Chuck in the UMC greenhouse back in the 1980s
Chuck Levine in the UMC greenhouse watering plants

It's his passion for gardening that kept University of Minnesota Crookston horticulture alum, Chuck Levine 1980, hopeful his “little acre” in Roseville, Minn., would soon thaw from a long winter’s nap while he was away on a 74 day South America and Antarctic grand voyage. He returned home after traveling 21,461 miles across three continents from January to March visiting Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires and returning to his own oasis just off the freeway near Lexington and MN-36.

“The garden was built as an escape and a sanctuary,” said Levine during an interview. “I created my own little private universe here. This garden is meant to envelope you, and you become one with the garden.”

Levine’s lifelong dedication to horticulture shines through his one-acre garden in southeast Minnesota with thousands of plants and hundreds of varieties. Those numbers are no surprise once people hear about his seed, bulb, and root gathering journey. Icing on the cake was when the garden in his home’s backyard was named a 2022 winner in the Star Tribune Beautiful Gardens contest. 

The items in his garden carry personal history, he told the Star Tribune in a November 2022 feature story, such as the tiger lilies that an elementary teacher gave him as a child, Golden Glow coneflowers from his “landlady” while he was in Crookston, and peonies transplanted from his mother’s garden. Plus, he has over 100 varieties of ginkgo trees, which Levine calls the “Enchanted Ginkgo Forest”, and rare finds such as the pineapple lily which is native to southern Africa.

“I broke ground 30 years ago on my pie-shaped acre and, through tireless soil mending, it evolved into a labyrinth of unique green spaces and a menagerie of plants from around the world,” Levine explained. “This garden houses my life’s collection of plant materials. I have been growing plants since I was a child in Duluth, Minn. I was inspired greatly by my neighbors who were teachers and had the summer off and had beautiful gardens.” 

Chuck on the UMC Grounds
Chuck on the UMC grounds

Levine studied horticulture on the Crookston campus and environmental science at Hamline University. He taught horticulture at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park, Minn., for two decades, was a consultant for the Chicago Botanic Garden, and, most recently, taught urban agriculture in the Anoka-Hennepin school district for 11 years before retiring days prior to his big trip.

While exploring South America, he wrote from Uruguay, “I am further stretching my passion for natural history as my lifelong exploration up close and personal with the plants, birds, glaciers, and icebergs.” 

He also experienced howler monkeys, right whales, and both Humboldt and Magellanic penguins. 

“It is one thing to read and study such things, it’s another to go to exotic and far away places like Tierra del Fuego and the Amazon and see, feel, and smell such things,” Levine shared. “My time at UMC was all just another step that helped prepare me for the life and adventure that has been and is my life.”

Levine received his associates degree in horticulture landscape in 1980 from the U of M Technical Institute in Crookston. In old photos of him at what was known as the “Tech”, you can find Levine watering plants in the greenhouse or tending to the grounds which he meticulously cared for. His passion for horticulture likely led to him receiving an award as a horticulture student during Ag Arama. He also received the UMC Horticulture Club Scholarship which was presented to him by former Associate Professor Bruce Beresford. 

Other involvements during Levine’s senior year included being a member of the Ag Production Club, Ag Prexy Council, and Horticulture Club, plus he was one of the students selected for “Who’s Who in American Junior Colleges”, as listed in the 1980 yearbook. In 1998, Levine was honored with the University of Minnesota Crookston Outstanding Alumni Award.

Collage of photos of Chuck
Middle photo: Levine pictured with former U of M Crookston Chancellor Don Sargeant during Homecoming 1998. He received the Outstanding Alumni Award this year.

Professionally, Levine was awarded the 2011 Teacher Outstanding Performance (TOP) award from Anoka Hennepin School District where he taught horticulture, wildlife zoology, wildlife economy, floral design, and animal management. His other education credits include an associate in arts degree in botany from the University of Minnesota Duluth, a bachelor of science in agriculture education in 1982, and, later, a master’s degree in agricultural education from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

In December 2022, Levine started a blog called, “Adventure with the Garden Guy” to document his travels. An excerpt 10 days before his South America/Antarctica adventure read, “From the island we go back to the coasts and through the fjords of Patagonia. We will get out along the way and look for rare birds and plants. Then to the ends of the earth and Tierra del Fuego. We cruise through Beagle Channel where Darwin explored for fossils and made keen observations on the now extinct indigenous people. We will cruise the historic Straits of Magellan and through the Drake. Passage around Cape Horn to Antarctica for four to five days of turbulent cruising in some of the most treacherous waters on the planet. To the Antarctic peninsula, glaciers and icebergs, watching the whales, penguins, seabirds and seals. Then we will go back into our warm cabin for some hot cocoa or a latte.” Read more from Levine’s travel blog here:

After a couple months back home to get his yard and garden cleaned up and growing, Levine set off on his next months-long adventure to Bosnia and other countries in and around the Mediterranean Sea. Besides toting his  suitcase around the world, Levine thoroughly enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren who are close by. They are even planning their next adventure together.

Written for the 2023 Torch magazine