Mark and I were among a huge group of WHPS members who toured the gardens at Epic on July 31st. The fact that I have not written about that experience until now is an indication of how mixed my feelings are about Epic's landscape, and the company in general.
For those of you who are not local readers, Epic Systems employs 7,000 people on its campus on the edge of Madison. Construction is non-stop and each new building is a different themed-style. Epic is the big name in integrated softwear for hospitals and the medical industry.
They are a private company founded by Judy Faulkner who is now a self-made billionaire and the most powerful woman in the health care industry. She rarely gives interviews, so both Faulkner and Epic are perceived as cultish.
But our neighborhood is benefiting from Epic employees who are buying houses here. The young couple whose back yard adjoins ours both work there.
Jeff Epping, Olbrich Botanical Gardens' dirctor of horticulture, has been involved in the plant choices/design, all of which is perfect. Jeff is a master at large scale plantings and it shows at Epic.
The plant choices are appealing from both a design and sustainability standpoint. They look good up close and from a distance. And they can take the wind and weather in such an open environment.
The grounds are also filled with garden sculpture of all types and sizes.
This vase was in front of a massive building and large lawn and was not dwarfed by either.
There are lots of water features. This one has a very natural Wisconsin feel to it but, like the pond and stream in our garden, they are all artificial.
If you look carefully you realize that the majority of the stonework is also artificial.
Even the ducks are artificial, though someone said they draw real ducks to the site.
As I mentioned earlier, the different buildings/campuses are all themed. This one is a kind of dungeons-and-dragons concept . . .
complete with resident dragons. I was underwhelmed; for me it felt like too much like an environment designed for boys.
This area was all designed like a desert which felt odd in the middle of the Midwest. I've seen cactus (Opuntia sp.) growing out on the hills in Wisconsin, so their presence would not be implausible — but the desert is.
There was such an element of fantasy to much of the campus. But fantasy that struck me as childish rather than inspirational or magical.
Maybe I'm just too old to get it or maybe because so much of this type of environment suggested a world that revolves around boys. And I am using "boys" rather than "young men" because that's how it felt to me. I really wondered what the atmosphere is like for women employees — despite the fact that this is a woman-owned business.
The newest "campus" is designed to look like an iconic Wisconsin farm. And the next building spree, slated to start this fall, is a campus that will look a bit academic like a British university crossed with Harry Potter, acording to published reports.
Judy Faulkner let her original landscape designers go because they wanted to create an enviroment that was too much like the Pacific Northwest where they were from. She wanted more of a bucolic Wisconsin concept which she got in doses here and there.
I could not find out how many acres Epic encompasses, though we were told that the viewshed which Epic owns is around 1,000 acres.
The buildings may run the gamut of styles but the plantings are almost entirely Midwestern stalwarts. They all looked healthy and happy.
It is not obvious but some areas of the campus are built over underground parking garages with a limited planting depth as a result. Some areas are softly hilly but the hills are styrofoam creations. Always a guessing game as to what's what in Epic land. Those styrofoam hills bothered me at Epic and yet I love Lurie Gardens in Chicago which are built over a parking garage.
The large scale of the site was to the advantage of our big group. We were able to make good use of this outdoor stone and grass theater to rest our feet while we listed to Jeff Epping talk about the plantings.
I, of course, kept standing so I could get a vew of the whole event while taking notes.
We ended with a Q and A with Jeff. We were lucky to be able to tour the Epic grounds with the person picking the plants and able to identify them as well as give us all the quirky details of the hidden factors affecting the landscape. It was so much more informative as a result.
My personal conclusion: Epic itself still makes me uneasy with its size, its fantasy framework and its famously private owner. But I loved the fact that the company puts its quirky buildings within a beautiful landscape with wide open spaces, plenty of areas for group gatherings and quiet contemplation. Most of all I loved the array of plants — trees, shrubs and perennials — that tie the buildings into the larger landscape.