Garden Curator's Notes

As published in The Fringed Gentian™.

by Susan Wilkins

Susan Wilkins' comments appear courtesy of the MPRB.


Fall-Winter 2020

Volume 68, No. 3

An Eventful Garden Season

The Garden gates closed to the public on October 31, bringing closure to another season of enchantment and beauty within these 15-acres of wild plant splendor. As we all know, this season was anything but typical. After a delayed opening in late May to give staff ample time to prepare the Garden to ensure the health and safety of visitors and staff, the Garden safely welcomed nearly 23,000 visitors during the remainder of the season all during the unsettling coronavirus pandemic and a tumultuous time in our society.

Staff tending the Garden Gate during the Season of Covid-19. Photo by the Friends.

front gate naturalists

Although it was a shorter and quieter season, overall, at the Garden, it was a rich one. We received hundreds of comments about how much joy and enrichment people received from their visits and how comfortable they felt walking the trails with the social distancing measures in place. This was heartening. Also, a source of delight was the sheer beauty of the Garden itself. It was a special year where many years of hard, thoughtful work came to fruit. Mass plantings bloomed one after the other in a rainbow of colors, invasive plants noticeably were on the wane, young trees grew bigger, and the synergy of it all took hold. It felt good to walk the trails and see the vibrancy and vitality appear around each bend and witness the Garden’s community of plants and animals thriving, together.

I’d like to take a few moments to share my thanks, on behalf of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB), to the human Garden community as well. First, to the visitors who stopped by this year, we truly hope that your experience was nourishing and delightful and exactly what you came for. We appreciate the courtesy and grace that you shared while waiting in line and walking the trails. Your care and love of the Garden is palpable. Thank you.

wheel barrow

I would also like to thank the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden for their continued support of the Garden, through substantial donations of funds for projects, like the extensive collections enhancement projects this season, as well as through coordinating volunteer programs like the Friends Invasive Plant Action Group (FIPAG).

Fall leaves

This year volunteers from FIPAG and the MPRB’s Legacy Volunteer program continued to work in the forests around the Wildflower Garden, enhancing these areas primarily by removing invasive species. To the Friends and volunteers, you showed commitment and generosity. Thank you.

I would also like to whole-heartedly acknowledge and thank the 2020 MPRB staff of the Garden who worked day in and day out during a very trying year to welcome everyone who queued up to enter through those magical gates (have you ever noticed how you feel different, more at ease, after passing through them?) with a warm smile and a bright message of good cheer. Beyond the obvious draw of the Garden itself, I do presume that the depth of knowledge shared by and the shining faces of the staff are one of the other reasons people keep coming back to learn and explore more. Your courage and dedication this season are commendable. Thank you.

And the community at large, thank you as well. Perhaps you did not stop out this year to visit or have yet to come by for a first time ever. Please know, the Garden and the parks of Minneapolis are here for you.

fading leaf

The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board is working diligently to assure that each and every person in every corner of our beautiful City and beyond feels welcome, safe, comfortable and engaged while visiting public park spaces in Minneapolis, including the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. There is work to do and one way to be a part of this work is to review and send your feedback about the new Comprehensive Plan that will be used as a guiding tool for shaping the priorities and policy direction of the MPRB for the next ten years. This draft was developed with significant community engagement and input gathered in a variety of ways over a year-long outreach process. Please take this opportunity to review what has been developed and provide feedback on the draft plan on or before January 18, 2021.

View the draft plan online at:
Survey Link

I am wishing each and every one a healthy, safe and peaceful winter season. May the promise of spring bring us all a renewed sense of hope and joy. Until then!

Susan Wilkins

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Summer 2020

Volume 68, No. 2

The Summer Garden

To the delight of many, the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden opened on May 19th with a modified approach to trail use to allow for social distancing and to provide for the safety of visitors and staff. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board leadership and staff spent significant time adapting to the changing conditions during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring months to optimize access to park spaces, like the Garden, while ensuring that visitors and staff could consistently follow public health guidelines during this challenging time.

Summer Garden Path
One of the relaxing paths in the Garden. Photo - Bob Ambler.

The Garden has been busy in these past few months since opening. Some days staff see 50-60 people coming through the Garden gates in the first hour of operations. With staggered entry times, there can be a bit of a wait on busy days, and visitors’ patience is rewarded once inside the Garden on the one-way trails set up for this season. For at least the first part of each group’s walk, they have the trail, for as far as the eye can see, all to themselves. Staff have heard from many a visitor that the sense of peace and solitude the 2020 trail experience affords, by default of keeping groups well-spaced, has been a true gift: a silver lining and

a great accolade to the healing balm of being in nature-centric  spaces, especially during this trying year.

Another gift of the Garden this year comes thanks to the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden. Staff have been busy, all season long, planting a variety of plant species in all corners of the Garden. The Friends funded plantings along the entry way trail, Trillium Trail, and adjacent hillsides are adding to the richness and beauty of the Garden experience and to the health of the Garden’s woodland plant collection. This project will continue into September with at least 25 species of wildflowers, ferns, sedges and grasses represented and over 2,000 plants being added by the time the project is completed. Year by year and plant by plant, the complexity and beauty of the Garden’s plant collections grow with a little help from the Friends. Thank you to all of the members who have contributed to these efforts

Wild Rose
A wild rose blooms. Photo - Bob Ambler.

If you have not had a chance to stop by, or if you have been by frequently this season, be sure to make it out before the last wildflowers bloom and autumn’s parade of color concludes. The Garden is waiting for you!

You can also stay connected to the Garden by visiting the Garden on Facebook and Instagram @EBWGMPLS. Staff are leading twice weekly virtual programs at 9am on Thursdays and Fridays through the end of September and posting updates and Garden highlights frequently.

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Turkey Tail mushrooms on a tree. Photo - Bob Ambler.

mushrooms on log

Spring 2020

Volume 68, No. 1

The Spring Garden

It is with a tender heart that I share a few words this spring about the Wildflower Garden.

First off, the Garden has such a good feeling about it this spring. The mother fox has been raising her kits, three as far as I can tell, in the Garden again this spring. She found the return of staff in mid-March quite the nuisance and quickly moved her little bundles of fur out beyond the fence line. As I watched her harrowing journey, climbing over fallen logs with a kit clenched in her jaw not long after being chased by off-leash dogs (and more than one in a single afternoon), I was so impressed by her instincts and her acumen. She made it out successfully and the Garden felt diminished without her. I was deeply relieved to find her back in the Garden with her young a couple of days later. She seems a bit more settled, slightly more accepting of this new arrangement. She still barks at staff when we come upon her unexpectedly. I hope that she will stay put here until her kits are old enough to venture off into the semi-wilds of this urban habitat they call home.

Yellow Trout Lily
Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

On a similar note, the Garden looks divine. Early spring has begun to slowly and steadily unfold here. The tips of the wild leeks are poking up through the damp dark soil close to where the skunk cabbage grows and is also off to a running start. The smallest patch of snow trillium just down the path is in bud. The hepatica leaves overwintered well and already, many of them, bear a green gloss that brightens the dullness of the fallen leaves around them. And the earliest maroon-purple hued trout lily leaves are still not visible, unless you move a tuft of duff, and then they are everywhere.

All of these species, introduced to the Garden by Eloise Butler over 100 years ago, have been doing well in recent years. Some, like the wild leeks and skunk cabbage, have been spreading vigorously over the past 10 years. With buckthorn, garlic mustard, and dame’s rocket nearly continuously removed in Garden areas where they grow to make room for their spread.

Hepatica flower and leaf
Sharp-lobe Hepatica (Anemone americana)

Bird song. I’ll be honest, it’s a bit quiet and it is still a bit early. Of course, a lone cardinal is singing his heart out in preparation for the weeks ahead. There are the sweet calls of the chickadees and a screech here and there from a raptor above, though nothing to match the shriek of the mother fox when she is disturbed.

And now, on to the obvious heartbreak of the times we are in. With the unchartered days and weeks ahead, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board leadership and staff are working with great care and effort to devise a plan that will allow the Garden to open this season during the COVID-19 pandemic while protecting this precious resource and all of the people who visit, volunteer and work here. This is not an easy task given the circumstances, but I am hopeful that with the cooperation and understanding of the public, we will find a way, soon enough, for the Garden gates to swing open and the peace and delight of this place to embrace you again, and again.

Wishing each and all a bounty of best wishes for an easeful spring, full of joyful and meaningful moments. May nature brighten your days.


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