By Liz Potasek
This week Rhonda Andreen reports for her 15th season of service at the Arboretum. As a gardener at the Arboretum’s Horticultural Research Center (HRC), she brings an upbeat personality and a can-do attitude to her work, helping out wherever she’s needed – whether she’s prepping research fields, lending a hand in the AppleHouse or taking care of the grounds maintenance and landscaping at the HRC.
Andreen found her career path by continuing to do what she loved as a child. “I grew up on a farm, with horses and big gardens,” she says. “I was always outside riding horses, doing farm chores and helping my grandma with her big flower garden.”
These days you’ll find her out riding tractors as she preps fields for pumpkins, grapes, apples and woody plants; mows lawns; and enriches the soil with milfoil in the fall. “It’s the most rewarding when it all works out – and it usually does,” she says with a grin.
How long have you worked at the Arboretum and Horticultural Research Center?
I started here in 2000 and worked at the Arboretum for three years. Then I left for a while and came back in 2010. I spent five years taking care of the grounds around Westcliff, the Arboretum Director’s residence at the time. I’ve been at the HRC for 12 years.
What do your job duties involve?
I do all the field work at the HRC, so I get all the fields ready to plant pumpkins, sudan grass (a cover crop used to replenish the soil health), squash and some grapes and apples.
I also do all the mowing around the HRC and the AppleHouse and all the maintenance and landscaping around the HRC.
I take care of the woodchip and milfoil piles. I pile up all the milfoil that is hauled to the HRC from local lakes, mostly Lake Minnetonka, and then in November, I load it in the manure spreader and spread it on our fields, just like manure. It’s great stuff – very rich in organic matter and nutrients.
I also help anyone else at the HRC that needs help when it’s busy. I work a lot in the AppleHouse in the fall, grading apples.
Why are you passionate about your work here at the Arboretum?
I am passionate about my job here because I love the HRC and the Arboretum! I love what I do here, and I love working outside. The Arboretum is just a gem.
What is your earliest memory of gardening or nature?
I grew up on a farm near New London and Spicer, with horses and big gardens. I was always outside riding horses that my grandpa raised, doing farm chores and helping my grandma with her big flower garden.
Who inspired your career path?
Even though I distinctly remember not liking pulling the weeds in my grandma’s garden, my grandma probably had the biggest influence on me, spending all those hours working with her flowers.
As a child, I lived outside all the time. I never thought about doing anything else. I studied landscape horticulture at Dakota County Technical College, and after school, I worked in landscaping for a while and then took a job working on the University of Minnesota campus grounds for 10 years before I came to the Arboretum.
Do you have a home garden?
My whole yard is a wildlife garden with very little grass. I have a big yard full of native trees, shrubs and flowers to attract bees and butterflies. That’s where I spend all my time. If I had to pick a favorite plant, I love redbud trees and coneflowers. I planted my redbud trees years ago as bareroots, and now they’re 20-30 feet tall. They’re beautiful plants, and they always attract a lot of attention from neighbors.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging part of my job is probably the weather. The right weather makes it easier to get the plowing and discing done before planting in the spring and to spread milfoil in the fall. It’s the most rewarding when it all works out – and it usually does. This last year was really hard – the drought was terrible. You just have to go with the flow, though. When the weather is good – lots of rain and sunshine, then the apples and pumpkins and grapes do well. That’s a good season!
As an expert in your field, do you have any tricks, tips or advice that would help our readers?
Water your trees and plants in general. People underestimate how much water plants need. At my house, I’m out there watering the entire season, especially in the fall.
Also, don’t fret over the small stuff. We worry about things we can’t control, and more often than not, it all works out. Mostly, if you leave the plants alone and give them plenty of water – they’ll do just fine.
How does your work impact the public in a meaningful way?
I keep the grounds and AppleHouse looking good for everyone passing by to enjoy. I keep the fields healthy so we have lots of pumpkins and squash in the fall.