Landscape Arboretum receives anonymous $10 million donation

by Tess Langfus

The University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum received $10 million from an anonymous donor in December, bringing the arboretum closer to its goal of building a new $22 million Visitor Center that will connect to the existing Snyder Building.
Peter Moe, director of operations at the arboretum, said additional money is still being raised from private donors.
“The arboretum has some very loyal friends that have supported the arboretum for many years,” Moe said. “Generally (it is) people who have an interest in gardening and horticulture and improving the environment.”
The arboretum’s efforts to raise money are part of Campaign Minnesota, a University fund-raising program publicly launched in 1999 and due for completion in 2003. Donations to the arboretum have reached $41 million, Moe said, more than 60 percent of its $65 million goal.
The arboretum is part of the horticultural science department in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at the University.
The Visitor Center, a 40,0000-square-foot building scheduled for construction in 2003, will act as a gateway for its more than 14,500 members, researchers and visitors into the 1,020-acre arboretum.
More than 225,000 visitors come to the arboretum every year to learn about horticulture, use the hiking and cross country ski trails, and walk or ride through the three-mile trail to view the flower and fruit gardens and landscape greenery.
The arboretum, located in Chanhassen near Victoria and Chaska, was developed in 1956 by the Men’s Garden Club of Minneapolis and the Minnesota State Horticultural Society. In 1958, with land purchased from the Lake Minnetonka Garden Club, the property was given to the University.
Continuing in its original goal of producing hardy cold-climate fruits and landscape plants through traditional plant cross-breeding, the arboretum is known by horticulturists both nationally and internationally.
“Many of the fruit varieties that are commonly grown in Michigan and New York and other parts of the country can’t survive our winters,” Moe said. “So there really wouldn’t be a fruit industry in Minnesota without the University breeding hardy plants.”
Other northern states and parts of Canada, as well as some countries in northern Europe, also benefit from the research done at the arboretum.
Through its variety of educational programs and classes available to children and adults, the arboretum helps the University in its mission of research, education and outreach.
“We also do inspiration as part of our outreach mission, which means basically just creating beautiful gardens that the people just really love to see,” Moe said. “They feel that they can escape from the hustle and bustle of the busy city.”
The new Visitor Center will continue to implement that goal with space devoted to interpretive exhibits and demonstrations, classrooms for educational programs and a 400-seat auditorium.
The center will offer opportunities to hear local, national and international speakers conduct seminars and conferences.
The Visitor Center, Moe said, is “to respond to the growing visitors and growth of the programs here at the arboretum.”
Officials at the arboretum have planned the center since 1998, making it a top priority in their master plan, Moe said. Completion of the center is planned for 2004.
University graduate student Julie Weisenhorn, a member of the arboretum since the mid-1980s, volunteered last spring and summer as a student assistant gardener.
“(The arboretum) is a fabulous place to learn and it was really interesting to see how it actually functioned on a day-to-day basis,” Weisenhorn said.
After completing her graduate studies in the Master of Agriculture in Horticulture program, Weisenhorn plans to work with the public; she said she hopes to educate the public at the new Visitor Center someday.
“I really want to work in a field that is related to helping the public and teaching people how to take care of the environment,” she said.
Sandra Hilk has visited the University property for more than 20 years before working in the gift shop in the Snyder Building. She often assists members and visitors with horticulture questions.
“I wouldn’t know who he is,” Hilk said of the anonymous donor, “but maybe he knows me. He must be a real lover of trees and flowers and wildlife.”

Tess Langfus welcomes comments at [email protected]