MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Steve Poppe loves plants. And with a name like “Poppe,” it is almost like he was destined to work with them.

“I research horticulture, looking at and studying various aspects of growing veggies, flowers, fruits, raspberries, apricots, that sort of thing,” he said.

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He has grown the WCROC Horticulture Display Gardens in Morris for nearly 40 years to be the kind of place voted Best of Minnesota.

“We actually are a hidden treasure in west-central Minnesota, you know. We’ve been here a long time, but every time somebody comes here, they’re just going, ‘Wow, an unbelievable place,'” Poppe said.

But in this place, more than plants are nurtured.

“An administrator back in the early 90s took me aside and said, ‘Steve, just dream and take your dreams and move forward.’ So I did, and voilà,” he said.

And if variety is the spice of life …

“There’s close to 500 different varieties of annuals,” Poppe said. “And I sit down for, you know, close to a week and design that every year.”

And they grow them all for purposes beyond aesthetics.

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“Everybody tries to grow flowers, you know. Even if they’re in a small apartment or a town home or whatever, or they do have a large landscape,” Poppe said. “We’re proving information back to those plant-breeding companies so they can share them and market them to the general public.”

That includes their top ten — the annuals they think are best for us to plant.

  • Begonia Solenia Apricot-DU
  • Petunia Surfinia Sumo Pink-ST
  • Geranium Pinto Premium Lavender Rose-SY
  • Dahlia Hypnotica Lavender-DU
  • Portulaca Mojave® Tangerine-PW
  • Impatiens walleriana Lolipop™ Fruit Punch Rose-BE
  • Coleus Gran Via-DU
  • Begonia x benariensis Big® Red Green Leaf-BE
  • Dianthus Jolt Pink-PA
  • Calibrachoa Superbells® Garden Rose-PW

The gardens are gorgeous, but as a part of the University of Minnesota Agriculture program, it is a place to grow not just plants, but ideas.

“About 60 to 70 percent of what we do is connected with research. But yet we try and create it in a nice, aesthetically-pleasing manner so people can view the garden,” he said. “And everything’s labeled, so you can see and view and take notes and whatever else and see your favorite plants.”

Or at least provide a place to stop, breathe and listen.

“It’s always fun working with those young students. And once in a while they change their major to horticulture, which is even more satisfying,” Poppe said.

The WCROC Horticulture Display Garden is open year round from dawn to dusk, and it is free.

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Some of your other favorite public gardens were the Munsinger-Clemens Gardens in St. Cloud and the Rose Gardens in Duluth.