Landscape class gets dirty to beautify St. Paul campus appearance

Emily Ayshford

On an unusually warm spring Saturday, 29 University students, like many of their peers, spent the day doing homework.

But for them, homework included digging a pond and laying a retaining wall at the Display and Trial Garden on the St. Paul campus.

As part of a four-year garden renovation, students from a horticulture landscape design class are building a new pond, patio, and retaining and timber walls over the next two weeks.

Most of these students designed the projects as part of a class last fall.

The students also learn management skills and bid contracting in the class. But Saturday, they got down and dirty digging the pond in the Water Garden and aligning a retaining wall around the Perennial ID Garden.

“It’s not so bad,” environmental horticulture senior Alissa Berglund said while she laid a block. She designed the garden, which allows students to observe and identify perennials, and said she prefers drawing and designing to landscape work.

Although some students will never do this kind of grunt work after college, Julie Weisenhorn, teaching and technology specialist for the class, said students at least leave with knowledge of every aspect of landscape design.

“They can go off and not feel totally lost,” she said.

Elizabeth Bache, a master of agriculture student in the spring class, took a more passive role Saturday – her near-term pregnancy prevented her from doing heavy work.

Bache, who said the tweaking of an already-existing pond’s design took her “forever,” still worked on revisions the day of construction.

But she said her work paid off because her design could be there for up to 10 years.

“It’s a nice legacy to leave,” she said.

Local contractors Damon Roth and Kevin Barry volunteered their time to teach the students “how we do it in the industry,” Roth said.

Barry said the students are eager to learn and often have better designs than industry professionals.

The 120,000-square foot garden acts as a learning ground for students and residents.

Fifteen different segments make up the garden, including the Minnesota Garden, which contains plants native to Minnesota, and the Use Garden, which has edible and medicinal plants.

The garden, built by students for students, acts as an outdoor lab and observatory. Plant pathology students observe the garden’s plants for disease, local residents use it for landscape ideas and local groups take field trips there.

Grants, donations and royalties from the school’s interactive computer program Plant Elements of Design sustain the garden, Weisenhorn said.

She said more student designs will be implemented in future years.