Garden Travels: Olbrich Botanical Gardens

The Olbrich Botanical Gardens are filled with beauty while showcasing sustainable methods of gardening - a place well worth a visit in your garden travels.

I love to travel and visiting public and private gardens along the way are always highlights of my trips.  Not only do I get the opportunity to view plants that I may not be able to grow in my Southwest garden, I also have the opportunity to learn something new – whether it’s seeing a neat way to make a trellis from branches or using an old, hollowed log for planting flowers.

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Last June, I took a trip to the upper Midwest, visiting the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  During my road trip, I visited several botanical gardens and Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin was the highlight of the gardens I visited.

Vegetable and flower containers Olbrich Botanical Gardens

I am a big fan of growing edible plants alongside flowering annuals in containers.  In most cases, the edible plants are also ornamental thereby fulfilling two purposes in the garden – beauty and producing food.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens Flower and Vegetable containers

Throughout the entire garden were many examples of beautiful containers filled with combinations of leafy greens such as cabbage, kale, leaf lettuce alongside blue lobelia, violas and white flowering Agrostemma aithago ‘Ocean Pearls’.  Replacing some (or all) of your ornamental container plants with attractive edible ones is a great sustainable option in your garden.

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Decreasing the amount of lawn in the garden is a great way to reduce water and fertilizer requirements in the garden as well as being much less maintenance.  Throughout the gardens, drought tolerant perennial grasses were planted that required mowing only twice a year.

Other sustainable garden methods practiced throughout the garden include watering plants only when they need supplemental water. Rain barrels also are used to harvest water.

Olbrich Botanical Garden

Selecting plants that are adapted to the local climate is also important and dramatically decreases the amount of maintenance needed.  Visiting your local botanical garden is one of the best ways to determine what will grow well in your own garden. They also usually showcase the newest varieties of plants as well.

Unfortunately, damaging insects can find their way into every garden.  The caretakers of Olbrich Botanical Gardens use natural methods as their first line of defense such as handpicking off insects and introducing beneficial insects.  *It’s important to note that all plants can handle some insect damage – that’s the way that they have survived without any help from man.

Weed control at the gardens achieved by mulching and pulling weeds while they are still small, which is done by volunteers at the garden.

Olbrich Botanical Garden Wisteria

Walking through the gardens, I enjoyed seeing the peonies as well as the wisteria that were in full bloom – both of these flowering plants do not grow where I live, so I take advantage of any opportunity to see them and learn more about them.

Of course, these are but a few of the beautiful places in this 16 acre garden.  Your local botanical garden is a great place to visit – even in winter when you can get some ideas on how to take care of your plants during the cold winter months and learn how to create a landscape that looks great all year – even in winter!  Most botanical gardens offer classes throughout the year, concerts and timely gardening tips available on their websites.

If you live near Madison or plan on visiting sometime – I strongly encourage you to visit Olbrich Botanical Gardens.  Whether you live in the Midwest or elsewhere, you will come away filled with ideas and inspiration for your own garden!

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.