Susan Wilkins, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Naturalist, was selected in 2004 to replace Gardener Cary George as the fifth person to care for the Garden that was founded by Eloise Butler in 1907 and named in her honor in 1929. She follows in succession, a very short list of talented caretakers. Cary George was Gardener for 17 years and he had replaced Gardener Ken Avery who retired after 27 years as the person in charge of caring for the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Ken had succeeded Martha Crone upon her retirement at the end of 1959 and she had succeeded Eloise Butler upon her death in 1933. Significantly, the title of "curator" was restored - a title both Eloise Butler and Martha Crone had enjoyed. The restoration of that title was explained this way:
"The goal was to have the new Garden Curator oversee all aspects of the Garden including gardening, environmental education programming, staff, outreach, volunteer programs, planning, and plant collection development." (Ref. 1)
Friend's president Steve Pundt wrote this introduction to Susan in 2004:
"A Minnesota native, Susan grew up in Roseville. During her junior year of high school she lived in rural Thailand as a foreign exchange student. She graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota with a BS in environmental horticulture with an emphasis in restoration ecology and landscape design.
Her primary work experience has been with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Several of her assignments and work experiences provided especially good background for being the Curator at Eloise Butler. For over two years she was employed as a park naturalist, developing and implementing programs to interpret nature to visitors. For the next three years she worked as an environmental program aide on many projects including habitat restoration such as removal of exotic species like Buckthorn and garlic mustard and replacing them with native plants. As well, Susan coordinated a program called “Dirt Works,” a community garden project for children. She also worked on signage and brochures for the park system.
We have already seen her skills in this area - she was the primary writer and editor of the current edition of the Guidebook used at the Garden. She understands and appreciates Eloise Butler’s vision of the Garden as a collection of native plants in a natural non-landscaped setting." (Ref. 2)
[As Garden Curator Susan is an "ex-officio" board member of the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden.]
Susan made this comment at the time of her appointment:
“The story of Eloise Butler has been one of inspiration and awe as I see a woman of her time break through social conventions to follow her own vision with such passion and commitment. I appreciate the legacy that she has left for all to enjoy and am looking forward to caring for this place which she nurtured and adored.” (Ref. 2)
In 2010 the following summary of Susan's work during the first years of her tenure was reported in the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's management plan for Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden:
"In the last six years, emphasis has been placed on eradication of invasive species from the Garden and development of plant collections. Large sections of the woodland and wetland garden areas have been cleared of Buckthorn and garlic mustard. This has dramatically improved both the visual appeal and the health of these garden areas. The number of native plants added annually to the Garden’s plant collections has increased dramatically. Large quantities of native plants have been planted over the past five years including more than 11,000 wildflowers, grasses, sedges, trees and shrubs. Several new initiatives have been undertaken since 2004 including: the building of new partnerships, the inclusion of the public in hands-on volunteer work, the development of specialized art-nature focused programming, the installation of new signage, the first vascular plant census (pdf version), taken in 20 years, and the development of this management plan." (Ref. 1)
In 2008 Susan wrote an article about Eloise Butler founding the Garden 100 years prior. Read it here. That same year a new logo for Garden Publications incorporating the Showy Lady’s-slipper was introduced by Susan. The design was by professional illustrator Ken Jacobsen.
Susan writes a "Curator Notes" column in the Friends' newsletter, The Fringed Gentian™. That series is found here: Curator Notes.
In the Fall of 2010 a partnership with the Minnesota School for Botanical Art (MSBA) was announced. It had been developing over the past months and was to result in a truly remarkable creation—the development of a florilegium for the Wildflower Garden. A florilegium is a collection of artwork depicting plants at a specific location, in this case the Wildflower Garden. The project was to document many plant species to provide a visual historical record of the Wildflower Garden’s flora. Beginning that fall, current and former MSBA students and teachers were invited to create original paintings of Wildflower Garden plants. The paintings will be traditional botanical artworks presenting a scientifically accurate image of each chosen plant. The project will continue for several years. Paintings accepted into the florilegium will be donated to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
In the Spring of 2011, the students at the Minnesota School for Botanical Art were working on their first drawings for the Florilegium Project.
A detailed article in the Summer 2013 issue of The Friends Newsletter, The Fringed Gentian™ by Meleah Maynard explained the Florilegium Project, and showed several examples. Thirty-three works had been accepted so far. [PDF of article.]
The long awaited opening exhibition of the Eloise Butler Garden Florilegium took place on the evening of August 23, 2013 at Longfellow House in Minnehaha Park. Artists were present, refreshments were served, Bluegrass music was played. President Pam manned a table of information about the Friends. The exhibition announcement featured a Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) on the cover by artist Linda Powers.
Below: Two images from the Eloise Butler Florigieum Project 2010-2014 MPLS School of Botanical Art.
The next event was the exhibition opening of the Eloise Butler Garden Florilegium at the Minneapolis Central Library on August 14, 2014. Forty-five paintings of native plants from the Wild Flower Garden were exhibited. Susan Wilkins and Marilyn Garber spoke about the history of the wildflower Garden and the history of the botanical art. MPRB Superintendent Jayne Miller also spoke. The Friends paid $300 for some of the refreshments provided, the Friends of the Library paid for the remainder. Pam Weiner manned a Friends Table and a number of other board members were present.
Below: The entrance to the Florilegium Exhibition on August 14th.
Below are some images from Susan's first years in the Garden. There is more to being Curator than planning.
Collecting and burning buckthorn - 2005
#1. Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary Management Plan 2010-2015 (pdf version)
#2. The Fringed Gentian™, Vol. 52 #2, Spring 2004