FACES AND PLACES: Passion for plants
FISHER, Minn. -- Taking a plant tour with Roger Wagner is an education. The retired University of Crookston horticulture professor and still owner of Wagner's Landscaping near Fisher, Minn., teaches as he walks and talks, explaining how he grafte...
FISHER, Minn. -- Taking a plant tour with Roger Wagner is an education.
The retired University of Crookston horticulture professor and still owner of Wagner's Landscaping near Fisher, Minn., teaches as he walks and talks, explaining how he grafted this apple tree or when he seeded that flat of petunias. Along the way, Wagner stops to show employees Katy Diers and Kaarina Knisely how to re-pot a Kangaroo Apple plant, explaining that the lower leaves should be buried in soil.
Wagner's plant tutorials usually are accompanied by two things: A smile and his dog, Harley. Harley follows Wagner throughout his strolls through the greenhouses, treks to his fields of trees and even rides with him on his tractor. Harley also greets customers and waits patiently for them to respond in kind by a pat on the head.
"Whatever you want him to be," Wagner says with a laugh.
That is just one of the many one-liners that Wagner uses during conversations with visitors. He obviously enjoys people as much as he does working with plants, which makes running a landscaping business a good fit for Wagner.
"I like growing. I like customer relations."
Wagner has a lifelong interest in plants, growing up on a farm several miles from where he now lives. He majored in biology and geography at Valley City (N.D.) State University and got his master's in horticulture at NDSU.
"Geography tells you where all the plants are, and biology tells you how they work, and horticulture tells you how to ka-ching," Wagner said, with his characteristic grin as he imitates the sounds of an old-style cash register.
Wagner began his horticulture career in 1975 when he began teaching in the horticulture department at UMC. He taught in and chaired the department for about 30 years before retiring in 2005. He founded his landscaping business on his farm near Fisher about 30 years ago when he and his son, Brian, began planting trees for people.
Besides landscaping, hardscaping and tree moving, the Wagners also sell perennial and annual bedding plants, trees and shrubs. They have 25 acres of trees, including hackberry, Linden and oak trees in their fields and their four greenhouses are filled with trays of vegetable and fruit plants. The Wagners seed about 85 percent of the bedding plants they sell.
In late April the Wagners greenhouses are a profusion of green vegetable plants and brightly colored flowers. Rows of yellow and orange marigolds, salmon and red geraniums and purple and burgundy petunias fill the tables on the greenhouse floors and baskets of hanging white and pink flowers bloom in baskets overhead.
Two of his grown daughters still help make up the baskets each spring. Each of Wagner's six children, and his wife, Cheryl, has worked in the family business over the years, he said.
While Wagner kept his job as a horticulture chair and his private landscaping business separate, being at the helm of both was beneficial, he said. Running the business helped him to see how what he was teaching his students applied to a real life situation.
"I could relate," he said.
One of the things Wagner takes pride in selling only plants, trees and shrubs trees, which are adapted to northern growing conditions.
"We don't sell anything that won't grow here," he said. Many of his customers are from the Fisher and East Grand Forks areas, but he and his son also get landscaping requests from as far away as the northern border of Minnesota.
"We have so many wonderful people," Wagner said.
Apple of his eye
Besides landscaping and growing and selling plants, Wagner also enjoys grafting apple trees. He grafts up to 10 apple varieties on individual Dolgo crabapple root stalks.
"Every branch is a different variety."
Apples are one of Wagner's favorite trees.
"I love apples. I've been growing and evaluating apples since the early '70s," he said. "We evaluate them so we don't sell any that are non-hardy."
As Wagner completes the tour of his greenhouses, he notes that he has no plans for retirement. Though he had a heart attack three years ago and had four stents put in, he still works 13 hour days during the busy season in the spring
"I'm never going to quit. All the doors are handicapped accessible so they can wheel me in and park me," he said with another laugh.
Bailey writes for special features sections. Reach her at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to email@example.com .