Senior horticulture major creates 'Golden Eagle Garden' at Polk County Fair

Times Report
Thursday at the Polk County Fair in Fertile, UMN Crookston Director of Outreach and Engagement Michelle Christopherson, right, chats about the "Golden Eagle Garden" with the senior horticulture major who created it, Marina Wiley, shown on the left taking photos with her phone, and Wiley's roommate and fellow senior horticulture major, Grace Guyette. The Golden Eagle Garden can be found near the new animal barns.

The work of UMN Crookston horticulture student Marina Wiley is on display at the Polk County Fair. You can find the “Golden Eagle Garden” near the new animal barn.

The fair runs through Sunday, July 11 in Fertile.

UMN Crookston was first approached with the chance to display the “Golden Eagle Garden” when the President of the Polk County Fair, Danny Grunhovd, approached UMN Crookston about the chance to do a containerized garden to be displayed at the fair. Lab Services Coordinator for the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department, Theresa Helgeson, found it to be the perfect opportunity for an independent study for Wiley.

“The plan was to do this whether or not Marina was able to, but when I heard she was available I said, ‘have I got a plan for you,’ Helgeson said.

“The first I knew about it was when Theresa came to me saying ‘Oh my gosh, I heard you were trying to do an independent study for landscape installation. I have a project for you. We would do something for the Polk County Fair containerized garden,’” Wiley recalled.

Wiley was the perfect person for the job. She had displayed a great talent for floral design and picking ideal color schemes and showcasing an artistic side of floral design.

“In my 17-plus years and in my experience in the industry, by far she is the best floral designer I have ever seen and she is only 22,” Helgeson said. “She knows how to do the art side of it, which most people, even those who have done it for 20 years, don’t do. She is very talented.”

Visitors check out the Golden Eagle Garden Thursday at the Polk County Fair in Fertile, created by UMN Crookston senior horticulture major Marina Wiley. People can purchase plants and flowers, but since they are part of the display they cannot be taken home until Sunday. Wooden benches, bird-feeders and other structures made by Wiley's dad in International Falls are also available for sale.

Wiley’s roommate, fellow senior and horticulture major Grace Guyette, from Alexandria, Minn., said Wiley has been putting the plans together for her idea for the containerized garden all the way back in March and it was on display in their apartment. “Back in March we had pictures hanging from our windows measuring out where the plants would go,” Guyette noted. “Our apartment was loaded with ideas.”

Once May rolled around, Wiley officially started to get to work picking out plants, herbs, and flowers to be on display in the containerized garden.

““When we found out, we pulled a bunch of plants from the bedding sale that I thought would look good and have nice colors and would have nice growth,” said Wiley. “I repotted them into larger pots so they would be at an adequate size for the fair. We just watered them and fertilized them, and gave them a lot of love and attention. My dad and I over the weekends built a lot of structures for focal point areas for people to look at. Later on, we picked out more flowering plants because we wanted to bring people’s eye in and draw them to that color.”

Wiley also used her keen eye for color to add her artistic flair to the display and enhance the look of the garden. “She came up with a color scheme,” Helgeson said. “She had a color board, if you will, and really thought about how colors set each other off. She also did things with the texture and structure of things taking in consideration their height and width. Those were all factors she put into play in her mind. To her it just comes naturally. She is one of those exceptional students. Not many students can do what she did.”

Wiley first became interested in horticulture when she was working for a florist in International Falls. It was there that she first started to understand floral design and developed a passion to pursue horticulture in college.

“My boss Melanie taught me everything I know about floral design, textures, colors, what goes together and what doesn’t. She always mentioned to me if she would have gone on to college she would have gone into horticulture,” Wiley said. “At the time, I had no idea what it was. I did research and found out that is what I wanted to do. My parents really wanted me to go to college and I also wanted to go to college. When I toured Crookston it was the perfect fit.”

Wiley says she has grown immensely in the field since arriving at UMN Crookston. Her classes have expanded her knowledge base and helped her to grow. “I think I have grown a lot,” Wiley said. “Starting out I didn’t know how to water the plant properly. I didn’t know what propagating was, didn’t know that you could do grafts. Now I have all of this knowledge. I have all of these great connections to people in the green industry. I feel prepared to go out into a job now that I am a senior and I’m going to graduate next semester.”

Wiley is eager to see the reaction of people to her project at the Polk County Fair.

“I’m pretty excited,” Wiley said. “It turned into a way bigger project than I could have ever imagined. In some ways I think that is a good way. Most of all, I want to see how my parents react to it. They are going to be there, and they are the most important to me. My dad put in a lot of effort building the structures so I am excited to see his reaction.”

While it was Wiley’s independent study, she couldn’t have done it alone. Whether it was the help of her friends Grace and Sarah Richardt, or Helgeson watering plants or just offer another eye, Wiley is thankful for their support. “I couldn’t have pulled it off without Grace, Sarah, Theresa, my parents having my back,” Wiley said. “Having the extra funding from everyone else. It would not have been able to happen.”

After she graduates in the fall, Wiley says she wants to get more experience in the workplace at a production horticulture greenhouse and her eventual goal is to open up her own flower farm and sell them to florists.

“Marina has potential to be one of those garden designers that other people get information from,” Helgeson noted. “They are out there. But those are very talented people that have an eye for art. Not every horticulturist has it but she does. It will just be a matter of whether or not she wants it.”