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Northern Connections Provides Landscaping and Greenery

Though Christmas is past, a few of its scents remain, found in leftover candy canes, cookies, fragrant Christmas trees and wreaths. Northern Connections, a landscaping business in Two Harbors, is responsible for much Christmas greenery in the North­land, but their business is not limit­ed to the holiday season.

Jon Hanel, owner of Northern Connections, was born in Oak­land, Nebraska, where his father was a pastor. At the age of three, his family moved to Mankato, Minnesota, where Hanel grew up. Even as a child, Hanel “had a pas­sion for trees, plants, and the great outdoors.” When his family would take a trip to northern Minnesota, young Hanel would “dig up trees to plant in my parent’s yard.” At the age of ten, he began to mow lawns, and this transitioned into a delivery job for a floral shop once he got his driver’s license. The floral shop led to working in the greenhouse and garden section at a department store, and as a high schooler, Hanel studied plant species of his own ac­cord, memorizing the Latin names for many of them. He was in Future Farmers of America and competed on the debate team. After gradua­tion, Hanel attended Vermillion Community College, studying for­estry. While there, he met his future wife, Lynette.

After Jon and Lynette Hanel married in 1989, they moved to Mankato, where Hanel owned Hanel Lawn and Landscape and worked part-time at a garden center. It was at the garden cen­ter that he learned the art of wreath-making and evergreen sales. This job ignited a desire in Hanel to someday own his own wreath-making business. In 1999, Jon and Lynette Hanel moved to the Duluth area to be closer to Ly­nette’s mother. Jon Hanel found jobs at garden centers and worked landscaping jobs on the side, sav­ing up money to start his own busi­ness. 2003 saw the Hanels move to Two Harbors, to “buy land to stretch out and make room to have our soon-to-be Northern Connec­tion Landscape business.” Finally, in 2006, Jon Hanel began Northern Connections Landscape. “Since my name wasn’t well known in the area, I came up with the name Northern Connections because I wanted the in the northern area to get more connected to my land­scaping services.” The Hanels built a greenhouse on their property to use for their landscaping plants, and at one time it was an operating greenhouse to sell annual and veg­etable plants.

“Since we were in this northern location and enjoyed Christmas, we started up the wreath and tree business to supplement the fall months and part of winter, which [then] changed the name to what it is today: Northern Connections. Landscape, Greenhouse, and Ever­green Products, LLC.”

Northern Connections has a few goals for their business, including expanding and growing the busi­ness by “adding back the green­house service part of the business.” They also desire to add a garden center and holiday retail shop. “We want to create more memorable family experiences for our custom­ers by coming out to our place in the country to pick out a pre-cut Christmas tree, but along with that, we want to start growing more of our own trees for people to come out and choose their own tree to cut.” They also want to continue providing one of a kind wreaths.

Services provided by Northern Connections include landscaping services, special order retail ever­green products, wholesale evergreen products, and wholesale-priced products for fundraisers.

For evergreen products, Jon Hanel says, “I have learned that you have to love it! It’s hard work that requires lots of planning, long days, and everything has to come together all at once – one step at a time. It is a short, intense season, but it is exciting to see those prod­ucts as they are made by our team of wonderful working helpers. It’s fun to go out to the fields of trees in the summer to tag the trees we hand-choose. Then [we] go out to cut when they’re ready, and bring them back to get ready for market.”

When it comes to making wreaths, garlands, and other ever­green products, “Timing is every­thing! You don’t want to cut too soon or too late. You need to cut af­ter a couple freezes so the sap has a chance to stay in the tree branches to seal them, otherwise the boughs will lose their needles. And you don’t want to cut too late because the wreath-making [season] is so short, you want to get enough to make the customer quotas. We mostly use local evergreens from our northern natural forest, sustain­ably harvested by licensed bough cutters, land owners wanting to harvest on their own property, and at the beginning of the season, we also buy our own permits to cut some ourselves to get started. We use Balsam fir, White pine, and Ce­dar when making the wreaths and garland. For fancier wreaths we use Fraser fir and Juniper. We get the Fraser fir boughs from south central and southern Minnesota tree farmers, because that species doesn’t grow well here.”

Customers of Northern Connec­tions’ wreaths have claimed the wreaths have lasted until spring, but this may vary depending on whether the wreaths are kept in­doors or outdoors. “From the woods to the customer’s hands, it en­sures the freshest wreaths and oth­er products possible,” Jon Hanel says, something he has learned in his 25 years making wreaths.

“We are so grateful for all the people that work for us and all our customers,” the Hanels say. “It’s fun to see the families with their children come out to buy trees and wreaths. It’s also a good feel­ing to see our products hanging on doors, buildings, and porches in towns across Minnesota and Wis­consin. We are also grateful for the ski teams, church missionaries, southern Minnesota church school history class fundraisers, and all the wholesale customers’ sales throughout the years. Thank you so much!”.

And thank you, Northern Con­nections, for bringing the scent of Christmas to many across the Northland.

Haley Searls
Haley Searls
Hello! My name is Haley Searls. I’ve loved writing from an early age, though my nonfiction writing at five years old consisted mainly of weather and gardening reports. I still have some of those early articles: “It’s sunny.” “It’s still sunny.” “It’s raining.” I’m glad to say my writing has improved since then. I wrote a guest post for the Silver Bay Public Library blog, and was the writer/editor of the newsletter for my American Heritage Girls troop. I have been writing for the North Shore Journal since June 2022. Besides writing, I love reading, drawing, photography, music, and spending time with family and friends. Two books that have really influenced my writing are Reforming Journalism by Marvin Olasky and Writer to Writer by Bodie and Brock Thoene. As a journalist, I want to share positive community interactions and inspire people to make lasting connections. Article topics that interest me are ones which show community activities and involvement. Such articles include community events, youth accomplishments, library programming, small businesses, local history, local artists and authors, art programs, and cultural events such as theater and dance. If you have an article idea, email the North Shore Journal with my name in the subject line! I look forward to hearing from you!
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