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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 “Growing with” series.
By Liz Potasek
Senior Gardener Laura DeVries began working at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum as an intern in 2009 and returned as a student laborer in 2010, but she got her first “official” job with us in 2013. “I like to say I kept coming back until they gave me a real job,” she says. “I started as a laborer and then assistant gardener for Rich Gjertson in the wildflower garden, native and natural areas.”
These days DeVries works in the Pollinator Garden at the Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center, the Andrus Learning Center greenhouse and greenspaces surrounding the learning center, as well as the areas around the red barn and the parking lots.
Why are you passionate about your work here at the Arboretum?
How could I not be!? Each changing Minnesota season brings new blooms, new color and new things to explore and discover. I garden at the Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Center, the areas under the red barn, the Andrus Learning Center and the parking lots. I love getting to be a fly on the wall and hear the excitement of kids coming for a guided field trip with our educators or just visiting with family. Hearing as a child discovers sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica), or a super spiky cactus in the greenhouse at the learning center, or a Monarch caterpillar at the bee center, is priceless and a great reminder of how awesome plants are.
What garden do you work in primarily?
I’ve been lucky enough to be gardening at the Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center since it was built in 2016. There I get to plant annuals, maintain perennials and garden for pollinators. I have a passion for native plants, and the gardens at the bee center are full of them! I make sure to leave plant stubble for stem-nesting pollinators while tending to flowering plants of all shapes and sizes. There is also a large wildflower meadow that helps support a variety of native pollinators.
I started beekeeping in 2016, as well. I like being able to share firsthand knowledge with visitors, as the honeybees stir up a lot of questions. And when I don’t know the answer, Beekeeper Ping Honzay is always a helpful person to have nearby!
I also garden at the Andrus Learning Center, which involves two nature play areas. They have fallen logs, little houses, water to play with and lots of designed natural material structures for kids to use their imaginations in. It sure beats a plastic playground in primary colors. Also behind the Learning Center is a giant Children’s Garden. There, the educators lead children throughout the summer in planting and tending their own square foot veggie gardens. Don’t tell the kids, but we help with the weeding in there as well. It is rewarding watching tiny veggies grow all season long and seeing how much they can produce!
At this time of year, you can find me in the sweeper, cleaning all the sidewalks and garden paths. In the non-gardening months, I also help out wherever I can, maintain the Learning Center greenhouse and work on invasive plant control in the woods.
What is your earliest memory of nature?
When I was little and it would rain, I would collect all the worms I could find and put them in the puddle in our driveway. Now I know that the worms are actually trying to get out of the water.
I think at the Arboretum and outside of work, I’m still making up for lost time, I spent too much time inside when I was growing up!
Who taught you to garden?
I never really had a garden growing up, but when I started interning here at the Arboretum in 2009 with Rich Gjertson, Richard DeVries and Ricky Garza, I got a crash course in all of the things that became my favorite parts of the job. Working hard, with native plants and often small engines, is still my favorite way to spend the day.
Do you have a home garden?
Yes, we have a small native prairie, a nice hilly patch of woods, and a veggie garden that needs more attention. One of my favorite plants is a large flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) that I got from my first mentor at the Arboretum, Rich Gjertson.
What is the most challenging plant you work on at the Arb, and why?
My first answer is buckthorn, but that’s too obvious. So I think it might be rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium). It is one of the most intriguing, beautiful plants and when in bloom, it smells just like honey. But it is a plant that does better in a native plant community than in a garden bed where you want to keep things organized.
The other one I want to add is butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). It is so beautiful, so popular with monarchs, but the caterpillars eat it to smithereens, so they often look sad in the garden!
Do you have any favorite gardening trick or tips you’ve picked up along the way?
Get yourself and your favorite gardener a soil knife! You can use it like a trowel or a weed digger, and it has inch markings on it (great for helping plant the Arb’s annual tulip display!). When it’s new and very sharp, be careful, but it can even be used as a saw!
Share a favorite memory when your work at the Arboretum impacted a member/visitor in a meaningful way.
I just really enjoy hearing people get excited about what we do here. The fresh eyes of visitors and little compliments make it so worth it!