Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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Feeling right at home at Seed Savers Exchange in rural Iowa, Part I October 18, 2018

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HAVE YOU EVER VISITED a place where you were so comfortably at home that you felt as if you’d been there before, but you hadn’t?

 

 

Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah, Iowa, feels that way to me. A nonprofit that preserves heirloom plants through planting and nurturing and seed saving, Seed Savers appeals to the farm girl in me. The peaceful setting. The red barn. The ruralness of it all. Iowa. So like my native southwestern Minnesota.

 

 

A tangle of plants, some towering, some not, drew me into a garden near the massive red barn where young women scooped seeds from ripe tomatoes during a mid-September visit. This is their work, this preservation of seeds. I thought of hippies and pioneers and how this tedious labor matters.

And I thought of biting into a sun-warm tomato plucked from the garden, juice trickling from the corners of my mouth. Memories from the farm.

 

 

 

 

I watch Monarchs and bees wend among towering stems of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate blossoms, their flight like words of poetry in Diane’s Garden.

 

 

 

 

There’s so much to love about this place. Berries in the back of a pick-up truck. Chicks clustered, safe behind chicken wire. A path that leads away from the farm site to narrow streams. Quiet as only quiet can be in the countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

And then a second garden on the other side of the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center. Here my favorite flower—the simple zinnia and corn drying to harvest and sunflowers heavy with seed. And more, oh, so much more.

 

 

Inside the visitors center, the results of it all—rows and rows and rows of stocked seed packets. Bull’s Blood Beet. Rat-Tailed Radish. Hungarian Heart Tomato. What to choose from among all the alliterations, all the words that write of bounty and beauty. I choose Sea Shells Cosmos Mix for myself, Gold Medal Tomato for a niece with a passion for gardening.

 

 

I wish I could stay here, far from the stresses of life. I feel a peace in being here, sequestered from reality, from noise, from the world. There’s something about Seed Savers Exchange that feels comfortably familiar to me. Like I lived on this land once, walked below this blue sky, wandered among the waving blossoms of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate. Yet I’d not been here prior to this visit. Except perhaps in the poetry of words and of memories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Seed Savers Exchange.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

 

A glimpse of Thailand in Madison, Wisconsin June 7, 2018

This 40 x 22-foot and 30-foot high pavilion was built in Thailand, disassembled and shipped to the U.S. and then rebuilt by nine Thai artisans in Madison.

 

YOU WOULD NEVER EXPECT this in Wisconsin, this ornate Thai pavilion. It seems so out of place in a state that brings to mind beer, brats, cheese and the Green Bay Packers.

 

Underside details of the roofline.

 

Yet, in the Olbrich Botanical Gardens in the capital city of Madison, a Thai pavilion centers a space of water features and tropical gardens. It is the only Thai pavilion in the U.S. and only one of four built outside Thailand. The Olbrich pavilion was a gift from the Thai government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. UW-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations in the country.

 

Posing for quinceañera photos.

 

One of many water features in the Thai garden. Water represents good health and prosperity to the Thai people.

 

The quinceañera  group gathers inside the pavilion for photos. Thus, I couldn’t get a closer look at the pavilion.

 

On the Saturday afternoon I visited the gardens, the cultural mix of pavilion and peoples reminded me that we truly are a diverse country. Here I was, an American of German ethnicity, viewing this Thai structure while simultaneously delighting in observing youth celebrating quinceañera in Wisconsin.

 

 

I appreciate any opportunity to grow my cultural awareness, whether through art, music, food, customs, gardens or simply observing.

 

Members of the quinceañera party cross the bridge spanning Starkweather Creek and leading to the Thai pavilion and gardens.

 

We are, at our most basic, individuals who desire food, shelter, security, health, happiness, love and joy. Or so I see it.

 

 

In Thailand, common roadside pavilions provide shelter from weather. The Madison pavilion is a work of art, a place of serenity, a structure fitting a palace or temple grounds. In that it differs from the simpler of Thai shelters.

 

A volunteer watches to assure visitors don’t touch the gold leaf on the pavilion. Touching destroys it.

 

Most of us never live such lives of gold leaf opulence. I certainly don’t.

 

 

But I appreciate the opportunity to glimpse the untouchable wealth of a world beyond beer and brats.

 

PLEASE CHECK BACK next week as I take you into downtown Madison and conclude this series from Wisconsin.

© 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