Victoria Road Native Planting
By Sarah Heidtke, Sue Light and Cindy Johnson, Master Gardeners
Dakota County hosts a unique native garden in the boulevard alongside Victoria Road, spanning the block between Marie Avenue and Douglas Road in Mendota Heights. Not only is it a beautiful sight to drive, bike or stroll alongside throughout the year, but the garden hosts a number of native pollinators including the Rusty Patch Bumblebee, which is on the federal endangered species list! It wasn’t always this way - read on to find out how Mendota Heights staff and Master Gardeners got together with community members in order to create this special place!
Spotlight: Victoria Road Native Planting (in partnership between Dakota County Master Gardener Volunteers and the City of Mendota Heights)
Every week brings something new to the City Partnership native planting along Victoria Road. Depending on the time of year, the Minnesota native plants you may see include gorgeous swaths of Little Blue Stem, Wild Petunia, White and Purple Prairie Clover, Monarda, different Milkweeds, Rudbeckia, Goldenrod, Ironweed, Prairie Dropseed and Blue Vervain, to name a few. As a Master Gardener Volunteer, I can say it feels wonderful every time a local resident passes by to say thank you for this treasure.
Look back a few years - this area started as a ditch filled with rip rap and unfortunately a lot of trash. It wasn’t much to look at.
Victoria Road before the City Partnership Project
Then, in 2016, the City of Mendota Heights declared itself a “pollinator city.” Dakota County Master Gardeners Sue Light and Cindy Johnson worked with city staff to identify ways to enhance pollinator habit. By June of the same year, they seeded grasses and forbs on the Victoria Road boulevard. To be exact, they used Minnesota State Mix 35-621 Dry Prairie SE mix. This selection was based on the soil, water and light conditions. In order to maintain driver visibility, only species under two feet in height were seeded within thirty feet of the corners at each end.
Within 2 years, the garden looked like this:
Two years after native planting
Within that time, water retention improved - instead of gushing down the slope over rip rap and into the storm drains, much of the rain water is now slowed and absorbed by the native plants and their deep roots. In fact, rainwater and snowmelt are the only sources of water these plants receive.
2023 marks the eighth year of the City Partnership Project. If you passed through in July, you would have found Monarda (native Bee Balm) with full lavender colored blooms topping shoulder-high stems, complemented by Asclepias Tuberose (bright orange Butterfly Milkweed). Many insects, including the Rusty Patch Bumblebee and several Black and Gold Bumblebees, are attracted to the pollinator plants in the garden.
Rusty Patch Bumblebee at Victoria Road Boulevard planting
Even though all of the intentional plants are native to Minnesota, regular management of this garden is done and required. During the growing season, three or four Master Gardeners at a time will weed the roadside twice a month. Weed pressure comes from invasive plants such as Siberian Elm, Crown Vetch, Thistle, Japanese Hedge Parsley and others. Some curious neighbors have come out to help weed and learn more about the plants. Walkers on the path frequently comment on the beauty of the plants as they walk by. Garden management also includes cutting back the vegetation in the spring so the new growth isn’t smothered by the matted plant material from the season before.
It is worth taking the time to visit this extraordinary native garden right here in Dakota County. You can walk by any time on the multi-use path along Victoria Road. Keep an eye out for announcements from Dakota County Master Gardeners next spring for public education nights to learn more about this partnership and the plantings. The City of Mendota Heights and Dakota County Master Gardeners also have partnered to install and maintain the native plantings at City Hall and neighborhood curb cut rain gardens, all in an effort to improve water quality and welcome pollinators to Mendota Heights.
Photo credits: Sarah Heidke (1,2,6,9), Sue Light (3-5. 7,8)