Visiting Boerner Botanical Gardens WI

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Welcome to our “Visiting Midwest Gardens” series!

We’re very pleased to spotlight the beautiful and inviting Boerner Botanical Gardens, located in the southwest Milwaukee suburb of Hales Corners …

Hales Corners, a small village of just under 8,000, is convenient to any location in southeastern Wisconsin. Situated between Interstates 43 and 94, this bedroom community is about 20 minutes from both downtown Milwaukee and Racine …

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The village is probably best known as the home of beautiful Boerner Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are located on the north end of sprawling Whitnall Park, part of which lies within village boundaries.

We were lucky enough to visit Boerner Botanical Gardens on a beautiful late summer day, adding it to the agenda on our Kenosha-Racine travels

Boerner Botanical Gardens: History

The genesis of Boerner Botanical Gardens dates back well over a century. Early visionary Charles Whitnall of the Milwaukee County Park Commission proposed a dedicated area where residents could experience and enjoy nature …

Over the years, tracts of land which now comprise Whitnall Park and the Gardens were acquired. The park was officially established early in the Great Depression. Workers from government relief programs were recruited to transform fields to the spacious park you see today …

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The garden portion of the park was named after Alfred Boerner, a landscape architect for the County Parks Commission who was instrumental in the implementation and design of the grounds. Boerner designed the original five formal gardens on the site, and the gardens were officially named after him in 1957 …

Today, Boerner Botanical Gardens enters its ninth decade with a bright and prosperous future ahead …

Exploring the Gardens

With a dozen themed gardens, all blooming at different times of the year, Boerner Botanical Gardens always offers something new to see each time you visit. Gardens include the Rose Garden, Shrub Mall, Annual Garden, Herb Garden, Daylilly Walk, Rock Garden and Peony Garden.

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After exiting the beautiful Visitor Center, I immediately noticed this lovely display of purple annuals and perennials on the grounds. The various shades of petunias really stole the show!

Monarch Waystation

While visiting the various midwestern botanical gardens, I’m always delighted to spot a designated Monarch Way Station habitat. These sites provide milkweeds, nectar sources, and needed shelter spots to help sustain monarch butterflies as they migrate through North America.

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The official Monarch Way Station at Boerner Botanical Gardens

You can show your support for the monarchs, by creating a “Monarch Waystation” in home gardens, at schools, businesses, parks, nature centers or on other unused plots of land. Developing a waystation can be as simple as adding milkweeds and nectar sources to existing gardens or maintaining natural habitats with milkweeds. No effort is too small to have a positive impact!

Food Lover’s Guide To Milwaukee – Click Here

In Zone 5/6, common milkweed, swamp milkweed, butterfly milkweed and poke milkweed do the best and are native to our region. Native plants typically require less maintenance and offer a greater benefit to local wildlife.

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A monarch enjoying the Monarch Waystation at Boerner Botanical Gardens

Perennial Garden

The perennial garden burst with color and pollinators during our visit to Boerner. Sedum, asters, butterfly bush, Joe-pye weed, purple coneflowers, and black-eyed susans were profuse and covered with bees and butterflies.

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Colorful perennials glistening in the sun and attracting pollinators

Along each side of the long grassy mall are borders composed of a variety of perennials. The interesting mix ensures a progression of blooms from early spring through late fall. The featured sculpture (photo at top of article) is Mother and Two Sons by George Adam Dietrich. In front of the statue lies a small pond adorned with water lilies.

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Butterfly Bush in Perennial Garden loaded with butterflies

The Rose Garden

Of traditional European design, the rose garden at Boerner contains over 3,000 rose plants representing approximately 400 varieties. The collection contains hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, polyanthas, climbing roses, and hardy landscape roses.

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Entrance to the Rose Garden at Boerner Botanical Gardens

I was impressed by the sign at the entrance stating that the garden staff no longer routinely sprays or fertilizes the roses with chemicals. They try to nurture the soil and environment by growing as organically as possible.

Also of interest, we learned that the popular Knock Out series of roses was bred by former Gardens Director, Bill Radler. They are now the best-selling rose of all-time! Known to be easy care, disease resistant, and winter hardy, Knock Outs are ubiquitous in both home and public gardens.

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View of the large Rose Garden at Boerner

Rock Garden

This intimate setting is filled with native wildflowers, waterfalls, and the serene sound of trickling water. Of all areas of the garden, this appears to be the favorite site of wedding photographs. A couple and their photographer were setting up a shoot as I strolled by enjoying the peaceful and meditative space.

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The peaceful setting of the Rock Garden

The Bog Walk

This lush, tranquil area of the garden is fed by natural springs and rainwater runoff. Cross the bridge and look down to see skunk cabbage, marsh marigolds, and skunk cabbage. River birch, tamaracks, and willows create the canopy of this jungle-like space. We saw and heard many birds in the welcoming stretch.

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The lush Bog Walk at Boerner

China Lights Festival

While we leisurely walked through Boerner Botanical Gardens, a transformation was under way with workers setting up the popular China Lights Festival held on the grounds from mid-September to mid-October.

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Colorful dragon and lotus flowers at China Lights Festival on Boerner grounds

Enjoy illuminated scenes, live performances, cultural displays, a marketplace and activities for children. The colorful sculptures looked pretty in the daylight … I can just imagine how they come alive at night all aglow! 

Garden Mission

In summary, the Boerner Botanical Gardens serves as a “living museum” of plants suitable for landscape use in the Milwaukee area, a tourism resource, and an outdoor classroom for visitors and horticultural/botanical interest groups.

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A scenic spot to walk or sit and contemplate nature

Boerner Botanical Gardens enters its ninth decade with a bright and prosperous future ahead … come visit and enjoy all the gardens have to offer!

We hope you found this post about visiting Boerner Botanical Gardens interesting and helpful!  Let us know your thoughts and what you like most about the gardens by visiting our contact page

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