Gardens of Good Eating: New Arboretum Exhibit Celebrates Homegrown Food

You know you should eat your greens, but if the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has its way, you’ll soon be growing them, too. As part of its new Powerhouse Plants summer exhibition, the Arboretum is featuring original artwork, demonstration gardens and interactive events to celebrate the connection between healthful plants and healthy people, and perhaps to inspire us start our own edible gardens.

Visitors to the horticultural center in Chaska are immediately greeted by a living work of art that literally puts food on – or rather, in – the table: Field to Table, by Minneapolis artist Moira Bateman, sprouts a lush tableau of leafy green vegetables that makes you want to pull up a chair and enjoy a fresh salad (see photo, left). Along the arboretum paths, a series of colorful mosaics created by Georgia Kandiko of Excelsior offers clues in a Magical Mystery Treasure Hunt, while further afield near the Marion Andrus Learning Center, a flora-covered figure on a tractor gives new meaning to the phrase “green farming."

Just behind the Arboretum restaurant, Veggies by the Yard offer different garden layouts and plantings designed for limited spaces and individual tastes, such as Salad Lover’s Special and Adventurous Cooks, which can be downloaded from the center’s website. Making an even more direct connection between plants, food and people is the Chef’s Row exhibit - small garden plots that highlight a variety of summer fruits and vegetables chosen by 10 prominent local chefs, cookbook authors and growers, who also share their recipes for using the produce. “Our mission is to connect plants and people and with that, we offer cooking courses,” said the Landscape Arboretum’s Barbara DeGroot. “So, we’ve got a great relationship with local chefs and we were looking for those who really like to use local, fresh ingredients.”

Not only does Chef’s Row feature local ingredients, but rather uncommon ones as well, such as the southern favorite okra, which Chef Raghavan Iyer of OM uses in an Indian dish, Bhindi Masala (Okra braised with tomato), and bottle gourd, offered in a stir-fry recipe by Chef Tammy Wong of Rainbow Chinese Restaurant. “We’re trying to introduce people to vegetables that they may not normally shop for, then we complete the picture by offering them recipes,” explained DeGroot.

Finding global flavors in local foods is a wonderful way to use homegrown vegetables and herbs, says food writer, cooking teacher and SG&T contributor Beth Dooley, who was inspired by her own garden to suggest pesto, the flavorful Italian sauce of crushed herbs, nuts and oil. “I have lots of herbs in my garden and I’m always trying to figure out what the heck to do with them,” she said of her Chef’s Row plot filled with varieties of cilantro, basil and parsley. “Pestos are great – they’re so easy to work with.”

Dooley was pleased to contribute to the exhibit and its goal of encouraging people to embrace the bounty of a home garden. “I think it’s a really cool way to bring people together around plants,” she said. Even if it’s just a small container of herbs, “you can do so much with so little.”

Inspired by the Powerhouse Plants displays of incredible edibles at the Landscape Arboretum, I decided to use the overabundance of herbs in my own garden to make Beth Dooley’s Cilantro, Mint and Cashew Pesto. She suggests serving it with grilled fish or tossed with buckwheat (soba) noodles, but I opted to use it on grilled lamb chops. It was a marvelous combination, as the refreshing taste of cilantro and mint added a bright flavor to the richness of the grilled lamb. Here's the recipe...



(reprinted with permission from Beth Dooley)

1 cup of fresh cilantro leaves

¼ cup of fresh mint leaves

1 clove of garlic, crushed

¼ cup of unsalted cashews, chopped

1 tablespoon of lime juice, or to taste

¼ cup of vegetable oil, or more as needed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Put the herbs, garlic, cashews and lime juice into a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add about ¼ cup of the oil and pulse several times. Then, with the motor running, add enough remaining oil to make a creamy sauce (using a little more, if needed). Salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately.

Or, to make this by hand, put the herbs, garlic, cashews and lime juice into a mortar and pound into a paste. Slowly add the oil, pounding as you go. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Makes about 1 ¼ cup.

Note: Use this immediately, as it doesn’t keep more than one or two days.

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The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum summer exhibit, Powerhouse Plants, runs through October 10. For more information about displays and events, visit the Arboretum website or call 952-443-1400.

And to learn more about the Chef’s Row and find other great recipes, click here.


Tracey Paska, a student at the University of Minnesota, is pursuing a self-designed degree in food studies, which combines coursework in anthropology, history and sociology as they pertain to the foods we eat. She was born in the Philippines, but now lives in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. When she's not composing research papers, she writes about the complex, confusing and fascinating connections between food, culture, and society on her blog Tangled Noodle. Her last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was Tunnel Farming Adds Weeks to a Short Growing Season.