Excelsior’s Peter Moe Keeps the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Growing

Excelsior’s Peter Moe keeps the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum growing.
Peter Moe's dedication to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum earned him accolades--and introduced him to his wife.

Beauty is in bloom year-round at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and this spring is no exception. Tucked away in Chanhassen, the arboretum is a hidden world of woodlands, wetlands and prairie spanning more than 1,100 acres. Excelsior’s Peter Moe, director of operations at the arboretum, has dedicated 28 years and counting to his love of all things green. “It’s one of the most beautiful places in Minnesota,” Moe says.

Since its official founding by the university in 1958, the arboretum has evolved into an outdoor museum of extravagant landscaping, unique exhibits and educational programs. The arboretum staff goes above and beyond to share their passion for plants with guests. “We want people to get ideas,” Moe says. “We show many different examples of the best plants for Minnesota in well-designed landscapes put together by our professional gardening staff. We want to appeal to a wide range of people.”

Gorgeous gardens aren’t the only reason to check out the arboretum. Classes, special events and seasonal displays create a new experience for guests with every visit. “We have new things all the time,” says Moe. “We just added a sculpture garden with world-class sculptures, things you’d see in art museums. In the fall, we won’t put out 20 pumpkins—we’ll put out 1,200. We want to wow people.”

Since the age of 15, Moe has been surrounded by opportunities to cultivate his interest in horticulture. A Richfield native, Moe worked at a garden center for four years in his teens before beginning his horticulture science studies at the University of Minnesota. He began working for the Horticulture Research Center as a student in 1973. “I was out here with my mother’s garden club one day and I saw a crew working. I went over and talked to the supervisor,” Moe says, “and I started the next day.”

Moe gradually moved up the ranks, working in a variety of positions with the arboretum until he was promoted to director of operations in 1991. Since then, his role has shifted from gardening and research to involvement with management and land acquisition, an achievement he is especially proud of. Moe has worked with private donors, cities and the state legislature to help the arboretum acquire an additional 250 acres of land for the future. “We didn’t really need the land today, but all you have to do is drive around and see what’s happening,” Moe says. “A lot of that would [have been developed into housing]. It really is providing room for the arboretum to continue to expand for the next 50 to 100 years. I feel that is extremely important.”

For Moe, the passion for horticulture sciences extends beyond his career. He and his wife Susan met while they were both working for the arboretum after graduating from college. She works as a library assistant at the Andersen Horticultural Library on the grounds of the arboretum. They share their interest in plants and agriculture by tending to their own garden at home in their free time.

At the library, Susan is in charge of periodical collections and assists with exhibits and displays at the arboretum. The library houses a collection of more than 70,000 books specific to plant science and cultivation. Although visitors cannot borrow items, the library provides access to special collections that can be used for reference. “We have a rare-book room with herbals and antique periodicals that go back to the 1800s,” Susan says. “The library is one of the hidden gems out there.”

For the couple, seeing how their work in research and cultivation translates outside of the arboretum grounds is what fuels their passion for horticulture. “I can drive around the Twin Cities in the spring and see plants that were developed here, blooming beautifully in people’s yards, and that makes me feel great,” Moe says.

The beauty of the arboretum is what they hope visitors will come and appreciate. “You can come out here and have zero knowledge of gardening, or even not very much interest in it, but just enjoy the beauty,” Moe says. His wife seems to agree. When asked about her favorite part of the arboretum, Susan replies, “Whatever’s blooming!”

University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
3675 Arboretum Drive, Chanhassen