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

 

Back at Seed Savers Exchange for a close-up look, Part II October 19, 2018

A garden lab at Seed Savers Exchange, photographed in September.

 

I ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT, as an adult, I would grow a big garden from which I would gather produce to eat fresh, can and freeze. But the reality is that, since leaving my childhood farm 44 years ago, I’ve never lived in a place with enough sunny space for a garden.

 

An easy-to-grow-from-seed flower, the sturdy zinnia, photographed at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

Sure, I’ve grown tomatoes in pots and seeded lettuce and spinach into the earth, but not with great success. I’ve had my most success with herbs. I began growing those only in recent years and wonder why I didn’t do so earlier. The taste of freshly-clipped rosemary, basil and oregano is superior to dried.

 

Cow art at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

While this sign warned of a bull at Seed Savers, I never saw one.

 

Dying morning glories drape the Seed Savers barn accented by a vintage lawn chair.

 

While lack of land and time kept me from gardening, I appreciate the art I learned long ago on a Minnesota farm. There I planted, weeded and harvested in the garden.

 

This signage explains the test garden at Seed Savers.

 

A sign at Seed Savers for cucumbers I tasted in Faribault.

 

Flowers and vegetables mix in Seed Savers gardens.

 

I appreciate those who continue the time-honored tradition of gardening. Like Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Like family members. Like those who sell fresh produce at farmers’ markets. Like my local library, which has a community garden. From that public garden I sampled this summer lemon cucumbers and chocolate peppers, originating from Seed Savers seeds. And when I entered Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, I passed by pollinator friendly flowers like the draping Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate blooms, also from the Seed Savers collection.

 

About those morning glories on the barn…

 

 

There’s lots to learn at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

Seed Savers, even for a now non-gardener like me, proves an interesting place to visit. For the history. For the education shared in signage and plants. For the reminder that it’s important to save seeds, to grow the food we eat, to plant the flowers that bloom beauty into the landscape and into our souls.

 

So many seeds to choose from at Seed Savers…

 

…even milkweed seeds to plant for Monarch butterflies.

 

TELL ME: Are you or have you been a gardener? I’d like to hear your stories. Or, if you’ve been to Seed Savers, I’d like to hear your take on this place.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Garden Tour III: A rural retreat in Cannon City July 11, 2016

Outbuildings dot the Glendes' rural property.

Outbuildings dot the Glendes’ rural property.

I COULD BE SO HAPPY living on Debbie and Mike Glende’s property in Cannon City. It’s peaceful, lovely and tranquil in a definitive rural sense.

An electric fence keeps the donkeys penned in the pasture.

An electric fence keeps the donkeys penned in the pasture.

Not exactly a hobby farm, although there are donkeys, this seems more rural retreat.

Delphiniums sway in the breeze inside a fenced vegetable garden.

Delphiniums sway in the breeze inside a fenced vegetable garden.

Lush green plants and flowers.

A pond, surrounded by lush plants, is situated under shade trees next to the house.

A pond, surrounded by lush plants, is situated under shade trees next to the house.

Pond.

Rustic fencing surrounds the vegetable garden.

Rustic fencing surrounds the vegetable garden.

Garden surrounded by rustic weathered fencing.

I opened the aged screen door on an outbuilding to discover this 50s style retreat.

I opened the aged screen door on an outbuilding to discover this 50s style retreat.

An outbuilding styled in 1950s décor.

Farm themed decor fits this corn crib turned fire pit gathering area.

Farm themed decor fits this corn crib turned fire pit gathering area.

A wire grain bin converted into a comfortable gathering spot for an evening campfire.

 

Glende garden, 51 barn and windmill

 

An aged red barn and windmill.

Plants spill from a rustic piece of farm equipment.

Artfully arranged plants spill from a rustic piece of farm equipment.

I didn’t want to leave the Glendes’ place while on a recent Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour Garden and Landscape Tour benefiting Fully Bell, a soup kitchen in nearby Faribault. Even the cat, a black stray that followed me, wrapping around my legs, seemed to want me to stay. I wish. Debbie offered the cat.

This building houses the 1950s style retreat.

This building houses the 1950s style retreat.

I could live here. I imagined the 50s retreat as a secluded place to write. My office.

This sweet little building was moved here from the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus in Faribault. For now, it's a storage space.

This sweet little building was moved here from the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus in Faribault. For now, it’s a storage space.

Or the lovely columned white building moved here from the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault would work, too, for my writer’s retreat.

Rustic rural art near the MSAD building.

Rustic rural art near the MSAD building.

As I roamed the Glendes’ land, I was reminded of my rural roots. Vintage farm machinery and equipment are planted like works of art among the farm buildings. It takes an artist’s and gardener’s hands to make this all come together—to create this rural retreat that is more than visually appealing, but also everyday practical. This couple succeeded. I wanted to stay until the stars emerged and flames danced in the fire pit.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A sign inside the outhouse reads:

A sign inside the outhouse reads: “Who cut one?”

Flower art provides a jolt of color.

Flower art provides a jolt of color.

Another rustic style planting.

Another rustic style planting.

So poetically lovely this blue heron in the pond.

So poetically lovely this blue heron in the pond.

Even the bird feeder fits the rural theme.

Even the bird feeder fits the rural theme.

FYI: Please check back as I continue my garden tour series. Click here to read my first entry and then click here to read about another garden I toured.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Garden tour II: Hosta haven in the woods June 30, 2016

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Hostas thrive in the full and dappled shade of the McAdam's yard.

Hostas and lilies thrive in the full and dappled shade of the McAdams’ wooded yard.

EDGED BY WOODS and in the woods, Rita and Colin McAdam’s property perched atop a hill overlooking nearby French Lake west of Faribault offers a shady respite in the heat of the mid-day summer sun.

Vehicles exit the McAdam property along a narrow wooded lane.

Vehicles exit the McAdam property along a narrow wooded lane.

On this June afternoon, I’m touring this couple’s land as part of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour Garden and Landscape Tour benefiting Full Belly, a local “soup kitchen.”

An inspiring message in garden art.

An inspiring message placed next to lilies.

Rita welcomes me and offers a personal tour of her outdoor retreat 40 years in the making. “If you like digging in the dirt…” her voice trails.

A most impressive hosta with elephant ear sized leaves.

A most impressive hosta with elephant ear sized leaves.

I opt, though, to wander at my own pace through this shaded yard where hostas dominate. Here I see not only everyday common hostas, but a vast variety including one with leaves as large as an elephant’s ears.

Everywhere are multiple varieties of hosta.

Everywhere are multiple varieties of hosta.

And so I meander because the McAdams’ place calls for a slow pace. There’s so much to notice in the abundance of art tucked among plants. The art is an eclectic mix of whatever seemed to catch Rita’s fancy. Statues of deer, a rabbit, a duck, angels…a Road Runner whirly-gig…

A jolt of humor.

A jolt of humor.

The garden art is simultaneously quirky and charming, humorous and inspiring. No unified theme prevails. But it is what it should be—the result of four decades of work at Rita and Colin’s place.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Kitschy art propped against a tree.

Kitschy art propped against a tree.

My favorite sculpture in the McAdam yard.

My favorite sculpture in the McAdam yard. The tiny violets mimic the fawn’s spots.

The sun sculpture bursts color into the shade.

The sun sculpture bursts color into the shade.

A sweet surprise of angels on a ledge next to lilies.

A sweet surprise of angels on a ledge next to lilies.

Another of my favorite sculptures tucked by the hosta.

Another of my favorite sculptures tucked by the hosta.

Staged along the edge of the driveway/parking area.

Staged along the edge of the driveway/parking area.

This lizard sculpture holds jelly, for the birds I presume.

This lizard sculpture holds jelly, for the birds I presume.

FYI: Check back again as I continue my garden tour series. Click here to read my first garden tour post.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault’s secret garden grows community connections & pride September 3, 2015

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IT’S AMAZING WHAT YOU CAN DO with a small space snugged between buildings along an alley.

Michelle's Garden, right next to the alley behind buildings along Faribault's Second Street and Central Avenue.

Michelle’s Garden, right, next to the alley behind buildings along Faribault’s Second Street and Central Avenue.

Faribault businesswoman Dee Bjork and team, including sisters Ann Vohs and Beth Westerhouse, created Michelle’s Garden several years ago. It’s an unexpected green space between concrete and brick—a place for gardening and hanging out among plants and flowers.

The back of The Crafty Maven is right across the alley from the garden.

The back of The Crafty Maven is right across the alley from the garden.

It’s a delight, a Secret Garden, unless you are privy to its presence or happen to drive through the alley behind the sisters’ businesses, The Crafty Maven and Vohs Floors.

That's Michelle's portrait hanging above the dining space in the garden.

That’s Michelle’s portrait hanging above the dining space in the garden.

Up close detail on the recently-painted posts. I love this artwork.

Up close detail on the recently-painted posts. I love this artwork.

The garden is in an alley space in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.

The garden is in an alley space in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.

Michelle’s Garden honors Michelle, who lives downtown with her family. Dee wanted a special place for kids like Michelle, whom she mentors.

The garden even includes a raised bed for veggies and flowers.

The garden even includes a raised bed for veggies and flowers.

Tomatoes are among the vegetables growing in pots.

Tomatoes are among the vegetables growing in pots.

Plants fill pots and, to the right, you can see the edge of a bike rack.

Plants fill pots and, to the right, you can see a bike rack.

I am impressed with all that’s packed into this mini garden. Flowers in the ground and in pots. Vegetables in the ground, pots and a raised bed. A bike rack. Art. A bench. Table and chairs.

This sign hangs on the garden gate.

This sign hangs on the garden gate.

There's even a picket fence around a section of Michelle's Garden.

There’s even a picket fence around a section of Michelle’s Garden.

Open the gate and follow the hosta lined path to a bench.

Open the gate and follow the hosta lined path to a bench.

A lavender trellis pops colorful art into the garden.

A lavender trellis pops colorful art into the garden.

You can lunch here and read here and dream here and garden here.

Greenery abounds.

Greenery abounds.

It’s perfect. A nook. A green space. A welcoming respite in the most unexpected of places.

Even this window is incorporated into the garden with a windowbox.

Even this window is incorporated into the garden with a windowbox.

But it’s much more. Michelle’s Garden represents what a community can do when individuals care, when people connect, see a need and fill that need. This garden is very much a community project that has involved more than the three sisters.

A banner welcomes all.

A banner welcomes all.

We can each make a difference, if we choose to take action. And in so doing, we build a sense of community and community pride.

FYI: Click here to learn about the Second Street Garden, an extension of Michelle’s Garden which was recently awarded a $500 Faribault Foundation Community Pride Grant.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Community pride: A vision & two gardens, all because she cares about Faribault August 26, 2015

Behind several of these buildings in downtown Faribault, two gardens have been created.

Behind several of these buildings in downtown Faribault, two gardens have been created.

WITHIN MY COMMUNITY, there’s a new sense of optimism rising, a positivity that shouts “community pride.”

Rather than whine and complain about what Faribault lacks, locals are taking action. They are finding solutions and digging in to make this city an even better place.

Several months ago, the Faribault Daily News began publishing good news snippets on the editorial page every Saturday, citing examples of local community pride. This came after editor Jaci Smith called Faribault residents out on their negative attitudes about our community. A group, Citizens in Action, has formed locally to assist with clean-up and other public and private projects in the Faribault area. And recently the Faribault Foundation awarded its first ever Community Pride grants of $500 each to four projects that reflect exactly that—community pride.

The Second Street Garden, started last year and still in development.

The Second Street Garden, started last year and still in development.

Businesswoman, crafter and all-around optimistic long-time Faribault resident Dee Bjork received one of those grants for the Second Street Garden, a mini garden she began developing last year on a once blighted space in the heart of downtown. It’s a work in progress and a spin-off of a garden she created six years ago behind her sister and brother-in-law’s flooring store next to The Crafty Maven, the business she and another sister run.

Dee is a go-getter, a woman who cares deeply for her community and those who live here. She is always smiling and helping and encouraging.

That is how this all started, when Dee noticed a mom sitting on a bath towel on a curb downtown watching her kids play. She remembered her own childhood. Her mom lounged in a lawn chair, sipping iced tea while watching Dee and her siblings play ball in their yard.

Dee and Michelle

Dee and Michelle. Photo courtesy of Dee Bjork at The Crafty Maven.

Dee wanted the same for families living downtown. So she created Michelle’s Garden, named after a young girl she had begun mentoring. Michelle, now a teen, still lives downtown Faribault with her family and remains near and dear.

A street side view of the space now occupied by the Second Street Garden.

A street side view of the space now occupied by the Second Street Garden.

A lovely sign defines the garden.

A lovely sign defines the garden.

Beautiful flowers and plants spill from containers at Dufour's Cleaners next to the garden.

Beautiful flowers and plants spill from containers at Dufour’s Cleaners next to the garden.

With the success of Michelle’s Garden, the focus shifted recently to another spot, a vacant area between a dry cleaner and a hair salon. Dee wanted, she said, “to create a beautiful space outside in a space that was neglected but had potential.”

Flowers spill from a raised bed in the Second Street Garden.

Flowers spill from a raised bed in the Second Street Garden.

She wants the Second Street Garden to become a multi-purpose green space for those who live, work and shop downtown.

A side view of the Second Street Garden.

A side view of the Second Street Garden.

Already the lot, once filled with rock and debris and generally neglected, is shaping into an oasis of flowers and vegetables. Neighbors, gardeners, church members, youth and more—70 people, according to the list Dee’s kept—have worked together to create the two downtown gardens. There have been cash and plant donations, too, and a community planting day.

Plans call for latticework to eventually hide these utility boxes.

Plans call for latticework to eventually hide these utility boxes.

A splash of flowers in the garden.

A splash of flowers pop color into the garden.

Potted tomatoes will eventually be planted in yet to be built raised beds.

Tomatoes will eventually be planted in yet to be built raised beds rather than in pots.

And now Dee has that $500 Community Pride grant, and is seeking additional funding to continue with her vision for the Second Street Garden. A concrete pad will be poured for the dumpster and garbage containers that sit on a side of the lot, a necessity for those who occupy the adjoining building. The dumpster will also be fenced. She plans, too, to have a concrete pad installed for seating under a pergola. The city has promised a picnic table for seasonal placement. Latticework on the pergola will hide utility boxes. More raised beds are planned for the tomatoes that now grow in pots along a wall.

Gorgeous petunias add color to the garden.

Gorgeous petunias add color to the garden.

A dog waits on stairs overlooking the garden.

A dog waits on stairs overlooking the garden.

Veggies to give away.

Garden veggies.

Already the two gardens are lush with growing vegetables—tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli and zucchini—to be distributed among those downtown and also shared with customers at The Crafty Maven.

Encouraging words posted at the garden.

Encouraging words posted at the garden.

Dee saw a problem and solved it. And because of that, Faribault’s downtown is a better place.

FYI: Check back tomorrow to learn about another project that has been funded by the Faribault Foundation’s Community Pride Grant program.

If you wish to help Dee with the Second Street Garden, consider a cash, labor or materials donation. Contact her at The Crafty Maven.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In downtown Northfield: A garden respite July 28, 2014

THEY TERM IT “our respite in the city.”

An overview of the downtown Opera House garden.

An overview of the downtown Opera House garden. On the right, artist Judy Sayle-Willis displayed her jewelry, books and other art.

And that it is, a 200 square foot garden tucked behind the early 1900s Lockwood Opera House and former Jacobsen’s Family Store in the heart of downtown Northfield.

Today the historic building is home to several businesses and four luxury Lockwood Opera House Condos.

Streetside, you’d never know this garden oasis exists. But park in the city lot behind this block of downtown, and you’ll discover, if you look, this delightful respite recently featured in the Northfield Garden Club 2014 Garden Tour.

The gateway garden entry.

The gateway garden entry.

Inside this fenced space, Knecht’s Nurseries and Landscaping and Jean Wakely/Lockwood have transformed an area that once grew only grass and weeds into an inviting courtyard.

Suspended from a tree...

Suspended from a tree…

Here you’ll find an assortment of annuals and perennials from limelight hydrangea to Boston ivy, moss roses, petunias, blazing stars, hosta and more. Potted dogwood trees, a red bud tree and a firecracker ornamental crab also fill the area.

I was impressed by how thought, planning and creativity can transform a small space. Even the choice of varied walkway materials—flat patio blocks, pebbles, rock (real or imitation, I’m uncertain)—adds textural interest.

This small scale bubbler fountain is perfect for the space, impressing but not overwhelming.

This small scale bubbler fountain is perfect for the space, impressing but not overwhelming.

Functioning art, like a mini bubbler fountain and a trellis, surprise.

Although my visit here was brief, I can imagine settling in on a summer afternoon to read a book or lingering on a perfect Minnesota summer evening, sipping a refreshing beverage in the company of family or friends.

BONUS GARDEN:

Professor Max Gimse and  sculptor James Wilson pose for a photo next to the tree limb Wilson is carving. A model of the cross sits in the foreground.

Professor Emeritus Max Gimse, left, and sculptor James Wilson pose for a photo next to the tree limb Wilson is carving. A model of the cross sits in the foreground.

At the Northfield Retirement Center, Minnesota wood sculptor James Wilson is working with St. Olaf College Professor Emeritus Mac Gimse to create a cross sculpture in the “Pathways of Faith Garden.” This garden was also featured on the tour.

A garden tour sign photographed at the Northfield Retirement Center.

A garden tour sign photographed at the Northfield Retirement Center.

FYI: To read about other gardens featured in the Northfield Garden Club tour, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling