History of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

1951 is the 45th year of the Garden and Martha Crone began her 19th year as Garden Curator. Her husband William, age 62, passed away on January 2nd. He was a dentist, graduating from the University of Minnesota college of dentistry in 1912. He retired from practice in 1941. Martha remained a widow for 39 years.

Hill leading to Garden
Hill and road leading from the Garden down to the parkway, photographed by Martha Crone on January 27, 1951. Click on image for a larger version.

NOTE on photos: From 1948 to 1957 Martha Crone assembled a collection of Kodachrome slides that she took of plants and landscape of the Wildflower Garden. The assemblage eventually totaled over 4,000 slides. She used these slides to give illustrated lectures about the Garden to various clubs, groups and organizations. Martha Crone was a founding member of the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, a director from 1952 to 1972 and an honorary life member thereafter.

After her death in 1989 her daughter Janet, passed the collection to the Friends via Friends member Martha Hellander who was in the process of researching a book about Eloise Butler. The Friends sorted the collection and then for a short time, used them at lectures about the Garden. Some of those images are shown on this page.

Many new plants set out in 1951 are, again like 1946 to ’50, non native, apparently an attempt to see what would grow in the new prairie area and in 1966, after she retired as curator she formulated this statement:

The object is to bring together all the native plants hardy in this latitude, also to experiment with plants introduced from other areas.(1)

Eloise Butler did the same, but the theory was contrary to the original concept of the Garden and was reversed by Ken Avery when he became curator. Many of these imported species did not survive for long. The source is given for some of new plants if she provided it.

Spring 1951

East path to office
The east woodland path leading to the office on May 29, 1951, photographed by Martha Crone. Click on image for a larger version.

The first entry in the log was April 3 - The Garden did not open April 1st:

Midwinter, snow several feet deep. Parked at foot of hill, hard task to walk up. Climbed over gate. Dug out gate as well as office door. Snow knee deep everywhere. Record year of 88+ inches of snow. Snowbound since early November.

To that date it was the snowiest Winter on record, with 40 inches alone in March 1951. In later years the Winters of 81/82 and 83/84 would surpass 50/51. On April 8 she noted:

Snow melting slowly, no sun. Minnesota River highest since 1881. Disastrous floods along river. North Mankato completely flooded.

On April 14:

Skunk Cabbage in bloom early because no frost in ground. Snow gone from exposed areas, much still remains in lower garden. Removed hay covering from plants in upper garden, very moldy. Planted 10 Liatris spicata and 6 Baptisia tinctoria from Robbins Blue Ridge Nursery.

Neither plant was new to Garden, both had been planted extensively.

The hay she mentioned had been placed on the plantings in the upper Garden to protect them from freeze-thaw cycles. Martha and her successor Ken Avery frequently did this when they were able to work late into the fall season.

By the 16th she could drive her car to the top of the hill parking area. The next day was the first warm sunny day of spring and new signs were delivered for the Garden entrance. The second warm day did not happen until the 26th when Hepaticas and Snow Trilliums were in bloom, and also Harbinger of Spring, which she had planted in 1947.

Horsefly weed
Horsefly Weed, Baptisia tinctoria, planted by Martha Crone in spring 1951, photo ©G D Bebeau.

A large number of plants new to the Garden were introduced in the spring. "Native" refers to a plant found in the wild in Minnesota, at settlement time. "Introduced" means the plant is found here but originally imported from somewhere else. "Not native" means the plant has not been found in the wild in Minnesota but is native to elsewhere in North America. As this is the year she completed a plant census we do not know if these were planted before or after the census, instead, we note whether the plant is extant today, otherwise the species disappeared over the years and if non-native, was not replanted. Updated scientific names are given in [ ].

The only bird note of spring was that the first Hummingbirds arrived on May 14.

In addition to the slide lectures Martha gave she also was a speaker at other events. On May 15 the Community Chest Volunteer Service Bureau put on a workshop at Wirth Park. Martha spoke and led a "nature stroll." On June 20 she spoke at a meeting of the Minneapolis Retired Teachers, Inc. (2)

The Tribune even ran an editoral referring to Martha. The May 26 piece requested readers to doff their hats to the gardeners who make the city beautiful and then stated But the woman to whom we doff our hats with the greatest respect cultivated almost single-handed a garden of some 13 acres. From the time she can push the gates open against the April snowdrifts she works there from 9 to 5 daily. Most of the time she is on her knees doing what other women ar doing in their backyards." The article says a few thing about the Garden and ends "Best of all, it belongs to the public. Ever been there?" (pdf)

Summer 1951

Martha Crone in the Upland Garden in June 1951, photographed by Minneapolis Tribune.

On June 10, 1951 The Minneapolis Tribune published an article titled “City Wild Flower Gardener Rescues Plants From Bulldozers.” (PDF). Several interesting quotes come from the article. About the garden office:

A tiny house stands in the center of the woods. In this ‘once upon a time’ atmosphere children might well expect the house to have a candy roof and be surrounded by gingerbread people. Actually it is not fairy-tale hut, but one of the smallest office buildings in town - - possibly the only one without electricity or a telephone.

There is even a bold clump of poison ivy, set back a-ways from the garden path. Mrs. Crone cares for it as tenderly as a wood violet. ‘It’s educational,’ she says.

Clinton Odell is also mentioned:
Clinton Odell, the “motivating spirit” of the garden, whose interest in wild flowers is as faithful as Mrs. Crone’s claims she has a special sixth sense for finding hidden flowers.

Four plants new to the Garden were introduced in the summer. None are extant today.

On June 14 Martha notes this strange event: Rue anemone double, in coffee can from Mrs. H. S. Olson, 302 So. D. St., Lake Worth, Florida, found at Wacouta near Red Wing in 1923.” In 1952, while on her field trips, Martha found 2 near Fletcher, and 10 on 7/31/52 at Red Wing.

By the end of summer Martha had set out 951 plants, including all of the above. There were not any bird notes in the summer months.

Autumn 1951

Lupines in the upper garden, photographed on May 28, 1951 by Martha Crone. Click on image for a larger version.

By the time the Garden closed the total count of plants set out in 1951 was 1,261. All but one the plants set up in the autumn months were species already found in the Garden and the exception may not be an exception:

Aster concinnus [Symphyotrichum laeve, var. concinnum] Narrowleaf Smooth Aster, not considered native as none have ever been collected but Martha reported finding them on the prairie at Kasota MN on September 20th. 15 plants. It may have been a look-a-like species.

The last Hummingbird was noted on September 10th and large waves of warblers were noted passing through on the 28th. Those are the only autumn bird notes.

As late as spring was, the autumn season was extended. She was planting through November 3rd. Here are her last notes of the year.

Good show of asters this fall due to cool season.
Oct. 12: Weather like summer, many asters in full bloom, Lupine still blooms, only light frosts.
Oct. 28 and 29th beautiful weather, 30th storm started and followed by cold weather, 2 above two mornings.
Nov. 8 & 9, turning nice again.
Nov. 3rd & 25th - heavy snows, melted before end of month.
Nov. 29 - packed books, Summer-like weather after 6 below of Nov. 24
Dec. 5 - Ice out of lakes again, frost out of ground, mushy like spring breakup.
Dec. 11 Cold and wintry again.

Marsh in Winter
View of the marsh in Winter, photographed on November 8, 1951 by Martha Crone. Click on image for a larger version.

She summarized the years activities in her annual report (3). Here are additional items.

In spite of a greatly retarded spring, the season proved to be one of the most beneficial and successful. Artificial watering was not needed at any time, since precipitation was well distributed during the season. The temperature was most favorable for seed germination and small seedlings. The garden luckily escaped damage from the several storms of the season.

It is gratifying to find that Azaleas and Rhododendron have weathered five winters and bloomed beautifully. They are planted where the forested slopes protect them from strong winds and excessive heat. Yellow Trilliums, rose trilliums, painted trillium and Montana Bitterroot have been planted experimentally and are thriving.

1,261 new plants were set out, 194 of which were purchased and the balance obtained by the Curator. 37 varieties of seeds were gathered, dried and prepared for sowing.

Clinton Odell was again thanked for his assistance. She then reviewed the new brochure that was started in 1950:

The mimeographed brochures, descriptive of the garden were very useful and filled a much needed want. The history of the garden including a list of plants growing within the garden was also well received. It was suggested that an alphabetically arranged index be added, since the plants are grouped by families only making them difficult to locate. It is hoped that these suggestions can be carried out next season.

This is apparently the 4 page April 1951 History that she wrote, accompanied by the plant listing. Martha sold these for 10 cents to anyone who wanted a complete list of plants. The second example listed here has the plant list and includes the index that she requested.
PDF of history only
PDF of history and plant list.

The plant list was compiled in plant family arrangement, which made the index valuable for non-botanists who might know the common name or even the scientific name, but probably not the plant family. The list contained 787 species of forbs, ferns, shrubs and trees, excluding grasses, sedges, mosses, fungi, etc. This was the first census since the botany teachers original 1907 survey of the Garden and involved a tremendous amount of effort.

Martha also referenced in her report that the Kodachrome slide collection increased by 500 slides, at her expense and lists 11 groups, representing 629 attendees, that she made presentations to, the largest being the Leaders of Camp Fire Girls Annual Meeting of 170 persons.

She requested a telephone for the Garden office, and listed attendance at approximately 50,000. The telephone would finally arrive in 1957.

In the newspapers Al Woodruff and Abe Altrowitz give the Garden a plug by writing "watch the facial expressions of youngsters - and oldsters too - when Mrs. Crone, curator, picks up a denatured hornet's nest and explains that it was from the hornet nest that man learned how to make paper out of wood."(4) It was also announced that on November 14, Mrs. Crone would give a talk "Wild Flowers Along the Trail" to the Minnesota Botanical society. (4)

(1) The Fringed Gentian™, Vol. 14 No. 1 January 1966
(2) Minneapolis Tribune, May 9, 1951 and June 13, 1951.
(3) Annual Reports of the Garden Curator to the Board of Park Commissioners - dated January 17, 1952 to Charles E. Doell.
(4) Minneapolis Star, October 13, 1951. page 13; and Minneapolis Tribune November 11, 1951, page 169.

Photo top of page: East path in the woodland leading to the Garden office, photographed on May 29, 1951 by Martha Crone.

To History of: 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


Martha Crone's Garden Log and her 1951 Census of plants in the Garden.

Various papers and correspondence of Eloise Butler and Martha Crone in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Photos by Martha Crone are from her collection of Kodachromes that was given to the Friends by her daughter Janet following Martha's death in 1989.

Meeting Minutes and correspondence of The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden.

Historical Climatology of Minneapolis-St. Paul Area by Charles Fisk.

Friends Home Page

©2017 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. All photos as credited. Text and research by Gary Bebeau. "https://www.friendsofthe wildflowergarden.org" 082722