Springtime at the Arboretum

I spent the morning surrounded by birdsong at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The chickadee is my spirit animal, or is it spirit bird?

It’s springtime in Minnesota and life is beautiful!

Especially since our very own Minnesota Landscape Arboretum was named The Best Botanical Garden in the country in the 2017 USA Today Reader’s Choice Survey.

Twenty botanical gardens from around the U.S. were nominated by a panel of experts and the Arboretum was voted number one.

I have to admit, I did more than my fair share of lobbying for votes. I’m lucky enough to live about 20 minutes from the Arboretum in Chanhassen, MN, a southwest suburb of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s located just down the road from Minnesota icon Prince Rogers Nelson’s Paisley Park studio.

In fact, Prince enjoyed spending time there.

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Prince at the MN Landscape Arboretum. Photo Credit: Arboretum website

I have an annual membership, so I can enjoy the arboretum year-round, in my state that celebrates four resplendent seasons, each uniquely gorgeous in its own right. While there’s a three-mile trail that winds its way through the various gardens, an avid gardener or photographer can find small wonders to entertain herself in just one small area on multiple visits.

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The daffodils are coming soon!

So even though most spring bulbs and flowering trees are still weeks away from blooming, I visited the garden this morning to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air that April ushered in. Maple syrup was flowing into buckets hung on the trunks of the giant maples and the smokestacks were billowing out long gray plumes at the Maple Sugar House.

Waves of daffodil and tulip leaves stood at attention on every hill, garden and wooded area. In just a few weeks the entire arboretum will be awash in a sea of color and fragrance.

I had planned to join the mothers pushing strollers, retirees and tourists who enjoy daily walks on the 3-mile trail through the garden today.

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As I was crouching down to peer at the plants, I heard a rustling at my knee. The friendly garter snake. Lots of wildlife at every turn.

Instead I got side-lined in the very first garden I came across. I hadn’t been expecting much color, but as it’s my first season as a member, I thought I’d familiarize myself with the various areas, and the plants they contained. It’s always fun to try to identify the early foliage of the perennials as they first poke through the soil. But I was pleasantly surprised to find many pops of color sprinkled throughout the first garden.

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A cold hardy Dwarf Iris (Frank Elder) 4/23

I planted my first Iris garden last September, with bulbs from the National Iris Society’s sale at the Arboretum in August. So I was delighted to find these little beauties nestled into the rocks.

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Snowdrops. Beautiful blue, too!

Snowdrops are the earliest blooming bulbs to appear on the scene, just as the last snow is melting in March, with the little cups of crocuses following hot on their heels.

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Brilliant purple crocus

Besides hunting for blooms and identifying bird calls, spring is an excellent time to stop and learn something new, that I might normally just breeze by, thinking “oh that’s pretty.” The skeletons of espaliered apple trees stopped me dead in my tracks. The outdoor living garden has a small square paneled on three sides with these ghostly beauties.

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Espaliered Haralson Apple Tree – Introduced in 1922 by the U of M

Then there are the gorgeous structural shrubs that flourish year-round and never fail to wow, such as this beautifully sculpted Korean Boxwood. Love the vibrant foliage. I have two miniature boxwood in my fairy garden at home, so they’re a favorite of mine.

Korean Boxwood

Finally when you’re not in a big rush, during the lull before the full spring bloom and its resultant crowds, solitary time in the gardens allows for time to stop and appreciate the beautiful sculpture, art installations, benches and other hardscape features that memorialize loved ones inspired by nature. I thought this was especially poignant.

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In addition to the beautiful grounds, the Arboretum features events and workshops year-round. I’m looking forward to Yoga in the Garden, using the On-Leash Trail with 3 energetic terriers, plant sales, and the 20th Annual Bud Break and Daffodil Dash 5K coming up on May 7th.

For more information, visit the Landscape Arboretum website at arboretum.umn.edu.

In whatever part of the world you call home, I hope you take some time this month, to get out and enjoy nature. Your senses, mind, body and spirit will thank you.

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Imagination: The Best Medicine

There is a quote attributed to Theo Van Gogh, taken from a letter written to his brother the painter, Vincent. I read the original, and it doesn’t sound much like the quote as we know it today, but I love the quote anyway. It says, “To know God is to love many things.”

Adulting is hard. The older I get, the more I cherish and need my creative escapes. I think it’s so important for children and adults alike to have an escape valve to help them release the pressure of everyday life, technology and news of the world.

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My Fisher Price Little People had 2 homes, a farm, a houseboat and a private jet. Little people, living large.

Growing up an only child, I cultivated the ability to entertain myself, as well as a life-long love of creating tiny worlds filled with family, friends and lots of animals to keep me company. My love of all things tiny started with Fisher Price Little People. I remember vividly being very sick once, maybe 4 years old, and the only thing that made me feel better was my Grandma pulling out a Little People A-Frame Cottage that she was saving to give me at Christmas. I was immersed in another world and things didn’t feel quite so bad.

Then in junior high, I read Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, and fell in love with Laura Wingfield’s fragile world of crystal animals. In this small refuge, anything was possible. Everything was manageable.

So you can imagine my unbridled joy when I got my first true writing job creating catalog and box copy at Department 56, the company renowned for their amazing Christmas Villages and Snowbabies. Bringing to life the miniature people who populated the fictional city of Merryville remains one of the highlights of my career to this day.

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A winter catalog from my time at Department 56.
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Hi! I’m Morty

Then some pretty major and traumatic life events occurred in my thirties and suddenly I felt the weight of the adult world on my shoulders. If I’d been able to have kids, maybe the wonder of experiencing the world through their eyes would have sustained me. But I lost my sense of fun. Of play. I lost my joy. I was at a new job, that wasn’t fun, which unfortunately compounded my lack of “joie de vivre.” And that’s when one day I came across a shop on Etsy called Monsters Etc. and met my friend Ruti Dan, a kindred spirit. Here was another adult, with a “real world” day job, who spent her free time making art dolls. NOT for kids.

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Unfamiliar with human customs…like confetti cake, or cake in general.

After Morty arrived, everything changed. I started finding all kinds of crazy ways to photograph him, singing karaoke, playing with the copier at work, investigating mossy woods. The next thing I knew I had started creating small vignettes of my own. I incorporated felted creatures I purchased from Kit Lane on Etsy, and then started making my own felty guys. I propped them with funny trinkets you might find in a gumball machine. Then I found them a red model convertible and a little guitar. Or I propped them in front of the alligators when I visited Avery Island in Louisiana. Before I knew it, I was buying a gigantic dollhouse. My PayPal account was more than happy to accommodate my desire for all things teensy-tiny, and my collection of itsy bitsy shabby chic decor and miniature cakes grew exponentially. As I tell my husband, it’s cheaper than redecorating the house. I can design the room of my dreams in miniature.

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Just an evening of desserts and champagne, with the anti-social Mr. Mouse.

And eventually I graduated to this…

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My spring bake shop, Fattycakes’ Bakery

and this…

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Ms. Clara Plum at work in her kitchen.

and this.

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Making Elvis Presley’s favorite – the peanut butter and banana sandwich

One of the HUGE positives of social media is the way a person can find a group of devoted, like-minded people who share a passion for just about everything and anything. I discovered that there were other mini-devotees, who were just as excited and fascinated with all things mini as I was.

I started chatting with the most amazing and inspiring people, and meeting artists who were pursuing vibrant careers based on their art.  Lauren Delaney. Bridget McCarthy. Ana Mimundorosa. Lugart Petit. Paris Miniatures. A Lavender Dilly. PetitDlicious. Kim’s Mini Bakery.  That’s just to name a few.

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A Marie Antoinette roombox at the Tom Bishop International Miniatures Show.

I traveled alone to Chicago to attend my first International Miniatures Show, where I rode in an elevator with a REAL prince (not Harry, unfortunately). He had traveled from the Arab peninsula to Chicago to pursue his passion for miniatures. I met some of my favorite artists in person and others from Spain, Italy, France, Ireland and so many more countries. I took classes from a master woodworker from Ireland, learning to hand-finish miniature cabinetry. And I saw the most magnificent dollhouses and tiny pieces that cost thousands of dollars. One day soon I hope to return and visit the world-renowned Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Following that simple whim, one day 8 years ago, when I was well, well, well beyond a reasonable age to be playing with dolls, I threw caution to the wind and allowed myself to do something silly. I bought an art doll named Morty from half-way around the world, and he reintroduced me to what I’d been missing so desperately – joy.

Through letting my imagination run wild, and indulging my childhood passions, I was able to gradually let go of some of my sadness, put the world on pause and just play. I think that’s really what we need now more than ever, grown-ups and kids alike. So the next time you see that metaphorical merry-go-round with it’s magical horses, merry music, and flashing lights, go ahead and jump on. Buy yourself that giant stuffed cheeseburger pillow. Or the light saber you’ve had your eye on for months now. It could change your life.

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Let your imagination bloom.