Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary as an ark

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Not only do I not have a green thumb, I believe my thumb may be an instrument of death for growing things.

I’m certain I’ve detected a death rattle among the plants handed to me as gifts over the years.

So, imagine my delight in meeting Susan Wilkins, captured above in a photo by my MPR colleague Jeff Thompson.

Susan is the curator, gardener if you like, for the 15-acre Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary nestled within the 800-acre Wirth Park on Minneapolis’ boundary with Golden Valley.

She’s planting a common witch hazel shrub.

The sanctuary is a carefully managed riot of flora.

Here’s another photo taken by Jeff on his sanctuary visit – a montage.

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Clockwise from left, bee balm, Culver’s root, buttonbush and Turk’s cap lilies are among the 500 plant species and 130 bird species on view at the garden.

Here’s the crew who led me on a tour; Susan on the left, next to Minneapolis parks environmental education coordinator Marylynn Polscher with self-described park afficionada Pam Weiner, the president of the non-profit group that helps raise money for the garden.

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I took this picture of them checking out the plants next to the towering 100-plus-year-old white oak tree.

Susan is filling some mighty big gardening boots. She’s only the fifth curator of the 105- year-old wildflower collection.

The idea for a sanctuary came to Maine-born Eloise Butler, a Minneapolis Central High School botany teacher in 1907.

She decided the area needed a place where plants would be safe from what was clearly the beginning of decades of ecosystem degradation – also called development. The building of homes, shopping centers, roads, stadiums, you name it.

If you’re curious to hear about more about the Butler garden’s history and the role it’s come to serve, listen to our conversation this afternoon on All Things Considered.

Development is still a threat. For example road improvements through a boggy area near Pennington in northern Minnesota have spurred an orchid rescue.

Thousands of lady’s slippers, the state flower, are losing the boggy, swampy land they love.

The response by Wilkins and others includes finding a temporary place for the plants and even replanting some in the Eloise Butler garden which already has a native population.

And that brings us to the aforementioned ark.

Susan suggests that as climate change unfolds the Butler sanctuary and others around the world will help save plants that can’t cope in the wild.

Some ecologists agree.

So as you enjoy your next visit to Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden think about it not only as a nice place to take a relaxing stroll but also as a haven, a home for plants that are threatened elsewhere.

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