1300 W 42nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55409
7:30 am-10 pm
Part of: Lyndale Park
Adjacent to Roberts Bird Sanctuary
Four themed gardens:
Gardens located on the Northeast shore of Lake Harriet.
Volunteer tour guides available with three week's notice. Email for availability.
Our 12 gardens offer inviting spaces to explore, relax, and learn about the environment.
The transformation of Lyndale Park awaited the arrival of Theodore Wirth as park superintendent in 1906. At the end of his first year in Minneapolis, Wirth submitted in the 1906 annual report extensive recommendations for the improvement of Lake Harriet and Lyndale Park. (Wirth noted that Lyndale Park was really a part of Lake Harriet Park and one name should embrace the “entire territory.”) He made dramatic suggestions for changing the lakeshore of the lake, including adding a peninsula on the west side of the lake. As for Lyndale Park on the east shore, he said “not one single acre can at present be classed as being in serviceable condition.” Wirth had two ideas. First, the area from the pavilion east would be filled with material dredged from the lake to create playing fields surrounded by groves of trees. Second, the eastern and southern sections of the park would be devoted to “educational purposes on plant life.”
His first suggestion for Lyndale Park was never followed; his second was—with spectacular results. Wirth proposed two types of gardens for the area. First, a rose garden, which would, in addition to providing “beauty and pleasure,” provide “an instructive lesson on what roses to grow and how.” Above the rose garden, he proposed “a garden of trees, shrubs, and wild and cultivated flowers of every description.” The garden would be planted so that in every season something would be blooming and each plant would be properly labeled. Wirth wrote that “the educational service of the grounds towards home beautifying is inestimable.”
It was the beginning of gardens that have been loved by generations of Minneapolis citizens. The first project to be initiated in 1907 was the rose garden. Wirth had created the first municipal rose garden in the United States in his previous position as superintendent of parks in Hartford, Connecticut. Under the direction of newly hired park florist Louis Boeglin, Wirth set out to replicate that success. (Boeglin eventually became the head of all horticulture in Minneapolis parks and remained in that position until 1940.) The rose garden was completed in 1908 and the next year Wirth called it a “great success.”
A perennial flower garden was begun on land that had once been the nursery after Wirth moved most of the nursery stock to Glenwood Park in 1909. The road from King’s Highway to Lake Harriet was built in 1910.
Over the next few years, the gardens were gradually developed, but had not yet caught on with the public. In 1914 Wirth called the rose garden an inspiring scene, but lamented that it was “remarkable that only a small proportion of our population visits this ground, or even knows about it.”
The public visibility of the gardens got a boost beginning in 1917 when the first playground pageant was performed on the hill above the rose garden overlooking the lake. The playground pageants included performances written specifically for the occasion and featured children in costumes from every park in the city. The first year the pageant drew a crowd of 15,000 and in later years the performance was extended to two evenings and played to crowds of 40,000. The pageant remained a popular annual event, with a hiatus during the Depression, until 1941. The pageants drew such large crowds that in 1930 the park board considered building an 18,000-seat amphitheater on the hillside at Lyndale Park to accommodate pageant crowds and host other outdoor concerts. With the onset of the Great Depression, however, funds for such a project never materialized.
In 1924, Louis Boeglin, the park board horticulturist, planted a large new garden of perennial and annual flowers on the northern edge of the park west from King’s Highway. The garden was 1,000-feet long and from four- to twenty-feet wide and contained 10,000 plants. Wirth noted that the new planting attracted an unusual amount of attention and thousands of visitors. That year Louis Boeglin also proposed a rock garden planted with Alpine plants to the west of the new garden stretching toward the lake. With the creation of the perennial garden Lyndale Park replaced the Armory Garden at The Parade as the premier garden in the city. In fact Wirth proposed that with the decline in the Armory Garden and the need to replenish the soil there it would make sense to concentrate floriculture and plant collections at Lyndale, instead of renovating the Armory Garden. He went so far as to suggest that the Armory Garden might be better devoted to tennis courts.
Boeglin’s idea for a rock garden at Lyndale Park took a few years to develop, but he finally implemented his plan in 1929. He brought in Oneonta dolomite rocks collected from the Mississippi River bluffs in Wisconsin for the garden and planted alpine plants around them. Unfortunately, the rock garden fell into disrepair in the 1940s after Boeglin retired from the park board and was eventually overgrown with trees. It was not rediscovered and resurrected as a Rock Garden until the 1980s and was later transformed into the Peace Garden.
The next important development at the park was its official designation as a bird sanctuary in 1936. The designation had been requested by the Minnesota Audubon Society. One of Christian Bossen’s first acts as the new park superintendent in 1936, after Wirth retired, was to request the park board to designate the park as a bird sanctuary. The park board went him one better and designated all city parks as bird refuges. One of Bossen’s favorite places in Minneapolis parks was the trail through the wetlands north of Lake Harriet. Upon his death in 1956 his ashes were scattered along the path that is now named Bossen Lane. The bird sanctuary was named in 1947 for Thomas Sadler Roberts, a retired doctor who had become a professor of ornithology at the University of Minnesota and director of the university’s museum of natural history.
Park history compiled and written by David C. Smith.