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Interview with President Ron Bowen: How Our Minnesota Native Landscaping Company Got Its Start

Editor’s note:  President and founder Ron Bowen was interviewed by St. Cloud radio station KVSC manager Jo McMullen a few years ago prior to one of our Prairie Day events.  Among other things, Jo asked Ron about how he got his start in the native landscaping business.  What follows is an excerpt of that interview, which is basically our company’s back story.

 

Jo:  It’s probably become in vogue, if you will, in the last decade to restore prairies around businesses or for green-minded homeowners. But you’ve been doing this for three-plus decades.  What brought you into the business?

Ron:  For me, the process started back in the ’60s when I was a high school student driving through the expanding surburbia and looking at mowed grass, yard after yard after yard.  And I thought, ‘What alternative do people have?  There needs to be a better answer here.’  And thinking about what native plant communities there are in the state of Minnesota and the Midwest, it occurred to me that prairie would be a good, open, sun-loving environment, and it would be a good alternative. 

Jo:  How did you go from someone in high school and early college, observing this whole turf expansion and asphalt surfacing of Minnesota into running a company that now is consulting with businesses and cities about how to better manage those types of areas?

Ron:  When I was in college at the University of Minnesota I saw an ad that read, “Wanted:  Outdoor gardener.  Will provide furnished lakeside home plus hourly wage.”  And I thought, WOW!  How can this be?  So I applied and got the job.  It was with Bruce Dayton, who was the father of our governor, Mark Dayton.  I worked as his gardener for 9 years.  I finished college and stayed there to develop his property.  It’s a beautiful parcel that is now owned by all of us because he donated it to the DNR, the State of Minnesota.  It’s called the Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area.

Anyway, at that site we had an open field.  We wanted to make it low maintenance or almost no maintenance, and we wanted to make it flowery and pretty.  And so I told Bruce that a prairie would be the answer.  That was my very first prairie.  It was planted in 1970 and it’s still there today.  It’s a very beautiful prairie and I’m obviously very proud of it.  It was a great training ground to learn about the important parts that are needed to do the reconstruction – the basic seeds and plants, strategies, techniques, etc.  I’ve gone on to plant hundreds, maybe thousands of prairies since then. 

 

(Bruce Dayton was the first homeowner in Minnesota to convert a portion of his property, located in the Long Lake/Orono area, to original prairie.  Eventually that property was donated to the State of Minnesota.  To read more about the Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area, click here.  Our native landscaping company is proud to point to this project as the beginning of our business.  And since that time, Ron Bowen and others at PRI have been a part of restoring or planting thousands of other pockets of native prairie throughout the Midwest, primarily in Minnesota.)

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