As early as the 1880s observant people realized that the development of the city of Minneapolis was incompatible with the retention of native habitat. West of the city in the Saratoga Springs Addition, residents successfully petitioned the new Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners to obtain a segment of that area to preserve for future generations. Originally 64 acres in extent, with various name changes and adjustments in size, this became what is now Theodore Wirth Park. In 1907 the park was 103 acres in size.
A small section of this new park, known at the time as Glenwood Park, was particularly attractive to Eloise Butler and her teacher colleagues. They were having great difficulties familiarizing their students with plants growing in their natural surroundings, as development was wiping out these areas. This spot would be accessible and attractive for that purpose.
As the Park Board (officially The "Board of Park Commissioners") had done little with the entire park due to lack of funds, this small group decided that something must be done to protect the unique native flora of the small area they had selected. That area included a swampy bog, fern glens, hillsides, upland hills and trees and nearby, the Great Medicine Spring. Following the submission of a petition (pdf copy) on April 1st, 1907 - the opening lines of which are shown above - the Park Board moved on April 15th to set aside 3 acres of this area as a Natural Botanical Garden but soon it was known as the "Wild Botanic Garden." At this time that was the extent, all contained within a fence. We assume the fence was built but there is nothing in Eloise Butler's log or other notes, including the 1913 Bellman article which described the Garden in great detail that mentions a fence. Soon to follow enlargements of the Garden would not be delineated by a fence until 1924.
Eloise Butler became the most prominent guardian and promoter of this natural space or as an April 3, 1910 Tribune article put it "practically the mother of the garden," but it was not a paying position nor were the 3 acres considered a permanent set-aside as there was no permanent care arrangements. Permanence would be achieved in 1911 after Eloise planned to leave Minneapolis unless she was appointed Curator and paid for taking care of it. A petition from the Garden Club of Minneapolis and the Women's Club achieved the goal. Details in 1911.
Preliminary notes about the plants. Native Status: Some of the plants obtained by Eloise Butler in the early years of the Garden were not native to Minnesota or if native, may have been difficult to establish in the Garden. Most of these are no longer present. Martha Crone was somewhat more selective of native plant material, but also brought in many species not native to the state, and many of her imports have not survived either. The plants illustrated here, so one can see what they looked like, are mostly of the class no longer extant in the Garden. Species still extant at the time of Martha Crone's 1951 census are marked "(M.C.)". As for plants mentioned here that are still present in the Garden today, there may have been numerous re-plantings, and most have a web link to a detailed information/photo page, or, if not, are noted as being present in the Garden today - these are not illustrated in this article. Botanical classification: Over the years Botanists have reclassified many plants from the classifications in use at the time Eloise Butler wrote her Garden Log or when Martha Crone prepared her census. I have retained the nomenclature that Eloise Butler or Martha Crone used and then provided the more current classification as used by the major listings in use today, particularly Flora of North America, and the Checklist of the Vascular Flora of Minnesota from the University of Minnesota Herbarium.
A large portion of Eloise Butler’s Garden Log for 1907 is devoted to notations of plants observed within the area of the newly established Wild Botanic Garden. This record established beyond anything else what plants were indigenous to that area. She would later record various notes about finding plants she had not noted previously.
Eloise noted that the spring season was “backward.” She was referring to the abnormal cold temperatures that occurred in April and May when daily temperatures were consistently under average by as much as 15 to 20 degrees. Most snow had melted in March and little fell thereafter until there was a two day snowfall on April 27-28 of 13 inches.
In this, the first season of the officially formed Garden, Eloise would immediately begin to bring in plants that were not represented there. As these were all obtained in the metro area, they are all native to the state. Her first recorded entry of actually placing plants into the Garden is dated April 29th when she planted two Pitcher Plants in the bog that she obtained from Mahtomedi, Minn.
In late May she brought in from the “government reservation” (which is presumably the area of and around Fort Snelling). All are extant in the Garden except as noted:
From the area of Glenwood Park itself (Now Theodore Wirth Park), she introduces:
From White Bear Lake come:
From Washburn Park she obtains:
In early June she sources from the vicinity of the Lake Street Bridge (Minneapolis):
Summer temperatures returned to the norms expected for the season and there was plenty of rainfall. As was her custom, Eloise traveled back to Malden, MA to visit her sister Cora Pease. As Eloise was still teaching at South High School in Minneapolis, summer was the only time she could make a visit. By 1910 however, the Garden duties were too much for her to be absent and the summer trips then ended and were replaced by winter trips, beginning in late 1911, after her retirement from teaching. It is not clear from her Garden Log exactly when she returned to Malden as there are no entries in the Garden Log from June 3rd until July 2nd and then there is another gap after July 2 to September 17th. If she had returned during June, the long later gap in the record is unexplained. Perhaps she was elsewhere in June and went to Malden in July.
In the July 2nd entry she notes receiving from Malden Mass (either she had already been there and brought these back or they were sent by her sister Cora):
There are several Autumn Garden Log entries; the first on September 17th. All the remaining log entries for 1907 concern the introduction of plants into the Garden from various sources in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. It would be 1908 before more introductions from the East Coast would arrive in the Garden.
Additional specimens of the same plants brought in this past spring and listed above in the "Spring" section included Wild Calla, Moccasin flower, Downy Yellow Violet, Greenbrier, Wild Blue Phlox and Wahoo.
New introductions would be (Those no longer in the Garden are marked "Not extant"):
Her last log entry would be on Nov. 5th. The autumn weather was fairly normal for temperature until mid December when temperatures were warmer than normal. Some snow fell in December, but there was no accumulation until the very end of the month. September had one three inch rainfall and then October and November were very dry.
Photo top of page: The opening lines of the 1907 petition to the Board of Park Commissioners to set aside an area for a wild native garden within Glenwood Park.
Garden Log - Native Plant Reserve, Glenwood Park, Minneapolis, MN by Eloise Butler
Martha Crone's Garden Log and her 1951 Census of plants in the Garden.
Various papers and correspondence of Eloise Butler in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Historical Climatology of Minneapolis-St. Paul Area by Charles Fisk.