Melvin Bergeson

The Man Behind Red Splender

January 31, 1906
Today is the birthday of the nurseryman Melvin Bergeson who, ironically, lived in Fertile, Minnesota.

After World War II, an employee of Melvin’s named Norris Oftedahl was walking along a row of trees at the nursery. As expected, all of the trees in the row had succumbed to winterkill… except for one. It stood out and caught Norris’s attention. It was a little crabapple tree. Norris thought the tree might be a mutant variety and told Melvin to keep his eye on it. Melvin did, and over the years, Melvin took note of the little crab’s continued hardiness - which was tremendous - and the beautiful fruit. Melvin’s instincts told him the tree was something special.

Melvin christened the tree Red Splendor in honor of the gorgeous fruit. Melvin sold some Red Splendors to customers, and he also sent some Red Splendors to other nurserymen so that it could be trialed. Sadly, when Melvin applied to patent the Red Splendor, he was denied. The government claimed the tree was already in the public domain.

Once it was on the market, the Red Splendor captured people’s hearts. One of the best features of a Red Splendor Crab is that it doesn't drop fruit over the summer. Instead, the fruit holds on until the following spring. This habit allows the birds and animals to eat from the tree all winter long, making way less clean up of dropped apples (one of the main gripes of apple tree owners.)

With all of the Red Splendor’s marvelous features, it’s not surprising to learn that the University of Minnesota once regarded the Red Splendor Crab as the best plant ever created in the state of Minnesota.

Melvin also deserves personal recognition; he was a natural-born marketer and salesman. He came up with clever slogans that were splashed across the cover of his annual nursery brochures like,

“Let’s get it done in ‘71.”

The hype around Red Splendor opened opportunities for the tree to appear in venues like the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. A Red Splendor even accompanied President Nixon on his trip to China, where it was presented as a gift from America.

It’s hard to believe after the thrill of the Red Splendor that Melvin and his wife Olga started their humble nursery during the Great Depression in 1937. Their customers were mostly farmers, and their main product was trees - especially windbreak trees and fruit trees.

Today, 83 years later, Melvin's Nursery is run by his grandson, Joe Bergeson. The nursery offers a diverse selection of trees, shrubs, and plants. However, Joe’s passion is hybridizing roses. As far as trees are concerned, one of the nursery’s top-selling trees is the Ohio buckeye tree, grown from a nut. 

This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
Melvin Bergeson in 1955
Melvin Bergeson in 1955
Melvin & Olga Bergeson in 1933
Melvin & Olga Bergeson in 1933

Leave a Comment