Temperatures are dipping into negative digits and a healthy layer of glistening snow covers the landscape as I write these notes. It is late January and I’ve been out in the shining Garden this week working on a variety of projects. My first task was to stake out the next sections of the boardwalk in the Garden’s wetland with landscape architect James Robin and Minneapolis Park Board design project manager Tyler Pederson. Although more than one of us (I won’t say who!) temporarily lost our footing in the icy reaches of the open water below the snow, we successfully charted our way through the wetland with drawings, templates, tape measures and marking flags. Our field-proofing gave Tyler and James the information needed to update the design so that the final boardwalk segments are crafted to fit the space in a sensitive and sympathetic manner.
TWO DAYS LATER I was back in the Garden, but not for joyful work. Emerald ash borers, a nemesis of ash trees, are well established in Minneapolis and have been found in neighborhoods adjacent to Theodore Wirth Park and the Garden. We have been methodically removing specific ash trees in the Garden while they are still alive. Once infested, they are difficult to safely cut down without causing harm to nearby trees and shrubs. We don’t want to delay removal, as their branches will become brittle and break off, posing a hazard for visitors and staff. Working with Park Board forester Dana Hendrickson, we marked a number of mature ash trees growing next to the trail. Next week skilled Park Board foresters will carefully cut them down, branch by branch. This will ensure the safety of hundreds of nearby saplings and small trees planted during recent years to fill in the canopy.
BUNDLED IN JACKETS AND BEARDS, landscape architect James Robin, left, and design project manager Tyler Pederson take measurements for phase II of the Garden’s wetland boardwalk. Photo - Susan Wilkins
ONE ASH IN PARTICULAR has made an impression on me. It is a green ash and Dana thinks it is between 40 and 50 years old. It stands like a soulful sentinel in the lowland forest of the Garden, watching over the not too distant wetland. Its rise to the canopy came after the fall of American and red elms, gentle giants that were once plentiful in this garden area. When these elms were lost to Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and 80s, the ash and box elders we see today quickly grew up. The more recent plantings of swamp white oak, cottonwood, silver maple, tamarack, river birch and yellow birch represent yet another generation in this forest’s life cycle. These newer trees are thriving, growing together with Kentucky coffeetree, red maple and black walnut. With the additional light they will grow even more quickly in the coming years.
TO FILL NEWLY OPENED SPACES, Garden staff will plant more trees and shrubs in this forested area, along with dozens of species of wildflowers, sedges, grasses and ferns in a variety of locations. Stop at the Visitor Shelter and consult the bulletin board to find out what is being planted where throughout the season.
THE GARDEN HAS A BRIGHT FUTURE – and as with any landscape, the plants and Garden spaces will keep growing, shifting and changing. As good gardeners and wise stewards, let’s continually return our attention to the opportunity that change affords. We can learn how to see deeply and be inspired by our observations to awaken and harness our creativity and biophilic intelligence -- that innate tendency we have to seek connections with all of life. This is our challenge: to love nature enough to learn from it, to embrace the cycle of change and to foster the most beneficial and beautiful changes within our gardens and natural spaces.
Susan Wilkins is Garden Curator and her column appears courtesy of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.
Trees mentioned in the article