Photo of Flower and Vegetable Garden

CROOKSTON, Minn. - This week, the work of UMN Crookston horticulture student Marina Wiley will be on display. Wiley, a horticulture major from International Falls, Minn., will have her independent study as part of the Polk County Fair July 7-11 at the Polk County Fair Grounds in Fertile, Minn.

The University was first approached for 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. UMN Crookston was all in from the jump, 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 had said, ‘have I got a plan for you.’, Helgeson stated.

“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.’, remarked Wiley.

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.”

Wiley’s roommate Grace Guyette said that she 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. Our apartment was loaded with ideas.”

Wiley’s ideas started with the planning in March. But come May she 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 stated. “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 her hometown of International Falls. It was there that she first started to understand floral design and developed a passion to pursue horticulture in college.

“I would say I got into the horticulture industry 3-4 years ago when I started working at a flower shop in my hometown,” Wiley remarked. “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. 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 student and I am a senior and I’m going to graduate next semester.”

Wiley is excited to see the reaction of people to her project at the Polk County Fair. It has been a labor of love but it will be great to see people’s reactions and have the project completed and on display for people to enjoy. 

“I’m pretty excited,” Wiley said regarding her display at the Polk County Fair. “It turned into a way bigger project than I could have ever imagined. In some ways I think that is a good way. I am excited to see people’s reactions, see if they like it or not. 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 by herself. Whether it was the help of her friends Grace and Sarah Richardt, or from Helgeson to water the plants or just help have another eye, she is very thankful for their support. “It is my independent study but 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.”

Wiley’s display is just the start of a strong career in the making. She plans to graduate in the fall of 2021 and has great prospects in her life from there. “After I get a degree I want to get more experience in the workplace at a production horticulture greenhouse and my end goal is to open up my own flower farm and sell them to florists,” Wiley stated.

While Wiley is modest in her abilities. Helgeson continued to lift up the amazing talent of the UMN Crookston student. “Marina has potential to be one of those garden designers that other people get information from,” Helgeson remarked. “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.”

UMN Crookston students can do amazing things and Wiley’s work is one of them and is on display now for all to see over the coming days at the Polk County Fair.

Story Contact: Shawn Smith