Eloise Butler at Quaking Bog

History of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Winter 1911/1912

Appleton Maine
View of Appleton Maine where Eloise spent her childhood. View from 1989 courtesy Martha Hellander

Eloise, for the first time, spent the winter months on the east coast at Malden Mass. visiting her relatives and sourcing plants for shipment to Minneapolis during the growing season. This would be her custom following her retirement from teaching in 1911.

Eloise Butler wrote an article for the Minnesota Horticulturalist on the cultivation of native ornamental plants. In past writings she had expressed her opinions on the use of native plants in the home landscape and wrote about the tendency of home owners to copy what other home owners had done. This article was sort of a summary of past opinions. A sample:

Avoid, above all, imported plants of unusual color, like the copper beech and the weeping trees, or plants trimmed into formal or fantastic shapes. In general, native species should be used, for plants torn from their natural setting may strike a false note in the landscape. There are many plants just as effective as the cultivated canna, castor bean, crimson rambler, fall hydrangea, golden glow, admirable in themselves, that now pall upon the taste by reason of monotonous reiteration. (Note 1)

One can see how this particular opinion came directly from an article published the year before in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune in which she wrote:

Why, for instance, because a neighbor has a beautiful plant on his premises should every one in the vicinity straightway fill his grounds with the same in monotonous reiteration? Among the hosts of ornamental plants may not something else be selected besides hydrangea, scarlet rambler, canna and golden glow to prevent satiety? If a plant is ‘all the rage,’ it is the very best reason why one should fall out of line and imitate nature in her endless variety. (Note 2).

In the climate department one looks back on the prior year, 1911, the wettest year in local weather history until 2016, which was preceded in 1910 by the driest year in local weather history, and wonders what the new year brought. There were enough snowfalls to keep a snow cover on the ground from late December 1911 through mid February 1912. After that there were few snowfalls on any significance and there was no snow cover after mid-March. The cold however was another aspect - a number of days in January with lows below -30 degrees F. A weather record still standing in 2021 is the consecutive 7 day period from January 1 through January 7 when the daytime high temperature was always below zero degrees F.

Spring 1912

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 non-native species, 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. 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.

Moss phlos
Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata) first planted in 1912. Photo ©Matthew Wagner, Wisconsin Flora.

This was an extensive year for plantings in the Garden as Eloise Butler attempted to bring on-site species she believed should have representation in a “Wild Botanic Garden” as the Garden premises were then referred to.

She imported plants during the spring from Malden MA, Gillett’s Nursery in Southwick MA, from Horsford’s Nursery in Charlotte, VA, from Kelsey’s Nursery in Boxford MA and from a source in New York. The east coast plants supplemented the plants she could obtain from local sources during the Minnesota growing season.

Her Garden Log notes 32 species planted in the spring that were not noted prior to 1912. (Complete list link below.) All were from east coast nurseries. Two of the plants are shown here. Fifteen of those were native to Minnesota and only four of the species are present in the Garden today.

Desert False Indigo
Desert False Indigo, (Amorpha fruticosa) first planted in 1912. Photo ©Derek Anderson, Wisconsin Flora.

The spring weather allowed Eloise to begin the 1912 Garden plantings on April 4th with some plants received from Malden, MA, which included a root of Climbing Poison Ivy, by which we assume she meant the common eastern poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, which can climb. This is not the species present in the Garden today. Present today is a non-climbing species, Western Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron rydbergii.

On that same day she noted that “Monarch treated surgically today.” She had dead limbs removed and the decaying trunk reinforced. Monarch was an aged White Oak that lasted until 1940.

On April 18, six members of the Woman’s Club visited the Garden on a day when Eloise reported “Rue anemones galore in bloom.”

After the cold days of January and late winter, once the spring equinox was past the temperatures became more normal for the season and there was adequate rainfall.

List of 1912 spring plantings, with photos

Summer 1912

Winged Loosestrife
Winged Loosestrife, (Lythrum alatum); Photo ©Merle R. Black, Wisconsin Flora.

Eloise Butler's Garden Log usually has a few notes not related to planting and a curious one on August 21 contained this statement:

Turtlehead, purple prairie clover, Canadian burnet, double golden glow in bloom! Found large puffball weighing 3 lbs. 4 1/2 oz. by west brookside. Fell into brook!

The weather in the summer of 1912 provided temperatures in the average range for the time period and frequent summer rains, but not to the extent of the extremely wet prior year of 1911.

Planting work during the summer occupied much of her time. On June 25 Eloise noted finding two Liparis liliifolia (Large Twayblade) in a prickly ash thicket and a month later “discovered Lythrum alatum! [Winged Loosestrife] in east meadow near swamp.” [photo at right]

During the summer months Eloise would obtain her plant material from local sources unlike her 1912 spring plantings which all came from out of state sources. As a result all the summer plantings were species native to the state.

Rhexia virginica
Above: Deer Grass or Handsome Harry, (Rhexia virginica). Photo ©Emmett J. Judziewicz, Wisconsin Flora.

Her Garden Log notes 29 species planted that summer that were not noted prior to 1912. (Complete list link below.) Only four of the species are present in the Garden today.

A successful struggle with one non-native plant was worthy of being noted in her annual report:

The greatest triumph of all, because it has been a failure under assiduous cultivation ever since the Garden was started was a vigorous colony of Deer Grass, Rhexia virginica, in bloom for fully a month. It has blossoms of an unusual shade of red, garnished by bright yellow twisted stamens, succeeded by little exquisitely fashioned urn-shaped fruits. (note 3)

She had originally planted it on September 4, 1909 with plants shipped in from Winter Pond MA and noted it was in bloom on August 11 this year. The plant is also called Handsome Harry (photo at left).

List of 1912 summer plantings, with photos

Autumn 1912

Fragrant False Indigo
Dwarf or Fragrant False Indigo (Amorpha nana). Photo ©G D Bebeau

In September Eloise Butler maintained an exhibit about the Wild Garden at the Minnesota State Fair, in the Horticulture building as she had since 1910.

On September 9th she reported clearing out the Hermit’s Cave and on the 22nd and 26th reported planting hepatica, maidenhair and wild ginger, asters, Liatris, stiff coreopsis, and downy gentian there. She went back again in October with more plants.

The hermit was known as “Old Andrew” and the “cave-like shelter” is where he supposedly had lived. Eloise would sometimes hear ghostly wood chopping sounds from that area. The area of this cave, north and west of the original Garden area, was added to the Garden in 1912 - and would today be just outside the west boundary fence. This addition added a number of acres to the official Wild Botanic Garden. At the time it was viewed as about 20 acres, but only the original 3 acres were fenced so the boundary of the Garden was somewhat variable until the time of the 1924 fence but that 1924 fence only surrounded what Eloise considered to be the most precious parts of the area and those most subject to vandalism.

On October 10 she noted conducting a wedding party through the Garden (the Ellisons). The weather in October was so nice that Eloise mentioned it in her log on October 28: “Beautiful warm weather all through the month. Cut out prickly ask and sumach (sic) for several days.” She did not believe in using chemicals for treatment and thus it was manual labor. Her policy of letting everything grow without interference had its limits when pesky plants would tend to crowd out more desirables.

She was able to work until November 13. Her last entry for 1912 is on November 13 when she planted specimens received from Mr. Chase of Boulder Colorado:
Cork elms,
Dwarf False Indigo,
Elecampane, and
Dotted blazing star.

Fall Plantings: Her Garden Log notes 18 species planted in the fall that were not noted prior to 1912. (Link to complete list below right.) During the Garden season Eloise would obtain her plant material from local sources unlike her 1912 spring plantings which all came from out of state sources. As a result all the Autumn plantings were species native to the state.

All were from local sources except those from Mr. Chase. Only seven of the species are present in the Garden today. An interesting plant on this list is the Cork Elm, Ulmus thomasii, interesting because it is a tree and she obtained it from a source in Colorado, although its native range is eastward from Minnesota and Iowa, touching only a few counties on the west bank of the Mississippi.

Fall weather was of average temperatures, adequate rain in September, much less in October and none in November. Some snow arrived in December but at the end of the year there was only a 2 inch average snow depth on the ground.

Blue Wood Aster
Heart-leaf Aster (Common Blue Wood Aster, (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) Photo ©G D Bebeau

Each day during the Garden Season, Eloise commuted to the garden from her quarters in South Minneapolis. In her annual report to the Board of Park Commissioners she added a few thoughts about the Garden enlargement and some of the issues that irritated her:

Another cause for congratulations is the generous extension of the Garden limits by the addition of an adjacent hillside and meadow. The labor of the curator would be materially brightened if the garden were fenced and more warning signs posted.

[She reported that her work consisted of conducting visitors, exterminating pestilent weeds and protecting the property from marauders.] "For ‘tis true, ‘tis pity, and pity ‘tis, ‘tis true' that a small proportion of our citizens have not yet learned to name the birds without a gun, or to love the wood rose and leave it on its stalk." (note 3)

List of 1912 autumn plantings, with photos

Note 1. The complete article is found here.
Note 2. Published July 16, 1911, Minneapolis Sunday Tribune
Note 3. Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners, contained in the Park Boards comprehensive report dated November 8, 1912

Photo top of page: Eloise Butler traversing the Quaking Bog. Located just west of the Garden, the bog was a source of plants for Eloise to transplant into the Garden wetland. Photo courtesy Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis Collection #M2632J

Previous Year ----------- Subsequent Year

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 Logand 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" - 031122