A Growing Endeavor

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum director Ed Schneider marks five years on the job.
Ed Schneider and his wife, Sandy.

When Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Director Ed Schneider came to Minnesota five years ago this July, he had big plans for the arboretum. They included a transit study, creating a Chinese Garden, broadening the arboretum’s involvement with plant conservation and raising the profile of the arboretum, among other things.

Check, check, check and check.

The transit study is complete, and a new entry gate built last summer improves traffic flow on the busiest days. The first phase of the Chinese Garden is scheduled to open this summer. The arboretum recently hired two plant curators to support plant conservation. In June, the arboretum hosted the American Public Garden Association conference. “All of us are surprised we’ve made as much progress as we have,” Schneider says. “It’s very satisfying. We see our attendance up; our revenue up.”

Much of that success can be traced to Schneider’s tireless support of the aboretum. “His biggest contribution has been being a champion of the arboretum, putting every effort into making this a better place,” says Joseph Tashjian, a member of the aboretum’s board of trustees and a donor to the bee and pollinator center. “I have always seen him cheerful, engaged, interested and thoughtful... He is our best assest at the arboretum.”

Schneider’s job involves more than his work at the arboretum. He is also a faculty member in the Horticultural Science Department at the University of Minnesota. In his lab at the horticultural research center, Schneider is studying the Dwarf Trout Lily—a plant found in a small area of southern Minnesota near Faribault. Schneider is studying the reproductive biology of the plant and trying to figure out why it’s not producing seeds.

He’s also leading the arboretum through a five-year, $60 million fundraising campaign, which basically means the institution is trying to raise about $1 million a month in addition to its operating budget. “We’re tracking pretty well,” Schneider says, noting that they’ve raised about $46 million as of this spring. The campaign ends June 2016.

The money raised as a part of the campaign will pay for refurbishing the arboretum’s iconic Red Barn, building a Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center and updating the arboretum’s maintenance facilities, as well as many other projects.

While arboretum visitors this summer have surely noticed many of the recent improvements funded by the capital campaign—including the Harrison Sculpture Garden, the extension on the pine walk and a new circulator offering transportation throughout the arboretum—some developments are happening behind the scenes.

The arboretum recently hired two plant curators—one devoted to breeding the Azalea Northern Lights series and the other focused on studying federally endangered plants in Minnesota.

The curator of endangered plants is overseeing the development of a refugium for Minnesota’s 48 native orchid species. “We’re a center of orchid diversity,” Schneider says, noting that Minnesota is home to 25 percent of all the orchids that grow in North America. “Now these are not the tropical orchids we think about: they’re natives; they’re inconspicuous. Some of them are federally endangered or state endangered, so our goal is to get them into a protected refugium, where we can monitor them scientifically, cultivate them in green houses, get their seeds into seed banks, and we’re doing that with a number of endangered species.”

Given all the progress of the past five years, what does Schneider think is his biggest accomplishment so far? “Five winters in Minnesota,” he says jokingly.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
Don’t miss the arboretum’s annual Taste & Toast event, featuring top restaurants and local wineries and breweries, on July 15.