. Peppered, made from bell peppers, debuts this autumn.

 

The small wine tasting room on the right is connected to the Rohls’ home.

 

 

Towering oaks populate the farm yard, although many were damaged and some destroyed during a downburst in 2017.

 

After touring the peony gardens, a sampling of wines or a glass of wine—sipped inside or on the spacious deck—caps a lovely afternoon in the Minnesota countryside.

 

Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery are located about five miles from Wanamingo.

 

There’s a sense of neighborliness here, even among guests. Like the couple we met from Skunk Hollow after we’d discussed the differences between hotdish and casseroles with the Rohls. It is all so quintessential Minnesotan, and, oh, so much better than shopping.

 

 

FYI: Plan a visit to Aspelund Peony Gardens during this weekend’s open house which will feature a KOWZ 100.9 FM radio personality on-site on Saturday along with a food truck. Peonies may continue to bloom through Father’s Day, but there’s no assurance of that.

The winery is open from noon – 5 p.m. weekends only. Just like the gardens, open Saturdays and Sundays only.

Click here to read my 2016 post on Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring Madison: First stop, Olbrich Botanical Gardens June 6, 2018

My first view of the downtown Madison skyline with Lake Monona in the foreground.

 

GREEN SPACE. Those words define my first impression of Madison, Wisconsin. This is an outdoor-friendly city with prolific public pathways, with an obvious bend for recreational activities that take folks outside.

 

Closing in on downtown Madison with the state capitol on the left.

 

In woods, parks, gardens, open spaces and tree-lined streets, green colors the lush landscape. Lakes and waterways add to the city’s natural beauty. This capital city of 252,000-plus pulses with bikers, boaters, joggers, walkers and others simply enjoying the outdoors. There’s a certain undeniable vibe in Madison, as if those who live and visit here need to spend every minute outside before winter sweeps cold and snow into the land in a matter of months. But I expect even then plenty of outdoor activity happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On my first visit to Madison, where my second daughter and her husband recently relocated, I walked through the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a 16-acre space of outdoor gardens and a tropical conservatory. On the afternoon of our visit, exceptionally high heat and humidity left me drained and occasionally seeking a shaded bench. Time and temps kept us from the Bolz Conservatory, a spot I’ll check out during a cooler season.

 

 

 

 

While the gardens are beautiful, they were not at their peak during our transitioning from spring into summer tour. Yet, it was a delight just to be there with my daughter and husband, walking the pathways, smelling fragrant flowers, enjoying the art and water features, observing young people celebrating quinceanera

 

The Thai Pavillion from across a creek.

 

Of special visual interest is the Thai Pavilion and Garden, the only one in the continental U.S. It was a gift from the Thai government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison, located in the heart of the downtown, has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. post-secondary institution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some 1,000 volunteers work these gardens, greet visitors and more. What a labor of love in a place that seems so suited for Madison, a metro area with a small town feel and lots of green space.

 

 

FYI: Check back for a second post from the Olbrich Botanical Gardens as I take you up close into the Thai Pavilion and garden.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tulips, through the eyes of a child May 9, 2018

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EACH SPRING, when tulips push through the dark cold soil of Minnesota, as tight buds form and petals unclench in bursts of color, I think of my eldest daughter.

I remember her words, spoken as a toddler: “The flowers are opening their mouths.”

That may not be an exact quote. Amber may have said tulips. Too many decades have passed for me to recall. But, in her mind, those opening blooms resembled open mouths.

This week, as tulips open their mouths in my front and backyard flowerbeds, I remember Amber’s observation and the beautiful poetry of her words.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In search of spring inside a Faribault greenhouse April 20, 2018

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

BLOCKS FROM MY FARIBAULT HOME, spring bursts in vibrant hues, a visual delight for winter weary eyes.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

I need to stop at Donahue’s Greenhouse, which opened for the season just a day prior to our recent three-day historic blizzard. I missed the “Mimosa Morning & More” event there during the winter storm. Shucks. I wasn’t thinking of flowers or anything tropical on April 14.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

But now I am. And it’s time to take a break from all the cold and snow and step into spring, or at least the illusion of spring.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

At Donahue’s I can meander through rows and rows and rows of potted blooms.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Tables packed with colorful flowers fill the Faribault Garden Center during a 2012 visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Hot pink geraniums initially caught my eye during a 2012 visit to Faribault Garden Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Or I can stop by Faribault Garden Center and delight in the geraniums, petunias and other plants thriving in the balmy warmth of a greenhouse.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

I can mentally immerse myself in a warmer season, a warmer place. Yes, that’s exactly what I need to pull myself from this winter funk.

TELL ME: If you live in a cold weather state like Minnesota, how do you cope with a winter that’s been way too long, cold and snowy?

 

Twiehoff Gardens along St. Paul Road in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

NOTE: Garden lovers can also shop at several other Faribault garden centers for plants. Those include Farmer Seed & Nursery, Northstar Seed & Nursery and Twiehoff Gardens & Nursery

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finding spring in Minnesota at the conservatory April 6, 2018

 

TO ALL MY WINTER WEARY readers in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and any other place where cold and snow are lingering too long into spring, I offer you a visual respite.

 

 

This is for you, as much as for me.

 

 

 

 

A spot exists in Minnesota where flowers now bloom, the air hangs humid and palm trees rise. The proof lies in the photos I took in February 2017 at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul. I should have gone there this winter, just to take in the greenery, to pretend for an hour or so that I wasn’t in Minnesota.

 

 

Since I can’t physically flee to a warm climate of sunshine and seashore, I must mentally and visually escape. I can imagine I’m in Hawaii or Florida or California or some such spot through these photos I took just a little over a year ago inside the Conservatory.

 

 

 

 

Currently, the Spring Flower Show is in bloom inside the Sunken Garden, differing from the flowers in the photos showcased here. Imagine daffodils, tulips, hyacinths…the perfumed scent and bright hues of spring.

 

 

Mostly, imagine that you are in a setting devoid of snow and cold, that winter has vanished and spring arrived.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Returning to photography, starting in my Minnesota backyard September 1, 2017

Brilliant red canna lilies splash color into my backyard patio.

 

IN THE THREE MONTHS I couldn’t use my Canon DSLR EOS 20-D this summer because of a broken right shoulder, I feared I would lose my photography skills. But I didn’t. This week, with my muscle strength returning and weight restrictions eased, I did my first photo shoot using my 2.5 pound (with a short lens) Canon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I experienced joy, pure joy, picking up my DSLR and focusing on subjects in glorious light. I started in my backyard, easing myself into the comfortable familiarity of pursuing my passion. I felt giddy with excitement as I photographed a monarch caterpillar clinging to a leaf near milkweeds that free-range seeded.

 

Coleus

 

A segment of a canna leaf.

 

 

I moved to potted plants and blooming flowers and garden perennials.

 

 

And then I noticed, as I roamed about seeking photo ops, a mini chrysalis dangling from the side of the garage and camouflaged against the green siding. I moved in close, delighting in my discovery.

 

Coleus

 

Canna lily seed pods

 

Polka dot plant leaves up close.

 

As I shot more frames, trying different angles, new perspectives, I remembered just how much I love this art. I seek interesting ways to present what I photograph. I seek light that will enhance an image. I consider textures and color and backdrops and distance. I challenge myself to think and photograph outside and beyond the norm.

 

Coleus leaf close-up

 

All of my skills, retained in my rote memory, returned. And so did the passion, full-blown and beautiful and aching to be released.

 

Hibiscus acetosella soar in pots on my patio.

 

It’s good to be back, camera in hand.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling