Joe Tashjian remembers his mother Alice as a gregarious woman who always wore a bee pin — one of a dozen she owned — fastened to her shirt or jacket as a testament to her passion for pollinators.
On Sunday, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen will unveil its $6.5 million Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center, aimed at passing along that love of bees to visitors through hands-on learning.
The Tashjians helped make the 6,700-square-foot facility possible, donating about $2.4 million to its construction. The bee center will be the outreach and education branch of the University of Minnesota's new Bee and Pollinator Research Lab, which opens this fall on the St. Paul campus.
"For us it was the perfect project," Joe Tashjian said. "We wanted it to be something that really engaged the public."
Sunday's open house will give visitors a taste of what the interactive bee center offers year round — a gallery of displays, beekeeping demonstrations, a honey house where visitors can sample honey and see real apiaries, and outdoor pollinator gardens.
The center fits with one of the arboretum's larger goals: educating people about plants to spark an interest in the environment.
"We've been teaching kids, mostly K-6 but some other age groups too, the value of plants in our lives," said Pete Moe, the arboretum's new director. "Because we've been doing that and because the University of Minnesota is a leader in bee research, it just really made sense to incorporate the bee research into our K-12 programs."
The bee center is on the arboretum's east side, which until recently has been undeveloped except for a large red barn built in the 1920s. As part of a recently completed $60 million capital campaign, the eastern part is now home to a garden for growing food crops and an exhibit on agriculture in Minnesota.
The 1,200-acre arboretum ranked among the top gardens nationally in a 2015 survey by the American Public Garden Association and is one of the largest arboretums associated with a university in the U.S. Last year it drew 454,000 visitors.
Moe said he expects at least 1,000 people at Sunday's open house. The event will run from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and also features live music and tours. During the rest of the year, the bee center is open are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. on weekends. It is free with gate admission.
Saving the pollinators
Since the 1990s, the arboretum has kept 30 to 50 bee colonies provided by Marla Spivak, a world-renowned bee researcher at the U.
The bee center is based on decades of research by Spivak, who is especially notable for her findings on honeybee health and breeding and has given TED Talks on bees' disappearance due to colony collapse disorder.
Spivak has been intrigued by bees since the '70s, she said. They are social insects that self-organize, working together to form a colony, or a superorganism.
"The colony is the animal," Spivak said. "And they have very, very complex behaviors," she said. "There's no central authority."
The center provides people with information on how they can help honeybees flourish in their yards, as well as wild bees and monarchs.
"The public has become very aware about the plight of bees and monarch butterflies ... and a lot of people would like to do something," Spivak said. "Everyone can contribute to the solution."
Tashjian said he hopes that by seeing bees firsthand, visitors will understand that bees aren't "these terrible, frightful things that sting people."
He's pleased with the center's design and called the classroom space and exhibits "wonderful."
"It turned out much better than we ever thought," hes said.