When the original dimensions of Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden were determined in 1907 the area was an unfenced portion of Glenwood Park (now named Theodore Wirth Park). Eloise Butler and her fellow botany teachers concentrated their efforts on an area of woodland hills surrounding a rare tamarack swamp. It was not until the 1940s when Martha Crone was curator that the idea was first generated of adding an upland oak savanna environment to the Garden.
Clinton Odell, President of the Burma-Vita Company, and future founder of The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, had offices on Chestnut Street just blocks from the Garden. He had been a botany student of Eloise Butler and he frequently spent time in the Garden helping Martha Crone with weeding and planting. In June 1944, Odell wrote to Minneapolis Park Board Superintendent C. A. Bossen, proposing to donate $3,000 to cover the cost of clearing an upland garden, fencing in the new area, surfacing the paths, and constructing a small summer house. The Board felt certain of his requests should be “wait and see” as Mrs. Crone developed the area. Thus the upland garden was created. (1)
Background: When Clinton Odell proposed to the Park Board to add the current upland area his request incorporated an historic event. In Eloise Butler's time the garden space included most of the open meadow that is between the current Garden back gate and the Wirth Park Picnic area. It was in this area that Eloise created her Mallard Pool in 1932. When Eloise died Martha Crone finished the planting around the pool the next year and tended the area, including adding plants, up until the end of 1939. The dry years of the 1930s caused moisture issues in all parts of the Garden and probably lessened the effectiveness of the Mallard Pool for displaying aquatic plants. The early 1940s were however, very wet. Martha Hellander’s research for her book on Eloise Butler found that Odell said to the Park Board that the northern area (which included the Mallard Pool) should never have been fenced and that it was swampy and should be abandoned in favor of an upland area which the garden did not have at that time (The Wild Gardener pg. 104). So 1944 sets the time when the Mallard Pool was abandoned, although Martha Crone made no notes of working the area after 1939.
Odell sent an initial check for $1,000 and in subsequent years between 1944 and 1952 (until The Friends were founded) he reimbursed the Park Board for what they spent, eventually exceeding his original $3,000 offer by over $4,000 (2). Several aspects of Odell’s offer were not implemented. There was to be no summer house and the paths were left to Martha Crone to complete and there was no surfacing except what Martha could accomplish. Nevertheless, the new space added the equivalent of 1/4 of the old Garden area, bring the total enclosed space to just under 14 acres. Martha immediately began clearing sumac and other unwanted plants and in 1944 alone, set out 210 new plants in the area. Within two years she had created 2000 feet of new paths.
Former Gardener Cary George in a conversation with your editor, stated that the fence Odell needed for the new upland area was removed from the north meadow area as in 1944 wartime, steel was not available for that kind of use. (9)
On the development of the Upland Garden Martha Crone wrote in 1955:
“When the upland or prairie garden was established ten years ago the area was a ticket of sumac and various other shrubs. These have been removed and thousands of typical prairie plants of various kinds introduced. Here the sun beats down all day and only the deep-rooted plants of the prairie will thrive. The success in growing these plants is to provide good drainage. However the annuals will not germinate readily during a dry spring and will be greatly lacking. Most perennial deep-rooted plants are best started from seed, since they are difficult to transplant.
The prairie garden becomes colorful in midsummer when the spring flowers have gone and the shade in the woodland is so dense that very few plants will bloom there.
Aside from the graveled trails leading to all parts of the area and a number of settees conveniently placed, it is kept as natural as any native prairie.” (8)
In 1951 Odell requested toilet facilities and mosquito control. (3) Odell had been to Tucson and visited a garden there that had modern toilet facilities and said if a small city like that could provide facilities certain Minneapolis could “go them one better.” These were not provided either. Mosquitoes were always a problem. Martha Crone once replied to Theodore Wirth “I wish to offer my apologies for the ill manners of my mosquitoes, they are rather difficult to train as each one lives only a short time” (4). By the early 1950s, the Park Board was already hesitant of using DDT to control them.
Martha remarked: “During mid-summer when the spring flowers have gone and the shade of the woodland is so dense that few plants bloom there, then it is that the prairie and upland garden comes into its own. This tract consists of gently rolling hills and prairie, and is fully 75 feet higher than the woodland garden. The contrast is all the more striking between the upland and the woodland gardens, since they are so closely allied.” (5)
The fern glen: A part of the upland addition was a South-east facing hillside in the far NE corner that descended from the upper ridge line of the new addition. In 1955 the Garden received a gift of funds from the Minnetonka Garden Club and the Little Minnetonka Garden Club to create a fern hill in that as yet undeveloped part of the Garden. Martha began this project in 1956 by setting out 2,160 fern plants followed by 308 the next year and ending her part of the project in 1958 when the total reached 2,843 fern plants. Ken Avery would complete it in 1960-61 pushing the fern count to 3,094.
1993 Addition: Following the addition of the upland acreage, it was the curator's work to maintain and develop the land following the principles espoused by Eloise Butler. In 1993 however, Friends member Elaine Christenson would propose a small further addition. Looking at some of Martha Crones old slides she noticed a prairie area east of the current boundary fence. That area was now overgrown, but it once was grassland. Working with Gardener Cary George they both got the idea of adding an extra acre. The cost of adding the needed fencing was met by making use of some old un-needed fencing that still separated the upland from original woodland, and by a payment from the Friends for the cost of the new fencing needed. (6) This addition brought the Garden up to its current size of 15 acres. You can read Elaine Christenson's account of the addition here: (Article).
Map: Garden plan showing the location of the 1993 addition, courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
Below left: Gardener Cary George and Elaine Christenson. Right: Looking east from the center of the Upland Garden toward the new addition. Photo G D Bebeau.
Below: The Upland Garden on October 24, 1955 from a Kodachrome by Martha Crone. (7)