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DARREL KOEHLER: Autumn is perfect time to visit public gardens

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Few cities have one truly outstanding garden, but this city long famous for its granite has a "two-fer." Sitting next to one another are the Munsinger Gardens and the Clemens Gardens.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Few cities have one truly outstanding garden, but this city long famous for its granite has a "two-fer." Sitting next to one another are the Munsinger Gardens and the Clemens Gardens.

Both gardens are located on the east bank of the Mississippi River, across from St. Cloud State University, and they have been attracting visitors for years, especially gardeners who want to pick up some new ideas. The gardens are often filled with wedding parties who want to use the rich floral background in their keepsake photos.

September is a perfect time to visit gardens, such as those in St. Cloud, as they generally are at peak bloom. Other gardens you might want to visit would include the International Peace Garden near Dunseith, N.D., or Enger Park Garden or Leif Erickson Rose Garden, both in Duluth. However, Jack Frost is lurking around the corner, so if you want to view the fleeting beauty of the gardens listed as well as others, do so soon.

The Prairie Gardener, along with nearly 30 other vacationers, visited not only the St. Cloud gardens over the Labor Day weekend, but also the arboretum and the Carlos Creek Winery . Other Twin Cities attractions were included. These were all part of a mystery trip offered through West-Pic Travel of Niagara, N.D. Elaine West, Niagara, was tour escort.

First site

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The Munsinger Gardens, which consists of 14 acres, are located where there once was a saw mill. The mill sawed lumber from white pine logs that were floated downstream from the forests north of the city. Today, the site contains many large white pines, which were planted in the early 1900s. The gardens date back to the Great Depression and were developed under direction of Joseph Munsinger, St. Cloud park superintendent. The Works Project Administration (WPA) workers planted flowers, shrubs and trees on the city land, creating a floral and forest oasis. Today, all of the annual flowers for both gardens originate in on-site greenhouses.

The gardens, which are a mixture of annuals and perennials and flowering shrubs, ensure beauty from early spring until October. The towering pines give visitors the impression they are in the north woods, not the rich farmland of Central Minnesota. Trails and benches allow the visitor to take time to soak in all of the beauty. Many visitors take photos or videos. Both gardens use impressive blocks of colors such as rudbeckia. Once you visited the Munsinger Garden, it's up the hill on a path to the Clemens Garden.

Clemens Gardens

The Clemens Gardens is slightly smaller, about nine acres. It is a gift of the late Virginia Clemens and her husband, William, who lives across the street from his namesake gardens. William purchased an empty lot in 1990 and donated it to the city to create a sea of flowers. He wanted his wife, Virginia, to have a beautiful view from her window. She had a disabling disease, and was confined to a wheelchair until her death in 1998.

Today, Clemens Garden overflows with 1,100 roses as well as six sunny plots, each representing a different type of garden. Clemens, who has donated millions of dollars to the project, continues to provide financial support. One of the tallest fountains in Minnesota is located in the center of the rose gardens, typical of the fountains of the Renaissance period. There are bronze statues of Virginia and William Clemens as well as complex of restrooms, snack and gift outlets.

Designers used England's Sissinghurst Castle white garden as a model for that at Clemens. These long-ago gardens feature mostly white flowers. The nearby perennial garden includes more winter-hardy flowers. There are tender rose beds in both the Clemens and Munsinger Gardens. All of the plants are labeled, so bring along a notebook. The tender roses all have to be protected using the Minnesota Tip method in late autumn. The garden has underground irrigation, a necessity such as this year when drought was a serious problem.

The treillage garden is divided into four single-color sections -- blue, yellow, red and purple. The formal garden boosts delphinium, marigolds and Russian sage. A park gardener said they try to plant whatever they can get away in this (St. Cloud) hardiness zone.

Arboretum

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This has been a memorable year for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, a part of the University of Minnesota, which observed its 50th anniversary as Minnesota's premier public garden. However, the arboretum can trace its roots back a century a century to 1908 when the nearby Horticultural Research Center began developing apple varieties that could survive Minnesota's subzero winter temperatures.

During the past century, the center has developed nearly 100 fruit and ornamental introductions, from disease-resistant and cold-hardy azaleas and dogwoods to the Frontenac wine grape and the famous Haralson and Honeycrisp apples.

An arboretum milestone was reached this year the final agreement signed to purchase a 90-acre parcel of land, bringing the total to 1,137 acres. While visitors can walk through the various gardens, we took the tour bus and were joined by a step-on guide. The tour began at the Oswald Visitor Center.

We passed through perennial and annual gardens, a dense hardwood forest complete with ponds, flowering crabapple plots, shrub roses, willows, firs, hedges, pines, a maze garden, oaks and nut trees, azaleas, hostas and natural prairies.

Near the Visitor Center we found a hybrid tea garden, fruit and vegetable gardens, herbs, wildflowers and a Japanese garden as well as others. A bright red barn and silo near the east border of the arboretum, which they own, is kept up just for photographers who use it as a backdrop in arboretum photos.

Winery visit

Concluding the mystery trip was a visit to the Carlos Creek Winery, just north of Alexandria, Minn. Interest in wines produced in the Upper Midwest from hardy grapes has skyrocketed in recent years. These wines were recently showcased at the Minnesota State Fair where many visitors sampled them. The current winery owners took over the operation about two years ago, which is well-known for its annual Grape Stomp in mid-September. Visitors sampled five wines.

The winery offers a variety of wines usually locally grown grapes, such as Frontenac and Valiant, and other fruit such as apples, which they also grow. Other fruit, including California grapes, are purchased locally or shipped in.

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A favorite wine is Minnesota Nice Hot Dish Red, their best selling and most award-winning wine. The bold taste of Valiant comes through with hints of blackberry that balances the sweetness. It's perfect for that regional favorite, tator-tot hot dish. The winery business requires lots of capital so be prepared to pay a premium for these Minnesota wines. You also can visit nearby vineyards and orchards.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. His column is published every Sunday in this section during the growing season. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008. Tune in the weekly gardening show airing at 4:10 p.m. Thursdays on KNOX Radio 1310 (A.M.).

Related Topics: HOME AND GARDEN
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