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The Barn Gardens on White Bear Avenue

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

Updated 9/05/2022

The Barn Demonstrations Gardens at the historic Ramsey County Poor Farm are a great way to learn new garden techniques and best-loved plants.

If you have driven south on White Bear Avenue on your way to Aldrich Arena or north on your way to the Maplewood Mall, you've probably seen a large barn on a hill in a surprisingly bucolic setting. You may have wondered what a barn is doing there in the middle of a suburb.

The imposing red brick barn, located near

the intersection of White Bear and Frost Avenues, was built in 1918 as part of the Ramsey County Poor Farm. Poor Farms were established in the early 20th century as a means of providing meals and shelter for the poor but with an emphasis on self-sufficiency. Where this historic barn once housed milking cows, it is now the home of the University of Minnesota Extension Program for Ramsey County, a program that includes the Ramsey County Master Gardeners.

Master Gardeners are volunteers who complete a core horticultural course sponsored by the University of Minnesota Extension Program and the Minnesota Arboretum. They also contribute volunteer hours to a variety of projects throughout the county in order to share research-based horticultural practices with the public and promote healthy people, healthy communities, and a healthy planet.

One of these projects is the maintenance and development of the Barn Gardens which were established to

improve both the appearance of the grounds surrounding the offices housed in the Barn, as well as showcase best practices and goals of the U of MN Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program. In addition to the perennial beds that remain largely unchanged each year, Master Gardeners grow annual vegetables, flowers, and herbs, many of them from seed. Vegetables are harvested and donated to Keystone Food Shelves. Specific annual plants are chosen based on the University of Minnesota Seed Trial selections for the year, so Master Gardeners grow those vegetables and flowers and collect data on them for the U of MN. Input from Keystone Food Shelves also helps determine each year’s vegetable plantings.

The original gardens have been renovated since 2015 and include beds surrounding the milk house next to the barn, the flagpole bed, a rain garden, and vegetable beds. Twenty-two additional raised beds were acquired in 2020. The Barn Gardens Committee is currently developing more signage to increase the educational value of the beds, particularly in ways that outline best practices and priorities for the U of MN Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program. The Barn Garden demonstration beds and the corresponding program priorities include:

  • Low Maintenance Bed (Watering Wisely)

  • Natives/Pollinator Bed (Increasing Pollinator Habitat and using Native Plants, Plant Biodiversity)

  • Rain Garden (Water Conservation, Clean Water)

  • Container Gardening (Horticultural Skills)

  • Square Foot Garden (Gardening in Small Spaces, Horticultural Skills, Local Food)

  • Raised Bed Vegetables (Horticultural Skills, Local Food)

  • Large Vegetable Bed (Horticultural Skills, Local Food)

In 2020, uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic resulted in Master Gardeners simply maintaining the Barn Garden Beds. In 2021, full gardening resumed with volunteers following strict safety protocols as outlined by the U of MN. We expect 2022 to be a year of relatively “normal” gardening and invite you to visit the Ramsey County Master Gardener Barn Gardens and this historic site that reminds us of our agrarian past.

This article was originally published on 3/15/2022.

Laurel Watt

Ramsey County Master Gardener Volunteer


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