Author Archives: Longwood Graduate Program

A Visit to the Infamous “U”

August 15, 2011 – St. Paul Campus, Minnesota University
(written by Aubree Pack, photography by James Hearsum)

Around here, the University of Minnesota is commonly, as well as affectionately, referred to as “the U.” The Longwood Graduate Program’s current Director, Robert Lyons, is a graduate of “the U,” so we had with us an excellent guide. Although the campus boasts many desirable features, our focus was the Department of Horticultural Science, of which Dr. Lyons received both his Masters and Ph.D. degrees. If you’ve been following our blog, you may remember a recent post about our trip to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The Arboretum is actually an extension of the University of Minnesota and is within the Department of Horticultural Science.

Upon arrival at the University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus, the first thing we did was discover a photo of Dr. Lyons from when he was a graduate student there. And of course, as any good student would, we teased him a little. He seemed to be fine with that though : )

We then went just outside Alderman Hall to meet with Roger Meissner and Garrett Beier. Roger has been employed by the department since 1976 and since then has worn many “hats.” Garrett is a graduate student there who was hired to manage the display garden, which is a landscape laboratory for the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Science; involved students generally have a main focus in horticulture or environmental studies.

Garrett told us that the site is primarily used for study purposes, but also attracts casual visitors. One thing we found amusing was that there were duplicate plants from the garden elsewhere on campus, for the purpose of preventing students in ID courses from memorizing a location instead of the actual plant characteristics. He also described some of the challenges they face there at the garden, including an invasive weed he referred to as black swallow wart, a member of the milkweed family (pictured above).

Cultivar development and breeding are major endeavors for the department. Many faculty members are reknown for their plant introductions. Jim Luby, in particular, introduced a very well received variety of apple, Honey Crisp, which many of us have enjoyed. More recent apple introductions from the department are SnowSweet, Frostbite, and SweeTango, which are a trademark of the Ball Horticultural Company. Along with their large array of fruit crop introductions, new, cold hardy ornamental plant cultivars have been introduced from the following popular garden plants: chrysanthemums, azaleas, roses, gaura, dogwood, forsythia, pearlbush, viburnum,  maples, white pine,  redbud, buckeye, plums, crabapples, corktree, jack pine, and many grass varieties; both ornamental and turf. This research is done along with the Horticultural Research Center and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, who provides stock or grounds for research.

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

(written by Felicia Yu, photographs by Aubree Pack)

Just in case we didn’t already think we were spoiled by warm receptions and generosity everywhere we’ve been so far in the Twin Cities, the staff of the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory REALLY made us feel welcome during our visit on Monday.

Old and new: the historic Marjorie McNeely Conservatory with its 64-ft. Palm Dome, and the adjoining new section with impeccable water gardens.

Horticulture Manager Tina Dombrowski met us at the main entrance along with several staff members from the conservatory, and at each part of the Margorie McNeely Conservatory, gardens, and zoo thereafter we met with more members of the staff who were happy to show us around and answer all our questions. We got a thorough behind the scenes look at the historic and new portions of the conservatory as well as the Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden, and the new Polar Bear Odyssey exhibit at the zoo, where we had a delicious lunch before getting a free hour to explore.

The Sunken Garden of the Conservatory, featuring spring, summer, fall, holiday, and winter floral displays.

The Japanese Garden, designed by Masami Matsuda in 1979 to commemorate the friendship between St. Paul and its sister city Nagasaki

Horticulture production supervisor Paul Knuth explaining the greenhouse operations.


An alpine rooftop garden on the upper level of the new visitor center.

The zoo and conservatory are located within Como Park, a 384-acre oasis within the city of St. Paul. The zoo is well over a hundred years old, while the conservatory opened in 1915. Each has undergone major renovations, with more improvements to come in the near future. The building of the new visitor center in 2005 physically joined the zoo and conservatory into one campus for the first time in their histories, along with the merger of their supporting non-profit and volunteer organizations. Some of the most intriguing features of Como Park Zoo & Conservatory involve the direct collaboration between zoo and horticultural staff in combined plant and animal exhibits, such as their Tropical Encounters exhibit and RibbitZibit frog displays in the Children’s Gallery.

Zookeeper Liz feeding fruit flies to the poison dart frogs in the Children’s Gallery RibbitZibit.

It was clear that the zoo and conservatory are beloved by the community, judging from the number of families streaming through the doors as soon as opening hour arrived—and this was on a “slow” Monday, according to the staff. After our half-day visit, I could completely understand why—if I lived in the area I’d be back every week! The zoo remains one of the few remaining free zoos in the country, with just a suggested donation of $2 per adult and $1 per child for entry to both zoo and conservatory, which most visitors seemed glad to pay. The high-quality horticultural and animal exhibits were definitely worth much more than that.

A Walk in the Park – Minneapolis Style.

August 13, 2011 – Minneapolis, Minnesota
(written by James Hearsum, photography by Ashby Leavell)

Few cities enjoy the benefit of a visionary parks department: One that takes a leadership role in economic development, is a broker of community creation and that does this whilst integrating citywide networks of facilities, recreation and environmental services.  Fewer still have the resources and political clout to deliver.  That Minneapolis is one of this select group is evident to anyone enjoying the city on a fine summer day, as we did.

The view from the Guthrie Museum to the former railroad Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River

Guided by John Erwin, a Parks Commissioner, the Longwood Graduate Fellows sought the answer to this question – How is it achieved?

 

As John conducted a whirlwind tour, we visited The Peace Gardens, Rose Garden and The Annuals and Perennial Border.  All were immaculately maintained by staff and volunteers, and clearly loved by Minneapolitans.  A real pride and care by the public is evident throughout the system.  On a Saturday afternoon, the parks were well used, with all types of recreation happening around Lake Calhoun.

Flower vendors at the vibrant famers market at Mill City

It was always evident that the parks comprised a complete system, a network of places and links, tied to specific communities.  A visit to a section of the Grand Rounds, a 53 mile loop of lakes in the heart of the city, showed that they were used both as a destination; for beaches, canoeing, eating, picnicking – and as a route; for jogging, walking, commuting.

John Erwin describes a map of the Grand Rounds in Minneapolis, the only National Scenic Byway located in a major city in the US.

The concept of networks also dominated a presentation by Mary deLaittre, Project Manager for the Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative.  Using the advantage of semi-autonomy from the city to great advantage, this project has developed and designed a strategic physical master plan for a 5.5 mile section of the Mississippi River bank, completing the parks path and bike network in challenging industrial and multiuse spaces.  More than this, it seeks to connect existing parks and recreation assets to a wider system and create new interfaces between communities, using the Mississippi as its central corridor.  In addition to all this, it has an economic mission to spur development, as in the district now developed around the beautiful Guthrie Theater (led by a $30 million investment in the area by Parks and Recreation).  It also seeks to create integrated environmental systems, manage storm water, recreate habitats – all whilst maintaining industrial use and jobs.

Looking out on the ruins at the Mill City Museum, once the world’s largest flour mill

So what is the secret? – Yes, Minneapolis Parks have more autonomy, more money, and more public support than many parks.  But this alone doesn’t explain it.  Rather, two things stood out.  Firstly, visionary leadership at all levels in the organization.  Secondly, a truly comprehensive approach to parks – the integration and consideration of all elements as important to the system.  In practice, this means that no one factor dominates, but all are considered – economic, environmental, community, recreation and industry.  It recognizes that people have complex needs, and seeks to address them comprehensively.

Posing with John Erwin, our generous guide for the day and Chair of Minneapolis Parks Department and Professor of Hort. Science at the University of Minnesota

Wow! Our thanks to Minneapolis for a wonderful day in your parks, and please, if you are lucky enough to live here, don’t take them for granted – they are truly extraordinary.

A Day at the Zoo

(photography by Raakel Toppila)

A great day today at the Minnesota Zoo.  We spent the morning with Director Lee Ehmke, Horticulture Supervisor Kim Thomas, and Ken Kornack, Director of Capital Projects at the Zoo.  After meeting Lee at the entrance, we explored the newest exhibit, “Russia’s Grizzly Coast.”  The three grizzly bears are part of a new trend in immersive zoo display that seeks to engage the senses and create a seemingly boundless natural space surrounding the animals.  Plant materials mask the surrounding buildings, key sightlines are emphasized, and sound recordings draw visitors into a more intimate experience.  And by visitors, I mean children.  Lots of them.  Everywhere.  The bears are a huge hit.

Kim Thomas’ lean crew of horticulturalists throughout the year has the unique job of creating regional and species appropriate displays.  This is easier said than done, considering the physical demands on the plants.  For example, Kim quickly discovered that grizzly bears do not pick blue berries.  They just eat the entire bush in one bite.  Thankfully, hundreds of acres of surrounding woodlands provide an abundance of animal browsing materials.

In the new Leed Gold meeting space behind the grizzly den, the Fellows had the chance to ask Lee and his team what it’s like to manage a zoo serving over 1 million visitors each year.  The organization is one of two publicly owned zoos in the country, and covers 485 acres just south of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and equidistant from both.  The zoo is moving towards a denser model of visitor circulation, including a more intense experience over a smaller area.  The older zoo design of “five hundred acres and a monorail” essentially failed.  The wildlife was too far removed from the visitors to create a meaningful experience.

In addition to managing a wide array of species from dolphins to tapirs, the Zoo boasts a 1,500-person amphitheater for musical performances, several green roof projects, and an active outreach program visiting each of the 87 counties in Minnesota.  Over lunch, the staff covered everything from the master plan to their young friends group, and provided rare insight into their much-loved institution in the suburbs of the Twin Cities.

Second Years Travel to the State of 10,000 Lakes

(photographs by Felicia Yu)

North American Experience has begun yet again.  The second year Fellows and Dr. Lyons landed Wednesday in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota with the goal to explore what the region has to offer in the realm of public horticulture. Minneapolis is a fun city.  The neighborhood near the hotel is filled with eclectic places to eat and spend time. Even better, there are “Nice Ride” bicycles for the public to check in and out of locations all over town to help us get around town during time off.

Our first stop was the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We were fortunate to be greeted by both Ed Schneider, current Director, and Peter Olin, former Director who served at the Arboretum for 24 years. An hour-long tram tour introduced us to the 1,137 acres of land maintained by the Arboretum, featuring themed collections, gardens, a prairie, ponds and woodlands.  We were especially excited by the Patrick Dougherty exhibition in front of the visitor center, entitled the Uff da Palace.

The Landscape Arboretum faces the challenge of gardening and maintaining collections in USDA plant hardiness zone 4 (average annual minimum temperature -20F to -30F).  However, they do so in stride, boasting impressive collections of crabapple, hosta, lilac, ornamental grasses and roses. Even in the warmth of the summer, the cold temperatures to come are never far from a Minnesotan’s mind. The Arboretum has devoted much of its research to developing cold-hardy commercial fruit varieties such as the Honey Crisp apple, the Frontenac grape and the North Star Cherry. Their ornamental woody plant breeding program resulted in the development of a series of cold hardy azaleas.

Intermingled among the collections of the Arboretum are special places for reflection…

And play….

And discovery…

We enjoyed lunch together with our host, Ed Schneider and Judy Hohmann, Marketing and Communications Manager who gave us insight into the operations of the Arboretum. Three hours of self-guided exploration under the beautiful blue open sky was hardly enough time to return to our favorite spots. Our visit the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum was a great introduction to public horticulture in the Twin Cities.

Forty five years? Check.

After over a decade apart, the LGP alums finally reunited this June 26th in the Italian Water Garden at Longwood.  Alumni from near and far came together to celebrate 45 years of the Graduate Program, reconnect with classmates, and meet new friends in the field of public horticulture.

Kate Baltzel and Raakel Toppila trying on a fresh new style in the photo booth

Even after the busy American Public Gardens Association conference in Philadelphia leading up to the event, nearly 150 people turned out on Saturday evening.  Guests celebrated in style, enjoying delicious food and cocktails, perfect weather, and live jazz in the garden.  Pierre duPont would certainly have been proud.

Fabulous turn out!

The Longwood Graduate Program Alumni Association also made its formal debut during the evening, and all were invited to contribute thoughts on its future direction.  To those who made it to Longwood, thank you for contributing to the great atmosphere and outstanding evening.  We’ll see you all at the next reunion!  Pictures from the event can be found here: https://picasaweb.google.com/lgwweb/LGPReunion?authkey=Gv1sRgCLWTqd-3udOm9gE

In a rare instance all three directors, past and present, welcomed students. Dr. James Swasey, Dr. Richard Lighty, and Dr. Robert Lyons pictured.

Shari Edelson peruses LGP memorabilia

Felicia Yu, Won Soon Park, and Mark Highland enjoying the festivities

 

Note from the Director: Reunion!

I’m into my 7th year directing the Program and really look forward to seeing all the Former Fellows who worked with me starting in 2005. However, my connection to the Program goes back much further when I was on the Horticulture faculty at Virginia Tech from 1981 – 1999.  During that period, I sent 5 of my students into the LGP and I’m very much hoping to see them all at the Reunion!

Lead Fellow for the Reunion has been second year Fellow Dongah Shin, who has done a marvelous job in insuring that everyone will have a great time.

I know that reunions are meant for reminiscing and catching up with old friends, so we are planning lots of time to do exactly that, all within the unsurpassed atmosphere of Longwood. If you are a former Fellow, please join us: this will be an event to be remembered for a long time to come!

Bob Lyons

EI Spring Field Trip: Organic Mechanics Soil

(written by Felicia Yu; photos by Dongah Shin)

The Organic Mechanics Soil processing facility, complete with industrial found-object landscaping.

On a not-so-unlucky Friday the 13th, Laura Vogel, Rebecca Pineo, Dongah Shin, Ashby Leavell, Raakel Toppila, and I went on our last EI spring field trip for the year, this time to Organic Mechanics Soil in Modena, PA. We met with company founder and president (and former LGP Fellow) Mark Highland, who took us on a tour of the site and shared the story of the company’s beginnings and growth, as well as his own experiences pre- and post-LGP.

Mark Highland explaining the ins and outs of making organic potting soil to the Fellows.

Organic Mechanics Soil, for the uninitiated, is an organic potting soil manufacturer, distributing throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The company has been growing in its reach and success since its foundation in 2006, carrying out Mark’s vision of making the most environmentally sustainable potting soil on the market.

Checking out the soil mixer.

Their soils rely on compost made locally in Chester County to supply water retention, nutrients, and biological activity, rather than on peat, which is nonrenewable and takes a heavy environmental toll for its extraction. Mark also pointed out each of the other ingredients and explained their benefits and how they’ve been sourced as locally and/or responsibly as possible: worm castings, rice hulls from Arkansas and Louisiana (to substitute for perlite when possible), aged pine bark from Delaware, and coconut fiber from India. India, you say? Mark explained that they were careful to choose a supplier with a high quality product, low in salts and chlorides from being washed in rainwater rather than seawater, and which is itself the just leftover dust after the coconuts have been processed for meat, shells, juice, oil, and husks. Shipping the dried, compressed coconut dust by boat is less fuel-intensive than trucking.

An experiment with biochar in the works; behind us are stacks of compressed coconut fiber.

The same intentional approach to sustainability permeates the whole operation, from the worm bin in the office and the employee CSA garden with aquaculture tanks outside, to the close working relationship Organic Mechanics has with Waste Oil Recyclers, the company from whom they lease the site and with whom they share biodiesel for vehicles and equipment.

The employee vegetable garden, with a fish tank to the left. Yum.

As we’ve seen before, being sustainable definitely does not conflict with running a successful business. In its fifth year, the company is already planning its next expansion into a larger processing space, and with recent recognition by Organic Gardening Magazine with its first “Seal of Approval” for organic products, the future looks very bright for Organic Mechanics Soil.

A finished bag ready to go, complete with Organic Gardening’s Seal of Approval.

 

LGP Reunion – a little sneak preview

The LGP Reunion Programming Committee has been hard at work planning displays, music, and a fun evening for all our alumni. Here’s a few glimpses of what we’ve been working on:


An exhibit of photos of each class since the beginning of the program.


Displays of materials from seminars, symposia, projects, and trips. Yeah, remember those posters and booklets and brochures?


Maps to show the national and global reach of LGP alumni. Where have you been? Where are you now?

In addition, we’ll have a “photo-booth” set up for alumni to take fun pictures with the beautiful backdrops of the lake and the Italian Water Garden. Live music provided by a professional trio will complete the atmosphere. But the main event of the evening, of course, will be the meeting of friends and colleagues, old and new, and the reliving of LGP memories. We hope to see as many of our alumni there as possible!

Alumni can register here on the LGP website. You know you can’t wait to get back to Longwood Gardens for a fun evening with friends!

This LGP Reunion update brought to you by: the Programming Committee, led by Kate Baltzell (Class of 2011) and including Laura Vogel (Class of 2011), Ashby Leavell (Class of 2012), and Felicia Yu (Class of 2012).

Electronics Recycling Day – perfect spring weather edition

(written by Felicia Yu; photos by Raakel Toppila)

Tis the season…for getting rid of trunk-loads of old electronics!

Some junk items just have more character than others.

Our fifth Electronics Recycling Day for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) was held outdoors in front of Townsend Hall, which turned out to be an extremely convenient place for staff, faculty, and students to pull up their cars and unload their unwanted electronics. As in past ERD’s, we collected all manner of outdated computers and broken printers, ancient radios and dusty landline telephones, and batteries—lots and lots of batteries! We were also able to give away a handful of working items to new owners, and another box of cell phones was set aside to donate to Cell Phones for Soldiers.

The EI team sitting pretty on our junk pile. “Hey, are you at ERD? Oh yeah? Me too!”

Ashby Leavell, Rebecca Pineo, and Kate Baltzell loading up the van.

We plan to make ERD an annual spring event from now on, so if you missed this one, save your electronic junk until next time! Unless the pace of technology slows waaay down, we will continue to need a responsible way to dispose of electronics as they get outdated or broken, and the Environmental Impact team is happy to make it easier for people to do so.

We nearly filled up the back of the UDairy Creamery van. At the drop-off at UD General Services, we loaded up five pallets about 3-4 feet high. Good work, CANR!