When I was younger I wanted to be heaps of things when I grew up. I went through the doctor phase (specifically geriatric), cowgirl phase, the military phase and then on to wanting to be an architect, artist, world traveler, wildlife biologist, baker, physicist, doctor without borders, photographer, mechanical engineer, plumber, surfer bum and so on.
I have always had an interest in everything. Literally everything. If it sounds cool or odd and if no one else would ever think of doing it, I’m all about it. Which has led me here, to Glensheen.
I grew up gardening with my family. My mom started out with a large veggie garden in our backyard nestled in the rough suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. If I’m honest, I’m pretty sure that our garden took up over 50% of our backyard. Then she grew to love the world of flowers, especially roses. She learned how to use color and textures to transform our 1/4 acre yard into quite the neighborhood interest.
Then there were my grandparents who had a Hybrid Poplar (Populus deltoids x Populus nigra) farm on the Mississippi River in Northern Minnesota. Acres and acres of fast growing cottonwood hybrids covered their multi-hundred acre world. They too had a large veggie garden. And even though their growing season was restricted to a 95 day window, they always had plenty of harvest to can in the fall for the long Minnesota winter.
Small creek that feeds into the Mississippi River on the farm
Grandparents barn in the winter
After all of this, you could say “you were made for this!”. Looking back on my childhood now, yes, most of the jobs I’ve had or skills that I have learned work nearly perfectly with being a gardener. Along with gardening skills, I learned how to be innovative and problem solve quickly. When you have a farm in the middle of nowhere Minnesota you generally need to know how to do a little bit of everything in case of an emergency, and my grandparents knew a lot. So I learned how to build, woodwork, plumb, wire a building, drive a tractor and how to work hard and love it.
Going through the past 20 some odd years I wanted to be nearly everything, but gardener never came to mind (probably because I never knew that “gardner” was an option. I just thought that everyone was their own gardener). Before landing here, I graduated with a geology degree from Gustavus Adolphus College (a fitting degree, since I have always loved digging in the dirt and collecting rocks). At the end of my college career I knew I wanted to work with soil, but I didn’t know that I would work with it in this capacity.
So here I am at Glensheen, the Historic Congdon Estate.
The formal garden. Photo courtesy Dennis O’Hara/Northern Images.
When I was hired a year ago I thought that I would just be planting annuals and veggies and then mowing the grass once a week. But it has become so much more!
My students and me
I get to lead a team of students from the University of Minnesota Duluth and we design, plant, weed and harvest all of the gardens. As well as build and design some of the hardscapes, the bones, that are filled in with plants later on. My team has an array of skills and interests. None of them are horticultural or agricultural students, but their wide variety of interest has created a dynamic team of gardeners.
I also spend time studying historic horticultural documents, maps and correspondences that depict the ideas behind the grounds of this North Shore estate. I get to dream about what it was like to be Chester Congdon, a man with the world as his oyster, and bring the historic grounds back to life. I try to make out the plant varieties that historic gardeners George and Bob Wyness planted from fuzzy photos of people in the gardens; I at least try to replicate the texture or color if I can’t identify the plants.
1907 Planting plan designed by Charles Leavitt. Each circle on this map is a specific type of annual, perennial, shrub or tree. There is a list that corresponds with this map as well with a total of 266 plant varieties.
There is so much potential here it sometimes seems daunting. But when I sit back and take in the brilliant view of Glensheen while sitting on Lake Superior I am filled with breathtaking joy and excitement for what I get to experience and create!
From here on out, most of my content will be odd gardeny happenings that go on in my world here. There also might be a few backpacking adventures thrown in.
Cheers, from a likely, unlikely head gardener!