Gardens are not a static thing. They are alive and change over time, requiring thoughtful nurture to remain vibrant, lest they languish.
Members of the Edina Garden Council (EGC), first established in 1953 to cultivate plants for the city of Edina, understand this and set out to transform .6 acres in a section of Arneson Acres Park to create a tranquility garden. The space was once a memory garden conceived in the 1980s, but trees were becoming diseased and it lacked enough places to plant. EGC members also noticed the public was using the space differently than in the past; enjoying lunch, doing yoga or having private celebrations; so they wanted to broaden the concept of the area. Thus, the blossoming of an initial idea to simply add a planting area to developing a comprehensive plan that would overhaul the space in order to grow enjoyment opportunities for visitors for years to come.
Arneson Acres Park has a variety of areas. It’s a beautifully pastoral place, making it more important to contemporary life where large homes exist on small lots with less green space. There are also more people in Edina living in apartments and condominiums with limited green space. These lifestyle changes make parks increasingly important to provide residents access to the benefits of being in nature. Within that, the tranquility garden at Arneson Acres Park will be encompassing, an intimate space that surrounds visitors with natural beauty.
EGC member Liz Genovese says, “At first we thought maybe add a garden inside the area and the Minnesota Peony Society donated 45 beautiful peonies. [The peonies] were doing well there but it was really hard to work around the space.” Talk of improving the space had been bouncing around the EGC for years, but in 2016, when members began having a broader vision of what they wanted to do, they formed a committee with representation from each of the five Edina garden clubs that make up the EGC. Committee members looked at other parks for ideas. They also spoke to a member’s friend, a landscape architect and retired University of Minnesota professor. “[He] invited some former students to come talk, and we had our vision opened up about how the space could be a lot more than what we were thinking,” Genovese says.
More ideas can make plans more complicated. So, the committee approved hiring landscape designers Tony Siebenaler-Ransom of Tsuke Studio and Ben Erickson of B.E. Landscape Designs. Construction of the new tranquility garden began in 2019 and has been overseen by the city of Edina, Tsuke Studio and project manager Tim Zimmerman, city horticulturist. But before that, work was done starting in 2017 to clear out the area. EGC member Karen Platt says, “We moved the peonies to their new designated area that shows them off better. Members played a large part in that, dug them up with some help from the city. Members split and repotted some extras that were sold as part of a fundraising effort. The city also cleared out dead trees and shrubs. It was exciting to finally break ground in 2019.”
The beginning phase of the tranquility garden consisted of basic grading, adding topsoil and berms. Then came infrastructure for hardscape brick paths along with some boulders. “The boulders came from the city,” says Platt. “They were leftover from an earlier project and were in storage. They are beautiful and look really nice throughout the garden.”
In the fall of 2019, major specimen trees were added. Then in 2020, irrigation was installed. Platt says, “A major feature that was kept are the two arches. That’s what people recognize,” as the motif of the area. A third arch was added this past summer. “We kept a bare bones hedge around the south and east sides,” says Platt. “That keeps the feel of a cloistered, private area.” Additional specimen trees, big shrubs and grasses followed.
Because the EGC envisions the tranquility garden as a quiet, contemplative place, there is a greater need for seating. Thanks to a generous member donation, a 26-foot long seat wall was installed using stone donated from the Brookside Condominium complex in Edina. Platt says, “A member lives there and they were re-doing a retaining wall. [EGC only] had to pay for transporting [the stone]. It’s beautiful with a blue stone cap on it. It was so important to get that in the main open area in front of the large grass oval looking toward the center berm where a lot of the major plantings are. Next will come a pergola over the seating bench that will provide shade and comfort.”
There will also be metal, powder coated benches with seat backs. By working through the city, Genovese says the EGC is getting a great deal on the high quality, low maintenance benches meant to last a long time. The hope is that garden club members or members of the public will donate to purchase the benches. There is also hope to add a swing.
After the installation of the pergola, the north and west sides of the tranquility garden can be enclosed with arborvitaes and trees. Then planting begins for smaller shrubs and perennials. “We are a garden club,” says Platt “and Arneson Acres is the horticultural park in Edina. It’s a beautiful park. Anybody who’s been there knows.” And more people than ever before seem to have been enjoying Edina parks. “Because of the pandemic, park usage is up tremendously, I’ve seen the parking lot full to the extent I’ve never seen before,” says Platt.
Genovese adds, “I’ve seen around the park in different areas, younger kids hammocking; trees are trimmed up and accessible to hammocking. I’ve seen picnicking, plein air painting, social distance meetings and I hope people who have found the park will continue using it.” Arneson Acres has often been referred to as a hidden gem in Edina. The EGC hopes to change that. It remains a gem thanks to the EGC’s tireless efforts. But they prefer it not be thought of as hidden any longer, but as a well-known destination to be enjoyed by all.
Garden Club Voices
“I am a newer member of Normandale Garden Club. I appreciate the friendliness of the members and their willingness to help me learn more about gardening. During COVID, members have found creative ways to gather the group together online and create fun activities.” Kathy Brooks, Normandale Garden Club
“Joining EGC has given me the wonderful opportunity to meet friendly and knowledgeable gardeners, plant city gardens and visit many beautiful gardens in our community.” Leslie Shields, Winahbar Garden Club
“The Edina Garden Council and member clubs provide wonderful opportunities to learn about gardening from experts and members alike, while making friends along the way.” Janet Chandler, Kelodale Garden Club
“Digging in dirt in the middle of winter, priceless. Greeting the fanatical gardeners at the plant sale on Mother’s Day weekend, it is exciting to see the joy and expectations of happy planters. Lively chatter of friends on our planting days in the greenhouse.” Lavonne Mountain, Late Bloomers Garden Club
“When you join the Edina Garden Council, you have instant friends with lots in common: the beauty of nature, the joy of working in the soil, the fun in planning beautiful places for others to enjoy. I particularly love planting seeds in the city greenhouse in the dead of winter; it gives me hope for spring.” Laurie Zickert, Winahbar Garden Club
“I joined Edina Garden Council because I wanted to know more about gardening. I ended up with wonderful experiences I could never have imagined in ways to serve a community. It is a privilege to serve with dedicated, community-minded people who are a wealth of knowledge, set goals and work on supporting the environment (such as the pollinator garden, tranquility garden, and buckthorn abatement) in Edina. Members are a special group of people. And I did learn more about gardening too.” Elizabeth Franklin, Kelodale Garden Club
“I admire EGC members’ support of conservation initiatives such as buckthorn abatement and habitat restoration as well as water quality improvement and pollinator conservation.” Elizabeth Franklin, Kelodale Garden Club
“When I joined the Edina Garden Council, I had a generous knowledge of gardening, or so I thought. I met Shirley Petersen, a founding member of the EGC and I learned more from this elderly charismatic wonder than I ever thought possible. Shirley’s mission to bring beauty to Edina and teach others her vast knowledge of plants has inspired me to create an oasis in my own Edina yard. Shirley shared one of her beautiful peonies with me from her spectacular yard and every year when it blooms, I remember her with fondness.” Lori LaBelle Bartz, Late Bloomers Garden Club