Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

More than a garden…a place of peace & respite August 18, 2022

A coneflower up close in the Rice Country Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

ANYONE WHO GARDENS understands just how quickly plants can grow. Sunshine and rain make all the difference.

Vegetables grow in the foreground in this photo, other plants and flowers beyond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A month had passed between visits to the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden located at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. And in those few weeks, the vegetables, flowers and other plants grew in length, height and width, some blossoming, some with fruit emerging.

A mini sunflower of sorts (I think) bursts color into the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

There are signs aplenty in this teaching garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

An eggplant blossom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

To walk here again among the prairie flowers, the zinnias, the hydrangea and hosta, the burpless cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes and much more is to feel a deep connection to the earth. For it is the soil which roots, which feeds these plants watered by the sky, energized by the sun.

Gardening equipment stashed in a secure area next to the conservation building by the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And it is volunteer gardeners who plant and tend this beautiful garden for the enjoyment of many. Like me. I appreciate their time, their efforts, their desire to create this peaceful place in my community.

This broad-leafed plant name fascinates me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Aiming the camera down at Silver Mound, a wispy plant that I’ve never seen before. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A cucumber forming. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

To visit this spot is to understand how much we each need such a contemplative place. A place simply to meander along wood chip or brick pathways, pausing to appreciate the likes of broad-leafed Pig Squeak or the silvery sheen of Silver Mound or a little-finger-sized prickly cucumber or a Prickly Pear Cactus. There’s a lot to take in among the vast plant varieties.

One of the man-made tree stumps gurgles water. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The water feature is to the right of this centering circle. Across the way are an historic church and school, part of the Rice County Historical Society. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And then there’s the water, oh, the water. No garden feature soothes more than a fountain. Here five replica tree stumps spill water into a shallow pond, a focal point defined by a circle of bricks connected to brick paths.

I notice details, like a feather in a bird bath. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Even a bird bath drew my attention with a feather floating therein.

A lily blooms in early August. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The garden also features an arch for climbing clematis, which bloomed profusely earlier in the summer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A bee house posted on a tree by the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Strategically situated benches offer sitting spots to pass the time, chat, read a book or simply take in the garden, the being outdoors, in nature. In this fast-paced world of technology and a deluge of news that is often awful and horrible and unsettling, this garden provides a respite. Nature has a way of working calm into our beings. Easing stress and anxiety. Lifting spirits.

Lovely flowers fill the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the challenges which have defined my life in 2022, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for this garden. I feel at peace here among the flowers and vegetables, the birds and butterflies, bushes and trees, here under the southern Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetic joy of a butterfly August 17, 2022

An Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly atop a zinnia. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

EVERY TIME I SPOT A BUTTERFLY, joy surges through me. There’s something about the flitting flight of a butterfly that captivates me.

But it’s more than that. I appreciate how these insects appear so carefree, as if their very existence is simply to bring beauty and joy into the world. And maybe it is.

The butterfly perches among my favorite garden flowers, zinnias. My mom planted zinnia seeds when I was growing up on the farm. Zinnias are easy to grow from seed, are prolific, hardy and colorful. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In recent days, I’ve observed two swallowtail butterflies, one black, the other yellow, among the phlox growing wild in my flowerbeds. And some 10 days ago I photographed an Eastern tiger swallowtail atop a zinnia at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden in Faribault.

That well-tended garden has become a new favorite oasis for me within the city limits. On the Sunday afternoon I visited the garden, I found friends Paula and Ed already there, resting on a bench. Paula was involved early on with development of this garden. She no longer is, but remains an active gardener. Paula was the one who spotted the swallowtail among the zinnias.

Per her direction, I headed to the zinnia patch to photograph the yellow swallowtail with wings outlined in black, splotches of blue and orange adding to the coloring.

Black-bordered wings are nearly wide open atop a zinnia. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The swallowtail perched, unhurried atop the yellow-centered pink flower. I had plenty of time to snap multiple frames. That’s often not the case with butterflies.

That butterflies survive a four-stage life cycle from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (chrysalis) to adult butterfly impresses me. At any one stage, a predator could end their lives. But yet, here was this beautiful butterfly among the zinnias. Like the final verse in a lovely summer poem.

TELL ME: What do you appreciate about butterflies? Do you have a favorite?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Southern Minnesota bird stories, past & present July 27, 2022

A tiny bird perches in a fountain at the Rice County Master Gardeners Garden, Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

I HAVE A MIXED OPINION of birds. I appreciate them at a distance, but not necessarily up close, although I’ve grown more comfortable with their nearness as I’ve aged. Just don’t plunk me in an enclosed garage or other space with a trapped bird. Outdoors is mostly fine.

Unfolding of wings to splash in the fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Recently I observed a cute little yellow bird, a finch, I think, dip into a tree stump water feature at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens at the county fairgrounds in Faribault. With a zoom lens on my 35 mm camera, I photographed the finch briefly splash in the water before flitting away. There was something joyful in that sole moment of focusing on a tiny winged creature.

Water droplets fly as this bird bathes in the fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

We need such moments of simplicity. Of peace. Of birdsong, even if this bird isn’t singing. Moments to quiet our souls in the midst of too much busyness and too many distractions. And too much technology.

I remember how my mom loved the Baltimore orioles that one year, quite unexpectedly, showed up on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota flashing orange into the trees. She thrilled in their presence among all the blackbirds, sparrows and barn swallows. In her delight, Mom taught me that not all birds were like the swooping swallows I despised.

In my years of doing farm chores, I grew to dislike the swallows that dived as I pushed a wheelbarrow of ground feed down the barn aisle or shoved cow manure into gutters. That the barn ceiling was low only magnified their, to me, menacing presence. The swallows, I now acknowledge, were only protecting their territory, their young, in the mud nests they built inside the barn. And they ate mosquitoes, which I should have appreciated.

Yet I don’t miss the swallows or the rooster that terrorized my siblings and me, until the day Dad grabbed the axe and ended that.

More than 40 years removed from the farm, I seldom see barn swallows. Rather, in my Faribault backyard, I spot cardinals, wrens, robins and occasionally a blue jay. The front and side yards, however, bring massive crows lunching on remnants of fast food tossed by inconsiderate motorists who find my property a convenient place to toss their trash. I’ll never understand that disrespectful mindset of throwing greasy wrappers and bags, food bits, empty bottles and cans, cigarette butts, and more out a vehicle window.

And so these are my evolving bird stories—of shifting from a long ago annoyance of swallows to understanding their behavior, of delighting in the definitive whistle of a cardinal flashing red into the wooded hillside behind my Faribault home, of observing the feeding habits of crows in my front and side yards drawn to garbage tossed by negligent humans.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your bird stories, positive or negative.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Garden connections in Faribault, Part II July 25, 2022

In early July, lilies bloomed in the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

IN MY FARIBAULT BACKYARD, wild tiger lilies stretch above a tangled mess of greenery, popping orange into the hillside. On the other side of town, domesticated orange lilies grace the neatly-cultivated Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

The master gardeners’ milkweed patch. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Also in my yard are scattered milkweeds, food for Monarch caterpillars. In the gardens tended by the experts, a mass of intentionally-planted milkweeds flourishes.

Clematis. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Blocks away from my home, Donahue’s Greenhouse grows one of the largest selections of clematis in the U.S. That’s their specialty. Across town at the master gardeners’ garden, clematis climb an arbor, lovely blooms opening to the summer sky.

The Berry-Go-Round. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Within a short distance of my home is the birthplace of the Tilt-A-Whirl, a carnival ride no longer made in Faribault but in Texas. On the edge of the master gardeners’ garden, a giant strawberry sits. It’s a Berry-Go-Round, a spin ride produced by Sellner Manufacturing beginning in 1987, before the company was sold.

Prickly pear cactus. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

More than 150 miles to the southwest of Faribault near the South Dakota border, prickly pear cactus thrive in the rocky lands of the prairie. I’ve seen them at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne. And now I’ve seen them in the gardens at the local fairgrounds.

An overview of the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens, photographed in early July, with an historic school and church (part of the county historical society) in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

It’s interesting how, in life, so many connections exist. Even in a garden.

One of several benches in the master gardeners’ garden in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Gardens connect us to people, places, memories. A life that touches others goes on forever. I come from a family of gardeners tracing back generations. Vegetables grown in my mother’s massive garden fed me, and my family of origin, for the first 18 years of my life. I worked that garden with her, planting, weeding, tending, harvesting. I left gardening when I left southwestern Minnesota. But I still appreciate gardeners and gardens.

An artsy scene of clematis on arbor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I value the beauty of flower gardens, the purpose of vegetable gardens to feed. And I appreciate, too, the peace a garden brings. To sit among the blooms and plants in a garden oasis like the Rice County master gardeners created is to feel a calm, a sense of serenity in the midst of chaos and struggles and challenges.

The water feature is shaped like tree stumps. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Water, especially, soothes me. The Rice County master gardeners understand that and added a water feature to their garden plot. I delighted in watching a tiny yellow bird (I think a goldfinch) splash in the water. Such a simple joy.

One of many educational signs in the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And isn’t that part of a garden’s purpose—to bring joy? Joy to those who work the soil, seed or plant, tend and care for that which grows. Joy to those who delight in the all of it.

A sedum patch planted by the master gardeners. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I feel such gratitude for gardeners, for the nurturing hands that link me to nature. It’s all about connecting to each other in this world we share, in the commonality of humanity.

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Please click here to read my first post about the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens. Watch for one final post in this three-part series.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An oasis at the Rice County Fairgrounds, Part I July 18, 2022

Next to the conservation building, with an historic church and school in the background, the Teaching Gardens grace the Rice County Fairgrounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

AT THE RICE COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS in Faribault, an unexpected oasis brings nature into a setting of buildings, grandstand and roadways. It’s a welcome respite, this Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens.

I love the “tree stump” water feature that blends so naturally into the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

On a Sunday in early July, Randy and I packed a picnic lunch and set out for the fairgrounds garden, a place we haven’t previously lunched. There we settled onto a fountain-side shaded bench, the soothing rush of water creating a peaceful ambiance.

Clematis. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Sedum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Lilies. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Afterwards, I ambled through these gardens, admiring the plants and blooming flowers. Clematis climbing an arbor. Sedum. Hosta. Lilies and roses and Pig Squeak. Masses of milkweed for monarch caterpillars. Eggplant, prickly pear cactus, Mugo pine and much more.

An overview of the gardens with vegetables in the foreground. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

If you’re into gardening, and even if you’re not, this compact garden patch showcases a wide variety of plants that are beautiful to behold. Some are grown as seed trial plants for the University of Minnesota.

The Seed Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Seed packets inside the library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

There’s a seed library, too, with packets of seeds tucked into a tiny red house similar to a Little Free Library.

Informational signage in the gardens. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Strategically-placed signs identify plants and provide information about gardening in general. This is, after all, a teaching garden.

The milkweed patch with the Rice County Historical Society in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Roses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I believe these are onions gone to seed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

But for me, these gardens proved primarily a spot to retreat for a bit, to immerse myself in a place that feels restful, soothing, calming. Connecting to nature, whether in a natural or cultivated setting always, always renews my spirit.

TELL ME: Have you found a similar oasis mini garden where you live?

Please check back for more photos from this lovely teaching garden in additional posts.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling