Get to Know Minnesota Landscape Director Peter Moe

Director Peter Moe has strong roots in University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s history.

Some of life’s seminal moments transpire in the most unexpected ways. In part, the Bachelor Buttons Garden Club (circa 1970s Richfield) helped germinate Peter Moe’s dedication to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, where he began serving as director in September.

Growing up in Richfield, Moe recalls spending time at his grandparents’ western Wisconsin cabin, where he first became interested in the lakeshore plant life and towering pine trees that filled the lakeside landscape. Throughout high school, Moe worked at the Lyndale Garden Center. “I was already interested in gardens,” he says, adding his mother shared a similar interest and was a member of the Bachelor Buttons. After high school, Moe attended the University of Minnesota. While he was a student, members of the Bachelor Buttons asked the then 20-year-old Moe to join them on a visit to the arboretum.

“It was a good thing I said yes,” Moe says. During the visit, he asked a staff member if there were any available jobs. Happenstance blossomed, and there was an opening. “I started the next day, and I’ve been there ever since,” he says.

Since that day in 1973, Moe has worked at the arboretum, first as an undergraduate student gardener. (He is a graduate of the university’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.) Later, he served as a research plot technician, landscape maintenance supervisor and, beginning in 1991, director of operations and research. He served as the interim director before being permanently named to the post last fall. Additionally, Moe has been an instructor in the university’s Department of Horticultural Science.

While much has changed over the years at the arboretum, Moe says what made the public space beautiful back in the early 1970s is still what makes it beautiful now—the quiet lakes and ponds, extensive tree collections and shrub research areas, and gardens of all tints and shades dotting the maple and basswood forest.

For the last 44 years, Moe held a front row seat to the arboretum’s growth and development. His perspective is invaluable. “I think it’s valuable to know the strong focus (original planners) had from beginning,” he says. Moe is also dedicated to continuing the mission of creating diverse plant groups which can grow and prosper in this climate.

Moe’s future focus also includes overseeing the completion of the Chinese Garden (Phase II is in the design phase.) and concentrating less on the construction of new structures and more on overall garden maintenance. “We really need to catch up and do a really good job maintaining,” he says.

Moe will have the aid of an updated strategic plan, set for completion this spring, which is sure to focus on preserving and growing the arboretum’s commitment to “research, outreach and education,” he says.

As a Chanhassen resident, Moe witnesses firsthand the arboretum’s impact on area residents, who share with him their appreciation of the arboretum. “I think it’s considered a real valuable asset to the community,” he says.

Asking Moe what part of the arboretum is his favorite space is like asking a parent to choose a favorite child, and for the first time during the conversation, Moe takes a measured pause. “That’s a tough one,” he says, considering the arboretum’s 1,137 acres of natural areas and public gardens with 5,000 plant varieties, the sculpture garden at High Point, the winding three-mile drive, stretches of hiking and cross country ski trails and more.

“It would be the flowering crab apple collection during the peak bloom in May,” he says, recalling spending last Mother’s Day with his wife, children and first grandchild beneath the arboretum’s crab apple trees, which were tented by a cornflower blue sky. Other families spread picnic blankets across the lawn, and children tucked in strollers enjoyed the early view of spring, Moe remembers. “That was the high point of the visit,” he says. “I love creating that opportunity for others, but it’s great my family can enjoy it.”