Bench in Upland in July

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

Winter 1977/1978

Ken Avery begins his 20th year as Gardener.

Note: All issues of the Friend’s newsletter, The Fringed Gentian™, were numbered out of sequence this year. The correct volume numbers are used in the text. The "as printed" numbers are shown a the bottom of this page.

Martha Crone
Martha Crone. 1953 photo.

In the newsletter, (Vol. 26 No.1 Winter 1978), Ken Avery listed the earliest and latest bloom dates for eight additional plants that were not on the list printed last year. [Full report here] Newsletter co-editor Pat Deweese interviewed Martha Crone and reported her recollections. This report contains one of four references in our records where it is documented that Martha began helping Eloise Butler in about 1918, making her period of assistance 15 years. (note 1) Some references simply state “for a number of years.”

Another paragraph adds this detail:

Until the late 30's there was no water in the garden; at times Martha would bring water from home in a milk bucket for the new transplants and always hoped for rain. When pipes were finally laid from Xerxes Avenue, they ran out of narrow pipe and finished with wider pipe which resulted in poor water pressure. The Park Board allotted $100.00 a year for plant purchases those years, and Martha purchased from several sources in Minnesota. The little office was primitive, without heat or light, and so kerosene lamps, and occasionally a kerosene heater were used. At times she would run up and down the path a few times to warm up!

Eloise Butler with Monarch
Eloise Butler in 1926 standing near the old Oak she called "Monarch", home to the Barred Owl for many years. The tree was finally removed in 1940 due to structural weakness.

Martha had a story about Clinton Odell. Pat writes:

One memory that she treasures is of her good friend and Friend's founder Clinton Odell, president of the Burma Vita Company. He, in early evening would take a chair into the lower garden and sit there and test various mosquito repellants that his company was developing. In a damp year we can all appreciate what an excellent testing ground this would have been.

Then this paragraph about famous trees mentions the home of a Barred Owl, a bird which some people say never lived in the metro area.

Though the Garden has been changed recently by the loss of many of its beautiful elms, Mrs. Crone sees this as a new era of development for the Garden and the return of some of the plants that have recently been shaded out. Two trees she remembers fondly are an elm just outside the Garden that was fenced in back in the days when Theodore Wirth and Alvin Witt considered it "their" tree. This is the largest elm remaining in the Park and with treatments by the Friends [see 1976] has so far survived the elm disease. The other tree, a monument for many years, was a large oak which after more than 700 years of growth was destroyed by a storm. [Monarch] For many years it was the nesting home of a Barred Owl. A slab from this tree is displayed in the Martha Crone Shelter at the Garden.

[Although even Eloise Butler estimated the age of the tree to be that pld, based on a 10 foot circumference reported in Eloise Butler's time (1913), it was certainly a guess. Upwards of 260 to 290 years is more likely based on studies of tree growth. No white oak has been known in the United States that size. Additional information and a re-measurement in the Monarch article link above.]

Spring 1978

In The Fringed Gentian™ (Vol. 26 No. 2 Spring 1978) Ken Avery put forth his thoughts on his tenure in the Garden and it is worth listing here, not just for the history but for his style of writing.

woodland from shelter patio
In his text, Ken is standing here by this fountain looking down toward the marsh area. It is a memorial to Bernice Witt, wife of former Friends Director Alvin Witt. Photo G D Bebeau

Today as I stood by the drinking fountain (where the old office stood for sixty years) looking down into that unfamiliar area of scrub trees and brush thinking of the changes that have taken place since I have been working here, I felt as though I had worked here forever. When I started working here there were still people in the Park System who could remember Miss Butler. Now I am about the only on left who was even alive when she was.

I remember when the road to the Garden was not paved. Warren Cadillac used to try out its cars on our road. If they didn’t rattle there they wouldn’t rattle anywhere. When the frost went out in the spring, it was virtually impassable between the spring [Great Medicine Spring - near the base of the entry road] and our parking lot.

I remember when the huge elm --the one that was so large that you didn’t have to further describe which tree you meant when you said ‘that huge elm’ --- died. I counted one hundred and thirty rings and the middle foot of the tree was rotted out. It had to have been at least 150 years old. [see 1972] Just think - during the first part of its existence there were only Indians walking by that tree.

The first year I worked here was the last year that any spring in the Garden ran. It was only a drip but it was the last. That was also the last year that the Park Board had a fountain at the one remaining spring --- the one I have given a running report on the last few years [Great Medicine Spring]. Since then the water table has been too low.

Marvelous things have happened over these years. One year a Goshawk nested across the road and moved into our area in the fall. What a magnificent bird! I saw it make an unsuccessful attempt to take a squirrel. Once I counted 40 wood ducks on the little pond over by the School. One spring the Garden was full of Veeries--hundreds of them. I don’t remember seeing one before or since then.

stiff gentian
Stiff Gentian (Gentiana quinquefolia) Photo G D Bebeau

Strange plants have appeared, stayed one year, and disappeared. One year it was a Stiff Gentian. It appeared from nowhere and went back there after one year. The year after the Martha Crone Shelter was built a strange Nightshade grew by the foundation of the Shelter. The book said it grows primarily in disturbed soil. The soil must have settled too much that year and it didn’t come back.

The most marvelous thing is that the Garden still remains a little bit of Eden. About two weeks ago I had filled the bird feeders and was checking the battlefield where the war on Dutch Elm Disease had been fought, when I looked up and saw a fox up the hill only about 50 feet from me. I looked at it--it looked at me. I spoke to it--it ignored me. I spoke to it again --- it yawned, and having been put in my place, I went about my business.

The Annual Meeting of the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden was held in the Garden, on Saturday May 20th, 1978, in the Martha Crone Shelter, 28 persons attending. Kenneth Avery gave his report of the status of the Garden. He reported he had reinforced the shelter door with plywood to keep vandals from breaking in and that he was having success treating sumac and woodbine with a chemical spray.

Moana Odell Beim and May Maguire Lerman - 1981
Friends past president Moana Odell Beim (left) and behind, Mary Maguire Lerman, MPRB Coordinator of Horticulture, shown here in the Garden in 1981. Photo courtesy Lynne Holman.

Mary Maguire Lerman, the new Co-ordinator of Horticulture explained that the placing of 4x4 posts along the path with manila hemp rope between the posts had been delayed. The posts had arrived but the ground had been too frozen to put them in. After the meeting she gave an illustrated lecture on poisonous plants.

Dr. Marian Grimes reported there were 44 volunteers for the Shelter. Her notice in the Minneapolis paper had started to produce results as 14 came via the Voluntary Action Center, affiliated with the United Way. Marie Demler would be one of those new volunteers, beginning a long relationship with the Friends. Also new was Ann Kessen, who later would be Friends President 1988-1992.

Friends Secretary Jean Chamberlain had been given a Volunteer Service Award this past Spring by the Voluntary Action Center, as had Marion Grimes the year before.

The Friends Board had begun two new projects. One would be to establish scholarships for a few high school students to pursue the natural sciences. The second was to make tuition grants for grade school teachers in the Minneapolis Public School system to take a Nature Study course or an Audubon camp each summer. Two captains chairs were provided by The Friends for the Shelter, principally for volunteer use as there were already two sitting chairs near the fireplace.

President Alexander Dean explained the scholarships this way:

To encourage a greater appreciation of wildlings in general and this area in particular, your Board has agreed with its Concepts & Budget Committee to use a substantial portion of the annual receipts of the FRIENDS for two projects. One is the establishment of scholarships to help a few high school students to pursue the natural sciences. The second is the establishment of a few tuition grants for grade school teachers in the Minneapolis Public Schools to take a course at a Nature Study or Audubon camp each summer. The details of these projects are to be worked out by the committee and reported to the BOARD next Fall so they can be implemented in 1979. This, besides the incidental aid to the physical garden, should be a little contribution to the ongoing appreciation of wild life in this area.

Founding director Russell H. Bennett, who had not been able to attend the 25th anniversary meeting in 1977 was in attendance and made a few comments indicating his pleasure at the progress being made in the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. This was his last meeting with the Friends.

Directors elected were: Moana Beim, Jean Chamberlain, Alexander Dean, Robert Dassett Jr., Lynn Deweese, Dr. Marian Grimes, Lynne Holman, Bruce Hooper, Walter Lehnert, John Murtfeldt, Mildred Olson.
Ex-officio member: Kenneth Avery. Martha Crone as honorary life member.

At the Board meeting following the annual meeting, new officers elected were: Alexander Dean, President; John Murtfeldt, Vice President; Jean Chamberlain, Secretary; Bruce Hooper, Treasurer.
Lynn and Pat Deweese continued the duties of editors of The Fringed Gentian™.

During the spring, the Friends received a support donation from Dorothy Binder, one of our founding members and second President. She was residing in California ever since 1971 and this was noted in the Summer newsletter (Vol. 26 No. 3). She passed away in 1980.

Summer 1978

Ken Avery
Ken Avery holding a Groundnut. Photo from Minneapolis Star, Aug. 29, 1978

In the Variety section of the Minneapolis Star on Aug. 29, 1978, Caroline Young wrote an article titled "Plants had it made in tall elms' shade" in which she interviewed Ken Avery about the effect of the loss of elms to Dutch Elm Disease. By this time the Garden had loss all but 10 of its more than 175 American Elms, and Ken re-told the story of how that loss was changing the Garden. In the photo he is holding a Groundnut, a plant not found in the forest area of the Garden until the canopy of elm was eliminated. Now, the plants favoring shade were not doing so well. One of his remarks in the article was:

It used to be just beautiful. It does not compare with what it was. it has to go back to what it used to be; it's a highly disturbed area.

It’s a tragedy in many ways. I go into mourning over it. The flowers are not as nice as they used to be. But by the same token, if a person is interested in nature, he has to be interested in what is happening - it’s an experiment I wouldn’t have the nerve to conduct. [Full article - pdf]

In the summer issue of The Fringed Gentian™ (Vol. 26 No. 3 Summer 1978) Ken Avery reported on his latest innovation:

In the past I have described some of the cultural practices which I have used in the Garden. I must admit that one of the things I like about working here is that I must invent solutions to the problems presented by the Garden rather than simply follow solutions discovered by others. I am now going to let you all in on a little experiment I have been conducting over the past few years. One that, I believe, has been quite successful.

When I first started working here I attempted to grow a little sphagnum bog by removing about a foot of soil from our bog and replacing it with coarse gravel, hoping that it would provide a sterile medium upon which sphagnum and other bog plants could be grown. It almost worked, but it was not sterile enough to discourage weeds, and when someone stole the pitcher plant I had growing on it, I abandoned it.

path with ropes and posts
This view in front of the Martha Crone shelter shows some of the old posts with ropes between them that were installed in the Summer of 1978. Photo from 1992, G D Bebeau.

In a few years I hit upon a different plan. I made a raft upon which I could grow an artificial bog. I did this by taking throw-away beer bottles which we found in the park and pushing their tops through chicken wire. I then placed sphagnum moss on it and waited to see if it would grow under these circumstances. In a couple of years, I had a little island with quite a luxuriant growth of moss on it. I was now ready to go on with a larger bog. However, the brewers must have found out that someone had found a use for their debris and they switched to a new cap which could not be replaced on the bottle. This left me without a growing medium.

This spring another solution to my problem presented itself --- wine bottles. They still have replaceable caps, at least the cheap wines which appear to be preferred by Park drinkers. I use them a little differently, however. Instead of thrusting the tops through the chicken wire, I tie them beneath it like logs. It took half of the summer to come by enough bottles to float my little bog, but finally I had enough. Richard Wick and I went over to the dying bog in the park [referring to the present Quaking Bog] for sphagnum and put it on the raft and set it in the pool.

The next time you go through the Garden you may notice the two little islands in our pool. The one in front looks awful, but don't look on it just as an eyesore. In a few years it will look as luxuriant as that smaller island behind it.

The report about the annual meeting was also given. During the summer a crew of CETA workers finally put in the 4x4 path posts and the ropes between them. Also, some sections of an old fence separating the woodland from the upland were removed.

Autumn 1978

In The Fringed Gentian™, (Vol. 26 No. 4 Autumn 1978) Ken Avery gave his feeling of what signals the beginning of autumn.

“I think fall means something a little different to me than it does to most people. It starts in late September when the Interrupted Fern starts to collapse. One day as I walk through the bottom of the bowl where the Interrupted Fern grows, my nose - or my whole body - is filled with that first, most distinctive, smell that signals the start of fall for me. It is a rich, thick smell. I am not sure that it is basically pleasant; but with the familiarity that comes from my years of working here, it smells like the finest perfume to me. It signals the beginning of FALL.”

Below: The hillside of Interrupted Fern in the Woodland Garden referenced by Ken Avery in his text. Photo G D Bebeau

Interrupted Fern
Mary Maguire Lerman, MPRB Coordinator of Horticulture, shown here in a 1978 newspaper article examining the stump of an elm.

Also in the newsletter Mary Maguire Lerman gave a short report about projects completed in the Garden and Friends President Alex Dean wrote about the future of the Wildflower Garden as follows:

A friend of the out-of-doors asked me the other day, "what do you see as the future of the Wild Flower Garden? Why are you so interested in it.” I answered: If by "future" you mean growth and development physically, then the Wild Flower Garden has no future. Except for a few cosmetics here and there such as are going on now - the placing of a nice, post and rope hindrance along the paths, the knocking down of some of the vines and weeds that grow too rank in the new sunshine - the Garden, to be a wild Garden, must stay about as it is.

If by "future" you mean its place in NATURE and in MINNEAPOLIS, then the Wild Flower Garden will show us, and generations yet unborn, what Minneapolis would have been if the white man had never settled here. This it can not do absolutely, but it does and can continue to give us an idea of what was here. Therefore, when we replace wild flowers end trees, we do it most naturally. We let nature do it whenever and wherever possible.

It is not in grandiose physical growth and development that I see the Wild Flower Garden, but as the expression of an idea which is held in the thoughts of people, cherished and nursed for those who come in search of its sanctuary. That is why I am so interested in it, and that is why my daughter Kathleen was interested in it. [His daughter Kathleen died at age 25 in 1968 and the fireplace in the Crone Shelter is a memorial for her.]

The Park Board announced the appointment of Charles Spears of Nashville Tennessee as the new Minneapolis Parks Superintendent, replacing Robert Ruhe.

During 1978 the city of Minneapolis lost 20,817 elms to Dutch Elm Disease.

Photo top of page: A bench in the Upland Garden in July. Photo ©G D Bebeau

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


Note 1: The other references are a) a Minneapolis Star article on Jan. 10, 1944 where it is stated "she worked with Miss Butler for 15 years as unofficial assistant"; b) Cay Faragher's 1969 letter to the Friends membership; c) The Wild Gardener by Martha Hellander, pg 95.

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

Archive of the Friends Newsletter The Fringed Gentian™
Vol. 26, # 1, Winter 1978, Lynn and Pat Deweese, Editor [Mis-labeled as Vol. 28]

Vol. 26, # 2, Spring 1978, Lynn and Pat Deweese, Editor [Mis-labeled as Vol. 28]

Vol. 26, # 3, Summer, 1978, Lynn and Pat Deweese, Editor [Mis-labeled as Vol. 28]

Vol. 26, # 4, Autumn, 1978, Lynn and Pat Deweese, Editor [Mis-labeled as Vol. 28]

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

Friends Home Page

©2019 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Photos are 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. "" - 010221