Southern Minnesota Gardens: A Spotlight Tour

As part of our “Visiting Midwest Gardens” series, Flower Chick ventured into southern Minnesota for two days of garden exploration (mixed with a little sightseeing and relaxation). Join us as we spotlight beautiful southern Minnesota gardens in Albert Lea, Mankato, and New Ulm … and experience Minnesota in bloom!

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Photogenic Flower Gardens and Female Peacock at Schell’s Brewery in New Ulm

Across The Border Into Southern Minnesota

Interstate 35 takes you north from the Clear Lake / Mason City, Iowa area into southern Minnesota within a half hour. We were excited to see a few locales we hadn’t visited in decades, including the iconic Schell’s Brewery in New Ulm, one of America’s oldest regional breweries (more about Schell’s in a bit) …

Just ten minutes over the Iowa – Minnesota border, you’ll reach the outskirts of Albert Lea. A mid sized community of about 18,000 residents, Albert Lea is known for its setting nestled between three area lakes …

Did You Know? Albert Lea is named in honor of Albert Miller Lea, a U.S. Army topographer who surveyed large parts of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa …

Albert Lea Park District: Albert Lea’s diligent and capable Park District staff, led by superintendent Joe Grossman, are responsible for maintenance and long term well being of the city’s parks, three of which we’ll spotlight below. In addition to these duties, staff also maintains a city beautification program, highlighted by colorful hanging planters and container gardens on main thoroughfares …

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Container Gardens Of Bright Multi-Hued Annual Plants Beautify Downtown Albert Lea

Did You Know? The majority of Minnesota is in Gardening Zone 4. Portions of southern Minnesota, though, are on the edge (or in) Zone 5.

Three of Albert Lea’s parks are particularly noted for their floral displays. Let’s start with Shoff Park, home to the beautiful Higbie Gardens …

Shoff Park Higbie Gardens: Ask any Albert Lea resident for an example of what makes their town special, and Higbie Gardens will surely be mentioned. These gardens, now located in Shoff Park on the west side of town, have quite a unique story …

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Higbie Gardens are named in honor of a local couple, Floyd and Dorothy Higbie, who first came to town in the late 1920’s. The couple became well known for their local nursery business and in depth gardening expertise. For many years, the Higbie’s maintained showplace gardens near their nursery adjacent to Route 65 entering Albert Lea from the south …

Discover The Many Wildflowers & Native Plants Found In Minnesota … Click Here For Details

The gardens were so spectacular that over the years, they became a tourist attraction. As the 1970’s dawned, the couple wished to retire at the same time a highway widening project took over part of the garden’s footprint. Plans were set afoot to transplant the garden display to a more suitable location in town …

After a few setbacks, the original Albert Lea Garden Club spearheaded an effort to relocate the gardens to the (then new) Shoff Park in 1976. With help from the Higbie’s, the garden club maintained the gardens for over a decade …

By 1993 with the passing of both Floyd and Dorothy and declining interest in the garden club, Higbie Gardens suffered from neglect. But what could have been the end of Higbie Gardens turned out to be just the beginning …

Higbie Gardens: The Rebirth

A new local garden club called The Shades of Jane Regional Garden Club sprung to life by the mid 1990’s and took on revitalization of Higbie Gardens as a primary project. With help from the Albert Lea Park District and community support, the gardens have once again become the showplace destination you see here …

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Beautiful Vistas Every Way You Turn At Higbie Gardens in Albert Lea, Minnesota

Among the special features here are the Children’s Garden and the many plants and trees planted as memorials. The Children’s Garden spotlights plants intended to spark a child’s curiosity like lamb’s ear, snapdragons, and an egg tree.

It’s Never Too Soon To Get Kids Excited About Gardening … Explore Fun Ways Here

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Colorful and Creative Children’s Garden Display At Higbie

The goal is to have something blooming through the entire growing season from spring through mid fall. When Flower Chick visited in late June, the gardens were bursting with colorful flowers and interesting foliage.  Everywhere you looked it was loaded with healthy, happy perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals. Plants spotted include trumpet vine, coreopsis, coneflowers, calibrachoa, sedum, bee balm, sunflowers and much more playing well together and attracting a variety of pollinators

A popular wedding and special occasion photo site, Higbie Gardens is a wonderful example of community dedication, cooperation, and persistence. Volunteers and park staff devote many hours to ensure Higbie Gardens flourishes as a source of pride for the Albert Lea community …

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Lush Plantings Filled With Color, Texture and Various Heights … Plus We Spotted Baby Bunnies & Butterflies!

Closer to downtown Albert Lea are two parks on the southern shores of Fountain Lake. Let’s spend some time in New Denmark Park, and about a mile further west, Fountain Lake Park …

New Denmark Park: This little park hugs the shoreline of Fountain Lake in Albert Lea. The park’s name is a nod to some of Albert Lea’s early Danish settlers …

Huge hostas thrived in the semi-shade areas of the park.  Lavender filled up the sun soaked plots. Plant Tip: Lavender grows best in low to moderately-fertile soils, so don’t amend the soil with organic matter before planting.  An annual pruning is important for long-lasting lavender plants.  

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The Mermaid Statue and Placid Lake View at New Denmark Park

Did You Know?  Hostas are tough, versatile, and adaptable. Filtered sun is best for the colorful varieties to reach their full potential, especially the gold and blue forms. The green-leaved varieties are the most shade tolerant.

Check Out The Wonderful World Of Hardy Hostas … View Many Varieties That Will Do Well In Your Yard

Fountain Lake Park: After leaving New Denmark Park, follow the shoreline of Fountain Lake toward downtown Albert Lea. On your right, across from City Hall, is one of the area’s most attractive and popular parks, Fountain Lake Park …

Informative Sign At Fountain Park Describing The Importance of Rain Gardens

The hillside rain garden was a fantastic example of plants that do well in those conditions. Planted with various ornamental grasses, natives, and flowering perennials, rain gardens can be a cost effective and beautiful way to reduce runoff from roofs, buildings, and streets.

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Appealing Annual Flower Beds In Pristine Fountain Park in Albert Lea

Flower Chick was impressed at how clean and tidy Fountain Park was!  No litter or a weed in sight. The flower beds were attractive with mixtures of alyssum, geraniums, salvia, zinnias, daylilies and more. Also enjoyed the overflowing container gardens packed with petunias, calibrachoa, coleus, and grasses for accents.  This park is a pleasing place to walk, rest, picnic, or just pause and take in the lake vistas.

It’s Important To Know How Much Rain Your Garden Is Getting – Don’t Guess, Use This Handy Measure!

On To Mankato

From Albert Lea, it’s about 45 minutes to Mankato and on the way, you’ll pass the small community of New Richland, MN. You’ll find two beckoning destinations here worthy of a stop …

Neighbor’s Meats: This local meat market / processing center is the pride of New Richland. Walk in and you’ll see freezers and coolers stocked with a wide variety of house processed cuts of meat. We were impressed with the expansive selection of bratwurst, sausage, snack sticks, and smoked meat …

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Great Service And Selection At Neighbor’s Meats In New Richland MN

The friendly counter gal steered us toward house made hot dogs, smoked snack sticks, and a few other items to ensure we got a representative sampling. “I want to make sure you try something really good from Minnesota!”, she said. Rest assured, she was right!

Can’t Make It To Minnesota? Order Tasty Summer Sausage Right Here

And just down the block from Neighbor’s was this pretty garden plot, tended to by the New Richland Garden Club …

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Pretty Plot Proudly Tended By The New Richland Town & Country Garden Club

Forging ahead, a short 15 minutes later take you to the outskirts of Mankato, MN. Mankato is a historic river city – the Minnesota River and Blue Earth River both cut right through town. Home to Minnesota State University, Mankato also hosted training camp for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings for over 50 years …

The metropolitan Mankato area is the 5th largest in Minnesota in terms of population. A friendly welcoming community, Mankato sits about an hour southwest of the Twin Cities, making it a perfect “escape from the big city” day trip destination …

Did You Know? Mankato owes its name to a typo. The city was originally destined to be named “Mahkato” but a typographical error by a government clerk bestowed the current name …

Sibley Park: This Mankato landmark dates back to 1887, making it the city’s oldest park. Long a favored gathering place for Mankato residents, Sibley Park at one time was home to a horse racing track and a small zoo. What attracted Flower Chick to the park, along with scores of visitors and locals, are the beautiful floral displays which accent the park’s southern area …

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Did You Know? Sibley Park was named after Minnesota’s first governor, Henry Hastings Sibley.

The brick and stone pathways truly add to the charm of Sibley Park’s garden plots. The ponds tucked in with water loving plants such as water lilies and hyacinth attracted dragonflies and added to the overall ambience.

Sibley Park is perfect to walk for exercise, take in the beauty of the flora & fauna, or to throw a party … we saw two large family reunions while we were taking in the sights.

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An Example of the Colorful & Diverse Flower Beds at Sibley Park in Mankato MN

A very nice mix of annuals and perennials in the beds and planters including lilies, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis, scabiosa, butterfly weed (my favorite orange one – asclepias tuberosa), artemisia, fuschia, vinca and shasta daisies in addition to other heat loving flowers.  Everything was greening up after the recent (and much needed) rains.

Order Vibrant Orange Butterfly Weed Here … The Pollinators Will Soon Follow!

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Nice Use Of Planters To Add Vertical Interest To The Flower Beds At Sibley Park

Malda Farnham Park: If you enjoy reading inspiring success stories about the power of community involvement and volunteerism, Flower Chick has one for you from Mankato. Read on …

This park is located just east of downtown on Broad Street, across from the historic Hubbard House. In fact, this plot of land was once the site of the Hubbard carriage house before it was moved to the other side of the home in the late 1970’s. What remained was mostly a forlorn plot of land with little to no appeal …

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Malda Farnham and her husband Joe had recently relocated to Mankato from South Dakota and had settled into an older home just a block away. Slowly but surely, the couple planted perennials on the site, toting water from their home to care for the new plantings …

See A Multitude of Zone 5 Sun Loving, Easy Care Perennials … Click Here For Details

Within the next few years, various community groups learned of the couple’s efforts and began to donate and volunteer to help beautify the space. Mankato’s City Council agreed to match any donations Malda collected. A local landscaper added retaining walls and trees to help define the area.

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The Vibrant Plantings at Malda Farnham Park in Mankato MN

Community residents donated plants and a cadre of volunteers helped maintain the space, and over the course of a few years, a neglected lot became a lovely site. Now a mature park that’s a treasured Mankato gathering spot, the park was officially named Malda Farnham Park in 2016 …

At the dedication ceremony, local community philanthropist Denny Dotson noted “Malda and her volunteers are growing more than flowers, they’re growing a sense of community …” For her part, Malda commented she never set out to do a big project. “It was just meant to be”, she added.

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Preview of the Hubbard House Gardens in Mankato Near Malda Farnham Park

Flower Chick is delighted to spotlight Malda Farnham Park, a true Mankato community success story. Be sure to visit the park and the stately Hubbard House when you’re in Mankato …

While In Mankato …

Mankato’s main commercial avenue is Riverside Drive, which stretches from Route 14 south to Sibley Park. Riverside runs right through downtown and is home to a few of the local Mankato businesses we’re happy to share with you …

Oleander Saloon: Flower Chick, of course, was attracted to the floral name of this local establishment. You won’t find its namesake flower growing here, but you will find Mankato’s oldest tavern, housed in an historic brick building at 701 N. Riverfront Drive.

A favored Mankato gathering spot, The Oleander Saloon has been serving thirsty patrons since 1953, though there’s been a tavern in this building since it was built in 1902. You’ll get a real sense of history as you enter, but you won’t mistake the Oleander for a musty, dusty old tavern. Ownership updated and remodeled the bar in recent years and now it’s the best of both worlds … a bar with a clean, modern look while proudly showcasing an impressive history.

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The Oldest Bar In Mankato – The Oleander Saloon Is A Clean & Friendly Establishment

The Oleander (or “The Oly” as locals refer to it) features a long wooden bar, pressed tin ceiling, and an impressive selection of adult beverages. If you favor a cold beer, the bar offers Schell’s Dark on tap from nearby New Ulm, along with several other choices.

There’s ample room to spread out and get comfortable, either at the bar or at the many tables scattered about. Our bartender, who has worked at the Oleander for decades, shared some of the bar’s history and pointed out a few historic photos and displays …

Kind of a required right of passage when you’re in Mankato, the Oleander Saloon is not only Mankato’s oldest bar, it’s one of the best!

Hilltop Meat Market – Over the last ten years, Flower Chick has taken a real liking to shopping at independent local meat markets. In Mankato, you won’t go wrong at the Hilltop Meat Market, about a half mile east of Riverside Drive.

The market isn’t large, but the coolers and freezers are chock full of quality cuts of meat. Buy some house made sausages, natural casing wieners, and more …
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Flower Chick also purchased a cute fish crocheted in shades of purple, lavender & green yarn by the owner’s mother. A fun keepsake from our trip now taking up residence on my desk!

Wooden Spoon / Friesen’s Bakery: Just two blocks south from the Oleander Saloon is this welcoming bastion of baked goods. Walk in and you’ll see a display of freshly baked bread in a variety of styles, along with a cooler brimming with deli salads, heat-and-eat soups, and more …

Do You Have A Gluten Allergy? Make Your Own Bread At Home and Control The Ingredients …

We picked up a few loaves of bread, house made chicken salad, and some scrumptious cookies from behind the display counter. Locals in the know arrived to buy fresh baked bread and cakes along with a few containers of The Wooden Spoon’s specialty soups. If we lived closer, we’d be here every weekend!

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Encore Resale just south of Wooden Spoon on Riverfront Drive is a fantastic consignment store and bridal boutique in downtown Mankato.  Garments, shoes, purses and jewelry are attractively displayed by size and color in this good looking store.  Prices are very reasonable and the staff is friendly.  I met the nice owner, Kim Stanton, and she was very welcoming and interested in Flower Chick’s floral travels.  Of course, I picked up a few upscale pieces of clothing at great prices. Score! 😉

In the adjacent storefront is their sister store … a beautiful bridal shop with new dresses and accessories. Naturally, Flower Chick isn’t in the market for a wedding dress since she’s been married to Mr. Flower Chick for 35+ years … but if you are looking, or know someone who is, this is the place to go in Mankato.

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You’ll Find Good Quality Clothing & Accessories At Encore Consignment & Bridal Boutique

Further West On Highway 14 …

Our next destination, New Ulm, is about 30 miles west of Mankato. On the way, you’ll reach the small community of Nicollet, MN. It’s worth stopping here to visit two traditional meat markets, Schmidt’s and George’s City Meats. Both are downtown on 3rd Street, just three blocks from one another …

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Wonderful Selection of Meats, Salads, Sauces, Spices and More At Schmidt’s Meat Market!

Dating back to 1947, Schmidt’s is foodie and grill master heaven. Flavored bratwurst, smoked landjaegers, and specialty summer sausages are among the many featured products. Pick up a pack of bratwurst marinated in local Schell’s Beer or Minnesota style summer sausage, infused with fresh local blueberries. Down the street at George’s, opt for a package of their house made natural casing hot dogs … the kind that “snap” when you take a bite and oh so good!

There’s Nothing Quite Like Natural Casing Hotdogs – Savor The Snap Right Here

We were so happy to see friendly hard working young people behind the counters at both places. We talked to some customers at Schmidt’s who drive down from the Twin Cities several times a year, and head down the street to George’s as well. Having tasted the products, we can see why!

From Nicollet, it’s just ten minutes down the road to New Ulm, known as “The Most German Town In America” …

New Ulm – Minnesota Gardens, Schell’s Beer, & Gemutlichkeit

German Park:  is located at 200 N. German Street, several blocks south of U.S. Highway 14 and a block from N. Minnesota Street.  New Ulm’s beautiful German Park is centered by a small replica of the Bethesda Fountain in New York City’s Central Park.

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Must See German Park With The Focal Point Fountain in Downtown New Ulm, MN

If you haven’t discovered this park in the heart of Minnesota’s most German community, then you need to visit this oasis just a block from New Ulm’s downtown business district. Enjoy the free concert series during the summer months, when audiences spread out on the hillside to hear musical groups perform. Or enjoy a quiet moment beside the fountain in the formal gardens while the kids play on the nearby playground.

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A Peaceful Place To Reflect Among The Natural Beauty In German Park

August Schell Brewery & Mansion: Here’s the thing about the historic Schell’s Brewery … it certainly checks all the boxes. Witness:

– One of the oldest independent breweries in America, still brewing easy-to-enjoy beer for 160+ years? Check.

– The unmistakable enticing aroma of brewing beer as you approach and explore the grounds? Check.

– The stately August Schell Mansion, complete with beautifully manicured gardens? Check.

– A deer park? Check. (Really!)

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The Great Bier Halle Bar & Mural At Schell’s Brewery in New Ulm

Schell’s Brewery has been in the business of making friends since its founding in 1860. As one of the area’s foremost visitor attractions, Schell’s offers daily tours and hosts special events throughout the year. We love the regal architecture of both the brewery and adjoining Schell Mansion!

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Take The Schell’s Brewery Tour in New Ulm – Interesting, Informative, and Beer Tastings!

Did You Know? Schell’s is the 2nd oldest family owned brewery in America. The oldest is the equally impressive Yuengling Brewery in Pennsylvania …

The Multi-Level Formal Gardens Truly Complement The Stately Schell Mansion

While the prime attraction at Schell’s is of course the beer, the Schell Mansion formal gardens are quite impressive in their own right. The gardens are extensive and lovingly maintained.  Yellow marigolds, red celosia (cockscomb) and white alyssum line the formal paver paths making quite the statement.  Daylilies, zinnias, dusty miller, ageratum and more are found in the various garden plots on the property.

There’s a lush shade garden with hostas, ferns, astilbe and lily-of-the-valley on the lower tier.  Arbors, bird baths, abundant flowering vines add to the attractive setting as well as the peacock couple, deer, and a few infamous gnomes.

Happy Hour & Dinner In New Ulm

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The Oldest Bar in New Ulm 

New Ulm Turner Hall: Readers of our “Visiting Midwest Gardens” series know my tour guide husband makes it a point to visit “the oldest bar in town” wherever we travel.

In New Ulm, Turner Hall (Turn Halle est 1856) is not only the oldest bar in town, it’s the oldest bar in the State of Minnesota!

You’ll find New Ulm Turner Hall at 102 S. State Street downtown. And of course the drink of choice is Schell’s Deer Brand Lager!

We didn’t have dinner here, but the food looked mighty tasty too.  Several folks seated at the bar feasted on Bavarian pretzels, reubens, burgers and fish entrees.


B & L Bar: If you’re a fan of Schell’s beer and historic taverns, here’s a New Ulm establishment not to be missed. This is the wonderful B & L Bar, located downtown on Minnesota Avenue just two blocks from Turner Hall …

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A Grand Selection Of Schell’s Beer On Tap At The Wonderful B & L Bar In New Ulm

The B & L Bar oozes history and hospitality. A local landmark since 1897, the tavern proudly supports their local brewery. Over a dozen varieties of Schell’s Beer are found on draught here! The pressed tin ceiling provides a welcoming old tavern vibe, with convivial locals completing the backdrop.

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Great Atmosphere At The Convivial B & L Bar – We Loved The Many Schell’s Neons on Display

With the possible exception of the brewery’s tasting room, The B & L Bar is the best place in town to relax with a cold Schell’s Deer Brand lager. An easy drinker with a pleasant, slightly fruity finish, Schell’s Deer Brand is the brewery’s flagship beer. My husband has talked it up for decades (to anyone that’ll listen). Now distributed only in the upper Midwest, it’s a special treat to enjoy it on draught. The picture tells the story!

Veigel’s Kaiserhoff: You’re in the most German town in America. German food, right? You bet! Our recommendation for a fantastic New Ulm meal is at Veigel’s, located downtown and serving the community since the 1930’s …

We first visited Veigel’s in 1990 and vowed to pay a return visit. We finally made it!

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Look No Further Than Veigel’s Kaiserhoff For Delicious German Food In New Ulm

The star of the show here is German food in ample portions, like schnitzel, grilled sausages, and sides. But don’t overlook the ribs, a Veigel’s specialty for decades. If you can’t decide, opt for the Kaiserhoff German Sampler (as we did). The sampler offers a half slab of ribs, landjaeger, bratwurst, red cabbage, German potato salad, and sauerkraut. Fantastic when paired with a Schell’s beer or a German riesling.

Did You Know? The German word “gemutlichkeit” means a feeling of friendliness, warmth, and good cheer … all of which you’ll find in abundance in New Ulm, Minnesota.

South From New Ulm – Minnesota Gardens

After a spectacular day and evening in New Ulm, we headed south back toward Des Moines, Iowa. Route 15 out of New Ulm takes you south toward I-90 …

About a half hour south on Highway 15 brings you to the intersection of I-90. Just past the intersection is the town of Fairmont, best known for its lake setting. There are actually four lakes in Fairmont, stretching from north to south and linked by channels for easy navigational access …

When in Fairmont, be sure to visit Lincoln Park, located on the eastern edge of Fairmont’s northernmost lake, Lake George …

Lincoln Park – Fairmont: This picturesque lakeside park is often used as a photo setting for local weddings, and it’s easy to see why … 

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Picture Perfect Garden Settings in Lincoln Park in Fairmont MN

Did You Know? The town of Fairmont was named after the rolling hills that surround the area’s four lakes. The town was originally called “Fair Mount” and later adjusted to its current name, Fairmont.

The garden plots in Lincoln Park are beautiful! Very well-cared for with diverse plants and a pleasing presentation. Flower Chick spotted Oriental Lilies, clematis, begonias, Knock-Out roses, petunias, dianthus, coneflowers, salvias, interesting ornamental grasses and more in the many beds.  Take your time and take it all in!

Did You Know?  Ornamental sage, better known as Salvia, comes in more than 900 varieties of size and shape, either as tender annuals or hardy, herbaceous perennials. What they have in common is jewel-like color.  Commonly seen with their purple or red spiked flowers – they are good mixers, providing long-flowering vertical interest.

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Panoramic View Of Lincoln Park – A Popular Spot For Weddings and Other Special Occasions

Summary – Southern Minnesota Gardens

Though most of Minnesota is in Gardening Zone 4, the southern part of the state has pockets in Zone 5. Zone designations are really just a guideline as to what plants do well in specific climates and successfully survive winter temperatures …

For those gardens bordering between two growing zones, like these Minnesota gardens, there’s two schools of thought. The first is to opt only for plants known to be hardy in the lower of the two zones. The second is to experiment and discover what works in your garden. While we tend to lean toward the second approach, the choice is entirely yours. Reasonable experimentation is one of the best aspects of gardening … you might well be pleasantly surprised!

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Explore The Schells’s Brewery Grounds Before or After The Tour – A Garden Paradise!

All these Minnesota gardens are a joy to behold, and their host communities a lot of fun to visit. Southern Minnesota is a beautiful part of the state, with among the most unforgettable scenery in the Upper Midwest. Add in some friendly Midwestern hospitality and iconic local businesses and you’ve got a vacation just waiting to happen …

Thanks for joining us and be sure to check out all of our “Visiting Midwest Gardens” features! View them here …

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