The beautiful campus of the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (MLA) is part of the Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota. It’s located in the beautiful Minnesota River valley in southwestern Twin Cities metro area. The mission here is to provide a community and national resource for horticultural and environmental information, research and public education; to develop and evaluate plants and horticultural practices for cold climates; and to inspire and delight all visitors with quality plants in well-designed and maintained displays, collections, model landscapes, and conservation areas.The striking Minnesota Landscape Arboretum features more than 1,000 acres of magnificent gardens, model landscapes, and natural areas-from woodlands and wetlands to prairie-with extensive collections of northern-hardy plants. Tour the Arboretum on 12.5 miles of garden paths and hiking trails. Walk the close gardens and bike, walk or drive Three-Mile Drive to see more gardens and collections!Over 5,000 taxa are displayed throughout the gardens and collections here; and there’s 17 display and model landscapes, including landscape models for various functions such as parking lots, backyards, and recreated natural areas. The major models and displays also include the Home Demonstration Gardens, restored native landscapes, Rainwater Runoff Model, Rain Gardens, Shrub Walk, Shade Tree Exhibit and a really neat Maze Garden! MLA is also home to 28 different Gardens, with formal gardens including six herb gardens, multiple perennial gardens, three rose gardens, Hosta glade, annual garden and prairie garden. And don’t forget to see the amazing collections: there’s 45 and those feature crabapple, maple, ornamental roses, grasses, and more.
Education is, not surprisingly, a major focus here. There’s a multitude of courses for all age groups and different proficiencies. Students can complete internships and adults revel in classes such as photography, floral arranging, and cooking, to fitness classes like hiking and yoga. Children love the array of fun courses that allow them to discover nature: for example, kids can partake in courses for school or fun that range from apple harvesting, pumpkin picking, green groceries and dinosaurs to making their very own maple syrup! Perhaps the most popular with local teachers and students is the Plantmobile “Fieldtrip;” it brings the hands-on science, real plants, microscopes, lively take-home investigations to the kids. It’s essentially a discovery-filled fieldtrip right in the classroom; PlantMobile is wildly loved by kids of all ages.
Whether you’re headed to MLA for a day or a brief lunchtime respite, MLA is open with free admission from sunrise to sunset. Don’t forget to take along the following list: it’s a Top Ten Attractions at MLA list for you to carry in addition to any maps or materials you receive on site upon entry. Do make sure you stop by and check out the following ten popular areas:
1. Garden for Wildlife
From birds to butterflies to bullfrogs, the Frerichs Garden for Wildlife is a working lab meant to demonstrate effective ways to attract small animals, birds, insects, and mammals to the backyard by providing food, shelter, and a reproductive habitat. Kids and locals love this garden and love the ducks and other wildlife within, which are quite accustomed to visitors!
2. Maze Garden
One of the Arboretum’s newest gardens is the Maze. This collection of over 1,600 shrub specimens contains 11 genera and 14 species and cultivars, and is nestled into the pine collection across from the lindens. It is a “gardenesque” planting that was arranged to create a fun place where you will get lost and try to find your way out! Kids love this fun experience in a real live gigantic maze!
3. Dahlia Trial Garden
Each year the Dahlia Society of Minnesota plants a new selection of hybrid dahlias, which are then monitored for growth, habit, disease, flower quality and other guidelines. This garden is most beautiful in August and September.
4. The Prairie Native Area
Established in 1965, The Prairie was established to present plants that existed on the tall grass prairies of central Minnesota before the days of settlement. Indian grass and big and little bluestem are the dominant grasses of the prairie, which is sprinkled with blooms from spring to late fall. A south-facing slope houses plants including goldenrod, Heliopsis, asters and golden Alexander. A marshy section holds red-osier dogwood, cattails and phragmites, a tall stately grass. Pasque flowers, prairie smoke and downy gentian bloom in a mesic area.
5. Hot Chocolate Walks
Through the fall and winter, the families throughout Minneapolis love this event. Enjoy a steaming cup of cocoa with marshmallows and take a docent-guided tour of the lovely landscaped grounds. Life does go on under winter’s quiet cover, so venture out with a naturalist from MLA to search the ground’s snowy landscape for traces and trails of winter residents. Discover the strategies of plants & animals that survive the frosty Minnesota season.
6. Fern Walk
The Fern Walk goes from the Woodland Azalea Garden to the pond in the woods. Dazzling in any season, especially fall and spring, it holds a collection of hardy ferns and woodland wildflowers with a bed of wild ginger. The lovely woodland walk has a whopping 20 varieties of ferns and nine varieties of wildflowers.
7. Rain Gardens
These particular gardens collect parking lot runoff and allow it to settle into the planted swales. This garden is an inventive way to remove rainwater from hard surfaces instead of allowing it into the storm sewer, which, in turn, floods and pollutes the Arboretum’s streams and wetlands. The parking lots have no curbs so all water runs to the “swale.” The plants are mostly native and must be able to withstand drought since they are planted in six inches of sandy loam over two feet of sand!
8. Wright Terrace Gardens
Outside the upper level of the Oswald Visitor Center are the Kathleen Mary Wright Terrace Gardens. Tucked into the hillside there is a Bosque of linden trees followed by a garden of white flowering plants flanking an Arbor. This garden ends in an enclosed space with a bubbler and a small labyrinth carved into the paving. It’s a garden beautiful in all seasons.
9. Buckeye Collection
The sterling examples in this collection are surely the envy of Ohio! No buckeyes are native to Minnesota; however, many grow well in its climate. This genus of trees is located just west of the ornamental grass collection and has eight species and two cultivars with a total of 23 specimens. They range in size from large to medium-sized shade trees and make a splendid addition to any Minnesotan’s home landscape.
10. Magnolia Collection
The magnolia is a breathtaking genus with multiple species and cultivars. Of 125 species, only a few are resilient in Minnesota. Several of these are cultivars of Magnolia loebneri, are a hybrid of the star magnolia, and Kobus magnolia. The magnolia flowers are fragrant and beautiful, thus, it’s no wonder that gardeners across the state and the country use them in landscape design and large gardens. You’ll also see these beauties along highway stretches locally. This collection is near the end of big Three-Mile Drive just as one emerges from the woods but they’re also represented in the Shade Tree Exhibit, the Home Demonstration Gardens and elsewhere. Overall, there are 17 species and cultivars and a total of 19 specimens in MLA’s collection.
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
3675 Arboretum Drive
Chaska, MN 55318