Madison WI Gardens: Dazzling Dairy State Destinations

Allen Centennial Gardens UW Madison

Welcome to our latest “Visiting Midwest Gardens” feature and discover the beautiful gardens of Madison, Wisconsin – join Flower Chick as we explore the sights and sounds of Wisconsin’s capital city on a late summer weekend …

It’s always a joy to visit The Dairy State and it’s particularly enjoyable to spend time in Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin.  This vibrant, welcoming city of 250,000 + is a popular weekend destination for visitors throughout the Midwest and beyond.  The seat of Wisconsin’s government, Madison is a lively blend of college activity, commerce, and scenic beauty …

Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market

Beautiful Flowers For Sale At The Dane County Farmers’ Market

We’ll go behind the scenes for an up close and personal exploration of six beautiful Madison public gardens, all here waiting for you to experience.  And of course, Flower Chick will introduce you to some of her favorite local businesses, including places to shop, dine, and relax with an adult beverage …


Join us as we spotlight Madison’s gardens and a whole lot more!

About Madison …

You’ll find Madison in south central Wisconsin along Interstate 90, about an hour west of Milwaukee .  As you approach the city, the first prominent feature you’ll notice is the striking State Capitol dome.   It’s the tallest building in the city and drew its design from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D. C.  The area surrounding the Capitol building comprises the heart of downtown Madison, which is located on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona.

Did You Know?  An isthmus is a narrow strip of land with bodies of water on both sides that connects larger parcels of land at each end …

Downtown Madison is bordered on the north by Lake Mendota and on the south by Lake Monona.  A one of a kind place, Madison and the surrounding communities are tucked around four lakes in the metro area.  Truthfully, it takes a bit of time to get your bearings and how to get around!  Luckily, Flower Chick’s tour guide / husband has been to Madison on business many times over the years. Even so, it still makes good sense to study a map before visiting …

Madison Wisconsin Gardens

Scenic View From The Lake Vista Cafe Atop Monona Terrace In Downtown Madison

Insider Tip:  Check out the Visit Downtown Madison website or stop in their State Street visitor center while in town.  They offer a handy pocket sized map / guide of the downtown area that’s really helpful …

Beyond all the requisite collegiate activities, Madison is bustling with events throughout the year.  The famous Dane County Farmers Market is held around the capitol square on Saturdays during the warmer months and there’s never a shortage of things to see and places to go.  A popular city with young people, Madison draws visitors and relocations from around the globe.  In addition to the university and state government, Madison’s largest employers include the headquarters for Lands End, Spectrum Brands, and many biotech companies …

Did You Know?  Madison is named in honor of America’s 4th President and Founding Father James Madison …


Gardens in Madison WI

Arriving from the Beloit and Janesville  area of southern Wisconsin, an ideal first stop is the expansive University of Wisconsin Arboretum, west of downtown and nestled around Lake Wingra …

From there, we’ll showcase the University of Wisconsin Botanical Garden on the UW Madison campus and the rooftop garden on Madison’s renowned Monona Terrace.  After some shopping and lunch, we’ll highlight the beautiful Allen Centennial Garden (photo at top of page), Period Park’s historical garden, and finally, Madison’s horticultural showplace, the well known Olbrich Botanical Gardens on the east side of town …

Discover The Best Perennials For Zone 5 Gardens … Easy Care & Low Maintenance Favorites

Olbrich Gardens in Madison WI

The Enchanting Tropical Conservatory At Olbrich Botanical Garden

It’s a beautiful late summer weekend and a full agenda awaits … let’s explore Madison’s gardens!

University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum – This 35-acre area near the Visitor Center is the premier collection of trees, shrubs, and vines in Wisconsin and includes 6,000 specimens suitable for Madison’s climate. More than 2,500 kinds of plants, including more than 100 species of Wisconsin’s native woody plants, are displayed.

UW Arboretum in Madison WI

Longenecker Horticultural Gardens hold one of the largest displays of lilacs in North America.  The initial lilac plantings from 1935 can still be seen today!  New selections are added to the garden every year, keeping the collection current. Next time we will visit in the Spring to see the lovely lilacs in full bloom!

You can also visit the collection of flowering crabapples, as well as shrubs, conifers, and other plant groups. Specimens in the gardens are labeled with a tag attached to a south-facing branch or a nearby post. This major resource for the study of landscape plants is available to educators, the public, and the nursery trade.

Explore The Beauty Of Spring Flowering Crabapple Trees … Click Here To View

UW Arboretum Madison WI

Attractive Signage At The UW Arboretum Collection – Take A Walk In Nature

The Wisconsin Native Plant Garden, designed by landscape architect Darrel Morrison, is a place where people of all ages participate in land care and learn about native plants, restoration, pollinator conservation, and ecological relationships.

Turkey At UW Arboretum

Look Who We Spotted Walking Through The Arboretum – A Turkey With His Rafter Following

Located on 4 acres surrounding the Visitor Center, the WNPG includes 15 gardens and hundreds of native Wisconsin species. The Garden introduces visitors to ecological restoration and diverse communities in the Arboretum and the region … we spotted a multitude of pollinators enjoying the native plants.

Wisconsin Native Plant Garden

The Wisconsin Native Plant Garden In Madison – Unspoiled Land For Pollinators

It is a key teaching resource that demonstrates landscaping with native plants. They promote sustainable gardening practices: limited water use, minimal pesticide use, diversity in plantings, rain gardening, and pollinator conservation. There are paths leading through it so you can experience up close.  A real gem!

Grow A Greener Landscape By Practicing Sustainable Gardening – Details Here

Mystery To Me: Just minutes from the UW Arboretum is one of Madison’s most eclectic thoroughfares, Monroe Avenue. Traveling on an angle along the north shore of Lake Wingra, Monroe Avenue is filled with independent businesses for you to expore …

One of Flower Chick’s favorites is located steps away … Mystery To Me Books, one of the city’s most appealing independent bookstores. Mystery to Me is a general bookstore with a very specific name! They curate a wide selection of mystery (a broad genre) as well as general and literary fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, young adult titles, and a delightful children’s section.

Mystery To Me Bookstore Madison

Flower Chick’s Purchases – Two Mystery Books Set In Wisconsin … 1 in Madison & 1 In Door County

If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, they are more than happy to find it for you if they can. In addition to a great selection of books, Mystery to Me hosts a wide variety of author and book-related events.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Botany Garden The University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Botany Garden located on campus between University Avenue and Lathrop Drive is an important resource for both teaching and research, serving as reference for the different plant families, genera and species represented.

UW Botany Garden Sign

Attractively laid out with winding paths around a central plaza, the UW Botany Garden was still very colorful and full of pollinators when Flower Chick visited in mid-September. It’s a peaceful place to walk and take in the beauty of the robust plants represented.

Madison Area Gardens

Pleasing Garden Plots Peppered With Interesting Sculptures At The Botany Garden

It also provides an area for leisure where examples of plants from all over the world demonstrate the diversity and beauty of the plant kingdom. The UW-Madison Botany Garden was the first garden in the world to be based on the new Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APGIV) system of molecular classification of plants. I don’t quite know what that means … but it sounds important. ; )

UW Botany Garden

Picturesque Pond Featuring Water Plants In The UW Botany Garden

The UW – Madison’s Botany Garden is maintained by the university’s Department of Botany.  This attractive garden features over 500 species of plants from around the globe …

UW Madison Botany Garden By FlowerChick.com

Cheery Plot At The UW Botany Garden

There is a Botany Greenhouse close by that serves as a laboratory of learning and oasis of tranquility for generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students.  Unfortunately it was closed to the public when we visited.  It consists of eight rooms, divided into 11 distinct climate zones and displays more than 1,000 species comprising distinct aquatic, desert and tropical communities.

Monarch in UW Botany Garden

Monarch Enjoying The Nectar On A Spiked Speedwell Flower

These Flowering Groundcovers Will Make Your Garden Shine & Attract Pollinators!

Monona Terrace – A Rooftop Garden in Madison The William T. Evjue Rooftop Gardens were blooming with gorgeous, landscaped bursts of color with many pollinator friendly annuals and perennials. An inviting and beautiful community destination.  They created a low-maintenance, sustainable rooftop garden experience.

Rootop Garden Monona Terrace Madison

A Bevy Of Butterflly & Bee Loving Plants At The Rooftop Garden

Did You Know? Madison residents are known as “Madisonians” …

Frank Lloyd Wright originally proposed a design for Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in 1938. His architectural vision for the City of Madison—a curvilinear gathering place linking the shore of Lake Monona to the State Capitol was finally realized in 1997. A vision 59 years in the making.

Add A Touch Of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Influence To Your Garden … Click Here

Rooftop Gardens Madison WI

Water Efficient Plants Make Up The Rooftop Gardens Such As Sedum, Lantana and Native Wildflowers

Lake Vista Cafe Monona Terrace – Enjoy sprawling views of Lake Monona and downtown Madison’s cityscape at the Lake Vista Cafe, located in the William T. Evjue Rooftop Gardens. The cafe is open during the summer, and boasts a menu full of great food, summer drinks, and even their own private label wine.

Madison Wisconsin Attractions

Lake Vista Cafe – Enjoy Lunch With A View!

The Cafe offers casual to gourmet fare, including appetizers such as Goat Cheese Potato Cakes and Cauliflower Fritters. On the menu you will find a variety of salads, sandwiches, desserts, and entrees, such as West African Peanut Buddha Bowl with Jerk Chicken or Tofu, and Thai Coconut Curry Noodle. From light and refreshing to warm and comforting, there is an option for everyone.

The Wisconsin Supper Clubs Story:  An Illustrated History With Relish …

Silver Dollar Tavern A low key tavern in the shadow of the Wisconsin State Capitol building, the Silver Dollar Tavern has been a Madison mainstay since 1933. Old school and traditional, it’s a cash only establishment that’s just perfect for a respite from the busy street scene downtown …

Silver Dollar Saloon Madison WI

Can you just imagine all the political deals that have been hammered out over a few drinks at the Silver Dollar Tavern??

Plaza Tavern You’ll find the popular Plaza Tavern on Henry Street downtown, just a half block off State Street. This is the oldest tavern in downtown Madison! It dates back to 1930 …

Back in those days, National Prohibition prohibited sales or manufacture of alcoholic beverages (my husband shudders at the thought!). At the Plaza Tavern though, if you knew the owner (and were in his good graces), you’d be escorted to an adjoining speakeasy room where the beer and conversation flowed freely …

Plaza Tavern Madison WI

Inside The Welcoming & Historic Plaza Tavern in Madison WI

This downtown institution has been going strong ever since. They’re especially known for their wonderful Plaza Burgers, which are grilled burgers with special “Plaza Sauce” added. So what exactly is Plaza Sauce?


Well, it’s a closely guarded secret, but there are some educated guesses. First, some history … Plaza Burgers (with Plaza Sauce) were first served in 1964, some 34 years after the tavern first opened. The sauce itself is somewhat creamy, with two confirmed ingredients being mayonnaise and sour cream. The rest of the ingredients, those which give the sauce its signature “zing”, are anybody’s guess. Garlic salt? Maybe chives and celery salt? Hard to say …

Plaza Tavern Bar Madison WI

The Approachable & Comfortable Bar At The Plaza Tavern – Try A Plaza Burger!

Nevertheless, having a Plaza Burger and a cold one at the Plaza Tavern is a Madison right of passage. Flower Chick ordered two Plaza Burgers to go and warmed them up under low heat the next day … fantastic!

A Taste Of Wisconsin … You Can’t Go Wrong With A Cheese Variety Pack

Wisconsin Cheese Mart You’re in Wisconsin and you’re looking to take something home as a reminder of your visit. Say cheese! And there’s no better place to do just that in Madison than at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart on State Street …

Wisconsin Cheese Mart Madison

Flower Chick has long been acquainted with the Wisconsin Cheese Mart … their original location is in downtown Milwaukee on Old World Third Street. This outpost in downtown Madison offers the same expansive selection. Wisconsin made cheese, Usinger sausages, gift packs, and more are here for you to get your fix. The perfect spot for a gift for whoever waters your plants at home while you’re away!

Did You Know? State Street in Madison wasn’t always a pedestrian focused thoroughfare. It was converted from a traditional four lane road in 1974 …

ReThreads   Rethreads is a locally owned and operated eco-friendly, sustainable fashion boutique located at 410 State Street. They are a buy-sell-trade establishment where all incoming inventory is purchased outright from their customers and the general public.

ReThreads Madison

They have a carefully curated selection of top fashion labels and styles in an attractive setting … making Rethreads a fun and unique place to shop for clothing.

Think Prada, Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Valentino and more.  You get the idea!

The collection is on-trend, fun, and strives for one-of kind items including, vintage, collectibles and iconic pieces.

Stop in and find treasures for your unique style at good prices and feel good about shopping resale and repurposing.

Period Garden Park – Madison’s Historical Garden – Located in the Mansion Hill District (at Gorham and Pinckney Streets), Period Garden Park is a Victorian era neighborhood park with beautiful period appropriate flower gardens. This labor of love is planted, supported and maintained mostly by local volunteers.

Period Garden Park Madison WI

You’re surrounded by scent and color in this garden oasis.  The area has a fascinating history too … known variously as Yankee Hill, Aristocrat Hill, and Big Bug Hill, the area north of the Capitol Square near Lake Mendota was selected by Madison’s business, political, and academic elites in the 19th century for their homes.  Successful bankers, timber barons, real estate promoters, railroad lawyers, University regents, professors, governors, judges, and mayors resided on the Hill.

Period Garden Park Madison

The Fountain And Flourishing Plantings In Period Garden Park

Large residences of dressed stone, fancy brickwork, and elaborate carpentry fill the neighborhood with many individually designated as landmarks marked with plaques.  The entire district reflects the fabric of an upper-class turn of the century neighborhood.

This Classic Three Tier Design Fountain – Will Be The Focal Point Of Your Garden

An Array Of Robust Annuals & Perennials Grace The Pathways In Period Garden Park

The vintage wrought-iron fence, lampposts, urns and fountain all add to the ambience. It must be beautiful in all seasons … there are over 5,000 spring blooming bulbs planted in the beds.

Period Garden Park Madison Wisconsin

Appealing Vistas At The Charming Period Garden Park

Allen Centennial Garden-  Named after Ethel Allen, a former member of the UW faculty, she was a renowned naturalist and international authority in her field.  A Madison resident, she was instrumental in providing support for the early phases of Garden construction in the mid- 1980’s.  The centennial part of the name comes from the commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of the Department of Horticulture in 1989.

Allen Centennial Garden Madison

They Pack A Lot Of Horticultural Delights Into The Inspirational Allen Centennial Garden

Allen Centennial Garden is the artful living laboratory and public botanical garden of the Horticulture Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Garden serves as an outdoor classroom for UW-Madison students and the surrounding communities, providing meaningful learning opportunities for visitors of all ages.

Allen Centennial Garden Madison

Impressive Plantings and Themes Throughout The Allen Centennial Gardens

This captivating Garden is constantly evolving. Around every turn you’ll encounter jaw-dropping beauty … the varied topography and exposures of the 90,000 square foot site allow for a great diversity of plantings and riveting hardscapes. The major emphasis within the Garden is on herbaceous ornamental perennials but the site features many other plantings including annuals and woody plants.

Allen Centennial Garden Madison

Well Done Rock Garden Featuring Alpine Plants That Grow Well On Slopes Lined in Scree

The Garden is built around a stately brick Queen Anne-style home built in 1896 nestled on the agricultural campus. The house was one of the first buildings on the agricultural campus and served as home for the college’s first four deans. In 1984, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Allen Centennial Garden Madison

The Historic Agricultural Dean’s House Adjacent To Allen Centennial Garden

Babcock Dairy Store There are a few college campuses across the United States with their own dairy store. University of Nebraska (Lincoln NE) and Michigan State University (Lansing MI) are two, but arguably none are as well known or beloved than the Babcock Dairy store in the heart of the UW-Madison campus …

Flower Chick loves it for a variety of reasons … first of all it’s student run, and it’s a pleasure to witness young students gaining work experience in a valuable endeavor. Second, it’s within steps of the Allen Centennial Garden, and most of all, the ice cream and cheese made here is some of the best in the Midwest!

Babcock Icecream Madison WI

The Babcock Dairy Store has been a UW campus favorite since 1951. There are many tasty cheeses to choose from including: brick, cheddar, gouda, harvarti, monterey jack, and swiss.

The icecream is delicious! It’s hard to decide which ones to try … The Dairy Store typically has 22 flavors on hand so you can enjoy an ice cream treat at the store or take a pint, half-gallon or a three-gallon tub with you to enjoy at home.  This visit we had a salted caramel toffee and a blueberry swirl. Both were scrumptious!

Try Your Hand At Making Icecream At Home … It’s Easy With This

Olbrich Botanical Gardens – Located at 3330 Atwood in Madison, Olbrich Botanical Gardens is a wonderful 16+ acre outdoor botanical garden … plus a 10,000-square-foot conservatory.  The outdoor gardens are free. There is a small fee to enter the conservatory.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison

Don’t miss the tropical multi-level Bolz Conservatory, filled with exotic plants, orchids, birds, and a waterfall! Just inside the Visitor Center the entrance is close to the welcome desk. Over 750 plants representing over 70 families and over 550 different species and cultivars are housed here.  The temperature is maintained between 65 and 80 degrees fahrenheit (between 18 and 26 °C), although the sun may warm it to 100 °F (35 °C) in the summer.

Air Plants At Olbrich

Wall Of Air Plants (Tillandsia) At Olbrich’s Bolz Conservatory

You may see canaries, waxbills, diamond doves and various finches. There is also a koi pond featuring colorful koi and goldfish.  Frogs, toads and geckos are also present in this tropical paradise …

Discover The Wonderful World Of Air Plants – The Easiest Care Houseplants Around!

Olbrich Bolz ConservatoryEscape To The Tropics At The Bolz Conservatory Within Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Flower Chick recommends touring the conservatory first then heading out to the outdoor gardens.  They’re easy to navigate with paver pathways winding about to the many themed gardens.  Plenty of benches are peppered throughout the garden so you can relax and take in beauty of the grounds.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

The Inviting Gardens At Olbrich – Take Your Time So You Don’t Miss Anything!

If you up for walking, don’t miss the Thai Pavillion and gardens across Starkweather Creek.  You’ll feel like you’ve travelled to faraway lands … serene and photogenic.

Olbrich Thai Pavillion Madison WI

The Mesmerizing Thai Pavillion & Fountain At Olbrich Botanical Gardens

There are many gardens to linger in and savor at Olbrich including a hosta garden, wildflower garden, herb garden, meadow garden, rose garden, sedge meadow, serenity garden, moonlight meadow, sunken garden and more …

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Picture Perfect Posie At Olbrich Botanical Gardens In The Event Garden

View hundreds of blooming bulbs in spring, interesting annuals & hardy perennials in the summer, colorful asters and mums alongside swaying ornamental grasses in fall, and colorful bark, berries, evergreens in the winter months at Olbrich.  All season interest abounds …

Eye-Catching Displays Of Plants Everywhere You Look At Olbrich

Eye-Catching Displays of Plants Everywhere You Look At Olbrich

The Sunken Garden is a formal, traditional, English-style garden. Mixed borders of cool colored flowering spring bulbs, annuals, perennials, and shrubs bloom from spring through autumn. The Sunken Garden is Olbrich’s oldest garden. It was originally a rose mall in 1952 and has since been transformed into the present day garden.

Olbrich Gardens Madison WI

The Pretty Perimeter of The Sunken Garden At Olbrich

Olbrich’s Perennial Garden is a an informal, two-acre, garden filled with bulbs, perennials, shrubs, vines and trees, all chosen for year round interest. Winding paths meander through this garden creating a sense of mystery. A 200-foot long stream, three pools and a bog are home to a wide variety of aquatic plants and insects, including waterlilies, carnivourous plants, dragonflies and numerous butterfly species.

Olbrich Gardens Madison WI

Attractive Succulent Containers At Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Ken’s Meats & Deli –   Known for their delicious homemade brats and sausage, full service bakery, and deli featuring homemade soups, sandwiches, salads and more … Ken’s has been in business for over 40+ years. Located at 5725 Monona Drive, this delightful store promotes and sells many local products from local small businesses.

We purchased several deli salads, breaded pork tenderloins, bratwurst, and a bottle of Wisconsin wine.  Stop in and treat yourself!


Ken's Meat Market Madison

Fraboni’s Italian Specialties & Deli – Fraboni’s is a Madison tradition since 1971. Their wonderful deli offers fresh pasta, soups, homemade sandwiches, and prepared entrees.  Stock up your kitchen with gourmet olives, oils, and spices; imported and domestic meats, cheeses, wine and homemade sauces.

We purchased some delicious deli salads and two sandwiches – an Italian Sausage and a Meatball. Yum! You can eat there on their outdoor patio or take to go.

Frabonis Madison

Fraboni’s is conveniently located in Monona on Owen Road, right off of Monona Drive.  Stop by this 3rd generation family-owned business … you won’t leave empty-handed!

Madison WI Gardens: Summary

It’s always great fun to be in Madison! This is a city that appeals to visitors in all four seasons … though we must say Madison’s gardens make summer an especially fine time to visit.

Best of all, the Madison gardens we’ve spotlighted are easy to reach – they’re all within 10 minutes of each other. You can easily explore them all in a day, but we recommend at least a weekend stay to experience the city …

Olbrich Botanical Gardens Madison WI

Picturesque Arbor Overlooking The Great Lawn At Olbrich Botanical Gardens

It’s likely you’ll be drawn back to Madison again and again. The youthful exuberance permeating the Madison area is refreshing, especially in the summer months when everyone is out and about …

From the gardens on the UW campus to Olbrich and the Monona Terrace rooftop garden, you’re sure to be captivated by Madison’s dazzling green spaces. Thanks for coming along with us and be sure to check out our other “Visiting Midwest Gardens” features, some of which you’ll see linked below …

UW Botany Garden by FlowerChick.com

The Colorful Entrance To The UW Botany Garden In Madison

Do you have special places you like to visit in Madison? Tell us about them on our Contact page

As always, thanks for reading!

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