Growing the Legacy of the Learning Garden

May 11, 2023


The Learning Garden for Horticultural Science (formerly known as the Display and Trial Garden) was established in the late 1970s on a small plot near the corner of Gortner and Folwell Avenues where it still stands today. Originally, the garden was used to trial and assess annual flowering plants for their suitability to Minnesota summers. Each year, hundreds of annuals--including All American Selections--were planted, observed, and assessed by faculty members to evaluate size, time of flowering/fruiting, and overall performance. Today, the purpose of the garden is largely educational, supporting a wide variety of uses from our garden intern program, to public outreach and plant identification course instruction.

Pink peonies in the Learning Garden

In 2019, the name of the garden was changed to match the mission and in 2021, Dr. Brandon Miller, Assistant Professor & Curator of Plant Collections, took the reins overseeing the Learning Garden and the interns that help maintain it. 

“The garden has progressed nicely” Miller explained, “Trees along the main garden have been pruned, perennial gardens have been planted around the pond and new outdoor seating has been installed to enhance the visitor experience.” Miller said, reflecting on the past season. This spring, the Learning Garden team will be focusing on transforming the Folwell Avenue roadside. What once was maintained with turf will be converted to a matrix planting method with prairie dropseed, mixed flowering perennials, and a few underutilized low-growing shrubs to create a diverse landscape with multi-season appeal. “Our plan for this year is to use cultivated varieties of our favorite regionally adapted native plants, like false indigo. These plants will have a high impact visual experience throughout the growing season,and serve as a low-maintenance option for developing a diverse and resilient landscape,” says Miller. 

Bridge over the pond in the Learning Garden with greenery surrounding.

But Miller doesn’t do it alone, the department funds two undergraduate student interns that will work in the garden and learn from Dr. Miller. Interns gain valuable hands-on horticultural experience and play a vital role in connecting this public garden to the community through social media and outreach programs. Returning to the outreach event schedule for the first time since the pandemic are the Gopher Adventures weekly summer youth camp programs. This initiative, offered by Youth Programs, connects kids from ages 6-12 with Learning Garden staff and the Master Gardeners extension programs to introduce the next generation of gardeners to horticulture through gardening, harvesting, and eating the foods they grow in our space affectionately referred to as “Goldy’s Garden”.

The future of the Learning Garden continues to grow strong despite the multitude of transitions over the years. Dr. Miller’s thoughtful oversight aims to continue to enhance the connection between this learning space and our community through outreach while also providing a launchpad for students hoping to start a career in horticulture. 

To learn more about the garden and see the progress of this space transition, take a stroll through the Learning Garden, open sunrise to sunset seven days a week. For virtual updates, follow along on Instagram, If you would like to support the Learning Garden and help sponsor a student intern, please donate today!