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.