Peter Moe has announced that he will retire next winter after almost 50 years at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (fondly referred to as the “Arb”) that includes serving as the organization’s director since 2016. A search is underway to fill the position; in the meantime, Moe will remain in his role until a successor has been named.
Established by the University in 1958 and today part of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), the Arb is a signature destination for nearly 450,000 visitors annually, with more than 30,000 member households.
Moe started at the Arb in 1973 as a U of M student gardener, and was hired as a research plot technician at the Arb’s Horticultural Research Center (HRC) following graduation from the Horticultural Science Department at CFANS. After two years at the HRC, Moe was hired by the Arb’s founding director, Dr. Leon Snyder, as Arboretum landscape maintenance supervisor. While working at the Arb, Moe went on to receive his master’s degree in agriculture from CFANS in 1981.
Early in his career, Moe met his wife Susan at the Arb where she was working as a plant breeder and scientist. The couple subsequently raised three children in their home near the Arb where they always grew trees, fruit plants, azaleas, and vegetables.
“I have been very blessed to be part of the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and Horticultural Research Center, a world-class institution that has made a positive impact on the lives of many Minnesotans. With a great staff, we have developed and evaluated new plants, inspired gardeners with our beautiful plantings, educated many adults and school children about horticulture, and have been a source of horticultural information for the state,” said Moe, noting his deep appreciation for his exemplary staff and all of the Arb’s members and donors.
“People I meet tell me about how much they enjoy the gardens and how their kids were involved in summer classes or field trips to the Arb,” he said, adding that he also enjoys seeing landscape plants developed at the Arb in peoples’ yards, seeing apples developed at the HRC in grocery stores, and visiting wineries and vineyards growing Minnesota grapes.
Throughout the years, Moe worked with every Arb director and was involved with the design, construction, and planting of many plant collections, gardens, buildings, and facilities across the Arb. He led the design, fundraising, and construction of the Horticulture and Operations Headquarters (including two new greenhouses), the Farm at the Arb, and the complete replacement of many 40-year-old garden structures, including the Wilson Rose Garden Trellis and the Home Demonstration Garden Pergola.
During Moe’s tenure, the Arb expanded to 1,200 acres and experienced significant growth in membership, attendance, earned income, and philanthropy. As Moe was promoted to positions of increasing responsibility, including becoming the Arb’s fifth director, he was guided by the Arb’s mission to welcome, inform, and inspire all visitors through the outstanding displays, protected natural areas, horticultural research, and education.
Today, the Arb is one of the premier public gardens in the U.S., and is one of only a few gardens with world-class fruit and landscape breeding programs; for example, the Arb is home to the famous Honeycrisp apple. Moe was instrumental in the Arb receiving the highest level of Accreditations through the American Alliance of Museums; American Public Garden Association Plant Collection Network; ArbNET; and Botanical Gardens Conservation International. Moe also started the Arb’s Plant Conservation Program in 2013.
"Along with collections growth, Pete has been at the core of land acquisitions at the Arboretum, adding forest, wetlands, and farmland to showcase conservation and research for visitors,” said Brian Buhr, CFANS dean. “His expertise working in rare plant conservation and the evaluation and selection of plants for the northern U.S. has been invaluable to the Arb’s growth and success.”
The Arb also has a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, and Moe worked with trustees and Arb staff to increase both earned income and philanthropy, and the Arb has finished recent years with budget surpluses. In addition, the Arboretum Endowment has grown from $32 million to $52 million over the past six years.
“We are going to greatly miss Pete,” said Arb Board of Trustees President Jenny Verner. “He has been equally effective with visitors, members, donors, volunteers, politicians, and University leadership. The Trustees have enjoyed complete confidence in Pete’s integrity and knowledge — we knew when he made a commitment we could rely on him to make it happen. He has embodied the brand of the Arboretum.”
Moe has been “infinitely generous with his time and patient with those of us who share his passion for all the Arb has to offer, if not his skills,” said Verner. “We are so grateful for all Pete has done over his career to bring the joy of nature to millions of Arb visitors. We wish him and Susan the very best in their next act, and look forward to seeing them at the Arb.”
Moe is responsible for all programs at the Arb, but the plant collections, display gardens, and seasonal gardens are his favorites. “I’m especially fond of seeing people of all ages enjoying the beauty of 40,000 blooming tulips, hundreds of flowering crabapples, lilacs, azaleas, and some of the most outstanding tree collections in the country,” said Moe.
Moe has worked to make all 1,200 acres of the Arb accessible by building multiple accessible pathways, including the final sections of the Three-Mile Walk; the Crop Walk; a rebuilt Bog Boardwalk; and the Regional Trail along the Arb’s north boundary.
“Pete’s goal has always been to make the Arb a garden for all Minnesotans,” said Buhr. “His passion, leadership, and commitment throughout the decades have made this vision a reality. He has positioned the Arb to provide enjoyment, excitement, and education for generations of Minnesotans to come. We are deeply grateful for his work and wish him all the best in his retirement.”