THE WEEKEND TOURIST // An urban oasis

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September 12, 2011
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky
Living in the city we’re so used to being surrounded by concrete and steel and glass and hearing the din of an air-conditioner — and soon, the furnace — that the noise and hard surfaces become norm. To balance out the extremes of life in our man-made environment visit nearby Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.

This 15-acre respite was founded in 1907 and is the oldest public wildflower garden in the United States! Yes, right here in Minneapolis. We’ve had one longer than anyone else. And it’s within sight of downtown. You can easily see its greenery from telescopes atop Foshay Tower’s observation deck. In fact it’s so close that most people just forget it’s there.

So last week I decided to take my mother for a visit. She grew up in St. Louis Park, lived in Golden Valley for many years, and has driven past the garden thousands of times. She said, “Sure, I’ll go, I’ve always wondered what it was like.” She loves gardening, she’s never been there before; she’d make a perfect focus group.

Eloise Butler was born in Maine in 1851. She moved to Minneapolis in 1874 and taught botany in the public schools for 36 years. Along with other teachers she convinced the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to set aside land in our growing metropolis to preserve native flora. She became the garden’s curator and served in that post from 1911 to the day she died gardening there in 1933. Because of her foresight and planting skills, today we can see showy lady slippers, irises, asters, bluebells, trout lilies, sunflowers, goldenrods and plenty of prairie grasses. More than 500 plant species and 130 resident and migratory bird species live in the distinct environments of woodland, wetland, oak savanna
and prairie.

After parking at a park board meter we took the woodchip path through a gate marked, “Let nature be your teacher.” The small, rustic Martha Crone Visitor Shelter offers changing exhibits of botanical illustrations showing what’s in bloom that day. Kids love the touch-and-see table with turtle shells, bones, feathers, and bird wings. We picked up one of the many brochures and garden guides as well as a map showing numbered interpretive signs along the mile-long trails.

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden is a seasonal park. At the end of October it closes for the season. If you don’t make it here this fall, mark your calendar on April 1 to find out about their schedule of classes and nature walks. Spring is definitely the park’s showiest season but we saw plenty of flowers, waving prairie grasses, and so much thick brush that sometimes it was hard to follow the path. This park is wild and grows and dies on its own schedule. One trail was closed — not because of tornado damage that somehow hit all around the park but not actually inside of it — but due to a couple of old, falling oak trees.

This park is not handicap accessible. The paths are overgrown (in a good kind of way), crooked wood bridges span bog area paths, and there are a few steep climbs. My mother thinks walking around Lake of the Isles is a wilderness outing, so to her this seemed like a jungle expedition. We rested on one of the many strategically places benches and watched butterflies flit about and grasses wave in the breeze. On our afternoon adventure we saw only about six or eight other people thought the garden receives a total of 60,000 visitors a season. I knew she was having a good time when she said: “All you hear are birds and chipmunks.”

Send your comments to WeekendTourist@mnpubscom.

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden
Southeast corner of Theodore Wirth Parkway and Glenwood Avenue (bring quarters for parking meters). Garden open
7:30 a.m. to a half-hour before sunset, 7 days a week through Oct. 15, then weekends only through Halloween. Visitor center open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m. to an hour before sunset; Sunday, noon to an hour before sunset.

Enjoy hearty English-style pasties at legendary Milda’s Cafe (1720 Glenwood Ave.)