J W Babcock House

History of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Winter 1916/1917

Castine ME coast
The coast of Castine Maine where Eloise attended Normal School in 1870-73. Photo from 1989 courtesy Martha Hellander.

This winter Eloise Butler again traveled to the East Coast to visit her relatives, as had been her custom since she retired from teaching in 1911. Her residence was at 20 Murray Hill Rd, Malden, Mass. While there she ordered some plants from Gillett’s Nursery in Boxford MA, Horsford’s Nursery in Charlotte, Vermont, and Andrews Nursery in Boulder Colorado. There were then sent to her and arrived in April. Others arrived from Gillett’s in September and from Kelsey’s Nursery in Pineola, North Carolina in October.

In late March she returned to her rented quarters at the residence of John and Susan Babcock at 227 Xerxes Ave. from where she could walk to the Garden.

1917 was the coldest year of the 20th Century. The winter of 1916/17 produced 85 inches of snow, 40+ inches above average. In later years only the winters of 1951/52, ’81/82 and ’83/84 had more snow.

Spring 1917

Pasque flower
Pasque Flower, Anemone patens, these were planted almost every year by Eloise Butler between 1910 and 1920. Photo G D Bebeau

Eloise’s first entry in her Garden Log was April 3rd - “planted 2 clumps of Pasque Flower in bud and 4 roots of Penstemon grandiflorus, both from Ft. Snelling.” It is difficult to see how she planted these as the snow depth on March 16th in the Twin Cities was 31 inches and on April 14 she wrote:
Snow deeper than ever noted before at this date on east side of swamp. Tops of several hemlocks winter killed. Rabbits had girdled several young box elders.

Work was being done to place a concrete dam over the water channel leading out of the garden. That was completed on May 9. The dam would last until the 1950s when Martha Crone would write in her Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners (February 21, 1955) “The dam across the lower end of the pool is beyond our power of repair and needs to be reconstructed, thereby eliminating the dangerous condition caused by its upheaval.”

The concrete dam of 1917 replaced an earthen structure that was created by Eloise and the other botany teachers when the Garden was first organized. It formed the small pool in that area of the Garden for aquatic plants and this was written about it in 1913:

The pool is formed by a grass and moss covered earthen dam, which has been thrown across a brook's course. The dam is almost, though not quite, such as beavers would have made, but it is now so covered with things growing at random, as they do in wild places, that it seems the work of nature itself. It is however, the only bit of artificial work in the entire garden. (1)

One of the Garden's contemporary woodchucks. Photo G D Bebeau.

Her notes on birds and animals during the spring months included these:

May 19: Muskrat posed for photographs in garden. Watched a woodchuck sitting motionless for a long time. Afterwards it was treed by a dog. It stayed in the crotch of a branch all night and the following day.
Cowbird laid egg in last year’s vireo nest.
May 20: Cowbird laid second egg.

The May entry about the Woodchuck was enlarged in her diary entry for May 17:

Found a woodchuck perched on a stone set against the boles of an ironwood beside the broad path. There he sat motionless while a crowd gazed at him. When a camera was trained on him, he sprang away, ran over the hillside and darted into a large hole just dug in which to set a tree. The workmen could not persuade him to budge until they filled in the hole with the sod they had just removed. Later he ran by other workmen who were resetting a tree on the edge of the northwest meadow; was rediscovered standing stock still in the pathway below Prickly Ash Arbor. This time he did not move and allowed a long-time exposure of the camera. An hour later a dog caused him to take refuge in the fork of a small elm. There he hung all night and the next day in the same position.

During the spring she added nine new species to the Garden. All native, but not all sourced locally. She also recorded planting 23 other species, many of which are still in the Garden. The new plants are listed after the autumn section below.

Summer 1917

Eloise with bird bath
Eloise Butler with unidentified friend at the newly installed bird bath - 1917. Photo Martha Crone Collection, MHS.

On June 5, work on a new bird bath was completed. Sometime during the early months of the year Eloise had a new birdbath created for the Garden. Here are her words:

The latest acquisition in my wild garden is a big boulder hauled in on a stone drag by four pairs of horses, and chiseled out by a stone mason into a bird bath with four shelves, each about seven inches wide on a half inch grade. It is much appreciated by the birds who bathe in it early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and stop to take a drink in passing. (2)

In a newspaper article about her and the Garden from 1917 this was written about the birdbath:

This is the only bit of work that Miss Butler has been known to allow a man to do in her "estate," and it was only when she realized that time had made some claims against her vitality she surrendered this task of love to a mere outsider. . . . Here come the birds in the early morning and sing their matins while they splash and play in the glinting sunlight. They have no fear, for they are never molested nor disturbed.

During the same time period she wrote:

The first of June, as I was clearing away the dead stalks of perennials near the edge of my swamp, I flushed a bird that I had only seen in pictures or as stuffed specimens in museums. It made a short, low flight and fluttered feebly to the ground as if it were wounded unto death.

As I followed it, the bird repeated the feint several times, sometimes running for a little distance and peeking out at me from behind a bush with one bright eye. Of course, I understood that the bird was trying to lure me away from her nest and I recognized from the long bill and bobbed tail that is was a woodcock. The next day I found her in the swamp with three little ones.(2)

All she had entered in her Garden Log was: “May 26: Flushed a woodcock! She feinted a broken wing to lure me away from nest of little ones. May 27: Flushed in swamp three or four small woodcocks with father or mother bird.” More Details on this essay and the bird bath in This Article.

1917 Bird Bath
Goldfinches making use of the new bird bath in a 1934 photo. Photo Martha Crone Collection, MHS.

She also wrote: "My phoebe who raised two broods last year in a nest that she built over a wren box under the eaves of my office, returned this season and is now feeding her second brood."(2)

The new bird bath was busy during the summer. On July 25 she wrote “Saw crow standing in bird bath. Shortly after 5pm saw as many as thirty birds taking their turn in the bath. Often 6 at once.” (3)

Another interesting birding note appears in her Garden log on June 3: “A young grosbeak just out of the nest came directly to me in the swamp, and huddled under my skirt.”

During the summer she added eleven new species to the Garden. All native, but not all sourced locally. All but one are found in the state, although several were introductions after settlement. She also recorded planting 10 other species, many of which are still in the Garden. The new plants are listed after the autumn section below.

Autumn 1917

Sky Blue Aster
Sky Blue Aster, former Aster azureus, now Symphyotrichum oolentangiense, planted in large numbers in 1917. Photo G D Bebeau.

It had been her practice since 1910, to have a display about the Wild Garden at the Minnesota State Fair. She would spend a week at the fair and then bring back the plants from her display to re-plant in the Garden. She definitely had a display in 1916, but we are not sure if the State Fair exhibit ended that year or if she was there in 1917 and made no notes about it. A gap in log dates indicates she may have been there.

During the autumn she added five new species to the Garden, all from Minnesota sources but three are suspect as to what she added because the three she reported have never been found in the state. Detail on new plants are listed below. She also recorded planting over 30 other species, many of which are still in the Garden.

On October 9 she made this note: “continuing blueing east hillside.” This was in reference to planting many blue flowered asters: 51 Aster laevis (Smooth Aster) 63 Aster azureus (Sky-blue Aster) on that day, and 51 the day before. Eloise always planted asters in the fall, sometimes in great quantities. Undoubtedly, they may have been short lived and needed to be replaced frequently.

Downy Gentian
Downy Gentian Gentiana puberula, one of Eloise Butler's occult finds. Photo ©Merle R. Black, Wisconsin Flora.

Occasionally she reported on mushrooms in the Garden, such as this note:
October 3 Found one more small Clavatia gigantea, making 15 this season, only 6 being of medium size - about 2 lbs 10 oz on ave.

Her last entry of the year in her Garden Log was October 24:
planted 4 Hop Trees and one Sugar Maple along the road, outside the garden area. From Park Board nursery.

Sometime during 1917 she made notes for an essay titled Occult Experiences of a Wild Gardener. Here is an excerpt:

At another time I wanted Gentiana puberula [Downy Gentian] I had never gathered the plant. I only knew that it grew on the prairie. So I betook myself to the prairie and hunted until I was tired. Then I bethought myself of my ghostly friends and murmured, “Now, I will let ‘them’ push me.” Thereupon, I wandered about, without giving thought to my steps, and was just thinking, “The spell won’t work this time,” when my feet caught in a gopher hole and I stumbled and fell headlong into a patch of the gentian.

With the Garden closed and the office locked up she departed for the East Coast to visit her sister Cora Pease as she has done every winter since 1911.

Although Eloise made no mention of it, the temperatures during the season were well below average, but rainfall was adequate. It was the coldest year of the 20th Century but the beginning of winter at the end of 1917 saw little snowfall. The entire winter of 1917/18 had only about 31 inches of snow, below the average of 43 inches - dramatic contrast to the winter prior.

New 1917 Plants

Eloise brought into the Garden a number of plants that are not listed today on the Garden census. Many of these were native to Minnesota and a few were not. Here is a listing of most of those plants introduced this year to the Garden for the first time - the common and botanical names listed first are names she used followed by other common names for the same plant and the newer botanical classifications, if any; then follows her source for the material. 1917 is the first year the following list of plants occur in her log. "Native" indicates the plant is considered native to Minnesota (here at European Settlement time) or if introduced, long established. "Non-native" indicates it is not known to exist in Minnesota in the wild. "Extant" indicates the plant is present in the Garden today. 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 University of Minnesota's Checklist of the Vascular Flora of Minnesota.

Scarlet Globemallow
Scarlet Globemallow Sphaeralcea coccinea subsp. coccinea, planted spring 1917. Photo ©Nevada Native Plant Society.

Spring 1917

Summer 1917

Autumn 1917

Gypsy Flower
Gypsy Flower Cynoglossum officinale, planted spring 1917. Photo ©Derek Anderson, Wisconsin Flora.
Woolly Plantain
Woolly Plantain Plantago patagonica, planted 1917. Photo ©Aaron Carlson, Wisconsin Flora.
White Evening Primrose
White Evening Primrose Oenothera nuttallii, planted summer 1917. Photo ©Robert E. Lee, Wisconsin Flora.

(1) The Bellman May 3, 1913.
(2) Annals of the Wild Life Reserve
(3) Garden Log

Photo top of page: J W Babcock House, 227 Xerxes Ave No., lodging quarters of Eloise Butler.

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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


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.

Friends Home Page

©2017 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Photos as credited and 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. "http://www.friendsofthe wildflowergarden.org" - 031222