Destination Gardens: Stop and Smell the Roses

By Lisa Meyers McClintick

Garden lovers and green thumbs seeking fresh ideas can find inspiring gardens throughout the state, each with its own distinct personality and history. Blooms begin in mid- to late April (depending on the snow melt) and continue until late fall’s frosty bite. The colors and landscapes change constantly through the seasons, which make them ideal for repeat visits.

Munsinger and Clemens Gardens, St. Cloud

Munsinger Clemens GardensWater cascades gently from a three-tiered fountain topped with elegant cranes, and heady fragrance of roses wafts on the warm breeze. At St. Cloud’s Clemens Gardens, kids dart flower to flower, picking favorite colors, testing the best scents on more than 1,000 rose bushes.

And that’s just the rose garden, a small section of the impressive two-block formal garden. Awash in full-sun, the brick-lined paths meander past fountains, a grand 104-foot-long trelliage, a white garden inspired by England’s Sissinghurst Castle and themed color gardens.

The Clemens Gardens were a gift from a neighborhood benefactor whose late homebound wife could enjoy the view. The city’s historic Munsinger Gardens are a short walk downhill from Clemens Gardens. Located along the Mississippi River and across from St. Cloud State University, Munsinger Gardens showcase shade-loving plants with paths that meander around a vintage fountain, old tourist cabin and a gazebo tucked beneath towering pines.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chanhassen

Take the three-mile scenic drive among hundreds of pink- and white-blooming crabapple trees, and you’ll see why this is one of the Twin Cities’ showiest places to welcome spring. In addition to its gardens, the 1,100-acre arboretum offers hiking and biking trails, exhibits and classes, a sculpture garden, and new varieties of plants.

The University of Minnesota, which operates the arboretum, has been a leader in developing cold-climate fruits, perennials and trees for more than a century, including farmstand darlings such as sweetly snappy Honeycrisp and SweeTango apples every fall.

Minnesota Landscape ArboretumTo fully soak up the beauty here, set aside at least half if not a whole day to savor the seasonal show in more than a dozen different gardens. Spring visitors can enjoy the colorful blaze of the university’s “Northern Lights” azaleas, hear the chorus of frogs in the Spring Peeper Meadow and watch for delicate wildflowers that include the showy Lady’s Slipper, Minnesota’s state flower.

Other highlights through the summer include a formal perennial garden, lush annual, hosta and herb gardens, a Japanese garden, a blooming prairie, and a fully accessible sensory garden rich with scents and texture and a nod to the university’s work with therapeutic gardens.

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, Minneapolis

A spring stroll through these 15 acres with delicate trillium, bloodroot and trout lilies can melt away the hustle-bustle of Minneapolis city life. Its scenic pathways through woodland, wetland and prairie offer a glimpse of the landscape before the metropolitan area boomed and is considered the country’s oldest wildflower garden. Home to 500 plant species and 130 bird species, the garden has drawn visitors since 1907. Waves of native flowers bloom throughout the summer and into fall.

Lyndale Park Gardens, Minneapolis

RosesLake Harriet easily claims to be one of Minneapolis’ most beloved gathering spots with bike paths, an iconic band shell, sandy beaches, sailing, paddling and fishing, but if you love flowers, leave time to wander through the Lyndale Park Gardens near its northern shore. Among the highlights is nation’s second-oldest rose garden, with more than 3,000 plants and 100 varieties that fill the air with a heavenly fragrance mid-June through early October. Just across the road are the varied blooms of the scenic Peace Garden.

Minnesota Goose Garden, Sandstone

North of Hinckley in Sandstone, this five-acre garden in the shape of a Canada goose opened in 2013 after many years of development. It contains more than 400 native species that were used by local Ojibwe tribes in the late 1800s. The flowers, plants and trees, which include wild roses, downy yellow violets, cottonwood and hemlock, are accompanied by 21 sculpted animal totems. The garden is open to the public June-October.

Sibley Park, Mankato

Mankato’s Sibley Park has drawn visitors since 1887, when Victorian families strolled its grounds with long skirts, parasols and baby buggies. It’s still a hit with families because in addition to fragrant rose and flower gardens and fountains, it also features one of Minnesota’s most imaginative kids play areas with a farming theme and petting zoo. If you climb the hill above the gardens, you can see where the Minnesota and Blue Earth rivers meet just beyond the berm.

Enger Park & Leif Erikson Rose Garden, Duluth

Both of these parks feature views of Lake Superior: Enger Park from a ridge high above Duluth, and the Rose Garden just above the shoreline. Sweeping views of sapphire-blue Lake Superior can be seen from the five-story Enger Tower, built in 1939, or the park’s hillside overlooks. Enjoy the yellow carpet of Enger Park’s 4,000 daffodils unfurling each spring. The property is planted with shade plants and perennials, along with a peaceful Japanese garden where the sound of its giant peace bell reverberates across the ridge.

For closer views of the lake and time to smell the sun-warmed roses, grab a picnic lunch from nearby restaurants and settle into Duluth’s Leif Erikson Rose Garden, built over the I-35 tunnel.