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.

Fall 2023

Volume 71, No. 3

fall maple leaves

It has been a busy season at the Wildflower Garden. As I look back on 2023, I notice how each year at the Garden brings new challenges and new joys. 

Visitation and program participation has steadily increased over the past 20 years. We are at an all-time high with overall engagements and program participation here. Through October 1, we have tallied 45,304 visitor engagements (welcomes, conversations, information sharing) between visitors and the education staff and volunteers working at the Kiosk, Visitor Shelter, and on the trails. So far this season over 4,000 program participants have enjoyed a tour or program led by Garden staff as well.


The Wildflower Garden seasonal education staff of ten have done a tremendous job of sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for the natural world each day with people from our community and from around the country and globe who visit. We are so fortunate to be able to recruit talented seasonal, part-time education staff each year who are the backbone of our education program at the Garden.

volunteer stripping buckthorn new growth
FIPAG volunteer stripping new buckthorn growth. Photo FIPAG.

Wildflower Garden seasonal field staff have continued the legacy of care and tending to the Garden’s 15-acre native plant collection with great energy and effort. A space like this looks deceivingly self-maintaining, but it is not. Without these dedicated and talented field staff, the Garden would be an entirely different space and not nearly as biodiverse or beautiful. 


The Garden’s volunteers are at the very heart of the spirit of the Garden. Docent volunteers provide a warm welcome and helpful information about the Garden to the visitors at the Kiosk (new in 2022) and Visitor Shelter. Field volunteers in the FIAPG and Legacy volunteer programs provide essential work in the EBWG Volunteer Stewardship Area, improving the ecological health of this area year after year. The Friends Board, also volunteers, provides a variety of supportive services to the Garden, always seeking to promote the wonders of the Wildflower Garden and to provide funding for special projects.  In addition, corporate and non-profit groups volunteer with staff to assist with a variety of projects each year. 


Several new infrastructure-focused improvement projects have been completed this season— 

  • A small office space was created out of a storage area in the Martha Crone Visitor Shelter to accommodate the urgent need for a dedicated workstation for the Garden’s education staff.
  • Two new signs have been designed and installed for visitors along the entrance drive and parking lot with updated and accurate information about the Garden. 
  • One bathroom unit has been labeled for all gender use and the bathroom floors have been painted.
  • The parking lot has been re-striped and additional directional information has been added to the drive entrance and parking lot to help inform people about the one-way nature of the drive.
  • The staff tool house building has been updated to create a more functional space.
elaine evans of U of M bee lab
Elaine Evans in the field documenting bee specimens. Photo U of M Bee Lab.

Out in the field, the 2023-34 bee census is underway and being completed by Dr. Elaine Evans and her team from the U of MN. The Friends of the Wildflower Garden and MPRB are sharing the cost of this project. 

Another significant project for the Garden this season is the addition of a pollinator meadow at the entrance to the Garden off of Theodore Wirth Parkway. The project is part of the Turf to Pollinator Garden Program funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF). Wilderness in the City and Metro Blooms are project partners with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB). The aim of this program is to create pollinator habitat in areas that had been planted as turf within Regional Parks of the Twin Cities Metro Area. By the end of October we will have planted over 11,500 plants in the new meadow! The tremendous number of volunteers, MPRB staff, Conservation Corp of MN & IA staff and youth, Mississippi River Green Team youth, and project partners involved in making this a reality has been remarkable. It’s taken a village of enthusiastic, supportive people to bring this project to fruition.

   Wishing you a winter season of good health and good cheer. ❖

Below: The new pollinator meadow at the Wildflower Garden entry drive. Final 2023 planting about to take place with this group of volunteers in October 2023. Photo G D Bebeau

new pollinator meadow

Summer 2023

Volume 71, No. 2

Canada Lily
Canada Lily, Lilium canadense. Lily photo MPRB, insert G D Bebeau

It’s been a busy and gorgeous season at the Wildflower Garden so far. Staff are working hard to care for the Garden’s plant collection of over 600 native plant species and to provide high quality programming for thousands of people at the Garden in addition to supporting tens of thousands of visitors in the Visitor Shelter and on the trails!

We have a fabulous group of bright, hard working and engaging staff this season. The Garden would not be such a wonderful place to visit without them. Thanks to the 2023 staff! And it takes a village here at the Garden to keep everything we have set in motion going and to cultivate a space where visitors feel welcome and eager to learn more about the plants and animals of the Garden. I want to thank the many volunteers involved with greeting visitors at the Welcome Kiosk and in the Visitor Shelter. You add so much in terms of visitor engagement to the visitor experience here, thank you!  Additionally, thank you to those who are working to remove introduced plants as Legacy Volunteers and FIPAG (Friends Invasive Plant Action Group) volunteers in the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden Volunteer Stewardship Area and one family in the Fern Glen. The areas you care for look amazing and are such a joy to be in and experience for so many. 

Biennial Beeblossom
Biennial Beeblossom, Gaura biennis. Photo MPRB

A special thank you to Friends of the Wildflower Garden volunteer program coordinators, who are volunteers themselves, Melissa Hansen, Jim Proctor and Kari Christianson. Melissa has given a tremendous amount of time and energy while sharing her intellect and very big heart to support the two docent volunteer programs at the Garden- the Shelter Volunteer program and the new Kiosk Volunteer program- this season. It’s been a big effort this year with the Shelter Volunteer program returning after a pandemic pause along with the addition of more shifts at the Kiosk, due the Kiosk’s success last year with both visitors and volunteers. I can’t thank you enough, Melissa.  This program would not be possible without your efforts over many, many years and you make it so fun for everyone involved!

bee on ticktrefoil
Bee on pointed-leaf ticktrefoil, Desmodium glutinosum. Photo MPRB

Jim Proctor and Kari Christianson co-lead the Friends Invasive Plant Action Group work in the VSA and put in a tremendous amount of thoughtfulness and care into planning and implementing the work of tending this area with dozens of volunteers each season. Kari and Jim provide opportunities for volunteers to learn about introduced plants like garlic mustard and buckthorn while assisting with the removal of these introduced plants. This year they’ve also added in planting events/care to the routine. Your passion inspires so many and the hard work to turn a vision into reality is genuinely appreciated by so many as well. Thanks to you both for all that you do. 


There are many interesting projects in the works and I will share more about a few select project in the autumn edition of The Fringed Gentian™. For now, I’m off to plan and prepare for more programs and plantings with staff during this busy summer season. 

We look forward to seeing you on the trails in the coming weeks and months at the Wildflower Garden.

Read her previous letters here.

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Spring 2023

Volume 71, No. 1

Celebrating and Counting Birds in the Winter

Cooper's Hawk

On a sunny and cold December Sunday, 65 community members ventured outside to participate in the first official Audubon Winter (Christmas) Bird Count in the Minneapolis West Circle in 60 years!

Audubon designates 15-mile diameter circle-shaped areas for counts throughout the US, some of which have been actively counted for decades. This annual, nation-wide bird count is the longest standing community-science bird project in the country.

In the Minneapolis West circle, 4,369 birds were counted on Sunday, December 18 representing 38 bird species! There were two additional species counted during count week. The Minneapolis West circle includes a diverse array of urban habitats for birds. Even a cold day in December did not disappoint in terms of the diversity of species seen and the number of birds counted.

Re-igniting interest in this project and reviving the Minneapolis West circle area for the count is all thanks to the vision and dedication of the Urban Bird Collective (UBC). UBC’s leadership team for this effort, Monica Bryand and Jane Shallow, worked together with the Loppet Foundation and Garden Curator Susan Wilkins to plan and organize this very successful event. Almost 30 of the participants this year are community members and bird watchers who are involved with UBC. UBC helps create safe and welcoming spaces for birdwatchers of all levels and is focused on BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities. Read more here.  

A heart-felt thank you to Monica Bryand (UBC) for her vision and leadership to revive the bird count for this area and to bring a focus of inclusivity to the count for the BIPOC and LBQTIA+ birding community.

A special thanks to Ari Kim and Jane Shallow (UBC) who shared their expertise and developed the section maps for the count, an essential tool for an effective and efficient counting effort and a significant task.

Three additional community organizations were involved in this first count including the Cedar Lake Park Association, the Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary, and the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden. Several dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers from these organizations and from the community organized small groups to bird in park and natural areas in Minneapolis and mapped out areas ahead of time in coordination with the circle count leader, Garden Curator Susan Wilkins. Other community members assisted with providing refreshments for participants. A special thank you to Stephen Greenfield, Constance Pepin, Mark Schmidt, Keith Prussing, Jennifer Olson, Bruce Jarvis, Chris Swanson, Rod Miller, and Kurt Fisher for their efforts.

bird count tally
A northern shrike seen distantly, one of 4 spotted in the bird count. Photo - Chris Swanson.

Garden staff Tammy Mercer, Jodi Gustafson and Kimberly Ishkov shared their expertise and assisted the organizing team with facilitation of the count on the day of the event. Thank you.

Thank you to the Loppet Foundation for supporting this event in tandem with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.

It was a great day for the birds, for community-science, and for participants.

Thank you again to everyone involved in this community-centric effort to support community science and nature. Stay tuned for more information about the next Winter Bird Count in December 2023.

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.

This file photo of the Northern Shrike shows the plumage which is difficult to see in the small photo. Photo - Paul J. Hurtado.

Northern Shrike

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