By Karen Carmody-McIntosh

Spring is a time of renewal and new growth. Every year, Minnesotans emerge from a cold winter ready to get started planting, gardening, and enjoying nature. But, as we all know, spring 2020 has been a time for staying in and social distancing.

Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Andersen Horticultural Library (AHL) offers two engaging programs for members of the community to continue learning about nature from home.

StoryTime goes online

A young child watches virtual StoryTime on a tablet.
A young child watches virtual StoryTime on a tablet.

StoryTime is a weekly book reading event for children. Normally hosted at the library at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, it’s now an online program, with a new video posted every Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Everyone is welcome to watch and learn.

Lee Anne Laskey, AHL Library Assistant, records each new program from her at-home Book Nook.

“StoryTime is a positive, interactive, community-building weekly activity that highlights the value of reading and books, along with nature in our lives,” Laskey says.

While the transition to online reading has been smooth, Laskey misses the in-person experience of StoryTime at the library. Reading to a computer screen can’t replicate the joyful laughter and smiles of a group of children — or that of their parents, grandparents, and caretakers, who often delight in StoryTime just as much as the kids.

Still, virtual StoryTime is important — and popular! The first two videos in the series have been viewed more than 700 times. StoryTime provides a positive outlet for families as they continue to be safe at home, Laskey says.

“It’s a wonderful way to stay connected and continue to share the joy of reading and nature until we can all be together again.”

Coloring pages highlight Arboretum plants and animals

Summer white oak by Maja, age 5
Summer white oak by Maja, age 5

Another way to learn about the natural world is by coloring the plants and animals of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Coloring pages are now available for download and more are added every week.

Each page is based on artwork in the Flora and Fauna Illustrata collection at the AHL. The goal for the collection is to document all of the Arboretum’s plants and animals through scientifically accurate fine art.

“Many of the plants and animals are things that people are familiar with,” says AHL Librarian Kathy Allen. “Others are unfamiliar and provide a bit of discovery and learning.”

With 2,294 downloads of these coloring pages as of May 18, a whole lot of learning is going on.

Learn more about Flora and Fauna Illustrata

Kathy Allen describes the collection as “a unique take on the traditional florilegium, which is a collection of flowers or plants that occur in a particular area that are documented through fine art.” The tradition goes back hundreds of years. By including animals, the AHL is branching out and building upon that tradition.

The collection began in 2015 when local artist Suz Galloway wrote a letter to the arboretum director and suggested using artwork to document the trees of the Big Woods native forest growing at the arboretum. Allen was instrumental in starting the collection and expanding its goals to what they are today.

She consulted with Galloway and one other talented local artists, Judith Spiegel, past president of the Board of the Friends of the Andersen Horticultural Library. Their work forms the basis of the collection, which now has nearly 70 artworks by 28 contributing artists. And it’s likely that many more artists will see their work included in the future.

“We call it our 100-year project,” Allen says. “There are so many thousands of species at the arboretum, it will take us that long to build the collection.”

Allen notes that the description also honors the philosophy of former Minnesota Gov. Elmer L. Andersen, for whom the AHL is named. “He liked to think in terms of 100 years.”

Call for submissions

The call for original fine art submissions for Flora and Fauna Illustrata is open. All artists are welcome to review the instructions and submit their scientifically-accurate, original work for consideration.

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