The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden
Eloise Butler wrote in 1911 “To subdue the brilliant orange and reds of the lilies and composites, Mother Nature has planted among them with judicious and generous hand various white flowers.”(1) She singled out these:
Veronica virginica, with feathery spires of bloom, some branched like candelabras, topping slender stems, clothed at intervals with whorls of narrow, pointed leaves. It is popularly called Culver’s Root, or Culver’s Physic, because one of that name extracted a specific from the root.
The shrub-like Ceanothus or New Jersey Tea, seemingly covered with sea foam and mist, has drifted from the Atlantic to the valley of the Mississippi. This plant has historic interest as well as refined beauty. It is well that it grows in prodigal masses in wide distribution. For, after the Boston Tea Party, a brew of the leaves of the Ceanothus plenished the teapots of our revolutionary forebears.
Dusky glens are illuminated by the Starry Campion, thus refuting the poet who says that the night has a thousand stars and the day but one. The poignant beauty of the flower is due to the delicate white-fringed petals that cap the green calyx bell.
One species of Galium, [Northern Bedstraw] is cultivated under the name “baby’s breath.” The entire genus is characterized by small leaves arranged in whorls on slender, four-sided stems and tiny three or four parted corollas. Some of the species are covered with hooks which grip everything at hand, and the roots of some afford a red dye, thereby accounting for the other popular names, cleavers and madder.
It seems necessary to write a work in favor of what are usually called weeds, which may be defined as plants out of place, growing where we wish something else to grow. The Cow Parsnip shows fine decorative possibilities. It is harmless, and does its best to make glad the waste places. It is named for the god Hercules on account of its massive bulk. Compare it with the castor bean occupying the central post of honor in an ornamental mound of flowers. Has it not as vigorous a growth; are not the leaves as large and finely formed and the flowers as beautiful as that of the favored imported bean?
On dry or sandy soil by the roadsides and on the prairies, throughout the rest of the season, will be found the Flowering Spurge, Euphorbia corollata. On account of its white, filmy, lace-like inflorescence, it is much used by florists to set off other flowers in bouquets. What seem to be petals in the flower cluster are colored bracts. The flowers themselves are inconspicuous.
Mountain Mint [Pycnanthemum virginianum] needs no other charm than its sweet fragrance, although the flat-topped flower clusters have a cool gray, artistic tone.
The most beautiful of the eupatoriums is the White Snakeroot, E. urticaefolium, also of medicinal repute. It is of value not only on account of its profuse, soft, starry inflorescence of harmonious white, but because it is easily cultivated and can be depended upon to bloom after frosts have set in. In one garden at least in Minneapolis, besides the wild one, where it stars the ground in late summer, it is the most prized ornament. The flowers yield not a whit in beauty to those of the ageratum, which they resemble so much in form that they once bore the name ageratoides - meaning like ageratum.
To Eloise's list we add the following:
Martha Crone in 1955 echoed Miss Butler’s thoughts when she wrote: "The dainty spring flowers have long since passed and the deeper colors of summer flowers are now noted. Mingled with these are a number of white flowers all too little appreciated. They give us a source of light and restfulness, and serve to intensify the brilliant colors. In nature no colors clash."(2)
(1) The text by Eloise Butler was taken from her writings of 1911/1912, primarily from the 1911 series of newspaper columns published every Sunday in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. When the Board of Park Commissioners in 1911 made permanent the space allocated to the garden in Glenwood Park and created the position of curator for Eloise, she used these articles and many others to publicize the new Wild Botanic Garden. All of her 1911 essays can be read on the Friends’ website at this link.
(2) Former Curator Martha Crone wrote this in The Fringed Gentian, Vol. 3 No. 3, July 1955.