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Fall colors maybe better than last two years, according to expert

Falls leaves might look more vibrant this year.

That’s if the southwest metro receives warm, sunny days, accompanied by chilly nights in the coming weeks.

“Trees like those cool nights to concentrate the sugars in the leaves,” said Alan J. Branhagen, director of operations at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen. Branhagen supervises natural resources and plant curation and has kept a close eye on autumn leaves for a number of years.

While most of the state is covered in green leaves, in just a few weeks they are set to turn red, yellow and orange. The coloring may be better than the last two years, said Branhagen. Peak color in 2017 and 2018 was short, and overall leaf color was not very vibrant. This year, long-range weather forecasts are promising.

“The last two years have been less than stellar,” Branhagen said. “You need those bright sunny days, with few below freezing nights.”

Last year, there were several big storms that blew the leaves right off the trees at the Arboretum and the weather overall was too cloudy and drizzly for leaves to turn well. In 2017, it was too warm throughout October for the sugars to concentrate in the leaves — which creates the red, yellow and orange pigments before they fall off the tree.

Branhagen believes peak color may occur in early October.

The trees to look out for are the sugar and red maples, northern oak and white oak, he added.

“Those are some of our best,” Branhagen said. “I’m still holding up for the sugar maples to put on a show.”

The high amount of precipitation this year shouldn’t be an issue for most trees on higher ground. However, constant rainfall can cause leaf issues, he added.


For that reason, coloring along the Minnesota River, above flood stage for a long period of time, may not be spectacular.

“The trees really suffered down there,” Branhagen said, noting he has seen several along the banks that have died from too much water. The cottonwood trees, which have leaves that turn bright yellow before falling, likely won’t color well this year.

The best viewings of fall leaves will be in areas where the land is more hilly and naturally well-drained.

If residents have seen some trees in their neighborhoods turning color already, that might be a sign of a bigger issue, according to Branhagen.

Typically, trees that color earlier in residential areas suffer from being planted at an inadequate depth or were grown in pots and when they were transferred to the soil; the roots were never spread out — called girdling root.

The Arboretum is sure to have a variety of good coloring, Branhagen added. “The Arb has a diversity of trees — there’s sure to be something to be stunning.”

The Arboretum will also publish a weekly Fall Color Advisory, in which Branhagen will forecast the color of the trees for visitors, according to officials.

Those interested in seeing the fall leaves turn at the Arboretum can join Branhagen on a walk through the property at 2-4 p.m. Oct. 10. Participants will see the “Big Woods” maple collection and the Bailey Shrub Walk. The walk is $14 for members and $29 for non-members. The price includes Arboretum admission.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a Fall Color Finder, updated daily, showing users where trees are turning color across the state. For more information visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/fall_colors/index.html.

The best time to travel to see peak fall colors is mid-September to mid-October, according to the DNR’s website.

Williams family remembers life on farm

The red barn at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is one of Carver County’s most iconic landmarks.

The structure is perched on a hill overlooking Arboretum grounds in Chanhassen, where it attracts a fair number of photographers and painters.

But before it became a symbol of bucolic farm life, it was a real barn, holding real livestock and real crops and providing a real means to survive for the Williams family.

“It was everything,” said Gerald Williams, of the barn. “We made our living on the farm.”

Gerald, 91, and his wife, Carol, 86, of New Prague, and four of their five children, visited the old farmstead last Saturday for the Farm at the Arb Field Festival. The event showcased a new $5.4 million interpretive center, located off of the Arboretum's Three Mile Drive, which spotlights Minnesota agriculture.

Gerald and Carol are bemused by the red barn now.

“I can’t believe what they’ve done with that barn, how beautifully they’ve done the inside, all the work and expense,” Carol said. “It’s hard to comprehend.”

When the Williams family left the farmstead in 1964, their house still lacked running water and indoor plumbing. They used a wood stove for cooking. The farm didn’t have a phone until 1956.

Now the barn has an elevator. In place of the milk cow stanchions, there are restrooms for visitors. Interpretive signs hang on the wall, with pictures of Gerald working on the farm back in the day, and quotes from him about how things worked.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Carol said. “It’s a different world.”


Gerald’s grandfather William Williams originally bought the property around 1910. His son Joseph Williams acquired the land in 1918.

The Bahr brothers built the stone base of the barn, with rocks gathered by Joseph, for $600. The wood portion was built by Joseph and his friends and family, with materials costing $1,200, recalls Gerald.

“They built a pretty good, sturdy barn. It sure was straight,” Carol said.

Gerald, who had three sisters, grew up with the barn. He was born in a nearby farmhouse and would follow his dad across fields as soon as he could walk. With his blond hair, he earned the German nickname “Schimmel” as a young boy.

Joseph believed in strong horses, and was the last farmer in the area to get a tractor, Gerald recalled. Using horses to work soil heavy with clay was no small task.

“Plowing alfalfa was a horse killer,” Williams recalled.

The Williams spoke Dutch and German around the home. Gerald’s oldest sister, Grace, only spoke German when she began attending a nearby one-room schoolhouse. The 1872 building has been moved farther south along Highway 41, and now serves as a historical interpretive center for Eastern Carver County Schools.

He attended Guardian Angels Catholic School in Chaska, taught by 16 nuns. He’d tell the name of his favorite nun, he jokes, but then he’d have to tell the name of his least-favorite nun. He still loves singing the Latin songs he learned at the school.

He attended school through ninth grade, then headed back to the farm. Gerald served in the U.S. Army from 1951-1953, during the Korean War, leaving the service as a sergeant first class.


Carol, from Cologne, married Gerald in 1951.

Their family continued to grow, and they raised four of their five children on the farm.

The number of dairy cattle also grew, from 15 to 32.

The children helped on the farm. Their son Joe learned how to drive a tractor when he was 5 years old.

For baths, there was a oblong galvanized metal tub in the kitchen where they could heat the water. The women and girls bathed first, followed by the boys and men.

For water, the farm used wells and cisterns. For a bathroom, there was an outhouse.

Ultimately, Williams needed an upgrade to continue making a living in farming.

In 1964 they sold the Carver County farm and moved to a farm near New Prague with a bigger barn. The house also had indoor plumbing and running water, but Carol notes that the large barn was the selling point for Gerald.

At the Arboretum, other than the barn, the buildings on the old farmstead are long gone, but the memories are close at hand.

“We got by with so little years ago, but now people have to have everything,” Carol said. “I think we were happier way back then, than the kids are today that never seem to be satisfied.”

Regarding the new interpretive center, Gerald commented, “It’s just terrific.”

But teaching people how tough agriculture was back in the day?

“They’ll never believe it,” he said.