By Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Located in Madison, Wisconsin across Atwood Avenue from the beautiful Lake Monona, Olbrich Botanical Gardens was founded by politician and conservationist Michael Olbrich in the 1950s. Olbrich’s specific vision was to create public parks around the lakeshore, which was being bought and developed mostly by factories in those days. More than fifty years later, Olbrich gardens now has 16 acres of outdoor gardens and an indoor tropical conservatory.
The outdoor gardens contain a 2-acre rose garden with fountains and a viewing tower; a sunken garden in the formal English style, complete with an 80-foot long reflective pool; three different rain gardens, one featuring a meandering boardwalk made from recycled plastic bags; several different perennial wildflower gardens and meadows; an event garden; a great lawn and a Thai garden with a gorgeous pavilion, fountains and ponds. This Thai inspired garden and pavilion is the only one of its kind in the U.S.
The indoor Bolz Conservatory is a glass pyramid designed by Madison architect Stuart William Gallaher, where visitors can enjoy a tropical paradise any time of the year. This conservatory contains many exotic tropical plants including edibles like cacao, vanilla, coffee, banana and papaya; rare orchids collected from Central and South America; and a 20-foot high waterfall. The Bolz Conservatory is also home to wildlife such as canaries, waxbill, coturnix, quail, geckos, toads, koi, goldfish and beneficial insects. The indoor Visitors Center also has a gift shop, meeting rooms and a gardening library.
Open year round, Olbrich Botanical Gardens is wheelchair accessible and has a tram where visitors can take a guided tour through the gardens. There is no charge to stroll through the outdoor gardens but admission to the indoor conservatory is $2. Hours vary by season but can be found on their website.
Also, check out their many exhibits, classes, arts & crafts shows, and flower show & sales. Throughout the summer, Olbrich hosts evening concerts in the garden’s great lawn. In July and August, they have a live butterfly exhibit in the conservatory. Gardens in Olbrich Botanical Gardens can also be rented for weddings and other events.