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Editor’s note: You see the results of our horticulture staff’s work every time you visit the Arboretum, so we wanted to introduce you to the team who inspires our organization. Each month, we’ll highlight a different member of our horticultural team in our new “Growing with” series.
By Liz Potasek
Ted Pew has a knack for working with some of the trickier plants at the Arboretum. As the landscape gardener in charge of roses (in all three roses gardens), clematis and fruits and vegetables in the Home Demonstration Gardens, he embraces the challenge. “I really like working with different plants because even when they’re challenging, they’re really rewarding,” Pew says.
Pew has worked at the Arboretum for an astonishing 41 years, starting at the Horticultural Research Center. He’s worked with roses and the Home Demonstration Garden since 1987. Today he manages three rose gardens — Wilson Rose Garden, Nelson Shrub Rose Garden and Ankeny-Lang Rose Garden (the rose walk near the annual gardens) — along with the Home Demonstration Garden and Rock Garden.
Pew says that working with the roses over the years has become increasingly challenging, especially with the introduction of the Japanese Beetle and Rose Rosette disease. “It’s the scourge of roses now, if you happen to get it, you might have to forget about growing roses,” Pew says. “Hopefully it doesn’t come any further north than Ames, Iowa.”
In more normal times, Pew works with a team of volunteers, including the Minnesota Rose Society and the Minnesota Chapter of The American Rock Garden Society, in addition to Arboretum staff to maintain all the gardens. This year has been difficult because volunteers aren’t able to work at the Arboretum due to COVID-19. “You have to try to prioritize things and not let some things get to you,” he says, “because you see some gardens and the weeds are growing better than the plants.”
Pew finds inspiration for his gardens in many different places, including visiting gardens, attending lectures and chatting with fellow gardeners, especially gardeners involved with the Minnesota Rose Society and the Minnesota Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society.
As he plans the Wilson Rose Garden, Pew says he tries to introduce disease-resistant varieties when it’s time to replace a rose bush. “In the tender rose garden, if I’ve tried them three times and they don’t seem to want to make it, I’ll stop using them,” he says.
Pew plans the Home Demonstration Garden with a focus on tried and true vegetables, as well as All-America Selection winners, since the Arboretum is an All-America Selection Display Garden. “I try to do a lot of companion planting, which is a mixture of using herbs and flowers and vegetables to either help ward off insects or bring in pollinators,” he says, noting that he added a pollinator bed to the Home Demonstration Garden this year.
Why are you passionate about your work here at the Arboretum?
I enjoy the seasons at the Arboretum, especially working in the vegetable garden when you see the fruits of your labor during the harvest. I also take joy working in the rose gardens and seeing the bare sticks that you plant and prune turning into wonderful blooming plants. The same with clematis: viney sticks in the spring look rather ugly, but they turn into wonderful blooming plants in the summer.
In addition to the plants, I have a very keen interest in wildlife and birds. I enjoy watching the osprey when they come back every year, and this year, with less visitors, the cardinals have been really singing a lot and they’ve been hanging around more.
What garden do you work in primarily?
I work in the Home Demonstration Gardens and Rock Garden. I also work in all the rose gardens at the Arb. In the Ankeny-Lang Rose Garden, I try to feature ever-blooming varieties. The focus on the Wilson Rose Garden is the vine collection and the tender roses, but I do have some shrub roses, too, along the borders. The Nelson Shrub Rose Garden features shrub roses.
What is your earliest memory of gardening?
Working in the vegetable gardens back home in the Vernon Township with my mother and grandmother and helping my grandfather on his Dairy farm. I grew up in a renovated school house, where my mom had gone to school, next door to my grandparents.
Who taught you to garden?
My mother, who would have a beautiful vegetable garden. She would take me to garden centers and pick out the seeds and plants that we would grow in our vegetable garden. We also had the most beautiful zinnias and moss roses in a quarter of the vegetable garden.
Do you have a home garden?
Yes, a rather large vegetable garden. My wife Sharon mainly maintains it. We grow a lot of heirloom tomatoes because I enjoy eating those. We also plant green beans, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, lettuce and herbs. We may have to put up a fence because this year; we’ve started getting deer.
What is the most challenging plant you work with at the Arb?
Clematis, due to the different ways each variety needs to be pruned and cared for. It’s challenging because there’s some that you have to prune lightly, and then there’s the hard prune varieties. You have to be careful because it’s prone to clematis wilt, and if you have the disease on your pruner, you can spread it. So you have to spray your pruner when you’ve finished with one variety before you go on to the next.
Do you have any favorite gardening tricks or tips you’ve picked up along the way?
The Minnesota tip method was developed by the Minnesota Rose Society, who helps me take care of the Wilson Rose Garden. It’s based on a French System used for tender fruit.
First, you tie the roses into a bundle, then you dig a trench. It’s kind of like opening and closing a door, and you try to tip the roses in the same way each year. You kind of dig under the roots in the direction that you have to tip them, and then you go on the back side and just tease the roots up, so that you can push it down. You hold it down, and put soil on top. We always try to use that orange poly twine so that we can find the top easily instead of digging up the roots.
We tip them in October, right around the last full week of October, and we raise them right around April 15. This year, because of COVID-19, I delayed it as long as I could, so we lifted them up May 1.
Share a favorite memory when your work at the Arboretum impacted a member/visitor in a meaningful way.
I had a couple of volunteers who were inspired by their volunteer experience. One started her own horticulture business, and the other supported the Woodland Azalea Garden.