Eloise sadly witnessed the loss of native flora as Minneapolis became more urbanized and industrialized. She envisioned a place where the native plants could be protected, preserved and nurtured in a botanic garden — and grow wild as they were when she collected them in their natural setting. The garden was not just her lab but her classroom as well. The sign on the front Garden gate resonances this message, Let Nature Be Your Teacher. Garden Curator Susan Wilkins said it best, “Such a wonderful garden with rich history…unique collection of plants. She had great vision and the garden is a wonderful resource for future generations.” Eloise’s garden is not only breathtaking in the spring but also in the autumn. Wilkins, who has been the curator for 11 years and has an Environment Horticulture degree from the U of M, said there’s a “wide array of plants, diversity…every color of the rainbow in the fall.”
The garden is staffed by naturalists and volunteers who manage the shaker-style visitor’s center. Named for the second curator, Martha Crone was a self-taught naturalist and friend to Eloise Butler. Garden environmental naturalist Eric Vehe said he “introduces people to the environment, teaches them by interpreting the environment.”
After Eloise retired in 1911 she spent every day working in the garden; pulling weeds, harvesting, transplanting, maintaining trails and occasionally conducting garden tours for school children. She didn’t have children so the flowers, plants and trees that she so lovingly watched grow and flourish were, in a way, her children. The garden was not only her life’s work, it was her life.
On a rainy morning on April 12, 1933 Eloise, in failing health, attempted to go to the garden as usual but suffered a heart attack and had to return to her lodgings where she finally succumbed at 2:15 p.m. Her ashes were scattered in the Garden, as she wished, on May 5.
She was a botanist, teacher, writer, conservationist and naturalist. Her vision continues today to touch and inspire those who stop and gaze at her sprawling legacy of wild in North Minneapolis.
Eloise Butler Garden and Bird Sanctuary is open daily from 7:30 a.m. until a half-hour before sunset from April to October. The Garden is alive during this time not only with masses of wild flowers and wild animals but activities for children and families. Visitors can take naturalist-led tours, join a book club and enter a photography contest. To learn more visit friendsofthewildflowergarden.org.