The lone voice of horticultural reason

The Secret To Gardening Success

Whenever someone asks, “How did you learn so much about gardening?,” I answer, “I joined the Minnesota State Horticultural Society.”

When most people hear the word “horticulture” (particularly in its noun form, “horticulturalist”), the mind conjures up images of an oak-paneled drawing room, wherein lie a handful of sharp-nosed, white-whiskered old men ensconced in leather-backed chairs, clutching their pipes while nodding knowingly to their fellow arborists, botanists and the like. It’s easy to imagine them in tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows, and when they speak it’s best to grant them British (or at least upper-class Canadian) accent.

So when people first hear of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, it’s clear why many gardeners-homeowners like you and me-don’t recognize it immediately for what it is: our state’s public gardening club. It’s not a state agency or some division of the Department of Agriculture. Every state in America has a non-profit horticultural society, there are about six that are worth a darn, and Minnesota’s is one of the very best.

It’s certainly the largest; at over 20,000 members, few others around the country even come close. The origin of its rather foreboding, fairly lumbering name is excusable when one considers the year it was founded: 1866. The word horticulture (which means, by the way, “the art or science of growing flowers, fruits, vegetables, and shrubs, esp. in gardens or orchards”) was more commonly used back then.

The Hort. Society, as it’s called for short, owes its existence to an act of rebellion that should make any Minnesotan proud. Over 130 years ago, a popular east-coast newspaper columnist named Horace Greeley wrote a scathing column ridiculing the hapless Swedes and Norwegians who had somehow stuck to a culture-less slab of ice called Minnesota. “You can’t even grow apples there!,” Greeley condemned us in conclusion. Ouch.

Why den, ya big palooka, we’ll show you, hey, responded about twenty prominent Minnesota gardeners, and The Minnesota State Horticultural Society was born. While at first it mainly concerned itself with developing hardy fruit trees (leading to the Haralson apple, among many others) the organization has always existed to help anyone interested in learning how to grow anything. Years ago, the Hort. Society acquired hundreds of acres near Chaska, then sold it to the University of Minnesota for a dollar, so that University researchers could found the Landscape Arboretum.

Today, the Hort. Society is your single best source for gardening information in the State. One main benefit of membership is a subscription to the best gardening magazine available, Minnesota Horticulturalist. Now, I subscribe to far too many national and international gardening magazines, and, like many of you, am constantly being mailed charter subscription invitations for each of the seemingly 165 new ones launched each week. They all share the same flaw: beautiful pictures, wonderful descriptions, and complete cultural information on the most drop-dead gorgeous flowers, trees and shrubs that you can’t possibly grow in Minnesota you’ve ever seen. Even the vegetable gardening information is practically worthless; when the topic is “Fall Seeding Techniques for Winter Crops,” you can turn the page.

Minnesota Horticulturalist, on the other hand, is slick, colorful, professionally written and the only magazine in the world created just for our climate. Membership in the Hort. Society also includes access to year-round, expert gardening seminars; local, regional, national and international garden tours; a gardener’s hotline; membership discount card to dozens of local nurseries; use of the Society’s beautiful new building and large lending library; fun volunteer opportunities; cheap plant sales and swaps, and plenty more.

Membership is just $30 per year. Gardeners of any level, but particularly those new to the hobby or new to our area, need simply dial 612-643-3601 to become a member.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener