Fern Glen 2012

History of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden
and The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden

Winter 1955/56

Martha Crone began her 24th year as Garden Curator and the Garden entered its 50th year.

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.

Garden Office
The Garden Office in February 1956, photo by Martha Crone. Click on image for larger copy.

In the Friends’ newsletter (Vol. 4 No. 1, January 1956), Editor Martha Crone wrote about last fall’s activities, winter birds, Cardinal Flower, the Primrose family in the Garden, Kapoc coming from the Silk-cotton Tree, albinos among plants, and the Christmas Rose. About the current winter season she wrote:

November ushered in the winter rather hurriedly this year, even before the close of October, the ground was covered with a blanket of snow. Now this change is a preparation for winter-life and there need be no bleak or desolate aspect.
Nature knows but two distinct changes, putting forth and withdrawing, and between these there is a constant transition. The season of withdrawal then is a fitting interpreter for the season of silence, when Natures voice is hushed and she is less responsive.

She then laid out the plan for the new Fern Glen which was begun last fall with funds ($775) from a gift to the Friends from the Minnetonka Garden Club and the Little Minnetonka Garden Flower Club to the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden:

Ostrich Fern
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), Photo ©G D Bebeau.

The making of such a garden will be a most delightful experience. An intensive program has been planned to establish many varieties of ferns, including some of the more elusive ones, which so often grow where no eyes can see them. The area consists of a gentle slope and some low land, being splendidly adapted to accommodate many varieties of ferns.

There will be ferns for shade and sun. for dry soil and moist locations. Evergreen wood ferns and Christmas fern. The large graceful Ostrich fern (photo) sometimes called Palm of the North, the dainty Maidenhair and a score of others.

The preparation of the area was started this fall (1955) but the early arrival of winter has delayed completion until spring. Trails are planned to lead among the ferns, so they can be enjoyed at close range. This is a most fascinating undertaking and surely should help stimulate true appreciation of Natures most beautiful creations.

George Luxton added a note about the new fern garden in his Jan. 8 column in the Minneapolis Tribune. He printed some of Martha's comments written in the newsletter to her membership.

The Friends held their annual meeting on Tuesday January 3, 1956 at the offices of the Burma Vita Company at 2318 Chestnut Ave. West, in Minneapolis.

Elected to the Board of Directors were: Russell Bennett, Earle Brown, Dorothy Binder, Elizabeth Carpenter, Martha Crone, Donald C. Dayton, Clinton Odell, Leonard Ramberg, Carl Rawson, Mrs. Clarence (Ebba) Tolg.

Friends officers elected at the board meeting following the annual meeting were Clinton Odell, President; Donald C. Dayton, Vice President; Mrs. Carroll (Dorothy) Binder, Vice President; Martha Crone Secretary/Treasurer. Martha Crone was also in charge of membership and was editor of The Fringed Gentian™.

It was voted to give $500 to the Board of Park Commissioners to assist in maintenance of the Wild Flower Garden.

Spring 1956

Fern Hill
The new Fern Glen after some planting, photographed on May 14, 1956 by Martha Crone.

The Garden opened on schedule on April 1st but it was not pleasant as Martha made this note in her log:

Snow in garden 12 to 18 inches deep. Fresh snowfall of few days ago added to winter’s accumulation. Looks like deep winter.

By April 4 she could state: “Snow all gone except in sheltered areas after thunder storm. No frost in ground, therefore no runoff, all water soaked in. Most satisfactory break-up I have experienced.” (1)

Winter was not finished - On the 7th there was snow and cold with blizzards in the northwest part of Minnesota but only a light snow in the Garden. On the 11th she noted Snow trilliums and Hepaticas in bloom and the new fern hill had been “disked and finished,” meaning the ground was cleared and ready for planting.

Cinnamon Fern
Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum), Photo ©G D Bebeau.

Her first plantings of the year occurred on April 12 when she put in Snow Trilliums, Hepatica and Dutchman’s Breeches. On April 17 she added a new species to the Garden:
Sarracenia minor, Hooded Pitcher Plant, not native, from Meyers Nursery via a source in Alabama.

Spring was very cool until May 9th when the temperature reached 72 degrees, the warmest since the past October. She could open the windows of the office. On May 16 the Hummingbirds arrived back at the Garden - this was a date she usually tracked. By this time she had planted 1,537 ferns in the new Fern Glen.

Another new species for the Garden arrived on May 28:
Viola pubescens var. eriocarpa, Smooth Yellow Violet, not native, from Johnson’s Nursery, Mass.

In the spring newsletter (Vol. 4 No. 2, April 1956), Martha wrote about the easier wild flowers to plant in spring, about the Striped Maple, Cineraria, Oleander, and spring mushrooms. About the spring season she wrote:

One of the loveliest sights in the garden after a gentle spring rain is the pushing thru the ground of young fronds of ferns, each rolled up like a miniature fiddle-head. Great numbers of Ostrich Ferns, Royal Ferns, Interrupted Ferns and Cinnamon Ferns (photo) in addition to 35 other varieties are well distributed throughout the garden. The swelling of the Red Maple buds is one of the first evidences of approaching spring and its bright red flowers open even while snow still remains in sheltered areas.

Summer 1956

Bird's-foot violet
The large bed of Bird's-foot violet (Viola pedata) in bloom in the Upland Garden, photographed on June 2, 1950 by Martha Crone. Click on image for a larger version.

In the summer newsletter (Vol. 4 No. 3, July 1956) Martha wrote about the summer birds, the Minnesota State Flower - the Showy Lady’s-slipper (and that the Red Columbine was the runner up), the Blue Columbine of Colorado that she had successfully grown from seed, about Butterwort, and the Ginkgo Tree. About wildflowers she wrote:

A mistaken idea prevails that wild plants are scraggly and unattractive, but if relieved of the intense competition that prevails in the wilds and given room to develop in a congenial location, they quickly make luxurious growth, becoming compact and produce better flowers in great profusion. Outstanding examples are Hepaticas, Bellworts, Columbine, Lady's-slippers, Lobelias, Lupine, and various violets especially the Bird's-foot Violet.

The summer planting was devoted mostly to putting in numerous plants of species already present in the Garden.

Autumn 1956

Galax (Galax aphylla) in bloom; photographed on June 28, 1956 by Martha Crone. Click on image for a larger version.

In the fall newsletter Vol. 4 No. 4, October 1956, Martha wrote about Bird’s foot Violet (Viola pedata), fall birds, American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa), the twining direction of vines, Galax (Galax aphylla) and Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia). She wrote about the flowers of autumn:

When the summer beauty of the garden is gone, the asters like star showers take over, the fields and woods are literally tangled with asters of white and various shades of blue. The cherry golden color of the golden-rods brightens the autumn garden. The golden-rods in the woods area bloom long after those of the prairie garden have passed. They appear like rods of gold withstanding frost and cold. Various species bloom continuously from July until October.

And then about a late season ramble in the Garden:

The late blooming plants seem to have saved up a great deal of surplus vitality for the grande finale, as tho to compensate for the bleak season ahead. The now shaded slopes where the sun rested in early spring before the trees leafed out and in sheltered glens where bloomed Hepaticas, Trilliums, Trout Lilies, Violets, Azaleas, Rhododendrons and countless others, now are taken over by dense colonies of White Wood Aster, Blue Wood Aster, Arrow-leaved Aster, Crooked-stemmed Aster, Zig-zag Goldenrod and Wreath Goldenrod, since they are all shade loving plants. Many others of the Composite Family - the most prodigious family in the floral world are in evidence.

American Spikenard
American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa), Photo ©G D Bebeau

Follow the winding trail thru the moist meadow and where Lady's-slippers bloomed earlier, and the Blue Bottle Gentian, Cardinal Flower, Blue Lobelia, and Red Turtlehead predominate.

Many of the spring plants are now dormant and no trace of them can be found. The red, gold and maroon of the various trees adds the brilliant hues which asters lack. The Bittersweet vine on the border fence is covered with beautiful clusters of orange berries, which finally split open to display the brilliant red globes within.

On open hillsides the clusters of bright red berries of False Spikenard contrast with the blue berries of Giant Solomon’s Seal and Cohosh. The ceaseless chant of insects is heard no more, the leaves frost crisped, drop from the trees, soon will the winter be on us, snow-hushed and silent.

Development of the new Fern Glen was proceeding rapidly. Martha wrote:

A total of 1,630 various kinds of ferns have been planted with utmost care in the new Fern Garden. Many varieties could not be obtained until fall and they will be set out before cold weather closes the season, while still others are to be planted next spring. The full result of such a planting cannot be realized until they become firmly established. This new project has greatly stimulated both scientific and popular interest and encouraged other groups to undertake conservation plantings.

The total quantity and species count of the Fern Glen is tallied in this article about the Fern Glen. But a sampling of what was planted in 1956 shows this:

Bird's-foot violet bicolor
Bird's-foot Violet bicolor (Viola pedata) noted in Martha Crones text. Photo ©Corey Raimond, University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Flora.

In her annual Secretary’s report (2) Martha Crone stated that 4,509 new plants were set out. By the time she wrote this report at the end of the year, she had set in 2,161 ferns (included in the 4,509 total above). Of the $775 gift from the Minnetonka Garden Club and Little Minnetonka Garden Flower Club, she still had $251 to spend on more ferns. She believed there would be winter loss on the new plants due to lack of snow so far.

She also noted that a St. Paul newspaper was carrying a weekly column about the Garden which would increase publicity about the Garden.(2)

In her annual report to the Park Board, she noted giving 14 illustrated slide lectures to clubs, garden groups, school groups and others, totaling over 700 persons with the largest group the Big Lake Garden Club and Public School (200). Also noted was the work being done on the new Fern Glen being developed in an undeveloped part of the new Upland Garden. Another 100 plant markers were set out and she requested a telephone line for the Garden Office. (3)

On November 14, Martha noted that the Bird’s-foot Violet bicolor (Viola pedata bicolor type) was still in bloom. (1) That was her last log entry of the year.

In the winter 1956/57 issue of the Friends newsletter (Vol. 5 No. 1, January, 1957) she summed up the past season with this:

One of the longest growing seasons has been experienced. There were no killing frosts after the first part of April and none until the middle of November. The early spring blooming plants remained in bloom unusually long since the spring was continually cool, and the late fall flowers had ample time to fully mature seeds before frost.

On October 13, Martha was honored by the Minnesota Horticultural Society where, at their 90th Annual Meeting, she received the Bronze Medal for achievement in horticulture. She had received an award of merit in 1954.

She had two helpers in the Garden this year - Ken Avery and Robert Clark. (4)

(1). Garden Log
(2). Friends of the Wild Flower Garden Secretary’s Report - 1956
(3). Annual Report of the Garden Curator to the Board of Park Commissioners dated February 15, 1957 to Superintendent Charles E. Doell.
(4). Martha Crone records at Minnesota Historical Society.

Photo top of page: The hillside of Interrupted Fern on June 9, 1953. This was the site of Eloise Butler’s ‘fernery’ and still exists today. Photo by Martha Crone.

To History of: Previous Year ----------- Subsequent Year

Year chart - all years

Garden History Archive

Friends 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 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden.

Archive of the Friends Newsletter The Fringed Gentian™
Vol. 4, # 1, January 1956, Martha Crone, Editor.

Vol. 4, # 2, April 1956, Martha Crone, Editor.

Vol. 4, # 3, July 1956, Martha Crone, Editor.

Vol. 4, # 4, October 1956, Martha Crone, Editor.

Vol. 5, # 1, January 1957, Martha Crone, Editor.

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 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. "https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org" - 030522