Embrace the spirit of trees this autumn

Tables and chairs by George Nakashima show beautiful grain and natural edges of the original trees.
Tables and chairs by George Nakashima show beautiful grain and natural edges of the original trees.

When most people think of the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, they think of flowers — colorful and fragrant plots of roses, azaleas, chry- santhemums and giant dahlias. All that showy color isn’t why I go to the Arboretum, though. I go for the trees.

Trails wandering through 1,200 acres of prairie and woods environments are peppered with groupings of graceful elms, weeping pines and even the beautiful bog Tamarack, the only decid- uous tree that turns yellow and loses its needles in fall. But you won’t find my two favorite trees on any Arboretum map.

American black walnut

My second-to-favorite tree at the Arboretum
is an American black walnut. It’s about 5-feet across and 12-feet long but only a couple inches thick. This particular tree was actually cut down decades ago but lives on as a fine craft wood- working library table.

The Arboretum was established in 1958. In 1974 they commissioned legendary Minnesota architect Edwin Lunde to design the Education and Research Building, home to the Andersen Horticultural Library named after former governor Elmer Anderson. Anderson and his wife, Eleanor, had the brilliant idea to commis- sion master woodworker George Nakashima (1905–1990) to design furniture, display cases and shelves for a library specializing in plant sciences.

A major figure in the American craft movement, Nakashima was known for his tree-slab tables with natural edges that show the actual width of a tree. He also designed a furniture line produced for Knoll in the 1940s. His home and studio in Pennsylvania is a National Historic Landmark.

This rare collection of American craft furniture is a wonderful homage to Minnesota’s horticul- tural heritage; it embodies the spirit of the Arbo- retum and brings the outdoors inside.

Honeycrisp apple

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My favorite Arboretum tree isn’t actually seen on their public grounds, but it was invented there. Honeycrisp apple trees were developed by the University of Minnesota and introduced in 1991. The tree’s sweet, juicy, crunchy fruit soon skyrocketed to celebrity status and is now Minnesota’s official state apple.

It took a long time to grow a tree whose apples are so good. The university has been growing fruit since 1878. Peter M. Gideon, the program’s first superintendent, developed the first apple to prosper in Minnesota’s harsh environment. He named it Wealthy, after his wife. Wealthy apples are still grown today and sold in local apple farms.

The university has become a world leader in apples. Not only have they created apples for us, but they’ve also developed varieties that grow around the world.

To develop a new apple, the university uses traditional plant breeding techniques to graft one plant onto another. SweeTango’s parents are Honeycrisp and Zestar.

It can take up to 30 years for a new apple to reach grocer’s shelves. Until they’re ready for consumers experimental apples are known only by their numbers—Honeycrisp was MN 1711.

Every fall, visitors are invited to the Arboretum to taste new experimental apples. A mile west
is their AppleHouse that sells giftware, apple products, pies and a changing inventory of 50 different apple varieties that ripen throughout the season. Zestar and MN 1691 and 1837 are available now; Honeycrisps ripen in a couple weeks. Call the hotline at (612) 301-3487 to see what’s available each day.

I’m pretty particular about my Honeycrisps. I think they taste better when grown in Minnesota and I like to buy them at the source. After years of trials, I’ve perfected a technique that keeps them fresh for several months: wrap tightly inside two plastic bags then store in the fridge. I’ve cleared my two lower shelves in anticipation, but I’m thinking of getting a second fridge for the base- ment!

Enjoy your apples, the first sign of autumn. And remember: Honeycrisps were made in Minnesota.

The Arboretum is located at 3675 Arboretum Drive. Visitor Center hours: Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Andersen Horticultural Library hours: Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; weekends, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. $12.

LUNCH TIP

You can’t go wrong with lunch at the Visitor Center’s Arboretum Cafe, but bring a chunk of white cheddar with you to the AppleHouse and enjoy a nice autumn picnic with your new apples.

BONUS DESTINATION

If you’re coming from Minneapolis on Highway 5, Paisley Park will be on the left, at Audubon Road, about 3 miles before the Arboretum.

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