Garden Curator's Notes

As published in The Fringed Gentian™.

by Susan Wilkins

Susan Wilkins' comments appear courtesy of:


Garden Curator's Notes

Susan Wilkins' comments appear courtesy of the MPRB.

Garden kiosk

Greetings. It has been a busy and beautiful season at the Garden this year. Public program attendance has been high, with programs like Garden Story Time, Early Birders, Quaking Bog Tours, and Night-themed Walks drawing 20, 30, 40 people for many sessions.

Garden Story Time tops the charts this year with more than 60+ people often attending this season. Clearly the Garden provides so much nourishment and enrichment for visitors in a variety of ways. Special paid tours were re-launched this summer after a pandemic pause for two years and groups are enjoying their specialized programs with Garden Naturalists as a result. We have had the great fortune of having a talented staff this season, including the staff working in the field and also with the education and visitor services program. Thank you to Elise Jacobson (Natural Resources Specialist) along with Louisa Brody and Nicholas Purcell (Horticulture Support Interns) for their fabulous work tending to the Garden this season. You will have the pleasure of reading an article from these three staff in this edition of The Fringed Gentian™.

Garden Staff in Upland
Admiring the plants they tend are Garden Staff (l to r) Nicholas Purcell, Elise Jacobson, Louisa Brody, authors of the article in this issue about the discovered Twayblade. Photo - MPRB.

Thank you to Summer Badawi (Education Program Lead) along with Charlotte Cowdery, Erin Dietrich, Mariah Hanson, Kimberly Ishkov, Tammy Mercer, Maria Montero (Garden Naturalists) for all of your work serving visitors through the formal and informal education programming at the Garden. This group of educators has done a tremendous job of providing high-quality programming and engaging visitor experiences this season. Last but not least, thank you to the four Garden Naturalists who assist as needed with shifts and programming, including: Sophie Bishop, Erin Dietrich, Jodi Gustafson, and Claire Steinhouse. As you can see, it takes a small village to provide a high-quality experience for visitors at the Garden and to keep the Garden landscape healthy and in good form.

Also this season, docent volunteers have returned! This long-standing program, developed and coordinated by the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, weathered the pandemic and has returned with a cheerful team of nearly 30 volunteers ready to greet and assist visitors at the Garden. Thank you to Melissa Hansen, a volunteer herself and coordinator of the program, for her collaborative spirit and hard work, working together to launch this program this season.

The new kiosk at the front gate to the Garden has been well received and serves as a wonderful location for visitors to be greeted by volunteers. This season, docent volunteers received training and then jumped right into serving visitors in this location without missing a beat! We are excited about this new space and the way it affords visitors to learn a bit about the Garden and gather resources for visiting before entering. And for those visitors who are seeking solitude, we completely understand! Volunteers have been trained to lean back and see if visitors want to engage before initiating a conversation. At the Garden, we continue to do our best to meet the needs of visitors to this free, public botanic garden in the heart of the Twin Cities so that it is a welcoming space for all.

Enjoy these fleeting days of autumn and may you find moments to touch down deeply with nature in your everyday lives in the season ahead.

The new Garden entry kiosk. Photo - Bob Ambler.


Read her previous letters here.

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Summer 2022

Volume 70, No. 2

Bastard Toadflax

Summer is here and it is a spectacular time of year in the Wildflower Garden. The meadow is alight in the golden hues of golden Alexander and the bluish-purple wands of the false blue indigo plants..

Turn the bend and a hillside decorated with wild roses presents itself along with newly planted large-flowered beardtongue and prairie phlox. Tucked into the grasses and leaves close to the soil there are carpets of pearly everlasting and bastard toadflax.  The horse gentian is also in bloom along with spiderwort and this is just the beginning of the season of blossoms in the upland meadow garden!


There is so much to know and understand about this special landscape. One can spend a lifetime here and still discover more. I think that is one of the many special gifts of the Garden. It is certainly one I am quite grateful for. The more insight I gain about the history of the development of the plant collection here, the more awe and appreciation emerges for what we have in this truly unique public, native plant-focused botanic garden. I find myself inspired every day by the legacies of Eloise Butler and Martha Crone. The combined vision, dedication, advocacy efforts, and hard work carried out by each of these curators built the foundation upon which the Garden continues to grow and draw from.

Showy Beardtongue
Showy Beardtongue, Penstemon grandiflorus, one of the new plantings in the upland.

The Garden is an evolving landscape and more goes on “behind the scenes” to curate and care for the plants here than meets the eye. Each season 1,500-3,500+ plants— trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, ferns, and sedges— are added to the collection to foster the natural beauty, biodiversity, and sensory depth of this space. As plants mature, conditions change, diseases & pests cycle through, additional plants are needed. In addition, plantings are being carried out to create more layers of vegetation to enhance the beauty of the Garden and to create more dynamic habitats.


It’s hard to fathom— as the naturalistic style of the Garden belies the facts— but this space is highly managed. Plants are intentionally added each year to foster the goals mentioned above. They are thoughtfully placed and arranged to enhance the “primeval wilderness” design aesthetic that Eloise Butler laid out for the Garden.  Management also includes the weeding out of what is not wanted. A well-thought-out game of addition and subtraction, with some interesting twists and turns, is what a garden is all about and this one is no different!

As we care for this amazing public garden, it’s striking to consider that over 50% of the plant species present today in the Garden were not indigenous to the site in the early 1900s. Rather, they were introduced as part of Eloise Butler’s original vision to create a remarkable display of the great diversity of wild plants native to Minnesota. She began in 1907 and here we are in 2022, all the richer for it.

Wishing all an engaging summer filled with many moments of learning about and enjoying plants.

Visitors in the Martha Crone Visitor Shelter are discovering new dimensions of nature exploration with a wonderful new tool, a video microscope called a Microeye. This tool allows people of all ages to look at natural materials up close with ease. It has been a popular new addition to the Shelter and is a nod to Eloise Butler and her passion for using microscopes to see the patterns and details of the natural world up close. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

new view scope  

A microscope has long been a feature on the counter in the Crone Shelter for children to use. In 1994 Tim Nordquist build a microscope for the Shelter in honor of his brother Daniel as part of a family memorial to Daniel that includes the Nordquist fountain on the hill in the upland.

Read her previous letters here.

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Spring 2022

Volume 70, No. 1

Hepatica image

It is early February now and a week of warm weather is forecasted ahead. As the sun sets a little later each evening and the yellow rays feel just a tad warmer in the crisp afternoon air, these February days remind me just how close spring’s approach really is.

Winter is generally a quieter time in the physical Garden for us humans (the trails are full of animal tracks right now). As curator, I am busy interviewing and hiring all of the seasonal staff for 2022 and preparing trainings and schedules for the months ahead. Plants are being ordered, important tree management work is occurring and diseased tree debris is being burned all this month by MPRB staff. In-depth programming and plant collection management planning for this and future years is also underway.

Fumewort, (Corydalis solida), early spring forb in the woodland Garden. Photo G. D. Bebeau,

Garden staff are planning for a season full of thoughtfully tending the Garden, as we do each year, and providing opportunities for visitors to enjoy and learn about the plants and wildlife of the Garden. We look forward to offering public programs this season for all ages and remain hopeful that we will be able to expand on what is offered this season as compared to the last two years, based on how the pandemic continues to unfold.


We are also delighted to share that the Garden gates will open, once more, at 7:30 AM this season! I imagine many happy birders smiling with the arrival of this news. We are all excited for this return to an earlier opening time.


The Visitor Shelter Improvements project has proved to be more complex than originally planned and will continue to be thoughtfully worked on as the season progresses. We do not anticipate Garden operations being impacted by this project this season.


As we approach that most exciting time of year when the scents of subtle spring things like moist mosses and warming bark emerge and the sounds of water trickling and cheerful birds pop up here and there to our delight, I want to wish each and every one of you the very best for a season of touching down, deeply, on the beauty of nature that lives inside and outside of each one of us. May we all take good care of ourselves, each other and this incredibly beautiful planet, our only home, now and always. Enjoy the start of spring!

Below: Lone Oak Hill at the top of Blazing Star Blvd. with Wild Plum in bloom. Photo Bob Ambler.

Oak hill in the upland

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