Despite exploring the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in sub-zero temperatures last winter with the wind biting his face, Andrew Jabinski was mesmerized by the beautiful snowy landscape.
“I was blown away by the beauty of the landscape that was here,” said Gabinski, who is the organization’s new director. “It was all covered in snow so you couldn’t see any of the flowers, but I was really blown away by the terrain here and the natural beauty of the forests and wetlands.”
Gabinsky, who hails from Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum in Boston, known as the oldest public arboretum in North America, where he worked as horticultural director, has just landed in Minnesota full time.
As newly appointed nursery director, Gapinski now oversees Chaska’s 1,200-acre grounds that include restored gardens and lawns and a research center with the help of 200 employees and more than 1,000 volunteers.
Jabinski knows he has big shoes to fill after former director Peter Moe’s retirement after 50 years at the Arboretum. Gapinski has begun working on the grounds, and is already planning to ensure the long-term future of the arboretum for decades to come.
“The ambitions were high before I arrived and there is more to come,” he said. “I look forward to meeting with all of the stakeholders across the different communities that participate in the Arb and seeing where we go next.”
Jabinski took the time to tell us more about his love of all things nature, his return to the Midwest and his plans for the Arboretum.
Q: What drives your love of gardening?
a: I was born and raised in Wisconsin on the southern tip of Milwaukee County, near the Boerner Botanical Gardens in Halle Corners. We used to ride our bikes there so I was introduced to the Botanic Gardens early on and what they represent to the community. I have always been fascinated by natural history and exploration.
When I was about 10 years old, my family moved to the country and I was really exposed to more natural systems. I grew up right across from the Kettle Moraine State Forest and spent the rest of my childhood exploring and being in nature – it was a really big part of growing up.
When I was in high school, I took horticulture courses. Then I decided to go to college and major in horticulture (at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) and it all went from there.
Q: What drew you to the position of director of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum?
This was an opportunity to return to the Midwest. And I love that the University of Minnesota’s commitment to plant and horticultural science continues to thrive. The nursery has connections with the university’s horticultural research department and faculty members who have produced things like Honeycrisp apples and grapes that are considered hardy in the northern Midwest and some ornamentals that are so valuable in midwestern landscapes.
Coming to an institution that is still a leader in horticulture and research – it just didn’t make sense for me to take this opportunity.
Q: What is one of your favorite things about the nursery?
a: I knew about the Arboretum from plant introductions even when I was in high school and college — growing hearty azaleas that came out of research here. The science produced by the Horticultural Science Department has always been at the forefront of my head as to what makes it such a special place.
Q: What have you been working on since you started in the nursery?
a: We are developing a long-term vision and strategic plan for the next decade and beyond. (The arboretum just finished its 2017-22 strategic plan that included the addition of a Tashjian Bee Center and Pollinator Discovery Center, among many others.)
As part of this plan, we are looking to realign the entrance on the highway. 5 for easy access and additional parking makes the visit easier among many other projects.
Q: You’ve been a gardening enthusiast your whole life. What is your favorite plant?
a: I should say that my favorite tree is generally known as the white bog oak; The Latin name is Quercus bicolor. At the University of Wisconsin, at the end of the Horticultural Sciences campus, they had this wonderful bog white oak that has these low, big branches, and I always felt very connected to this tree. It is an oak that has some unique characteristics with wonderful exfoliating bark. The leaves are unique and have a silvery white underside of the leaf.
It’s also an adaptable plant, so you’re seeing it used more and more in urban conditions where it tolerates pollution, compacted soils, and limited soil volumes. I think it will be an important plant for our urban and forest environments going forward.