Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

WCROC holds Hort Night

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 08/15/2013 12:43 PM

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MORRIS, Minn. — When he wasn't bending down to get the perfect flower picture, David L. Hansen was giving tips and pointers on taking garden photos to visitors at the West Central Research and Outreach Center Horticulture Night.

The University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station photographer was one of several presenters during the Horticulture Night event in Morris.

Sessions were held on fresh and healthy cooking with Tony Nemmers, the general manager of the University of Minnesota-Morris Dining Services; small space vegetable gardening with master gardener Sue Gooch; and WCROC agronomy and soil scientist George Nelson talking about soil.

WCROC horticulture scientist Steve Poppe is responsible for the center's garden design and flower, shrub and vegetable research.

Horticulture Night draws between 1,000 to 1,500 people each year, he said. The event draws visitors from across the state. This year, a group from the Canby area and another from Perham took coach buses to the event.

While some packed the learning sessions, others chose to simply walk through the garden area. Many areas of the gardens have been developed through private donations, he said. The Gazebo Garden includes varieties of petunias surrounding a gazebo complete with picnic table. Another garden has a milkpod statue surrounded by colorful plants.

Many participants took time to sit on the benches surrounded by colorful flowers and shrubs.

The gardens are busy throughout the year, Poppe said. More than 30 events are held annually in the horticulture gardens including "Yoga in the Garden" sponsored by the Regional Fitness Center. Earlier this summer, the Center for Small Towns conducted an event that included a dinner in the garden for 300 people.

While the gardens offer a beautiful respite, about 70 percent of his department's efforts are research. See companies, some from Japan, contact Poppe to be part of the center's plant trials.

He also researches fruits and has received a grant to do low-tunnel studies on strawberries.

Esther Jordan was recently hired by the center to work with marketing and promotions.

The focus wasn't entirely on plants during the event. Milking demonstrations were conducted in the center's parlor along with dairy and swine facility tours.

The gardens offer an educational opportunity for children, he added. The "pizza garden" features plants that produce pizza ingredients. The garden also has a "spitting frog" pond and play area.

The gardens are a year-round effort, he said. The researchers look at the trial study data throughout the winter as they make plans for the coming spring. This summer, the shrub rose garden is being renovated and he's drawing up plans for a peace garden.

Poppe is currently in the pre-design phase for a garden pavilion at the Horticulture Gardens. The structure will have kitchen facilities and restrooms and will be designed to fit in architecturally with the gardens. The gardens host numerous summer activities including weddings as well as family picnics.