Look closely at the Terrace Garden at Edina's Arneson Acres Park this summer and you'll see plantings of Janie Primrose Marigolds, Salvia Vista Red and Ageratum Hawaii Blue. The floral displays are a tribute to the park's longtime greenhouse head, Shirley Petersen.
Petersen, 86, died May 2 at the Edina Care Center after a four-month battle with cancer.
"She lived and breathed plants," said Tim Zimmerman, horticulturist for Arneson Acres. Zimmerman and Petersen worked for 26 years on the annual seed order, selecting the right mix and quantities of perennials and annuals to plant at the various parks, planters and gardens around the city of Edina and at Arneson Acres.
"She was one of the most knowledgeable ladies I knew," Zimmerman said. According to Zimmerman, she loved gardening, read extensively about horticulture, strived to find and try new plant and flower varieties and started many plants from seed. "She loved something new or exciting," he said.
Mort and Katherine Arneson donated their home and 14 acres of land to Edina to preserve green space in the middle of the rapidly growing suburb. According to Linda Petersen, Shirley's daughter, Mort Arneson knew her mother from her work in the Edina garden clubs and handpicked her to serve as the first head of the greenhouse.
"She always called him Mr. Arneson and was a fierce defender of his vision of the park," said Linda Petersen. "She knew what it was supposed to be and made sure that's the way it was done."
Peterson also was one of the founders of the Edina Garden Council's annual plant sale. One of the very first sales was held in her driveway; it now is the council's major fundraiser. Sale proceeds pay for seeds, soil, pots and fertilizer used to grow flowers for the city of Edina at the Arneson Acres greenhouse. The success of the plant sale also allowed the council to fund a gazebo, two fountains and part of the irrigation system at Arneson Acres Park.
Karen Platt, who succeeded Petersen as greenhouse chairwoman, said "she spent decades of her life at the greenhouse, donating her time and organizing Edina Garden Council members and volunteers."
Petersen was recognized with the Edina Mayor's Volunteer Service Commendation in 1981, and in 2001 the Edina Garden Council named her special volunteer of the year.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Don, and son Greg. She is survived by her daughter, Linda; son Scott and one granddaughter.
Services have been held.
Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926