Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Latest mural blooms in downtown Faribault June 4, 2021

“LOVE FOR ALL” mural photographed on May 29, 2021. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

ART BLOOMS ON A MASSIVE white canvas, brightening a street corner in the heart of downtown Faribault with flowers in vibrant hues.

It’s an in-progress floral delight created by Jordyn Brennan. The Faribault City Council selected the Minneapolis-based visual artist to paint the 85 x 35-foot instagrammable mural on a blank wall next to a parking lot on the corner of First Avenue NW and Third Street NW.

A big space to fill. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

A week ago I photographed the project, which differs from the many historically-themed murals scattered throughout the downtown. This one, while also incorporating history, is more universal.

Yet, Brennan thought local when designing this “LOVE FOR ALL” mural. She’s incorporating the word LOVE—spelled in American sign language, braille and text. Faribault is home to the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind. Skin tones on the signing hands will also vary, celebrating our community’s diversity.

The flowers, too, hold significance, according to Brennan’s Facebook page. Yellow mums trace back to Lehman Gardens, founded here in 1931 and nationally-recognized for its mums. The mum gardens drew thousands of visitors. The mum business continues today as Mums of Minnesota owned by Faribault Growers, Inc.

The peonies painted into the mural honor the long ago Brand Peony Farm, no longer in existence. The nationally-renowned peony grower/developer earned Faribault the title of “Peony Capital of the World.” The community celebrated with an annual peony festival and parade, and brides stored peonies in caves along the river. In many Faribault residential neighborhoods you’ll see peonies bushes, currently in bloom.

Brennan also painted another Faribault famous flower, the clematis, in to her mural. Donahue’s Greenhouse, just blocks from my home, grows one of the largest selections of clematis in the country.

Finally, the rare, endangered Dwarf Trout Lily also earned a spot in this floral garden. The mini lily grows in only three places in the world—in Rice, Steele and Goodhue counties—and can be found locally at River Bend Nature Center.

To the left in this image, you can see one of the architecturally beautiful historic buildings that define downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

I love how this young Minneapolis artist put so much thought into designing a vibrant mural that is universally appealing yet reflective of Faribault. I expect this oversized public art piece will provide the backdrop for many a fun photo opp. For visitors and locals alike. Maybe even for brides clutching peony bouquets.

FYI: Jordyn Brennan, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Arts, has been working hard on the mural with a goal of completing it by mid-June, just in time for Faribault’s Heritage Days celebration. She’s painted more since I took these photos. I will do a follow-up post when the mural is done. This talented young artist is also pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. She’s completed other flower and nature-themed murals. Be sure to visit her website.

© Copyright 2021 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


In rural southern Minnesota: Peonies & wine June 19, 2019


UNDER INTERMITTENT GREY SKIES, fragrant blossoms of pink, burgundy, coral, rose and more popped brilliant color into the landscape at a rural Minnesota winery which doubles as a peony business.



On the deck at Aspelund Winery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.


Within miles of the winery, the beautiful landscape of southern Minnesota.


If you love the showy and elegant peony, appreciate good wine and delight in the quiet of a countryside location, Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens (outside Aspelund and to the northwest of Wanamingo) is a must-visit. Randy and I met friends there Sunday afternoon to view the peony fields and to sip raspberry and apple wines.






It was exactly what I needed—to relax in a beautiful natural setting accented by peonies. There’s still time to tour the farm between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturday or Sunday to see the peonies before their brief blooming season ends. (Check Facebook for updates.)


Co-owner Dawn Rohl wears a peacock pin on her denim jacket. The peacock is the winery symbol/mascot.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.




Co-owners Bruce and Dawn Rohl greet visitors to their hilltop location with the welcoming warmth of long-time friends. They are a salt-of-the-earth and knowledgeable couple who work hard to grow magnificent peonies and craft tasty wine. I recommend Rascal Red, a raspberry wine. Below the tasting room, the Rohls develop their wines, the newest an in-progress asparagus wine made from asparagus grown near the vineyard.



The list of peonies available for purchase.



During our visit, flower lovers meandered among the peonies, some selecting bushes to buy and pick up to plant in the fall. Soon Bruce will sell his hybridized peonies lining the entry to the tasting room.





Whether you’re serious about peonies or wine, or simply appreciate both, this rural Goodhue County winery and peony gardens rate as a unique, enjoyable and ideal way to spend an afternoon in a stunning rural setting among friends. Be sure to pet Rascal, the family dog who can open the door to the tasting room.

FYI: The winery is located at 9204 425th Street, rural Wanamingo (just outside Aspelund). If you take Minnesota State Highway 60 between Kenyon and Wanamingo, you will see a sign directing you to Aspelund, which is basically a church, a town hall and a farm site. Click here to read previous posts I’ve written on the winery and gardens.

© Copyright 2019 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


In rural Aspelund: Passionate about peonies & wine June 14, 2016

These peonies have been growing for seven years now on the Rohl property.

These peonies have been growing for seven years on the Rohl property.

WIND WHIPPED THOUSANDS of past their prime peonies, their crimson, pink and white blossoms dipping, dancing to the rhythm of summer.

Peony fields line both sides of the gravel driveway and spill into the yard near the tasting room.

Peony fields line both sides of the gravel driveway and spill into the yard near the Rohl’s home and wine tasting room.

With temps in the seventies under clear skies, it was a perfect mid-June Sunday afternoon to tour the Aspelund Peony Gardens in west central Goodhue County, just east of Aspelund/northwest of Wanamingo/northeast of Kenyon.

The entry to the small tasting room.

The entry to the small tasting room.

Paired with Aspelund Winery, also owned by Bruce and Dawn Rohl and on the same rural acreage, this makes a great southern Minnesota day trip destination. It’s peaceful and lovely, educational and relaxing. You can learn about peonies and wine while enjoying both with a couple passionate about both.

While strawberry wine is the best-selling wine, my favorite is Neighborhood Apple, the top-selling of the three apple wines.

Strawberry wine is the best-selling wine. But my favorite is Neighborhood Apple, the top-selling of the three apple wines.

While the Rohls have been in the business of growing, hybridizing and selling peonies for awhile, they opened their winery just a year ago—on June 13. A taste-testing of their six wines—three apple, one grape, another elderberry and the sixth, strawberry—made it difficult to choose a favorite. They’re that good. But, after some thought, I’d select Neighborhood Apple as my favorite. It’s their best-selling apple wine, a blend of their apples and apples gathered from neighbors. I like the neighborhood name and concept as much as the wine. The outgoing and welcoming Rohls are the type you’d want as next-door neighbors.

Inside the tasting room, peacock decor prevails, here next to the wine rack.

Inside the tasting room, peacock decor prevails, here next to the wine rack.

Their employee, Anders Lars, is a neighbor, whom I mistook as their son. And, yes, he goes by the Swedish Anders, not Andy. I asked. This is an area proud of its Scandinavian heritage. Bruce’s ancestors, however, trace to France where they were vintners.

So many lovely peonies in multitudes of colors, shapes and scents.

So many lovely peonies in multitudes of colors, shapes and scents.

Interestingly enough, it is memories of Bruce’s grandma’s peonies that led him into the peony business. But not how you would expect. He didn’t like her flopping-over peonies and vowed never to plant peonies. That changed on the day he and Dawn visited Bob Tischler, a now-deceased Faribault peony grower. Bob introduced them to other varieties and the couple left Tischler Peony Garden with 13 plants. And, yes, despite his initial dislike of the flopping-over peony, Bruce now has his grandma’s peony from her Hudson, Wisconsin, garden.

Peony lovers shop and admire the gardens.

Peony lovers shop and admire the gardens.

Today the Rohls grow 150 types of peonies. Visitors peruse the offerings online or visit the farm during bloom season to select specific bushes. Then, in the fall, the plants are divided and customers get their plants. Average cost is $20, with some going as high as $70.

There are rows and rows and rows of peonies.

There are rows and rows and rows of peonies.

Buyers range from grandmothers purchasing plants for family to people beautifying landscapes as they focus on staycations rather than vacations to serious peony lovers, Bruce says.

Bruce's hybridized peonies are growing by the tasting room.

Bruce’s hybridized peonies are growing by the tasting room.

He has hybridized seven peonies, giving them identifying local town names like Aspelund, Wanamingo and Zumbrota. It will be awhile before those are ready to sell, Bruce said, noting the entire process from hybridizing to sale-ready takes about 20 years.

The grapevines grow atop a hill overlooking the countryside.

The grapevines grow next to an aged outbuilding atop a hill overlooking the countryside.

A design engineer by full-time profession, Bruce hopes to some day make the flower and wine business his sole focus. The couple also makes maple syrup and tends their small vineyard of 80 vines in seven varieties of grapes, their 450 elderberry bushes and 150 apple trees.

There are two red wines--Elder-bry (elderberry) and Stra-bry (strawberry).

There are two red wines–Elder-bry (elderberry) and Stra-bry (strawberry).

They are clearly passionate about their peonies and wine. Like the hybridizing of peonies, the couple is also always working on new wines. They hope soon to release a tomato wine that tastes like a Bloody Mary (200 tomato plants are growing on their farm); a cucumber wine flavored with lemons and oranges and with ginger roots; and a fennel wine tasting of black licorice.

Dawn meets with customers who are perusing a peony catalog in the wine tasting room.

Dawn meets with customers who are perusing peony choices in the wine tasting room.

It will be interesting to see what they name these new wines. Dawn explains that Mingo Red, for example, is like a Minnesota hotdish, a mingling of their seven Minnesota cold climate grape varieties.

The memorable symbol of Aspelund Winery.

The memorable symbol of Aspelund Winery.

There’s also a story behind the peacocks featured on the wine labels, in the landscaping and in the cozy tasting room. The Rohls attempted to relocate peacocks from Bruce’s father’s farm two miles away. But the birds didn’t stay at the winery/peony garden, returning on their own to their original home. It’s just as well, Bruce says, noting that he learned after the fact they’ll eat flower blossoms. But it makes for a good story and a memorable winery business graphic.

I couldn't get enough of the peonies, even if most were past peak bloom.

I found some peonies not past peak bloom. Lovely.

And about the proper pronunciation of peonies, I asked the peony experts. The correct pronunciation is pee-a-knees, Dawn said. However, because Minnesotans like their “o’s,” they mostly say pee-oh-knees. And the Rohls are just fine with that.

Even though peony blooming season is wrapping up, you can still order peonies by shopping online or viewing the selections in this three-ring binder in the wine tasting room.

Even though peony blooming season is wrapping up, you can still order peonies by shopping online or viewing the selections in this three-ring binder in the wine tasting room.

FYI: The winery, located at 9204 425th Street, rural Kenyon, is open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from April through December 24 (the neighbors have a Christmas tree farm). If you’re traveling Minnesota State Highway 60, watch for the Aspelund road sign onto Goodhue County Road 1 near Bombay. Go a few miles to Aspelund, turn onto County Road 8 and then shortly thereafter onto 425th Street.

There's plenty of deck and patio space for gatherings to sip wine.

You can sip wine outdoors on the patio or deck, in a beautiful park-like setting.

Note that the tasting room is small. But there is plenty of outdoor seating on a patio and deck. The Rohls also welcome guests to explore their beautiful, well-groomed property.

I still found blooms worthy of photographing.

I still found blooms worthy of photographing.

Prime peony blooming season has ended. It’s best to call ahead in the spring/early summer if you want to see these flowers in peak bloom.

The Rohls use their own apples and those of neighbors to make their three wines: Cobblers Knob Medley (Honey Gold, Ida Red and O'Connel Red), Cobblers Knob Gold (Honey Gold apples) and Neighborhood Apple.

The Rohls use their own apples and those of neighbors to make their three wines: Cobblers Knob Medley (Honey Gold, Ida Red and O’Connell Red apples), Cobblers Knob Gold (Honey Gold apples) and Neighborhood Apple.

For more information about the winery, click here.

Peony beds mingle between farm buildings on this lovely rural Goodhue County site.

Peony beds mingle between farm buildings on this lovely rural Goodhue County site.

And click here for info about the peony garden.


My favorite old building on the farm site.

Love this old building on the farm site.

Choosing a favorite peony would be difficult among the 150 varieties.

Choosing a favorite peony among the 150 varieties would be difficult.

This tire swing, with its chain grown into a tree branch, adds simple country charm to the yard.

This tire swing, with its chain grown into a tree branch, adds simple country charm to the yard and peony gardens.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Beautiful peonies from my friends’ garden June 1, 2010

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MY FRIENDS VIRGIL and Jane grow beautiful flowers, like gladioli, lilies and peonies.

I know, because I’ve seen their lovely gardens, including a field of glads. Their flowers also often grace Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, which the three of us attend.

Bouquets of their carefully-tended florals have also graced my home.

For the past several days, I’ve breathed in the deep perfumed scent of peony blossoms gathered into a beautiful arrangement accented by dainty corral bells. Virgil and Jane delivered them early Friday afternoon.

Always thoughtful, Virgil knew I would appreciate the peony centerpiece for my daughter’s college graduation party the next day. I did. I’m still enjoying the flowers, even as petals fall.

Many others have been the recipients of their flower garden beauties.

What a blessing to have friends like Virgil and Jane.

Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oh, how I love thee, sweet peony May 19, 2010

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THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT PEONIES that enchants me unlike any other flower of spring.

Their intoxicating scent invites me to lean in close and breathe deeply.

They remind me, too, of vintage sepia photographs I’ve seen of brides enfolding peonies gathered from grandmothers’ gardens. These blossoms speak to me of romance and of love.

And they speak to me of the history in this town I’ve called home for 28 years. Beginning in 1927, Faribault was the “Peony Capital of the World,” celebrated with an annual festival and parade. I’ve seen images of floats blanketed with peonies by the hundreds, by the thousands. Long gone are the masses of peonies.

But, oh, how fabulous that must have been, to celebrate the peony, to inhale their sweet perfume wafting through the city streets.

In my backyard, a fern peony bud, April 16

Fern peony bud, April 30

Fern peony bud, May 5

Fern peony in bloom, May 17

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling