Talking with Laura Irish, Garden Manager

August 27, 2019

Laura Irish is the Teaching Specialist in the Department of Horticultural Science here at the University of Minnesota. She is in charge of all of the HORT 1001 – Plant Propagation labs during the spring and fall semesters. For the past two summers, she has managed the Learning Garden which was formerly known as the Display and Trial Garden here on the St. Paul Campus.

What problems did you run into with the late start to the growing season? Has that affected the way you plan the garden/season?
The biggest challenge we faced in the garden was the steady rain followed by the rapid temperature increase. This meant we had many weed seeds germinating faster than our perennial plants were growing. This affected the way we planned our season. When the weather early in the season promotes the growth of many weeds, we focus more intensely on taking care of the weeds than on planting annual and perennial plants in the garden. We do not want any of the weeds to drop seeds, because that will just add to the weed seed bank.

Do you have any end of season tips for the end of summer?
The garden is primarily used for teaching, so we aren’t putting the garden “to bed” for another month or so. We focus on growing perennial plants that need little to no extra help surviving winter. However, if you have a garden at home you’ll want to start thinking about clearing out any debris. Particularly if you’re growing annual vegetables you’ll want to get all plant material out of the space. If you do not clean this year’s plant material, you risk having increased disease and pest issues next year.

What is the most common question you get?
Most people ask me if I can identify various plants in the Learning Garden or from photos they’ve taken on their phones. I also am frequently asked why there are so many bees in the two ponds in the garden. The answer is that the bees from the new research building on Gortner Ave have made our ponds one of their primary water sources!

What is something everyone with a garden should know?
Honestly, I think everyone should know that it’s okay to kill plants. Gardening is about experimenting and learning; we all have killed a plant or two (or a few dozen) and that’s
perfectly fine.

What does the future of the garden look like? Who uses this garden? Youth groups? Students? Faculty? Is it free and open to the public? Do you do garden tours?
Next season the garden will be managed by two wonderful women, one is working towards her Masters, the other is working towards her Ph.D. The management of the garden changes every couple of years, so plants are constantly changing! The primary users of the garden are those who know about it – students, staff, faculty, neighbors. It’s free and open to anyone from dawn until dusk every day. Lunchtime is usually the busiest time in the garden. If you want to set-up a tour for a group, please email [email protected].