Grow by Heart

Grow by Heart

Landscape Horticulture faculty are passionate about their field

The world of horticulture is vast, diversified and always evolving. With roots dating back 7,000 years to forest dwellers raising yam and taro on the Oceanian island of New Guinea, horticulture harnesses art, science, technology and business to cultivate plants of all kinds for human consumption. One vital aspect of modern horticulture centers on intensive, generally small-scale growing operations that feature a sumptuous variety of edible, ornamental, herbal and even medicinal crops.

Public perceptions of horticulture often evoke images of bug-slapping backyard gardeners assassinating weeds with long-handled hoes, but limiting hort to gardening is like calling the Sun a 60-watt light bulb. Throw in horticultural mainstays such as plant conservation, ecological restoration and professional landscaping and you’ve got a whole galaxy of opportunities.

The Landscape Horticulture program at Dakota County Technical College reflects the immense importance and multiplicity of the horticultural field through three specialized interest areas: Landscape Design and Sales, Landscape Construction, and Greenhouse Production. Instructors Matt Brooks, Jeff Kleinboehl and Catherine Grant are growing great guns in advancing their program through novel ideas and plenty of hard work. For their students, the future is green thumbs up all around.

Please Eat the Daisies
Urban agriculture meets landscape aesthetics

Matt Brooks | Specialized Interest Area: Landscape Design and SalesMatt Brooks doesn’t want you to actually gobble up your flowerbeds, but he does have a passion for bringing the beauty of artistic landscaping to homegrown produce gardens. Urban agriculture and community farming are bursting on the vine in the United States and around the planet. No one is suggesting mass-acre cornfields or million-head hog lots should pick up and move downtown, but here are some stats that illustrate the street sense of staying down on the farm in the big city:

  • 50 percent the global population resides in cities
  • 800 million people grow food in urban settings, producing 15 percent of the world’s food supply
  • Low-income urbanites spend between 40 and 60 percent of their earnings annually on food
  • Urban householders who farm consume more food, sometimes as much as 30 percent more
  • Urban householders also have a more diversified diet, eating more items from more food groups
  • In three years, nearly 30 global megalopolises will have populations exceeding 10 million people
  • Roughly 6,600 tons of food must be imported daily to feed a city that size

“Urban ag is no longer reserved for the earthy, crunchy Birkenstock hipster,” said Brooks, a registered landscape architect with a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. “People from all walks of life are seeing the advantages of growing their own food. It’s fresher, costs less, packs more nutrition, tastes better and brings communities together. My idea is to take the best practices of landscape design?the time-honored concepts and methods that meld beauty with practicality?and apply those practices to urban farming.”

Question: What aspect of your profession do you enjoy most?

Answer: “I love how climate conditions can change from one year to the next. One spring you’ll have unusually cold, wet weather and the next you’ll get record warm temps and lots of sun. That’s a challenge I look forward to with every passing season.”

To make his idea an edifying fixture of his program’s curriculum, Brooks is going on the road for a sabbatical that will take him east to Vermont’s Mad River Valley and Milwaukee’s inner city, and then south to Cuba’s urban organic gardens, the latter expedition still in the planning stages.

Brooks’ trip to Vermont will include earning certification via the Vermont Permaculture Design Course at the Whole Systems Research Farm, one of the most sophisticated permaculture sites in North America.

“Permaculture focuses on developing perpetual horticultural or agricultural constructs that depend on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem,” Brooks said. He’ll be living onsite in the Mad River Valley, learning from world-renowned ecological experts, including Ben Falk, Whole Systems co-founder and an instructor at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, and John Todd, co-founder of the New Alchemy Institute and winner of the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

In Milwaukee, Brooks will visit the Community Food Center, a revolutionary urban farming and training facility established by Growing Power, Inc., the brainchild of its farmer-in-chief, Will Allen. The site features all manner of horticultural groundbreakers, including vermiculture, the science of raising earthworms, and aquaponics, a symbiotic blend of aquaculture and hydroponics.

“Growing Power is tops when it comes to community farming,” Brooks said. “The Community Food Center takes up about as much space as a supermarket, but still makes room for twenty thousand plants and vegetables, thousands of fish, and a livestock population that includes chickens, goats, ducks, rabbits and honeybees.”

A highlight of Brooks’ sabbatical will be a trip to the island nation of Cuba. “If everything comes together, I will visit a remarkable system of urban organic gardens developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Without Soviet aid, Cuba’s domestic agricultural production was cut in half. Cubans needed to figure out how to grow their own food in a hurry.”

To make matters worse, Cuba had also been importing 50 percent of its food supply. The daily intake of calories for the average Cuban plummeted from 2,900 to 1,800. Urban organic gardens, known as organopónicos, saved the day. Today, Cuba boasts more than 7,000 organopónicos. Two hundred some gardens in Havana provide 90 percent of the capital city’s fruit and vegetable needs. Cuba’s lifesaving organopónicos produce approximately 100 million tons of food annually.

Brooks will also be getting plenty of exercise during his sabbatical. “I’ll be gaining first-hand experience in organic and eco-friendly farming methods through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” he said. “I’ll be WWOOFing six hours a day on several different farms. WWOOF is connected through a network of farms in 100 countries around the world.”

Brooks with future landscape designer, Michaela Goehring, 20, of Rosemount, Minn.Build to Thrill
Landing the wow factor in landscape construction

Jeff Kleinboehl | Specialized Interest Area: Landscape ConstructionJeff Kleinboehl understands how to unite the multidimensional aspects of landscape projects— from design to construction to installation to maintenance—to bring out maximum beauty and functionality. Kleinboehl graduated from Dakota County Technical College in 1976 and three years later returned to his alma mater as an instructor. In 1985, he took over as the college’s full-time seasonal senior groundskeeper, a job he loves because his duties not only take him outdoors and keep him up to speed in his industry, but he also has access to a countrified campus made to order for high-order landscaping.

“Our students have taken the lead on a wide range of projects at the college,” Kleinboehl said. “They get hands-on experience working with plant materials from perennials to flowering shrubbery to hardwood trees. They also delve into hardscaping, including building large-scale retaining walls. The opportunities to be artistic and creative go hand in hand with constructing something permanent that makes an amazing difference and is enjoyed by lots of people.”

Student deck-building project

Kleinboehl’s experience and technical expertise are a boon to his students. He is a member of the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association, or MNLA, the Professional Grounds Management Society, or PGMS, the International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA, and the Irrigation Association.

Kleinboehl also belongs to the Professional Landcare Network, or PLANET. The DCTC Landscape Horticulture program recently received renewed PLANET accreditation, which is no small feat. Kent Hammond, the PLANET accreditation team leader, reported that out of approximately 560 horticulture programs nationally, only 60 meet PLANET requirements and just 26 have achieved accreditation.

Question: What aspect of your profession do you enjoy most?

Answer: “I love working outdoors on major projects. For me, the best part of the landscaping industry are the many opportunities you have to step back and feel the satisfaction of a job well done.”

“DCTC has the reputation as the number one horticulture program in Minnesota,” said Hammond, who singled out the program’s self-study, a critical analysis carried out internally, as the best he had seen in his 20-plus years of conducting site surveys.

One reason for the high praise is the way Kleinboehl stays current on certifications and licenses crucial to his status as a complete industry professional. He is an MNLA Certified Landscape Professional, an Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI)Level I Certified Concrete Paver Installer, a National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) Certified Segmental Retaining Wall Installer, a licensed State of Minnesota Power Limited Technician, and a licensed Minnesota Department of Agriculture Pesticide Applicator.

Student retaining-wall projects

“The professional landscaping industry is strong and getting stronger,” Kleinboehl said. “New construction is picking up and renovation projects are always getting underway. At the Northern Green Expo in January at the Minneapolis Convention Center, landscape contractors were telling me they had plenty of work to keep them busy.”

Better yet, the potential for graduates to make their own mark on the industry is unlimited. Innovations and advances in materials, methods and technology, including LED outdoor lighting and waves of new plants, are never-ending. Prairie grass and wildflower meadows, green roofs, terrace gardens, paver patios, living walls, water features (including ponds, creeks, fountains and waterfalls), and natural swimming pools are just a few project areas bursting with wow power. Landscaping continues to be a field where creativity and technical know-how are made for each other.

“We get to build beauty by hand,” Kleinboehl said. “The results are right there for everyone to see and they can take your breath away.”

Students planting azalea on west side of Rosemount campus

The Green Carpet Treatment
Giving students hands-on fine gardening experience on campus

Catherine Grant | Specialized Interest Area: Greenhouse ProductionA native of Berkeley, Calif., and a 1980 graduate of UC Berkeley, Catherine Grant lights up when she talks about teaching her students the finer points of fine gardening. But what exactly is fine gardening? Rick Fedrizzi, the president, CEO and founding chair of the U.S. Green Building Council, put forward a world-class definition in an April 2012 article in the Green section of the Huff Post. Fedrizzi had just returned from London on USGBC business and during his trip he had visited two of England’s finest gardens, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project.

“We worked hard in London on ideas and strategies that could help us expand and inspire others to engage in our efforts to make green buildings and communities more available and accessible everywhere,” Fedrizzi wrote. “But it was in these lovely gardens where we were reminded that resilience and regeneration must also factor into our work. With new ideas and hope for the future of green buildings, communities, schools, it’s our gardens that can show us a way forward.”

Grant views fine gardening as a wide open field—and a perfect fit for students with a love for artistic expression and a talent for all things technical. She is filled with ideas to bring an already beautiful DCTC Rosemount campus up to the next level with fine gardening projects designed to give her students hands-on learning experiences and the chance show what they know.

Autumn showpiece materials: Gourds, sunflowers, pumpkins and ornamental grasses

“I’m looking at projects with plant materials that will be showiest when students return to college in the fall,” Grant said. “We can pack certain areas of the campus that are difficult to mow with dry-tolerant plants such as exotic sunflowers, globe amaranth, ornamental gourds, squash, castor beans, pumpkins, perennial grasses and more. The results will be spectacular.”

The great granddaughter of Joseph L. Callaghan, who is remembered as the father of the California Spring Garden Show, Grant is also a University of Minnesota Master Gardener who runs her own landscaping business. Her background is ideal for teaching students the ins and out of running the college’s on-campus greenhouse, an up-to-the-minute structure with a full range of irrigation options, including ebb-and-flow benches, automatic mist systems, hanging basket drip tubes and capillary mats. The latter reduces water and fertilizer use by as much as 65 percent. The greenhouse even has thermal capillary mats that provide maximum heating proficiency by keeping soil temperatures at optimum levels.

Question: What aspect of your profession do you enjoy most?

Answer: “I love being around plants. Even more than that, I love when my students get turned on by plants. As long as they’re excited about what they’re doing, then I’m happy.”

“Our greenhouse serves as an industry-standard lab for our students,” Grant said. “We have designed its layout to replicate a real-world facility as much as possible. The controls are state-of-the-art and the plants our students grow are sold to the public every year during our spring bedding plant sale. Our students learn to be customer-savvy growers by offering a full-service experience. And they take great pride in growing high-quality material.”

DCTC greenhouse: ebb-and-flow benches, capillary mats, and thermal capillary mats (last two images)

Grant also has a dream of turning the college’s first greenhouse, a classic glass-paned edifice, into a true-blue conservatory. “We are looking at a lot of work, but I think the end product would be amazing,” she said. “We would grow everything in the ground and create a gorgeous space that would not only be a wonderful learning environment for our students, but also a fantastic botanical solarium for the DCTC community to share and enjoy.”

And don’t forget Hort Club!

Kimberly BloomquistThe DCTC Landscape Horticulture Club is one of the most active student clubs on campus. Hort Club President Kimberly Bloomquist, 49, is scheduled to graduate in spring 2013 with her A.A.S. degree. Bloomquist’s interest area is Greenhouse Production and she’s planning to use her education to strike out on her own.

“We own eight acres near Fort Dodge, Iowa, and our plan is to build a greenhouse and start our own business,” Bloomquist said. “Through Hort Club networking and my courses, I’ve learned the best practices for starting and running a greenhouse business.”

Here are just a few of the benefits of Hort Club membership:
  • Growing plants in college greenhouse for annual sales on campus
  • Learning from guest speakers
  • Participating in the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association (MNLA) and Professional Landcare Network (PLANET)
  • Traveling to annual conference through PLANET Student Career Days
  • Working on civic engagement projects
Contact Matt Brooks, Landscape Horticulture Club faculty advisor, for more info!

And be sure to shop at the Hort Club Plant Sale!

  • 2012 Hort Club Plant Sale Flyer
Contact Catherine Grant for more info!
To learn more about Landscape Horticulture at DCTC, contact:
Or visit the Landscape Horticulture blog to get an insider’s look at the program.