Local Master Gardeners Find Joy in Nature

by | May 2024

Meadow blazing star

Meadow blazing star. Photos: Chris Emeott

Hennepin County Master Gardeners showcase their earthly endeavors.

Like many things in life, experiencing them firsthand often provides an elevated experience. Take, for example, when visiting a garden, one can view how colors, shapes and textures are married with nature’s tender hand to reveal natural art in its purest form. Bees, butterflies, songbirds and tiny woodland animals all come to visit, and, for the most part, positively add to the natural vistas as they go about their inherent business.

When the Hennepin County Learning Garden Tour, launched in 2008, is held each season, it offers attendees the opportunity to visit, appreciate and learn from the efforts of some of the area’s master gardeners, who are University of Minnesota-trained volunteers, educating the public about a variety of horticulture topics.

“The tour features a wide variety of garden settings and inspirational opportunities,” says Allison Reese, chair of the Learning Garden Tour Committee. “The goal is to have attendees leave the garden tour inspired to start or continue work in their own backyards or small spaces, knowing they have information backed by university research.”

Reese says, “Each garden offers a unique opportunity to learn about the latest trends and techniques—with educational topics at each garden … The tour highlights one-of-a-kind gardens, showcasing a wide variety of designs, locations and styles.”

Most of the locations are private homes of master gardeners, but the tour could include the schools or community gardens where they serve as volunteers.

The Hennepin County Learning Garden Tour is slated for July 13—rain or shine—and will include portions of Minneapolis and Edina, featuring up to 10 gardens. Learn more at hennepinmastergardeners.org.

Shrub rose

Shrub rose

Diana Straate, Corcoran

Gardening about 6,000 square feet, Straate does so primarily without the use of chemicals or a sprinkler system. “It’s a one gal show,” she says. “Perfection is not an expectation.”

With more than 500 plant varieties, Straate veers away from hybridized plants and moves toward pollinator-friendly elements. “I take advantage of self-seeding annuals and perennials,” she says. “I dormant store over 100 trailing begonias, which are my anchor plant.” (Speaking of begonia’s, keep reading to find out how Straate feels about one of her plants, which is 13 years old and boasts a tuber that measures 14 inches by 11 inches by 9 inches.)

A master gardener since 2013, Straate says she easily logs more than 500 hours a year in her garden. “I have been gardening with my grandparents and parents since I could walk,” she says. “I prefer to be outside, versus inside—I feel grounded. It’s my happy place, where I feel at peace. Gardening is good for the soul, the mind and the body. I love to share its bounty and encourage others to give it a try.”

Straate says she gardens in order to be “a steward for pollinators and wildlife. Without them, gardening would not be possible,” she says. “I work to incorporate pollinator favorites as a thank you for pollinating my gardens.”

Proudest Gardening Endeavor: Painted lady migration

“In 2017, when the painted lady butterflies had an unusual mass migration, I had thousands of them layover in my gardens for almost two weeks. It was the most astounding and affirming moment. It was proof and an affirmation that I can make a difference. We all can make a difference.”

Favorite Plant: Bert, a prized bonfire begonia

“… I do love the heirlooms that came from my great-grandmother’s, grandmother’s and my dad’s gardens.”  

Favorite Garden to Visit: Noerenberg Memorial Gardens, Wayzata, and Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina 

“Oh, my, I love all gardens, small and large; private and public … I was lucky to extensively tour many gardens in Japan.”

Is a garden ever complete? No.

“That’s a big no! However, that being said, I am cutting down on annuals and plants that require too much care, deadheading and watering.”

Meet the Master Gardener: Leslee Jaeger, Plymouth

“My garden has evolved over the 30-plus years I have lived here,” Jaeger says. “We started with laying our own sod and hauling rock for landscaping, which was the custom for new homes in the early ’90s, and I have spent the last 30 years ripping up sod and getting rid of rock as I have extended my gardening habit. Initially, everything was kid- and dog-friendly, and the kids used the backyard for their playground. We added a pond around 15 years ago, and that really started me to consider the yard as an extra room for entertaining. My most recent additions are three vegetable gardens and a pollinator garden.”

From spring through fall, Jaeger spends about 10 hours a week in her garden. She always wanted to be a master gardener, and once courses moved online during COVID-19, she pursued her dream. “Gardening encompasses many interests for me,” she says. “It is a full body exercise in the outdoors, meditation, art creation, nutrition and entertaining. I often listen to audiobooks as I garden.”

Leslee Jaeger

Leslee Jaeger

Proudest Gardening Endeavor: Inspiring others to start a garden

“… either vegetable or flower.”

Favorite Plant: Japanese maple tree

“I love the lacy foliage and change in color of the leaves during each season. It reminds me of many of the Asian gardens I have visited.”

Favorite Garden to Visit: Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska

“[It’s] a favorite and one I don’t visit often enough because I am too busy in my own garden.”

Is a garden ever complete? Not yet

“I would like to think that someday I will quit adding elements to the garden and just enjoy what I have—unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet!”


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