This spring, Dakota County Master Gardeners had to remove a treasured memorial garden, a tribute to Greta Kessenich of Hopkins, a nationally known expert and author of several books on peonies. They dug up peonies with names like “Raspberry sundae,” “Pink lemonade,” “Firelight” and “Mischief.”

Volunteers potted up 80 peonies for their June 1 spring sale at the University of Minnesota Outreach, Research and Education Park in Rosemount.

“It was a special and unusual garden for UMore Park, as most of our gardens are for research study,” said Master Gardener Suzanne Hamann of Burnsville. “Greta truly loved her peonies and was a great grower of peonies.”

Volunteers have dismantled the peony garden and other sections of UMore gardens in preparation for nearby gravel mining operations to ramp up this summer. While Dakota County Master Gardeners will have something of a presence at UMore Park through 2014, in upcoming years, they will gradually move their operations south to the developing Whitetail Woods Regional Park and to other parts of the county.

“How the gravel mining progresses will determine how much we have to move,” said Master Gardener Brenda Scheer of Lakeville. “We’re kind of homeless right now.”

Julie Harris, chairwoman of the leadership team for the Master Gardeners, said they will make use of “discovery gardens” at Whitetail Woods starting in 2014. “Some of the gardens may come and go depending on what the themes are,” she said, but they “definitely will be teaching gardens.”

The Master Gardeners have made the best of their situation.

“We’re forging more partnerships out in the community instead of having everything here at the park,” Master Gardener Nell McClung said. “Our mission is education, so we’re taking that education out into the community.”

For the first year, this spring through early fall, Master Gardeners are conducting gardening classes at Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville.

Their “Tuesday In the Garden” series, traditionally held at UMore Park, will move to the Dakota County Fairgrounds this year.

May and June plant diagnostics clinics, also traditionally held at the park, will be held on a rotating schedule at various locations: Valley Natural Foods and Burnhaven Library in Burnsville and the University of Minnesota Extension office in Farmington.

“We hope to be a little more accessible to people,” Harris said.

Each February, Master Gardeners begin research trials for seed companies. While some seed trials will remain on the grounds at UMore this year, gardeners also will do some out in the community.

The June 1 plant sale is the major fundraiser for the Dakota County Master Gardeners, a 130-strong group of volunteers. The huge variety of perennials and annuals, which includes heirloom tomatoes, shrubs, irises and many others, have either overwintered at UMore or come from Master Gardeners’ gardens.

They are “tried and true plants from Minnesota,” said Harris.

She added that their certified organic compost has also been a popular seller.

“We’re here early in the morning, and people will line up to shop,” McClung said. “The peonies will draw people from all over.”


Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.