The month of February is a wonderful time to dream of flowers and plan our gardens. I don't know about you, but this is the time of year when I'm itching to sink my bare feet into soft grass and to see beautiful blooms everywhere. I have grown so tired of the bleak landscape, and I want to see some color!
So what better time to share a travel garden post, eh? Last August my husband and I went on a romantic weekend to celebrate our anniversary. One of the places we stopped was in Madison, Wisconsin to tour the Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
I have lived about four hours from Madison most of my adult life and yet somehow I never heard of the Olbrich Botanical Gardens before. I've been to Madison many times, my daughter and my son both did musical camps and concerts at their renowned university. And of course we went to the capitol and walked the infamous State Street a lot, but had I known there was a botanical gardens there, that would have been my priority upon every visit.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens has both a conservatory and outdoor gardens. The outdoor gardens are always free, which I found hard to believe because they are so amazing! The Bolz Conservatory has an admission price of $6.00 for adults, but it is also FREE on Saturday and Wednesday mornings if you get there before noon. We got in free because we are such early risers!
My favorite part of the conservatory were the butterflies! They have tons of beautiful butterflies flying all over the conservatory. I saw a few land on visitors hands too!
In addition to the flying colors, the conservatory is filled with colorful tropical plants like the purple orchid above or the interesting red one below.
Lots of people grow the fuchsia colored plant pictured below as an annual in my neck of the woods.
I was completely awestruck by the size of some of the tropical plant leaves.
And look at the beautiful white veining of this one!
I didn't take a whole lot of photos inside as it was so crowded it was hard to take pictures. There was a small waterfall and koi pond with bridges. The people below are standing in front of them. There's a balcony area, where this picture was taken from, where you can get a bird's eye view of the entire conservatory.
Now it was time to move outside and view the outside gardens. The gardens are located at the edge of Lake Monona so you get a beautiful view of the water in the distance. You can barely see it in the photo below, but the lake is right past the green hedge.
There are so many gardens in Olbrich; I think I counted seventeen! The one above is the Sunken Garden. Originally designed in 1935 it is a formal English-style garden enclosed by a shrub hedge. The reflecting pool is 80 feet long.
The pond was filled with the most breath-taking lilies!
Pictured above is the Herb Garden. It is a "series of smaller gardens meant to delight the senses and illustrate the historic and contemporary importance of herbs".
There were so many different paths criss crossing every which way at Olbrich, it was hard to figure out what direction to go. I didn't want to miss anything! We ended up taking the Birch Walk along Starkweather Creek and came upon a bridge that led us to the Thai Pavilion and Garden...my favorite part of Olbrich Botanical Gardens! The little statue above, called "Thai Naga", greeted us before we crossed the bridge.
When I got to the middle of the bridge, my jaw just dropped to the floor! What a beautiful magical structure I saw across the creek! The incredible building is the Royal Thai Pavilion, which was a gift from the government of Thailand and the Thai Chapter of the University of Wisconsin Alumni Association. "It's the only one in the continental United States, and the only one outside of Thailand surrounded by a garden. The garden portrays a tropical feel by using large leafed and bright-flowered plants hardy in the Midwest."
I fell in love with this Thai Elephant statue in the Thai Gardens.
The elephant statue and the plaque below were in a beautiful tropical-looking garden in the Thai Gardens. The plaque reads: "This Bronze Elephant symbolizes the special relationship between the University of Wisconsin - Madison and the UW Almni in Thailand. Cast in Thailand for the Wisconsin Alumni Association-Thailand. Dedicated by Her Royal Highness Princess Maya Chokri Sirindlorn to Olbrich Botancials Garden 1/26/2007 Chitraloda Palace, Bangkok, Thailand".
I couldn't get enough of this magnificent structures surrounded by ponds filled with lily pads and tropical plants and flowers.
After oohing and aahing the Thai Garden, we crossed the bridge once more and entered the Perennial Garden. The Perennial Garden is two acres of mixed borders of perennials, ornamental grasses, annuals, trees, and shrubs. "A rushing waterfall spills into a meandering stream and three tranquil pools highlighting aquatic plants"
Because our visit was in mid-summer we saw lots of fall blooming plants like Golden Rod and Black Eyed Susans.
The Great Lawn is a circular stretch of lawn with garden paths jutting out from eight points leading to all the different display gardens. A "Donors Arch" is at one end and the Conservatory, Visitor Center, Atrium, and Family Learning Center are in the background.
My second favorite part of the Olbrich Botanical Gardens was the Tower Garden. This garden combines a variety of ornamental trees, shrubs, vines, spring bulbs, perennials, climbing roses, tropical plants, and ornamental grasses. A Prairie Style Viewing tower and fountains are the highlight of this garden!
We walked behind the Tower Garden first and stumbled upon the Autumn Garden which is a Midwestern prairie-inspired meadow that highlights native plants. There is a lovely, shaded resting spot filled with rustic, handmade furniture for visitors to sit and rest and spell.
Right behind the resting spot is a cute rustic shed. Yes, this is definitely midwestern style!
On our way back to the front of the Tower Garden we strolled past the most beautiful, large hydrangea bushes I ever did see!
Of course I had to take a detour through the Eunice Fisher Hosta Garden first! "This small garden is home to a historical collection of hosts hybridized by Wisconsin native Eunice Fisher". I'm always interested in seeing Hosta gardens because I have a lot of shade in my yard and grow a lot of Hosta myself. I love to get ideas from other people's Hosta gardens.
Finally, after a long detour, we were back in front of the Tower Garden. See, I told you this place was a beautiful maze of garden paths! This was my second favorite garden. Even though the brochure describes the tower as prairie-style, the entire area reminded me of Italy; perhaps it was all the limestone walls.
I noticed the planters were all filled with succulents, which is a good idea because then they don't have to be watered everyday!
Hardy Hibiscus was one of the stars in this garden!
Just look at all the variety and interest in the planting bed below. I love the mix of the tropical cannas with the Day Lilies in the background, and how the Heuchera softens the hard scape of the path.
I was so surprised to see Kale growing among the ornamentals, but why not? So many edible plants like Kale, Swiss Chard, Dill, or Chive make beautiful landscape plants.
Pictured below is the underside of the Tower. I love the view of the bench and pottery.
The next three photos were taken from the top of the tower. You can see Lake Monona really well from the tower.
Our last stop of the day was the Event Garden. First we had to walk down another glorious path with a structure above leading us to the spot where wedding ceremonies are performed.
I noticed this area had the most annuals of anywhere else in the park, probably to ensure that something was always blooming for one's wedding!
If you're ever in the Madison, Wisconsin area, please stop and visit the Olbrich Botanical Garden, you won't regret it! It's open daily 10 to 6 during the months of April - September and 10 - 4 during the months of October - March. Admission to the outdoor gardens are always free, but donations are gratefully accepted. There are wheelchairs and scooters available and even free tram rides for those who need assistance to see the gardens.
Have A Great Day! Amy
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Information in quotes came from the Olbrich Botanical Gardens Garden Guide and Map.