Landscape arboretum director steps down after 25 years

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum dobuled in size under the direction of Peter Olin.

Peter Olin learned to love nature in the fields and farms of Connecticut where he played as a child, a love he turned into a career.

But Tuesday, Olin ended part of that career, as he stepped down as director of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum after 25 years of service . University horticulture professor Mary Meyer will serve as interim director until a replacement is found. Olin will remain a University professor this upcoming year.

Under Olin’s directorship, the Arboretum has doubled in size and quadrupled its staff, now employing 200 people during the peak summer months, Olin said.

The Arboretum, best known for its research and production of the Honeycrisp apple, has produced several plant varieties, including cherries, blueberries and grapes used in Minnesota wines. The Arboretum is also celebrating its 50-year anniversary as a public garden.

Meyer is taking over the directorship on the 100-year anniversary of the center.

In 1983, when Olin left the forests of Vermont, where he worked at the time, and came on board as the director, the Arboretum had a children’s program in which students came to the park to learn basics about plant life.

Since then, the program has transitioned into several other forms of community outreach. The Plant Mobile , an Arboretum van, takes plants and materials to different local schools that can’t afford to take a bus to visit the Arboretum.

The Urban Gardens program teaches children in St. Paul and north Minneapolis about gardening and the environment.

“[Students] grow vegetables and have to eat them,” Olin said. “Well, they don’t have to, but after spending so much time growing them they usually want to,” he said jokingly about the Urban Gardens program.

The Arboretum’s programs are beneficial to everyone involved, from adults in cooking classes, visitors in the park and developmentally disabled people in the Arboretum’s therapeutic programs, Olin said.

“It’s therapy because there’s physical activity, there’s mental activity, there’s social activity, and there’s spiritual, emotional activity,” he said.

Meyer’s goal as interim director is to take these benefits and give them a greener spin. She said cutting down on pesticide use, using water more effectively and emphasizing sustainability in general are her main concerns.

Because of her new role, the research and teaching she does will have to take a back seat, Meyer said. The time she’ll have to spend on her main research on the hardiness of ornamental grasses will be limited, she said.