Garden Curator's Notes

As published in The Fringed Gentian™.

by Susan Wilkins

Autumn 2018

Volume 66, No. 3

oak leaves MPRB Logo

It’s been a beautiful and busy season at the Wildflower Garden. Although we opened a month later than scheduled due to wintry conditions, we welcomed an astounding 14,025 visitors at the Martha E. Crone Shelter from May 1 through October 31. Wow! This is the highest count on record in recent history. It means that thousands of people each month had an opportunity to connect with staff and volunteers in the Shelter to learn more about the flora and fauna and the rich history of America’s oldest public wildflower garden.

It is exciting to know that the Garden is appreciated by so many — far more than we can count! As only a portion of visitors stop in at the Shelter during their visit to the Garden, staff are looking into ways to capture a precise number of total visitors to the 15-acre grounds in future seasons. It has been rewarding to watch our programs grow and reach new audiences. This season two tremendously successful toddler/pre-school programs were offered by Garden naturalists. The Nature Tots program was offered weekly and Garden Story Time was offered twice weekly, with over 560 participants registered throughout the season. Thanks to the high-quality programming developed and led by Garden naturalists, the children and their parents kept coming back for more!

Over 3,000 people participated in free and paid programs led by Garden naturalists in 2018. This includes the free public tours offered frequently throughout the week, such as Early Birders, paid public tours like Full Moon Hikes, and over 80 special group programs serving more than 1,370 youth and adults from schools like Folwell Park Freedom School and Hmong International Academy and adult groups like Garden Club of America and Hennepin County Master Gardeners.

The Wildflower Garden is fortunate to have such a dedicated, intelligent and kind-hearted team of staff and volunteers working to tend and share with visitors the beauty and wonder of native plants in a naturalistic setting. Thank you to everyone – visitors, volunteers and staff – for all that you bring and all that you give to this special Garden.

Susan Wilkins is the Garden’s Curator. Her column appears courtesy of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.

Below: A flock of birders collect along a trail in the Upland Garden in late October. photo: Bob Ambler

Fall birders in Garden

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Spring 2018

Volume 66, No. 1

large flowered trillium MPRB Logo

Temperatures are dipping into negative digits and a healthy layer of glistening snow covers the landscape as I write these notes. It is late January and I’ve been out in the shining Garden this week working on a variety of projects. My first task was to stake out the next sections of the boardwalk in the Garden’s wetland with landscape architect James Robin and Minneapolis Park Board design project manager Tyler Pederson. Although more than one of us (I won’t say who!) temporarily lost our footing in the icy reaches of the open water below the snow, we successfully charted our way through the wetland with drawings, templates, tape measures and marking flags. Our field-proofing gave Tyler and James the information needed to update the design so that the final boardwalk segments are crafted to fit the space in a sensitive and sympathetic manner.

TWO DAYS LATER I was back in the Garden, but not for joyful work. Emerald ash borers, a nemesis of ash trees, are well established in Minneapolis and have been found in neighborhoods adjacent to Theodore Wirth Park and the Garden. We have been methodically removing specific ash trees in the Garden while they are still alive. Once infested, they are difficult to safely cut down without causing harm to nearby trees and shrubs. We don’t want to delay removal, as their branches will become brittle and break off, posing a hazard for visitors and staff. Working with Park Board forester Dana Hendrickson, we marked a number of mature ash trees growing next to the trail. Next week skilled Park Board foresters will carefully cut them down, branch by branch. This will ensure the safety of hundreds of nearby saplings and small trees planted during recent years to fill in the canopy.

staking the boardwalk path

BUNDLED IN JACKETS AND BEARDS, landscape architect James Robin, left, and design project manager Tyler Pederson take measurements for phase II of the Garden’s wetland boardwalk. Photo - Susan Wilkins

Green Ash
A GREEN ASH RISES OVER THE GARDEN’S LOWLAND FOREST. The most widespread native ash in North America, Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) was first introduced to the Garden by Eloise Butler in 1909 with nursery plants from the Minneapolis Park Board. Photo - Susan Wilkins.

ONE ASH IN PARTICULAR has made an impression on me. It is a green ash and Dana thinks it is between 40 and 50 years old. It stands like a soulful sentinel in the lowland forest of the Garden, watching over the not too distant wetland. Its rise to the canopy came after the fall of American and red elms, gentle giants that were once plentiful in this garden area. When these elms were lost to Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and 80s, the ash and box elders we see today quickly grew up. The more recent plantings of swamp white oak, cottonwood, silver maple, tamarack, river birch and yellow birch represent yet another generation in this forest’s life cycle. These newer trees are thriving, growing together with Kentucky coffeetree, red maple and black walnut. With the additional light they will grow even more quickly in the coming years.

TO FILL NEWLY OPENED SPACES, Garden staff will plant more trees and shrubs in this forested area, along with dozens of species of wildflowers, sedges, grasses and ferns in a variety of locations. Stop at the Visitor Shelter and consult the bulletin board to find out what is being planted where throughout the season.

THE GARDEN HAS A BRIGHT FUTURE – and as with any landscape, the plants and Garden spaces will keep growing, shifting and changing. As good gardeners and wise stewards, let’s continually return our attention to the opportunity that change affords. We can learn how to see deeply and be inspired by our observations to awaken and harness our creativity and biophilic intelligence -- that innate tendency we have to seek connections with all of life. This is our challenge: to love nature enough to learn from it, to embrace the cycle of change and to foster the most beneficial and beautiful changes within our gardens and natural spaces.

Susan Wilkins is Garden Curator and her column appears courtesy of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.

Additional Background:

The Wetland at Eloise Butler

Trees mentioned in the article

Green Ash
Kentucky Coffeetree
American Elm
Silver Maple
Yellow Birch
River Birch
Red Maple
Swamp White Oak
Black Walnut

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