Marsh in Winter

History of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Winter 1943/1944

Martha Crone
Martha Crone in the Garden in a 1951 photo.

We no longer have Martha Crone’s diaries available this year, so most information comes from her log (1). This year she also abandons typing the log in favor of hand written entries.

At the end of 1943 Martha took on the job of Night Overseer at the Minneapolis Public Library’s Science Museum. At one point during the Winter she was Acting Director and editor of the Museum’s newsletter titled “Minnesota Naturalist”. It was noted in Vol. 3, No.1 for March 30, 1944 that she would be relinquishing those posts in order to resume her duties at the Wild flower Garden. (2)

1944 would be Martha Crone’s 12th year in charge of the Garden, which now begins its 38th year.

Spring 1944

Garden Office
The Garden Office on another wintry April day - April 14, 1949. Photo by Martha Crone.

April 1st was Garden opening day and it was not nice. Martha records:

“Six inches snow covering the ground. Nothing up and still very cold. Heavy snow storm in November followed by mild weather during Dec. Jan. and Feb. March has been cold.” On April 2nd “the temperature was 14 above in the morning. Pails of water frozen almost solid in the office. Wood chuck came out today.” (1)

Fickle as April can be, the 12th was a beautiful warm sunny day, the icebound lakes gave up their ice on that day only to have the ground covered with snow on the 16th. But, on the 21st, the Snow Trilliums were blooming profusely. On the 27th the first Hepatica was in bloom, and on May 1st the Skunk Cabbage was in bloom. These are late dates. Martha’s successor, Ken Avery, kept detailed records of early and late bloom dates and his successor Cary George maintained the list and their latest date for Skunk Cabbage was April 19 and for Hepatica was April 24; only the Snow Trillium was later on their lists, but only by one day. [PDF of Avery Bloom Dates]

Large waves of birds were noted coming through the Garden May 18-21. The Audubon people checked off 100 species. (1) The first Hummingbird was sighted May 12th.

Summer 1944

The Upland Garden Addition:

1987 plan map
Garden plan- The Upland Addition to the Garden in 1944 includes the right hand section of the map above the wetland/woodland area and to the right of the dashed fence line. Map courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Click image for larger image.

Clinton Odell, President of the Burma-Vita Company, and future founder of The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, had offices at 2318 Chestnut Ave. West, 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. (4)

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 an additional $4,000.

The following information is from invoices and letters between the Park Board and Clinton Odell in the files of the Martha Crone Collection at Minnesota Historical Society. In 1944 the Board spent $1,009 on this project; in 1945 the amount was $1,116 and in 1946 the amount totaled $1,314. Each year the Park Board sent a summary to Odell and he paid the amount due above his initial $1,000. In addition to this in 1945 he paid for the wages of a second man to help Martha Crone, a Mr. John Schulte. In 1946 he did likewise but had to dismiss Schulte early for the reason stated as “they did not agree” and he was looking for a replacement. In 1947 he simply sent the Park Board $1,000 for the purpose of paying for help and in the subsequent years of 1948, through 1951 he sent $500.

Purple Loosestrife
Purple Loosestrife. Photo G D Bebeau

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. Many of those paths already traversed that section of Wirth Park. Nevertheless, the new area according to Martha Crone's 1945 report to the Park Board added about 10 acres. Based on what is known about the size of the current woodland garden area and wetland that is enclosed with a fence, this acreage number is much too high. As the total Garden area prior to the most recent expansion in 1993 was 14 acres, then the upland area was no more than 4 to 5 acres. Gardener Cary George wrote in 1994 that the one acre 1993 upland addition added 20% to the size of Upland Garden. (The Fringed Gentian™ Vol. 42 No 1).

Abandonment of the Mallard Pool

This acreage count would have then excluded the north meadow where the Mallard Pool had been constructed in 1932. Martha had made no notes in her log about doing anything in the Mallard Pool area after 1939 except for notes in 1946 and 1947 about removing some plants from that area and transferring them to the current Garden space. We believe the Mallard Pool area was completely abandoned in 1944 for reasons stated in the next paragraph. The fence outline of the woodland and wetland shown on the 1987 map above is, more or less, the outline of the Garden at the time of the 1944 addition and agrees with Martha's 1952 map (see 1952).

Martha Hellander's research found correspondence between Clinton Odell and the Park Board containing his original idea on adding the upland to the existing garden. He advocated abandoning the northern area because it was swampy and also that it should never have been fenced in. (The Wild Gardener, Pg. 104) [Swampy after several very wet years in the early 1940s, but also because it was already a cattail marsh at the time Eloise Butler created the Mallard Pool there in 1932.] Former Gardener Cary George has stated to me that the fence from the northern meadow was removed and used to fence in the new area. It was wartime and steel fencing could not be easily obtained. (Conversation on May 18, 2018). Other notes of Martha Crone in 1939 indicate the fencing in the northern area was installed that year. Historical Garden Fencing Details.

Martha immediately began clearing sumac and other unwanted plants and in 1944 alone, set out 210 new plants in the area (detail below). Within two years she had established 2000 feet of paths, some of which were adapted from existing paths in that part of the park.

In her Annual Report, Martha Crone Wrote “The proposed extension of the fence enclosure, made possible through the efforts and contributions of Mr. Clinton Odell, to accommodate native upland and prairie plants will fill a long needed want. It is greatly appreciated and further development of this project is looked forward to with great interest.” (3)

On July 18 Martha noted Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) becoming lovely around pool.” Eloise Butler first noticed the plant in the Garden in 1916, Martha noted it blooming in 1939 and even in the 1960s planting of this invasive was still advocated. Martha herself wrote in 1958:

“It is a good plant to grow along streams, margins of ponds or in wet meadows. Especially where the competition is too severe for less aggressive plants to grow. The Plant is a long-lived perennial and produces graceful spikes of purple or pink flowers. They bloom during July and August. When once established it is hard to eradicate and will crowd out other weaker growing plants.” (4)

She does at least state that it is invasive.

Autumn 1944

Spotted Jewelweed
Spotted Jewelweed Flowers. Photo G D Bebeau

In her Annual Report Martha noted more problems with Jewelweed. She wrote:

“The later flowers found difficult competition in the abundant growth of jewel-weed and nettle. The seedlings of the jewel-weed appearing in such great numbers as to take complete possession of the garden. The program for their removal will greatly aid the establishment of desirable plants.” (3).

This was not the first time Jewelweed created problems. Of the two species, Eloise Butler recorded Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) as indigenous to the Garden and she planted the other species, Pale Jewelweed, (I. pallida) in 1916. Back then it also took over the Garden and had to be pulled. Clinton Odell’s daughter Moana, would also write about her and her father pulling Jewelweed for Martha Crone. [See The Fringed Gentian™, Vol. 24, Mo.1] In 1943 Martha noted pulling it by the thousands.

The last Hummingbird left the Garden by Sept. 11th. On Oct. 15, closing day, the foliage was beautiful in numerous hues of red, orange and yellow.

Martha listed the first plants that she had set out in the new Upland Garden:

She was allowed 4 field trips to collect plant during the year (3). That usually means time away from the Garden other than her normal Wednesday day off. Some of the new Prairie plants would have come from seedlings. Martha planted seeds each fall. In 1944 alone she planted seeds of 29 species.

Not withstanding the slow start to Spring, the weather the remainder of the season was favorable.

(1) Garden Log - 1944

(2) Papers and Newsletters of the Minneapolis Science Museum Society in the Martha Crone Collection. Minnesota Historical Society.

(3) Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners dated Feb. 20, 1945, to Superintendent C A Bossen.

(4) The Fringed Gentian ™ April 1958, Vol. 6 No. 2

Photo top of page: The marsh in Winter. Photo from a Kodachrome by Martha Crone on Nov. 8, 1951.

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Year chart - all years
Garden History Archive

Printable PDF file of this page.

Links to related pages:
- Abbreviated Life of Eloise Butler
- Martha Crone - 2nd Garden Curator
- Ken Avery - 3rd Curator and Gardener
- Cary George - 4th Gardener
- Our Native Plant Reserve - Short document on the origins of the Garden.
- Eloise Butler's writings, a selection of essays written by Eloise Butler on the early Garden years.
- Geography of the Garden- an illustrated tour


Martha Crone's Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners dated Feb. 20, 1945.

Martha Crone's Garden Log and her 1951 Census of plants in the Garden.

Various papers and correspondence of Eloise Butler and Martha Crone in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Kodachromes of Martha Crone are from her collection that was given to the Friends by her daughter Janet following Martha's death in 1989.

Historical Climatology of Minneapolis-St. Paul Area by Charles Fisk.

Friends Home Page

©2017 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. All photos are the property of The Friends unless otherwise credited. Photos credited to others are used with permission for educational purposes, for which The Friends thank them and the organization providing the photos. Text and research by Gary Bebeau. "" - 121118