In the Midwest, on public and private land, prairies have almost become a landscape cliche. People often "plant" a prairie before they know much about that unique ecosystem or what's involved in creating and sustaining one.
But here in Madison you can learn about prairies as well as experience the essence of this unique landscape at the UW-Madison Arboretum. At this time of year I always try to visit the famed Curtis Prairie. These photos were taken there when our little blogging group made a stop at the beginning of September.
CURTIS PRAIRIE IS THE WORLD'S OLDEST RESTORED PRAIRIE and occupies 73 acres of Arboretum land. It's predominantly a tallgrass prairie and shows off many native species, including big bluestem and Indian grasses. If you're interested in prairies this is the Holy Grail of that landscape in terms of age and information.
Many classic experiments with planting techniques and the use of fire to manage prairies were conducted here during the 1930s and ’40s. Most of Curtis Prairie is a restoration, but the northeast corner is actually a small remnant of original prairie abundant with native species, according the Arboretum's website. There is nothing quite as restorative and romantic as walking through Curtis Prairie with the grasses waving in the breeze high above your head on a September afternoon.
On the opposite end of the garden spectrum is the Thai Pavilion and Garden at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. This gorgeous building — known as a sala — was a gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the Thai Government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. college or university, according to Olbrich's website. I think that last bit of information was a big surprise to most of us who live in Madison. The Thai Pavilion is connected to the rest of Olbrich Gardens by an ornamental bridge which emphasizes the feeling of stepping into another world.
Salas are common in Thailand and are typically used for protection from the elements. The pavilion at Olbrich is more ornate than most roadside salas in Thailand and is more like the ones you might find at a palace. It was built in Thailand, taken apart and shipped by ocean transport, rail and truck to Madison. The Thai artisans who came to Madison to reassemble it arrived in Chicago on September 11, 2001. The building is only one of three to be built outside of Thailand and is designed to withstand our weather.
The Olbrich horticultural director and staff have done an amazing job of creating a tropical garden around the building and along the approach route. You can imagine how impressive a feat this is in the Midwest.
Water in typical Thai-style containers as well as in reflecting pools is an important feature in this garden.
The Thai garden also includes fountains so the sound of water adds to the atmosphere.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens and the UW Arboretum are wonderful assets to our community and to the Midwest in general. For my money, the Thai Pavilion and Garden alone is worth a visit to Madison. No matter how many times I visit it always takes my breath away.
Six garden bloggers from three Midwestern states met in Madison on Friday, Sept. 2 to tour our city's top venues for gardeners and nature lovers. We began the day at Olbrich Botanical Gardens with a short talk by director Roberta Sladky (below left).
She spoke about all the things we don't usually see or know about that go on at Olbrich behind the scenes, like the interns who work in many different departments at the gardens and the summer camps for young writers that use the gardens as inspiration. We got great information packets from Roberta so I will talk more about some of the special things they do in another post.
I'd met Lisa, Rose and Becky at the Chicago Fling in 2009 but had not seen them since then so it was a pleasure to reconnect. Beth and I had met in person last year but both Danniel and her blog were new to me. Erin of The Impatient Gardener and Jason (and his wife, Judy) of Garden in a City were unable to join us this time. Erin and I have had a chance to visit each other's garden but I only know Jason from his blog and had been looking forward to meeting him. Maybe next time!
We lunched at Rosie's Coffee Bar and Bakery on Monona Drive where one of the employees snapped this photo of us. Clockwise from Lisa (in the coral top), Becky, Danniel, Beth, Rose and me. Rosie's offers casual dining with an interesting menu (Grilled pear and brie sandwich!) and tasty food.
The group made a stop at my garden before going on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. My husband snapped this photo of me and Lisa Bowman. It was so much fun to see her again as we have been commenting on each other's blogs for years now. You can see we share other enthusiasms than just gardening!
Mark captured our fairly typical early April weather this morning while I was off attending the all-day symposium put on by Allen Centennial Garden. The subject was the Art of the Garden but was much more broad ranging than that might suggest. Every speaker was excellent as was the food and the company. The perfect way to spend a cold and snowy day. The sun came out eventually and I am totally energized from all the ideas and images presented to us — despite the fact that the temp is still below freezing in late afternoon.
The Spring 2016 issue of Olbrich Botanical Gardens' newsletter arrived at the end of last week. It contained a short but very disturbing article. Olbrich is suspending their annual leaf mulch sale. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is recommending that leaves not be spread throughout Dane County due to the possibility of spreading the invasive and highly destructive jumping worms (Amynthas app.), according to the newsletter.
Typically Olbrich gets massive amounts of local leaves helping the city keep them out of landfills. Olbrich turns them into wonderful mulch that I've been buying just about as long as they've been selling it. It is a great product and an important source of revenue for the gardens. Jumping worm cocoons have been found to survive the winter in Wisconsin and can be spread through soil, compost, and mulch (hardwood and leaf), according to the Olbrich web site.
Dane Country is at the western edge of the section of southeaster Wisconsin where the worm has been reported. They were discovered in the UW-Madison Arboretum in 2013. To find out more about the worm, what it looks like and what to do if you find it in your garden, visit the DNR website here. You can print out a jumping worm identification card and a brochure from the site.
A newly planted and mulched bed in 2010.
The worms are long (a gardening friend measured one at 11 inches!), and slither and jump like snakes. "They change the soil by disrupting the natural decomposition of leaf litter on the forest floor. They turn good soil into grainy, dry worm castings (poop) that cannot support the understory plants of our forests. In residential and urban areas they can also harm ornamental plantings and turf," according to the DNR site. This is very serious stuff and besides, the worms are creepy. I have learned to live with many critters during the years I've gardened but snakes have never been one of them.
On the heels of that news came word that the West Side Garden Club will not be selling plants from member's gardens this year for the same reason: to avoid potentially spreading this invasive worm. They will sell the plants that they get from a commercial grower since those folks use sterile potting soil. This is a blow to gardeners as the West Side sale is one of the best in the area. All of my wonderful Primroses have come from there. Not only that, but the organization — like most local garden groups — donates the profits from their sale to public gardens like Obrich and Allen Centennial Garden to name just two. I've also talked to some members who say they will not buy any plants at local plant sales that come from area gardens because of this issue.
The worm is a recent enough problem that there is not enough research to suggest any solutions at this point. Bad news any way you look at it and not the way any of us want to begin the gardening season. Makes all those big yellow x's marking the Ash trees to be removed in the onslaught of the emerald ash borer seem not so bad.
Mark dumping a load of Olbrich mulch in our driveway a number of years ago.
I recently added two fiber purses, containers or what-you-will to my ongoing collection. This basket caught my eye as I walked past the door to the UW Arboretum's shop on my way to a class I was taking there this fall. I have a couple of these baskets in solid colors that I use to hold winter necessities. A navy blue basket holds hats while a teal basket contains scarves and gloves. I have a third one that is straw colored with black leather handles that I use as a summer purse. One friend uses hers as a market basket and another uses one to hold textile projects. This basket is so graphic in both form and pattern, that so far I am just displaying it as pure sculpture. The Arboretum's shop had a number of different and equally attractive baskets.
A detail of the handle construction.
World Bazaar on Madison's west side always has interesting items from around the world. Currently they have great Indian print curtains and wonderful Kantha carryalls. The bags are nice and roomy as you can see from the two funky photos of me holding one of these bags.
Both sides are composed of different fabric scraps. There is a snap closure at the top and a zippered compartment inside. Alas, can't find my receipts for either purchase at the moment, but I think they both were in the $30-$40 range.
Though we missed much of the late summer bloom, there was still much to see and enjoy as Mark and I spent an hour zigging and zagging over Curtis Prairie the other day. For those of you who are not local, Curtis Prairie — at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in Madison — is the world's oldest restored prairie.
It covers 60 acres and some of the early work on it was done by the Civilan Conservation Corps during the late 1930s under the direction of Aldo Leopold and John Curtis. This is a tallgrass prairie and now is a perfect time to wander among the massive ranks of big bluestem.
The Jackson Oak was growing in this spot the early 1800s and for many years was the iconic symbol of the Arboretum. Though it died in the 1990s, its remant trunk and branches still serve as a visual marker to all of us who hike the prairie. Mark and I took a short woodsy detour just past the oak.
Heading out of the woods you can see the Visitor Center across the prairie.
The red in the background (below) is not a plant but a marker for a research project. Though area residents use the Arboretum like a park or public garden, it is really an ecological research area.
The UW–Madison Arboretum is presenting their highly respected Native Gardening Conference on Sunday, September 21. This year's theme is “Native by Design: Gardening for a Sustainable Future.” I've attended this event in the past as both a participant and a speaker and found it well-worth my time.
The conference is a day filled with demonstrations, workshops and tours for gardeners who want to use native plants in their home landscapes. Participants can choose from workshop sessions about native garden design, attracting native pollinators, native trees and shrubs, planting and maintenance, sustainable practices, invasive species management, plant disease, and wild edible landscaping. There will be information suitable for both urban and rural situations. I can attest from my experience that it is a great chance to meet and connect with fellow gardeners and go home with practical tips, information and inspiration.
A keynote address follows the sessions. I've heard some of the top names in the field speak at past conferences and found that part of the day to be worth the price of admission alone. This year's keynoter is Doug Tallamy and his topic is “Your Role in Building Biological Corridors: Networks for Life.”
Tallamy advocates for "sustaining regional biodiversity through native home landscaping, which can provide important habitat connectors", according to the Arboretum's press release. Tallamy is professor and chair of the Entomology and Wildlife Ecology Department, University of Delaware. Tallamy's latest book, "The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden," was co-authored by Rick Darke, a previous Arboretum Conference keynoter.
Lately it seems like every garden event that Mark and I have participated in has happened on a cool day with rain threatening. The weather for the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society bus trip to Lake Geneva and Burlington, Wisconsin, last Sunday was no exception.
Al Ritchey runs the only Arboretum/Botanical Garden outside of a municipality in Walworth County. Any public institution would be happy to have the magical landscape that Al and his father have created over the years.
While Al was giving us the scoop on the Arboretum, Phil Broderick, the favorite bus driver for WHPS events, chatted with family, friends, and staff on hand for Al's annual Hosta Fest.
The scale of Al's Arboretum — actually more like Hosta heaven — is mind boggling. None of us really had any idea what to expect when we pulled up to the site. But once we started our tour, we were all agog.
Al grows more than 400 varieties of Hostas in a setting that is more garden than nursery. At the annual Fest, he typicall sells about 175 varieties.
If you asked me before this trip, what I thought about Hostas, I would probably have admitted I'm ambivalent about them. Yes, I grow quite a few but I think of them as workhorses doing a job in the garden with a few favorites as specimens.
At Al's Arboretum, the Hostas were growing in undulating waves, in long lines and wide curves. Every size, color, marking, and leaf shape were represented and all of the plants were healthy and happy. I wanted to go home and start planting swaths of Hostas.
Many pictures were taken.
Many questions were asked and answered.
Many of us had our eyes opened. With so many Hostas growing at full size, it was easy to see in person what the catalogs can't show no matter how good the photos.
Al mentioned that he does not purposely hybrize Hostas, but the amount and variety of plants he grows means that an interesting sport can appear on its own. He's got one or two that he hopes to market in the future.
Given that the property houses both a body shop and an Arboretum there were lots of interesting non-plant things to see . . .
both functional . . .
unusual . . .
Al's is well-worth a visit if you are in the area. And I'm putting next year's Hosta Fest on my calendar. It takes place Memorial Day weekend and the following weekend.
OLBRICH BOTANICAL GARDENS PLANT SALE WITH THE PROS
The "must" sale of the season with unusual plants and tons of advice and extras, including:
Inspiration Station: Bring photos of a blah garden area and the pros will sketch a basic design on the spot! Or ask the experts which plants will work best for your garden.
Pro Potting Bench: offers free container design and potting to help you jazz up any area of your garden.
Garden Art: Steel garden sculptures by Kirk Yazel.
There's also food from the Madison East Kiwanis Club brat wagon and music by local musicians while you shop! And I have to say that Olbrich's sale can be overwhelming with its wonderful assortment of plants, so all the assistance you get is a real plus — and at no extra cost.
TIME: Olbrich Members shop early on Friday, May 6 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. General Public sale is on Saturday, May 7 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
LOCATION: Olbrich is located at 3330 Atwood Ave. on Madison's east side.
A complete list of the plants that Olbrich will be selling can be found here, info on becoming a member is here and details about the group of "pros" is here.
WEST SIDE GARDEN CLUB SALE
One of my favorite sales of the year and the source of my wonderful candelabra primroses. Most plants are from members' gardens and are thus great performers. The sale benefits numerous local nature and garden organizations like Allen Centennial Garden and the Aldo Leopold Center.
Time: Friday, May 6 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, May 7 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: 3918 Nakoma Road in Madison, just down the block from Thoreau School
FRIENDS OF THE ARBORETUM NATIVE PLANT SALE
The photo above is from the 2010 Arboretum Native Plant Sale when the weather was miserable. I'm hoping for better weather this weekend when so many groups are having their plant sales.
The Arb's annuals sale offers hundreds of species of native plants. Members are reminded to bring their 10% off coupon from the April newsletter. Also bring your own boxes or carrying containers if possible. This event will include tools for purchase as well as answers to your native gardening questions.
TIME: Saturday, May 7 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
LOCATION: Under the tents near the Arboretum Visitor Center, 1207 Seminole Hwy. in Madison.