1B Gardens will be on display throughout summer

By Jeff Hansel

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

The Mayowood exhibit gardens in Rochester will — for the first time in modern history — be open for several days of public summer viewing.

Visitors from around the world once came to visit the hillsides where flowers overflowed. The sprawling acreage, with sloped plantings surrounding the Mayowood Mansion, was once home to Dr. Charles H. Mayo, cofounder of Mayo Clinic.

Water lilies grew in water troughs above reflecting pools that were fed by natural spring water. Much restoration work remains, but the gardens are beginning to blossom, both literally and metaphorically.


For eight Sundays throughout the summer, the gardens will be open from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., with special activities planned for children.

"Only the grounds will be open, not the house, and it’s going to be free to the public," said Jane Yunginger, coordinator of landscape restoration.

Volunteers are working diligently to uncover and restore the historic gardens and ponds that trickled water from one to the next during the gardens’ heyday.

"Charlie created all of these eight ponds. What has happened out there recently has been very exciting. The landscape is definitely cleared," Yunginger said. "People can see the ponds. We don’t have the buckthorn, and invasive raspberry. We’re hoping we’ll get more interest, more donations and we may pick up some more volunteers."

The Mayowood house offers a backdrop for self-guided exhibit-garden tours. Volunteers will also be available to answer questions.

Landscape Research of St. Paul told the historical society several years ago that the Mayowood gardens, when restored, will become "one of the most significant water and garden tours in the United States."

That could mean thousands of visitors to southeastern Minnesota annually, and a boost to the Rochester economy, proponents believe.

Outdoor fun begins June 13, with the annual fundraiser, called "Family Festival." Admission that day will be $10 for adults, $7 for children 4 to 12 and free for children 3 and younger (the other eight Sundays offer free admission). Family Festival discount tickets ($1 off) will be on sale later this year at the History Center of Olmsted County, Sargents Floral and Hunt Drug.


After the festival, the exhibit-garden grounds will be open free all Sundays except July 3 — from June 28 through Aug. 16.

"The landscape out there, it’s such a beautiful place," Yunginger said.

Special events are scheduled each day, including children’s book readings, Quarry Hill bird banding (July 19 and Aug. 16), herbs and sensory plants with fairy-garden themes and a historic trees discussion.

Mayowood garden volunteers have discovered surprises along the way, such as Dr. Charlie’s hand-written signature in a concrete path. A master gardener also diverted a natural water supply into one of the ponds and, after 70 years, "it filled within 10 days," Yunginger said.

But there have been setbacks, too.

"We were doing so well, and then some animal came up and ate the water lilies," she said (something any gardener can relate to).

Want to help coax the gardens along? Yunginger said you can send a check to the Olmsted County Historical Society made out to "Mayowood Landscape," or take a check with you to one of the public events. Or, call the historical society to volunteer.

Reporter Jeff Hansel covers health for the Post-Bulletin. Read his blog, Pulse on Health, at


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Mayowood mansion and gardens

The Mayo brothers

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