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Peter Moe, who started as a student gardener at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and rose by 2016 to the position of director, is retiring after nearly 50 years with the popular west metro plant preserve.

It was a career that allowed him to focus on preserving the state's rarest native plants, Moe said.

"We have such diversity. We have our prairies in the west, the coniferous forests in the north, the beautiful lakes and forests in the central part of the state and trout streams in the northeast," he said. "Every one of those areas have unique plants."

The sprawling, 1,200-acre grounds west of Chanhassen that make up the Arboretum, or "the Arb," has gardens, paths winding through restored prairie and a research center of the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). Weather permitting, Moe for many years could be seen commuting there from his house nearby.

"Pete's goal has always been to make the Arb a garden for all Minnesotans," Brian Buhr, the dean of CFANS, said in a news release. "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."

Raised in Richfield, Moe started working at the Arboretum in 1973. During a visit there with his mother, he asked one of the workers if there were any open jobs, he recalled. He also met his wife there — Susan Moe, who worked as a scientist there and later in the its library.

Under Moe's tenure in management positions, the Arboretum grew to its current size, and he worked to make its pathways — including the Three-Mile-Walk — accessible. Moe had a hand in cultivating many plant collections, gardens, buildings and programs over the years. In 2013 he started the University's Plant Conservation Program to preserve and restore Minnesota's native plants, including 48 species of orchids.

Annually, the Arboretum sees about 450,000 visitors. Paid membership is at the highest it has ever been, at more than 30,000 household members. Moe attributes much of the recent growth to people who were looking for inspiration for their own yards during the COVID pandemic.

Moe plans to stay on until his replacement is found. In retirement, he said he plans to spend more time with his family, and continue learning about Minnesota's native plants.

"I've been very fortunate to work at a place that has such a positive impact on the economy of this state," he said. "One of the goals of the Arb is to inspire people, so when people come out and see the beautiful gardens, the shrub collections and wildflowers — many times people are inspired to improve their own home landscape."