The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum began in 1956 when the Men’s Garden Club of Minneapolis approached the Minnesota State Horticultural Society with an idea for an arboretum. They felt a strong need to develop plants that would thrive in the harsh northern climate and perform in the Minnesota landscape long term.
In 1958, a gift raised by the women and men of the Lake Minnetonka Garden Club funded the purchase of 160 acres of land not far from the existing University of Minnesota Fruit Breeding Farm (now known as the Horticultural Research Center & AppleHouse) in Victoria. Since 1958, the arboretum has expanded to 1,200 acres and is home to what we now call the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
The Horticultural Research Center was established at Rolling Acres Road and Highway 5, about 1.5 miles west of the modern-day Arboretum.
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum was established on 160 acres.
The Leon C. Snyder Education and Research Building, named for the Arboretum's first director, opened its doors. The building was designed by noted Minnesota architect Edwin Lundie and served as the first visitor center. Today, it is home to staff offices, event spaces and the U of M’s Andersen Horticultural Library.
The Marion Andrus Learning Center opened for an emphasis on educating children. Today extensive adult, child and remote education programming are based out of the building as well as buildings at the Farm at the Arb.
The Oswald Visitor Center opened. With 45,000 square feet of space, the “OVC” is one of the largest public buildings in Minnesota using geothermal technology. By tapping into the natural temperatures just below the Earth's surface, this heating and cooling source is a free, renewable and low-impact system and a sustainable alternative to burning fossil fuels.
The Tashjian Bee & Pollinator Discover Center opened and won an AIA COTE Top Ten Award from the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment for sustainable design excellence. In addition to being sustainably built, the center educates all ages about the key role that pollinators play in our ecosystem, using learning spaces, an apiary, a honey house and pollinator gardens with interpretive signage.
The Farm at the Arb officially opened, showcasing the Arboretum’s iconic Big Red Barn (circa 1920), which was renovated and opened to the public for the first time, creating an iconic destination and event space to connect people with the food they eat through interpretive exhibits highlighting Minnesota-grown crops, fruits and vegetables. The Farm at the Arb’s apprenticeship program provides hands-on technical training to adults who want to go into careers in local food production for sale or community health.
The McQuinn Horticulture and Operations Headquarters opened for staff, a hardworking group that maintains most of the 1,200 acres.
Burton & Virginia Myers Education Center will open in the spring of 2023 at the growing Farm at the Arb to provide a home for the Arboretum's Adult Education team members. It will also serve as the statewide headquarters for the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program, which involves 87 Minnesota counties.
Q. What preceded the Arboretum?
The Arboretum’s land — which became a part of the University of Minnesota with the establishment of the Arboretum — had been owned by Dr. Herbert Berens, who set a purchase price of $35,000. The Berens family later sold more acreage to the Arboretum to help it expand.
One of the buildings of the original acreage, Berens Cabin, today serves as a history center. Over the years, several staff lived in Berens Cabin, including director emeritus Peter Moe in his early days at the Arb.
Today, thanks to many expansions, the Arboretum is a collective 1,200 acres and is still a part of the University of Minnesota as part of the College of Food, Agriculture, Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS).
Q. Why is it called a “landscape” arboretum?
Dr. Leon Snyder, a U of M Horticultural Science Department Head, became the founding director of the Arboretum in 1958. Snyder and other founders sought to build a living collection of trees that would have “landscape value” — hence the term landscape in “Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.”
Q: The University of Minnesota and the Arboretum are known for their award-winning fruit breeding research. What fruits have been introduced over the years?
It was apples — and that need for cold-hardy fruit and ornamental plants — that really inspired the Arboretum’s founding. As early as 1853, horticulture enthusiasts were trying to breed hardy apples. The Honeycrisp (introduced in 1991) might be the most famous introduction as it is now grown around the world.
Over the years, more than 30 apple varieties have been released, including Zestar, SweeTango, along with many other fruits, including the Latham raspberry, bred in 1920 and, in 2021, the hardy Juicy Jewel pear. This year the Haralson apple turns 100 years old. During its time, Haralson was as popular locally as Honeycrisp is today.
The Arboretum’s other huge breeding win is wine. Our fruit-breeding led to the first winter-hardy grapes and today those grapes are used to make award-winning wines. The relatively new and growing wine industry in Minnesota and other northern states is based almost 100% on hybrid grapes, including so many that were bred and evaluated at the Arboretum.