Volunteers prep Gaylord Nelson Memorial Garden for a long winter’s nap and vibrant spring

Volunteers tend Gaylord Nelson Garden

Bayfield-area volunteers and native garden advocates met at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Headquarters in Bayfield for their annual fall cleanup in the Gaylord Nelson Memorial Garden.

“It’s really a chance to get the garden ready for next Spring,” says Erica Peterson, one of the organizers. The group deadheaded spent flower heads but left the ones with seeds for dispersal. Flower stalks up to 14” were also left for native pollinators who make homes in the hollow stems. The group is always pleased to see the before and after.

Together they put in a combined 20 hours of work, and it shows. They are trying to isolate and maintain key species from invasive ones that would take over the garden given the chance.

“We started a nursery in the garden so that next year we can add a few more species, and move others around,” says Peterson. They were surprised at how well certain species did this past season despite the drought, like butterfly milkweed, sweet fern and asters.

Next year volunteers will add signs with flower images to identify some of the plants and their Ojibwe names. Many people wander through the wood chipped trails to take group photos in front of the brownstone sign for the park. The garden is small, but representative of wild flowers found in the Apostle Islands. 


“This is a unique collection of Islands…There is not another collection of islands of this significance within the continental boundaries of the United States.”

gaylord nelson


The native plant garden was created by volunteers from Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Chequamegon Bay community residents, and the National Park Service in 2006. The garden serves as a living legacy to WI Senator and Governor Gaylord Nelson who helped inspire Earth Day in 1970 and in the same year established the Apostle Islands as a National Lakeshore.