It’s the season to satisfy the gardener’s spirit: The riot of pink, yellow, orange, red and purple flowers as far as the eye can see, and the thick scent of sun-warmed earth and fresh green plants. Donahue’s Greenhouse in Faribault entices people from around the state and region for spring road trips with its 30,000-square-foot glass greenhouse packed with hanging baskets, perennials and carpets of annuals from April through June.
Part of the Faribault landscape for more than 40 years, Donahue’s has become a specialist with close to 100 varieties of twining, colorful clematis, selling close to a million vines across the nation each year (1-507-334-7156; www.donahuesclematis.com). Faribault is also home to Farmers Seed and Nursery, with a mail-order catalog that has inspired gardeners in the dead of winter for more than 120 years (1-507-334-1623; www.farmerseed.com).
Those who prefer less domestic signs of spring can drive east of Faribault to wander among the wildflowers at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Considered one of the state’s best wildflower spots with close to 200 varieties, its spring blooms include delicate white bloodroot, hepatica and endangered dwarf trout lilies that open among unfurling fiddlehead ferns (1-507-333-4840; www.dnr.state.mn.us).
It’s also an ideal time to check out a free birding guide and listen for the trills and chirps of woodpeckers, indigo buntings and scarlet tanagers that flit among this 2,800-acre stand of sugar maple, basswood and elms. Don’t miss a walk to Hidden Falls.
Even if you don’t leave Faribault’s city limits, you can find wooded trails and a small waterfall tucked into a ravine at River Bend Nature Center. Kids will enjoy the hands-on activities at the visitor center or getting sticky at the annual pancake brunch and fun run on April 27. Be sure to savor the syrup made from River Bend trees (1-507-332-7151; rbnc.org).
What else to do
Get cozy: If winter’s chill is still lingering or you’re seeking Minnesota-made products for the upcoming wedding season, stop by Faribault Woolen Mills (1-507-412-5510; www.faribaultmill.com) for a peek at historic displays, a showroom and once-a-week tours.
Enjoy some art: Check out a show, catch a concert or browse the work of regional artists at Paradise Center for the Arts. Through June 7, the two galleries are showing Deb Lee Carson’s horse-themed photographs and watercolor paintings by Kathy Miller (1-507-332-7372; www.paradise centerforthearts.org).
Go for a spin: You can find the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail near Hwy. 60 and County Road 21. The 39-mile route rolls past Wells and Cannon lakes, Sakatah Lake State Park, Lake Elysian and Lake Francis on its way to Mankato (1-507-362-4438; www.dnr.state.mn.us).
Troll for antiques: With vintage Faribault Woolen Mills blankets, nostalgic toys, old tools and stained-glass windows, Keepers Antiques on Central Avenue has a bit of everything (1-507-334-7673).
Enjoy a history lesson: If you crave stories of the past, the Rice County Historical Society features a wide range of subjects, from prehistoric Indians and early missionaries to the invention that would change county fairs for generations: Herbert Sellner invented the Tilt-a-Whirl here in 1926. Kids will like peeking into windows of a replicated Main Street from the late 1880s to the 1920s with a post office, toy shop and even a jail with “Wanted!” posters for the Jesse James Gang (1-507-332-2121; rchistory.org).
Fresh twists on cheese: The Cheese Cave downtown is small, but it’s big on taste and fun ways to showcase the bold, tangy, locally aged blue cheeses (1-507-334-3988; www.cheesecave.net). You can savor it tossed into salads with nuts and fruits, sprinkled across flatbread pizzas or tucked into dessert. If you don’t have time to eat, grab a bag of fresh curds or a wedge of cheese to go.
Dine in a depot: Both neighborly and historic, the Depot Bar & Grill in a renovated 1902 railroad depot easily ranks as a local favorite. Try the burger heaped with grilled onions and local Amablu cheese, the “Ravin’ Craisin” salad or crock of five-onion soup with a layer of broiled cheese on top (1-507-332-2825; www.faribaultdepotbarandgrill.com).
Get a sugar fix: Whether you’re craving homemade ice cream or nostalgic candy, head downtown to the Sweet Spot. Best bets are what’s made on-site, including fudge such as salted dark chocolate or black cow (chocolate and root beer) and ice creams such as peach mango and chocolate caramel mocha (1-507-334-0600; sweetspotcandies.net).
Sitting on a hill three blocks from downtown, the Hutchinson House is easy to spot in periwinkle blue with pink accents and a wraparound porch. The Queen Anne Victorian holds five rooms and suites, including Johnson’s Pride in the octagonal turret ($109-$199; 1-507-384-3291; www.historichutchhouse.com).