A wild place to wander

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary is a tranquil place to escape the city grind

BRYN MAWR — “Let nature be your teacher.”

That message is posted on a sign at the entrance of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary in Theodore Wirth Park.

The 15-acre garden, founded in 1907, is the nation’s oldest public wildflower garden. Even though downtown Minneapolis is just minutes away, it’s easy to forget about city life when you make a trip to this wild place.

Susan Wilkins, curator of the garden, said it’s the most biodiverse parcel of parkland in the city given the variety and abundance of native plants species.

“Where in most cities can you find a natural sanctuary to go that makes you feel like you’ve left behind the demands of the city and wandered into the fields and forests of a wilderness retreat? Not very many,” Wilkins said. “More than ever before, adults and youth living in cities need places to go where they can connect directly with this amazing natural world that we are all a part of. They can find that here in Minneapolis at the Wildflower Garden.”

Minneapolis botanist and school teacher Eloise Butler spearheaded the campaign to preserve the area as a wildflower garden. Today there are more than 500 plant species and 130 bird species.

The garden has three distinct areas: The woodland zone has wild ginger, bluebells and trout lilies, among other plants, and has a peak display time in the spring. In June and July, the wetland area is in season. Showy lady’s slippers — the Minnesota state flower — are a major attraction for visitors. The prairie area, which blooms in mid to late summer, has asters, sunflowers, goldenrods and blazing starts, among other native plants.

Besides being a great place to wander, the garden offers several programs for children and adults looking to learn more about native plants and birds. About 60,000 people visit it annually. It’s a frequent destination for garden clubs, birders and school groups. Minneapolis Public School fourth graders visit the garden for summer school field trips.

Lauren Borer, the garden’s education program coordinator, said the students get a chance to learn how to use binoculars to observe wildlife, take tours of the Quaking Bog and learn about bird adaptations, among other things.

An upcoming event of note is Wildlife Photography 101 — a workshop on Aug. 26 led by photographer John Maciejny. He’ll be offering tips on taking shots of sunflowers and asters.

When Borer reflected on all of the educational offerings, she said Eloise Butler would likely be proud if she could visit today. “She is still very much a part of this garden.”

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden
Where: 1339 Theodore Wirth Parkway
Season/hours: Open daily April 1–Oct. 15, 7:30 a.m. to one hour before sunset
Contact info: 370-4903 and [email protected]