The MN Arboretum: A Year-Round Natural Wonderland

Firefly Viewing Nights. Photo by Jason Boudreau-Landis
Firefly Viewing Nights. Photo by Jason Boudreau-Landis

Boasting a whopping 1200 acres of curated landscapes, bike trails, gardens, classes, art and history exhibits, and more, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is a must-see for tourists and Twin Cities locals alike to make the perfect summer outing for everyone.

Lavender sat down with Sarah Jackson, the Media Specialist for the Arboretum (or “the Arb,” as it’s referred to often), and it was quickly apparent that there is a lot going on at the Arb year-round. With an annual visitor list of just under 400,000 (in 2021), the Arb is a unique intersection of education and novel recreation, combining the University of Minnesota’s commitment to research and stewardship of local plant and wildlife with a focus toward community engagement.

Apple House. Photo by Don Olson

But what might immediately catch the eye are the gardens at the Arb–as of last year, there were 28, not including the various educational models, like green roofs, indigenous weed exhibits (for amateur gardeners nervous about identifying suspicious garden invaders)–alongside glamorous herb gardens and hedge displays are the sheer number of seasonal flowers in bloom at the Arb. Visitors who made it to the Arb in the Spring were witness to a breathtaking 40,000 tulips, but summer Arb-goers won’t be missing out. “There’s just always something blooming,” Jackson mentions amid a list of seasonal favorites, “Roses bloom all summer. The Perennial Garden, the Annual Garden is in bloom . . .” Other notable mentions (that you may not get in your local garden) are a Maze Garden, a Sensory Garden (a vibrant accessibility-focused installation on the human sensory experience), a Sculpture Garden, and an Ornamental Grass Collection.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum hosts a massive variety of nature-focused classes for all ages and for different levels of engagement. Guided nature walks and tours come highly recommended, and aspiring nature photographers can learn how to shoot plantlife from their iPhone. “We get a lot of interest in photography,” Jackson explains, “because if you’re a fan of flora and fauna and insects, you’re typically running around with your iPhone. And so we have iPhone photography classes, and we have real camera photography classes.” Gardening enthusiasts have their pick from a host of gardening and horticulture classes, including some webinar options for folks who can’t make it out.

Corn Is Everywhere. Photo by Katie Knapp

Families with children also have ample opportunity to combine playtime with enriching education. Jackson highly recommends the Green Bean Family Garden Time, a two-hour course themed on seasonal subject matter (e.g. “Flower Extravaganza” or “All About Veggies”): “You go as a family to learn where food comes from.” For kids raised in the post-internet era, getting a special front-row seat to a honey bee hive inspection while learning about how the 400+ types of Minnesota bees play a crucial role in producing the food you find at home.

And it wouldn’t be a proper Minnesota park if there wasn’t ample opportunity to bike. With recent additions, the Arb now connects over 100 miles of regional bike trails. Want to arrive by bike? We recommend the Highway 5 Regional Trail. “It’s this gorgeous boardwalk that grows across the wetland–the connector trail is super cool,” Jackson notes. Coming up soon is the annual Bike the Arb event (Sunday, July 17th), featuring a 13K road race, a bike safety camp and bike parade for kids, and even a geocache course along the Three-Mile Drive.

Scarecrow Miss Chrysanthemum. Photo by Wendy Composto

For those of us more accustomed to colder climates (we’re looking at you, MN locals!) or for folks visiting in the peak of the summer heat, the Arb has plenty of indoor spaces to take a load off (like The Eatery, for breakfast or lunch). And for art and history lovers, the Arboretum boasts a horticultural and rare book library (with bespoke furniture created by architect and woodworker George Nakashima). Running through mid-August are two noteworthy exhibits–The Art of Flying: Bird Images from A to Z and Journey Through Japan: Traditional Woodblock Prints. “That doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. The [rare books and prints] barely exist anywhere in the world,” Jackson points out, “it’s completely one of a kind.”  Both exhibits feature centuries-old images taken from the library’s rare collection and are enhanced with educational materials and references to gardens in the greater arboretum.

Looking ahead to the Fall–the Arboretum’s busiest season–nature-lovers can expect to find other marvelous outdoor activities, like the AppleHouseScarecrows in the Garden, and a mesmerizing Glass Pumpkin Patch with over 4,000 hand-blown glass pumpkin sculptures.

Much like the Minnesota Zoo, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is a ticketed entry, and it’s recommended to make reservations for your preferred events and adult and family classes. For more information, visit www.arb.mn.edu .

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