Since my niece Sarah comes from a family of architecture buffs who particularly like Frank Lloyd Wright, visiting all the FLW buildings in Madison seemed like a natural. For those of you who are not local, I will just say that FLW is a native of Wisconsin and that Madison and the state are home to many of his landmark creations, including Taliesin, his home near Spring Green. So Sarah, Mark and I spent last Thursday visiting FLW shrines around town.
The Meeting House of Madison's First Unitarian Society was commissioned by the group in 1946. To help defray costs the congregation helped with the construction, including hauling the quarry stone, building furniture and doing interior finish work. As you can see here, the building is an excellent example of the soaring triangular shape that FLW used to great effect in a number of his projects.
The Society now has an adjacent new building used for many events including public concerts. The FLW building is still used especially for weddings and memorial services. I've attended many of both over the years and can attest that the seats are a bit on the low side but moderately comfortable. It's a wonderful space and visiting it — like visiting any FLW site — is a bit of a religious experience.
FLW used a soaring triangle in a different manner in the Gilmore House, known more familiarly — in Madison at least — as the "airplane house". Wright placed this 1908 house just below the crown of the highest hill in the University Heights neighborhood, according to my 1987 Heggland/Rankin tour booklet.
The main living rooms were on the second floor giving the Gilmores a spectacular view. The jutting triangle is a balcony. Still a great house on a wonderful site.
But I've always thought the entrance was overgrown and it never felt welcoming. I was in this house years ago and I admit I have no memory of the interior. I am guessing I was only on the lower floor because I can't imagine I would forget the view.
I love to imagine how the Buell family — who built the first home at the top of the hill in University Heights in 1894 — felt when the Gilmores and Wright put up the "airplane house" directly across the street and just above them. Perhaps Charles Buell had the last laugh since he was the first person to build so far from downtown. By the time he died in the late 1930s his house was surrounded by the homes of Madison's movers and shakers.
I have to say I've never been sure which house I'd rather live in: The Gilmore or the Buell. You can't tell it from the photo below but the land drops sharply away from the Buell house as the street turns tightly around their corner lot. Conover and Porter, architects.
If you're rambling around the Heights, you can't miss the Bradley house. My guide booklet says this massive Prairie style building from 1910 was one of the last works — and a rare residential design — of Louis H. Sullivan, Wright's mentor and one-time employer. The house was a wedding present to the Bradley's from the bride's father but they found it too large. They sold it to the Sigma Phi Fraternity in 1914. The house was "meticulously rebuilt" after a terrible fire in 1972.
The members of this house are known as "the gentlemen on the hill" according to their Rush Week signs. While we were debating walking up to the door and ringing the bell, one of the Fraternity members invited us inside and gave us a tour of the public rooms. From his presentation and answers to our questions, it seems these young men know the history and value and popularity of their house very well.
The detailing on this house — inside, outside and on the leaded glass windows — is gorgeous. The scale is so dramatic that you can stand on the curb and enjoy the design. I've been inside this house many times over the years and it's always a treat, though I'm not sure I could live with so much dark wood on a daily basis. Still, I'd be willing to give it a try.
When Mark and I went house hunting for our first home, we'd read the newspaper ads on Sunday morning and then I'd go look at the houses we noted during the afternoon while he was at work. I always remember the time I saw a little west side house that I thought was too cramped, too boring and too expensive. As I was driving down the block I saw the house below, pulled over and thought, "Now there's a great house." It took me a bit of drooling and dreaming to realize it was a FLW design.
This is the Jacobs House, built in 1937, for Katherine and Herb Jacobs. He was a newsman at The Capital Times so you know his salary was modest. The couple challenged Wright to build for less than $5,000. The house came in at about $5,550 and there are lots of stories about where Wright got some of the building materials to stay within that figure.
The house is also known as the first "Usonian" house, a word FLW coined that means the building was designed to relate directly to nature. This house does it with its L-shape with windows facing an open area surrounded by trees, swaths of prairie grass and Midwestern plants. The side street view of the house is more accessible than I remember in past years so we were able to get a good look at it. And yes, I've been in this one as well. Mark and I once spent an afternoon there with Jim Dennis, the UW-Madison art history professor who lovingly restored the house over the course of many years.
Being the home of someone who supports a progressive political agenda means there are always messages on display on the street corner where the house is located. (Not my best look ever but I love the sign!)
We ended our FLW tour with a triumvirate of Wisconsin icons: We went to Smokey's, a landmark supper club, where Sarah had her first Brandy Old-Fashioned Sweet (Wisconsin's unofficial state beverage) and deep-fried cheese curds. A perfect day no matter how you slice it.
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 have been following the Plant Evaluation Notes from the Chicago Botanic Garden for so many years that I no longer remember when I first discovered them nor when I first heard the director of CBG's Plant Evaluation Program, Richard Hawke, give a talk in Madison. Suffice it to say that the published findings of the program under Hawke are one of the top resources for gardeners in the Upper Midwest.
If you are unfamiliar with it, CBG's Plant Evaluation Program is one of the "largest and most diverse in the nation," according to the recent PR information they emailed me. They noted it is also one of the few programs in the U.S. that formally evaluates perennials. Typically most of us are the ones evaluating perennials in our gardens and sharing the results with gardening friends.
This is the one place I know to find reliable data on a long list of perennials suitable for our area. The latest study — on Lady Ferns and Japanese Painted Ferns — is number 39 in the series. The fern report is ten pages long! I am growing a number of the ferns evaluated which makes this particular report both interesting and useful for me.
Athyrium 'Branford Rambler' below / Photo by Richard Hawke
Richard Hawke points out that catalogs and magazines showcase the hot, new plants, but he is "all about the tried-and-true."
The goal of CBG's program is "to determine, through scientific evaluation, which plants are superior for gardens in the Upper Midwest. Plants are rated on ornamental qualities, cultural adaptability, winter hardiness, and disease and pest resistance. It is the intent of the program to study and recommend plants that are readily available in area nurseries. Study results are published and reported to both the professional industry and the gardening public." What more could you ask?
Among the pperennials CBG has evaluated over the years are small leafed Rhododendrons, boxwoods, clematis, shrub roses, and Monarda and powdery mildew resistance to name a few. The plant trials last four years for perennials, six for shrubs and vines and seven to ten years for trees.
Athyrium 'Branford Beauty' / Photo by Jessie V. Stevens
Among the results of the fern evaluations:
Winter hardiness was generally not an issue for the evaluation group — only Athyrium filix-femina ‘Plumosum Axminster’ suffered plant losses in two winters.
The uniqueness of each Japanese painted fern cultivar was often indiscernible at a glance. (Something those of us who grow this fern can attest to.)
Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’ aka tatting fern: Athough reputedly prone to reversion, ‘Frizelliae’ remained true to type throughout the trial. (Mine is always reverting.)
Here's what the report has to say about the gorgeous fern pictured below:
"Athyrium filix-femina ‘Encourage’ was one of the top performers in the trial. All pinnae were tasseled or crested at the tips, giving the light green fronds a frilly look. Slow to develop the first summer, ‘Encourage’ had a robust, vase-shaped habit by the second year and was particularly densely robust in the fourth year. Plants were in full sun by 3 p.m. so some leaf scorching was occasionally observed in July and August. ‘Encourage’ is a selection of ‘Vernoniae Cristatum’."
Athyrium filix-femina 'Encourage' / Photo by Richard Hawke
If you just want the results without looking at the full report, here they are:
"The majority of taxa in the trial received a five-star excellent rating or a four-star good rating for their overall performance. Top- rated plants displayed consistently attractive foliage, robust habits throughout each growing season, and winter hardiness during the evaluation term. The five-star plants included Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’, A. ‘Branford Rambler’, A. ‘Ghost’, A. filix-femina, A. filix-femina ‘Encourage’, A. filix-femina ‘Victoriae’, A. filix-femina ssp. cyclosorum, A. niponicum var. pictum ‘Apple Court’, A. niponicum var. pictum ‘Pewter Lace’, A. niponicum var. pictum ‘Regal Red’, and Deparia acrostichoides."
You can read the entire fern report HERE and access the list of individual reports HERE.
I did not receive any remuneration for this post. I am merely a long-time fan of the CBG, especially these plant evaluations.
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.
I found this sweet little spotted vase at a new art gallery, Dillon, on Willy St. on Madison's east side. We wandered in on Gallery Night and I was instantly smitten. Not that I need another vase. But how could I resist one that looks perfect without any flowers in it to distract from its precise shape and pattern. Just the vase for after a snowstorm when the garden has mostly gone underground until Spring. The gallery is operated by local artist Pat Dillion and the vase is the work of Jennifer Darner Wolfe
When we got home from Gallery Night, I just plunked the vase in an empty spot on the living room mantle. When I stepped back I realized how well it fit into our new arrangement of mostly blue artwork . . .
especially how the dots on the vase echoed the motifs in Tom Sargent's beautiful painting.
A note to all you gardeners, paint the handles of your tools a bright color or tie ribbons on them so you can see them when you set them down and get distracted. While working in the garden a couple of years ago I lost the pair of Japanese Ikebana clippers sitting behind the vase. I discovered them this fall as I was planting bulbs and hit something metallic buried in the dirt. I replaced them with a new pair of clippers which have hot pink plastic ribbon tied through the black leather fastener!
Students of senior standing, and advanced students applying to spend their senior year at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, will present their strongest works in this exhibit, according to the gallery's press release. Garments, woven, dyed and printed yardage, embellished textiles, and other three dimensional work, along with digital and printed portfolios will be on display. This exhibition showcases the "breadth and strength of creative exploration" in the Textile and Fashion Design program and offers students a chance to install their work in a professional gallery setting.
Two special protects will also be showcased this year:
Sergenian’s Floor Coverings of Madison has sponsored a rug design competition where winning designs will be hand woven in Nepal by Tibetan refugee women. Students have designed “contemporary” or “transitional” (a cross between contemporary and traditional) 8’x10’ carpets to be woven of wool and/or silk.
YMA Fashion Scholarship is a nationally competitive prize established to encourage gifted and enterprising young people to further industry by pursuing careers in design, merchandising, retailing and business. In the past 4 years Design Studies students have had record success winning a total of 17 YMA scholarships, with awards totaling $100,000.
. . .
Interior Architecture Showcase Reception
Friday, December 11, 5-7 p.m.
On view starting December 9, Interior Architecture Portfolio Showcase features the work of IA students who have completed the majority of their studio courses. They will present design portfolios that show work from their academic careers, including designs for residential and commercial spaces, such as offices and restaurants. IA portfolios feature computer-generated virtual representations as well as traditional illustrations, artwork, and graphics. Many of these students will use these same portfolios as they interview for their first professional design positions. An additional highlight will be multimedia clips and sensory elements that immerse viewers in each student’s restaurant design and concept.
The Ruth Davis Design Gallery is located in the School of Human Ecology, UW-Madison, 1300 Linden Drive.
We bought a Picea omorika 'Bruns Pendula' (Weeping Serbian spruce) from Stonewall Nursery just outside of Madison in the fall of 2014. Here I am in the nursery in the midst of a group of these trees trying to decide which one I wanted for our garden.
I'd been looking at this skinny evergreen on the Klehm Song Sparrow website but decided I wanted an immediate presence, rather than the small size they offered. At our ages, Mark and I are more willing to spend the money on statement trees and shrubs because we don't have twenty years to sit around waiting while tiny plants grow up.
This tree has everything I was looking for: a narrow footprint to fit a small space between the upper pool and a path; a quirky and asymmetrical shape, great pine cones and winter hardiness to Zone 4. It came through its first winter with no problems and produced a wealth of new pine cones. I've kept an eye on it all season, glad that we had plenty of rain so I didn't have to do much supplemental watering.
This image shows the shape of the tree and also how the pine cones darken as they age. Another great find from Stonewall which has been the source of most of our unusual trees over the years.
Senator Fred Risser and his wife Nancy visited our garden last summer and we had a chance to see theirs last week. We've read about it, and often talked about it with them at the coffeeshop where we frequently see them, but nothing quite prepared us for the reality.
When Nancy and Fred moved into a downtown Madison condo, they realized gardening on their patio and even a large rooftop herb garden was not enough to satisfy their passion. Both hands-on gardening and relaxing at the end of the day are now achieved in a green oasis located the midst of a block of varied housing stock filled with students and other renters. Walk down a nondescript driveway, step through the gate and you are in another world: the proverbial secret garden.
A number of years ago, the Rissers sold a local developer a piece of property they owned that he needed to put together a real-estate deal. In exchange he found them about 3,000 square feet of gardening space in a former parking lot that they've transformed with the aid of landscape architect Steve Lesch and lots of compost and fresh soil. The space is anchored with a raised rock garden in the center which is crisscrossed by gravel paths as seen in these first photos. Gravel is also used on the paths that line the four sides of the garden.
Every side of the larger garden creates privacy and a different effect with an array of plants that all look lush and lovely. The shed and brick patio — complete with chairs and umbrella-topped table — anchor a woodland filled with Hostas, a Japanese maple and a Ginkgo tree. But the piece de resistance is a clump of white Birch trees back by a tall Arborvitae hedge.
Tiger Eye Sumac and variegated clumps of Sea Oats grass (above) and Iris (below) all glow as they catch the last of the sunlight.
When I run into Nancy in the coffeeshop we talk fashion when we've had enough garden chat. She always looks terrific as her stylish purse and garden clippers attest.
Nancy (left) and I were so busy comparing plant notes on this occasion that we never stopped long enough for Mark to snap a formal portrait of the two of us.
Note the contrasting edge color on this clump of Smoke Bush. The Risser's garden was filled with an assortment of Hydrangeas (see one peeking out below left) and Viburnums, a number of them unfamiliar to me.
The garden not only contained a tool shed, there was a good size compost pile and working bee hives!
Another beautiful tree underplanted with a swath of Japanese forest grass. To the right of the tree is the start of a large planting of Peonies. The Rissers grow both Tree Peonies and Lactiflora types. I can just imagine how glorious it looks in Spring. On the other side of the garden was an equally grand swath of Lilies which had just finished putting on their summer show.
Nancy and I noted that we both like weeping trees as we looked at a weeping cherry in the garden. Fred (below), on the other hand, prefers statuesque specimens like Oaks. This photo gives you a good idea of how this garden is surrounded by houses (and parking spaces) outside of the fence. Meanwhile, the interior side of the fence is slowly being covered with climbers like Clematis and Honeysuckle and lush shrubs like the Willow at the right to make the garden almost invisible to passersby.
The garden is filled with plants that flower in each successive season as well as a few annuals like striped red Petunias.
You can see how the Rissers have created a protected environment for the garden with sturdy grasses and shrubs both on the inside and the outside of the garden fence (below). These plants are also a clue that Nancy is like most gardeners I know, myself included, likely to plant in any sad, bare spot we find.
Thus she added Hostas (below) to the front of the house that abuts the driveway into their garden. Nancy edged a deck around the back with culinary herbs and gave the young men living there some clues as to how they could be used.
We meandered around the outside of the garden looking at spots Nancy has adopted until we came to their cutting/veggie garden. Like the rest of the main garden, this is fenced to keep out the rabbits. But it's not a big enough space to bother with a gate, so Fred is explaining to me how he made a platform out of found materials so Nancy could easily boost herself over the fence.
I've lived in a few apartments that had the remnants of gardens and I loved being surrounded by flowers and greenery. If my living space was like this one, chock-a-block with true Geraniums, Tiger Eye Sumacs and the fabulous ferny foliage of Black Lace Elderflowers, it would be enough to transform me into a gardener. At the very least, I'd be offering my services to the Rissers to learn about gardening and to be able to see their magical creation at a closer view than a second floor fire escape.
Editor's note: Earlier this summer, Isthmus ran a profile of the Rissers and their garden by Nathan Comp, complete with commentary by the couple and a beautiful portrait of the two of them by Lauren Justice. You can read it here. Nathan Comp is our nephew.