Feeling the end-of-summer blues? One cure is to place yourself in the midst of a nice garden. While there’s no shortage of great gardens in Minnesota, there are two rare ones in Minneapolis and Saint Paul parks, respectively. The Eloise Butler Wild Flower Garden and Bird Sanctuary and the Charlotte Ordway Japanese Garden are very different but equally unique historic Minnesota green space. As seen in the Twin Cities PBS documentary Parks for the People, they were created within larger city park settings.

A cultural connection with Japan was seeded in Saint Paul at the turn of the last century. Cozy Lake in Como Park became the home to Japanese plantings and statuary that had previously been a part of the 1904 Worlds. But the pond was difficult to manage and was eventually dammed off and turned into a golf course.

In 1955, Nagasaki became Saint Paul’s sister city. This was just ten years after the Japanese city had been destroyed by a nuclear bomb ending World War II. This decades-long relationship saw Nagasaki offer Saint Paul plans for a traditional tea house for Como Park in the early 80s.

William Pesek, a landscape architect with the city, worked with a Japanese master gardener over the course of years to create a traditional tea house in the garden. The authenticity was in the process as well as the final product. To prepare the beams for the tea house the bark had to be steamed off in an ancient, time-consuming procedure. This culturally accurate process, along with the popular traditional tea services that go on at Como, makes The Ordway Japanese Garden Tea House “one of a kind in in the nation.” According to Pesek. “There’s no other building structure like this in the United States that serves tea in an authentic fashion. It shows the best of Saint Paul, I think.”

Across the river in Minneapolis there is another one-of-a-kind garden. The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary is nestled within Theodore Wirth Park.

Eloise Butler was a pioneering botanist whose life was dedicated to surveying and protecting the natural, indigenous flora and fauna found in a less tamed Minneapolis. Garden Curator Susan Wilkins holds up Butler’s visionary stewardship. “When she was living in Minneapolis there were Lady Slippers growing on the shores of the lakes and wildflowers everywhere” says Wilkins. “She knew that would change. She gave us this wonderful gift and now it’s ours to maintain.”

Butler would urge us to protect open space like her namesake garden. The grand dame gardener would likely urge us to enjoy these final weeks of summer as well.


This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.