History in Horticulture: The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum


“He taught both in scientific words and with dirt-stained hands….” – Jane McKinnon

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is the Upper Midwest’s largest public garden and is open 363 days a year. Part of the University of Minnesota, the earliest grounds were established in 1907 as the Horticultural Research Center. They developed cold-hardy crops and we have them to thank for our beloved Honeycrisp apples (among many other plants).

white orchid

In 1945, a young Leon C. Snyder moved to Minnesota with his wife and began his career at the University as an extension horticulturalist, eventually becoming head of the Department. Several years later in 1956, the Minnesota State Horticultural Society and the Men’s Garden Club of Minneapolis came forward with the goal of establishing an arboretum. Through local garden clubs, the funds were raised and within two years, 160 acres of land was purchased and the arboretum opened in 1958 with Dr. Snyder as director.


Under Dr. Snyder’s leadership, the horticulture department at the University of Minnesota had doubled in faculty when he eventually stepped down to focus full-time on the arboretum. While finding time to stop and smell the roses, he also managed to write a weekly column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, answered gardening questions on WCCO radio, led garden tours, traveled the world and raised a family with his wife.

yellow orchid

Dr. Snyder acted as director of the arboretum from its opening in 1958 until 1976, expanding its size and research capabilities and lucky for us, its facilities for visitors. Since it was established, the arboretum has grown to 1,137 acres and is the largest, most diverse and most complete horticultural site in Minnesota with more than 5,000 varieties of plants.

bird of paradise

The Leon C. Snyder Education and Resource Building, dedicated in 1974, contains both the Anderson Horticultural Library and the Meyer-Deats Conservatory where these lovely flowers were photographed.


Portions of this post originally appeared on Squeaky Green Machine  March 27, 2014.

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By Heidi Van Heel
Heidi Van Heel

Heidi Van Heel

Writer, freelancer, and believer in magic living in Minneapolis. In my free time, I love reading, exploring the great outdoors, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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