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!
I don't think I've ever visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison without seeing something inspirational that might also work in my garden. I saw the two plants below used as adjacent ground covers on my most recent visit to Olbrich when the regional garden bloggers were in town.
Now I'm trying to figure out if I have a sunny enough spot where this combo could work in my garden as nicely as it did at Olbrich. That's Tanacetum vulgare crispum in the rear, beautifully contrasted with Stachys monieri 'Hummelo' in the foreground.
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.
When Mark and I stopped at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison last week to visit the Spring show — "Furnished with Flowers" — we also strolled around the outdoor gardens. It was a beautiful day to do so. Perfect weather and that last moment before Spring fully arrives letting us see aspects of the garden that we often miss when it's green and floriferous everywhere you look.
Not exactly a true Foliage Follow-up but I think this fits Pam's philosophy for this meme that there's more to plants than flowers. Photos taken on March 9, 2016.
Climbing Hydrangea on the wall outside the Atrium doors.
The allee of Cornus mas trees leading to the meadow.
Exfoliating bark on a Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Sons) tree. Without the yews they would be much less noticeable and dramatic.
One of Olbrich's low maintenance, sustainable gardens with plants that "die beautifully" which is what Piet Oudolf looks for in a good garden plant.
At this season the triangularity of the grass clumps nicely echo the shapes of the sculpture. In summer the effect is quite different.
Every March I am in awe at the inventive ideas the horitculture staff at Olbrich Botanical Gardens come up with for their annual spring flower show. They always have to use the same space which is a bit of an awkward shape and only has one way to direct the traffic. Yet they always manage to transform it into something new and different.
This year's show is called "Furnished with Flowers" and is really two displays: beautiful furniture by local craftspeople surrounded by spring flowers. If you like containers of spring plants this particular exhibit will provide you with a wealth of ideas. There are also handouts — one for the flowers and one for the furniture — that provide pictures along with names so you can identify what you are looking at. Another memorable creation by Olbrich and one that gives us much to see and enjoy.
You can find all the details about dates and times here.
A router table with a "workman" enjoying using such a beautiful and functional piece of furniture.
A carved stone seat.
This plant stand with adjustable grow-lights got a lot of attention.
About 15 years ago I bought a VERY fragrant double white rose at the annual Olbrich Botanical Gardens spring sale. It got shaded out of the original spot where I planted it and has been slowly fading in its second home as the trees grew in that location. So last month I moved it again — back to its original home which has lost its big trees to age and storms in the intervening years.
It was a bad time of year to do such a thing but the time was right for me and the spot had been waiting all summer. It only had two flowers in its current location so I figured if it died I wouldn't have really lost anything. My Rosa rugosa var. albo plena sputtered a bit, lost most of its leaves but is now sending out fresh new leaves.
If it makes it through the winter, I am hoping it will again become the beauty that it should be. Fingers crossed.
It's underplanted with foxgloves whose leaves make it difficult to see the rose. It becomes more clear if you click on the photo to enlarge it.
Last year I spent a lot of garden dollars and energy on ways to reduce maintenance in the garden. I added lots of hardy trees and shrubs, more bulbs but fewer perennials. At Jeff Epping's recent talk about lower maintenance in mixed border, he pointed out that annuals and potted plants are among the highest maintenance parts of the garden. At Olbrich they have stunning containers — like this pot of annuals sitting in a bed of annuals!
I love this tender succulent in a pot set in a garden bed. But we've gone the opposite route with containers in our garden.
We've left them empty of anything that needs attention. For a few years I put a piece of chicken wire in the opening of this pot and filled it with all the pine cones I picked up in the garden. Now that we've lost two of the three Austrian pines in that corner of the garden, I just leave the pot empty. A big statement with no effort — other that wheeling the pot up there in the spring from its winter storage area.
This low bowl has sat in many locations in the garden; sometimes empty and sometimes filled with water for the birds. An easy water feature and another painless way to take up garden space without sacrificing color or drama.
Ceramic pots make elegant statements in the garden and add welcome contrast to any planting. Almost all the big pots we own were purchased to be put out in the garden.
At his talk, Jeff Epping pointed out that shrubs take up garden space and that is one way to lower the level of maintenance in your garden. We've used that concept and planted lots of shrubs, especially yew and box, But we've also taken that idea one step further: using stone as focal points. They take up space and never need pruning. They provide a strong contrast no matter what plants you place near them. Once they grow a bit of lichen and moss they also give a garden a sense of age.
In recent years we've also replaced most of our wood chip paths with gravel, which rarely needs more than a bit of topping off perhaps every five years or so. In fact, the bark in the above photo has been replaced with dark gray gravel. We've also put in stone paths like the one below that has required little attention in the many years its been in place.
Later this spring we're replacing the grassy slope that runs the length of our driveway with a stone wall. Though we'll make sure to leave a few planting spaces, this is not going to be a rock garden. That would be adding a whole new garden to develop and take care of — which rather defeats the use of stone as a lower maintenance tactic.