Garden Photo of the Day

A Little Treasure of a Garden

The Allen Centennial Garden in Madison, Wisconsin

Tucked away in the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus is a little treasure of a garden. Run by a small staff and an army of dedicated volunteers, this public garden is full of beautiful spots, but the crown jewel – in my mind, anyway – is a spectacular rock garden loaded with incredible, tiny plants.

A pond sits in the center of the garden, dotted with water lilies, and surrounded by beautiful plants.

In the rock garden, the early spring flowers of pulstilla (Pulsatilla vulgaris) give way to delicate, feathery seed heads that are, I think, even more beautiful than the actual blooms.

The rock garden is a tiny recreation of a mountain top with tiny jewel-like plants tucked between the stones.

A crevice garden, created using vertical slabs of flat rock, provides the perfect conditions for an enormous collection of different plants.

A mass of brilliant pink rock jasmine (Androsace sarmentosa) glows behind one of the carefully placed stones in the rock garden.

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  1. frankgreenhalgh 01/03/2018

    Hi Joseph - I love rock gardens, and the one you have featured in pic. 3 is a ripper.
    I have been posting some counter-seasonal flowers of Australian native plants during your winter, and since there was general GPOD'er support for me continuing this practice I am uploading some more pics. Today the focus is on the genus, Banksia, which is another one in the family Proteaceae. The birds love the flowers. Hope it is of interest to my GPOD friends. Cheers from Oz

    1. user-7007498 01/03/2018

      Thanks, Frank, for sharing the beautiful flowers of this really cool plant. Love the shape. They are awesome.

    2. Chris_N 01/03/2018

      Thanks for posting these, Frank. The Banksias have always fascinated me. Part of it is their weird bottlebrush flowers and part of it is their history in botany. I always think about them in their associated with the botanist Sir Joseph Banks after whom they are named, Captain James Cook and the voyage of the Endevour, and Botany Bay named by Cook for the vast amount of plant specimens collected there by Mr Banks and Dr Daniel Solander. It always amazes me to read about these early explorations and their wonderful discoveries.

      1. frankgreenhalgh 01/03/2018

        Good on you Chris for taking such an interest in the botanical history of Australia. You are obviously well informed - very impressive indeed. Love your attention to detail (e.g. Mr Banks & Dr Daniel Solander - as you know, Banks was subsequently knighted). Sir Joseph Banks was a great traveller and collector of plants from around the world - he collected over 7,000 plants and lodged them in his herbarium/museum in London. He also was involved in the establishment of the Kew Gardens, and recommended that the penal settlement in Australia be established in Botany Bay (in 1778).
        I seem to recall that you know a lot about our snakes as well. Perhaps we need to make you a de facto Aussie. Cheers mate

        1. User avater
          LindaonWhidbey 01/04/2018

          Hi Frank, thanks for the additional photos of one of my favorite flower groups. Proteaceae are so weirdly beautiful and the banksias are beautiful. Thanks for sharing their background. You live in an amazing part of the world my friend.

    3. user-4691082 01/03/2018

      I don’t know much about anything, but I could slather some butter on that first one and eat it! Thanks Frank!

      1. tennisluv 01/03/2018

        That is exactly where my mind went.

      2. user-7008735 01/03/2018

        Now I see corn on the cob, too, Rhonda!

    4. User avater
      meander_michaele 01/03/2018

      Such fascinating flowers, Frank. Mother Nature seems to have saved some of her greatest creativity for Australia.

    5. User avater
      Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/03/2018

      Beautiful, Frank. Not only are the flowers beautiful, but the foliage is so interesting and diverse.

    6. Sunshine111 01/03/2018

      Wow Frank! Those are stunning!

    7. user-7008735 01/03/2018

      These are weird and wonderful, Frank! The foliage in the last two photos is so very different from that of the first four.

    8. user-7007140 01/03/2018

      Wonderful treat. Thank you Frank.

    9. user-6536305 01/04/2018

      So strangely beautiful. Any of them in your garden or all from your garden?

      1. frankgreenhalgh 01/04/2018

        Hi Lilian - we have Banksia ericifolia (the last pic) in our garden.

  2. user-7007498 01/03/2018

    The rock garden photos are awesome, and I, like Frank, found the 3rd photo to be very inspiring. I have been retrofitting rocks into my garden beds and borders because I love how they can be used to highlight plants that might otherwise get lost. Thanks for the post, Joseph.

  3. Chris_N 01/03/2018

    Thanks for highlighting another Wisconsin gem, Joseph. That's the garden that got me interested in rock gardening in the first place. All your photos are great. The airy quality of the pulsatilla, the beautiful rock jasmine, and the amazing crevice garden all are inspiring. By the way, I think those might be my legs in the background of the crevice garden photo. Although they could belong to any one of the other jeans wearing people in the group that day, I'm going to claim that's me.

    1. sheila_schultz 01/03/2018

      I thought I recognized those jeans, Chris!

  4. user-4691082 01/03/2018

    Hi Joseph! Welcome to our little band of excited gardeners. I like your photos and am looking forward to thawing out here in the Northeast.

    1. frankgreenhalgh 01/03/2018

      Looks chilly, but picturesque, Rhonda. Predicted 102F here on Saturday.

  5. User avater
    meander_michaele 01/03/2018

    I love all the nooks and crannies (sorry for the appropriation of words, Thomas' English Muffins) that the rocks in picture #3 so beautifully display. Each one really is like a jagged little mountain peak. Placing those rocks must have been like solving a multi dimensional jigsaw puzzle that had almost infinitely correct possibilities. The crevice section is total inspiration and I suspect many of us are thinking to ourselves, "Hmm, where in my own garden can I pull that off?" Great pictures, Joseph.

  6. tennisluv 01/03/2018

    Thanks and welcome, Joseph, for the pictures of the rock garden at UW. The Pasque flower seed heads are indeed lovely. The small plants embedded among the rocks would entice a closer look at their brightly colored flowers and leaves. Who better than gardeners to stoop, kneel, and eye (ogle) such jewels. The crevice bed was what captured my attention, as I am about to engage in tackling an other slope in my landscape and my mind has turned to stone.

  7. cheryl_c 01/03/2018

    Good morning, Joseph, and thank you for these lovely pictures. I love the first two, because it looks like it is raining in the first, and has rained in the second - perhaps all of them have a little richer color due to the rain! We don't often get to see gardens and flowers in the rain except in our own gardens, so it is a treat to see these. I am also intrigued with the crevice garden, having just started seeing these in the past year or so. Thanks for showcasing this one.

    1. User avater
      meander_michaele 01/03/2018

      Thanks for your observation about the second picture probably being snapped after a rain. With that in mind, I feel like I better understand the little "dots" that seem to line the seed head strands of the pulstilla. The touches of moisture droplets make it look like a fiber optic type plant.

  8. User avater
    user-7007816 01/03/2018

    Hi Joseph,
    I enjoyed your photos and will make it a point to stop by the garden when in the area. I also added the rock jasmine plant to my plant list for this spring.

  9. chelleisdiggin 01/03/2018

    Lovely pictures, Joseph! Water is always my go to, so the pond, even in the rain looks like a bit of heaven to me. I was captivated by the little mountain top in the third picture, as well. What a wonderful place to wander amid the plants.

    1. User avater
      meander_michaele 01/03/2018

      I share your enthusiasm for any kind of water in the garden also, chelleisdiggin, although when it gets cold enough, bye bye water...hello ice. This is how my waterfall looks today...

      1. tennisluv 01/03/2018

        Oh, but isn't that just gorgeous!

      2. Meelianthus 01/03/2018

        Oh! Wow!! very impresive. What is your temp there Michaela? Hope you can warm up:)

        1. User avater
          meander_michaele 01/03/2018

          Just came in from an exercise walk (sigh, begone with ya, holiday weight gain) and it was just a smidge over freezing (about 33 degrees F ) and sunny so it didn't feel that bad. We had a night or two of single digits but we seem to be on the upswing here in east TN. How have things been where you are, Linda?

          1. Meelianthus 01/04/2018

            I know what your mean Michaela - too much good (and fattening!) holiday food. I can't remember that we have ever had temps in single digits here in my life time, mostly because us PNW wouldn't be able to handle it ;) Our past couple of weeks have been 30-35 and we did have a couple inchs of snow on Christmas eve and Christmas day - the first 'white' Christmas in nearly 10 years. The nice thing about the cold here is that it ISN'T raining then, it has been sunny nearly every day for the past two weeks. Soon as it warms up a bit it will be rain, rain, rain. Happy New Year to you Michaela and I hope you don't lose any plants.

      3. frankgreenhalgh 01/03/2018

        Looks fantastic, Michaele.

        1. User avater
          meander_michaele 01/03/2018

          Thanks, Frank. I do like how lacy it gets and one can see how vigorous the waterfall still in behind the ice.

      4. user-7007140 01/03/2018


      5. cheryl_c 01/04/2018

        Michelle, this is astounding! "Our" waterfall on the creek froze in the slower moving part, but even with two nights below zero, and more than 5 days below freezing, the heavier flow area is clear. Mill pond is frozen, but not enough to support weight yet. Thanks so much for uploading this picture - it made my evening!

        1. User avater
          meander_michaele 01/04/2018

          Glad it gave you a smile. I have to admit that it amazes me how the ice forms even though the water is flowing vigorously behind.

      6. User avater
        LindaonWhidbey 01/04/2018

        Wow, Michaele, I didn’t think that your area got this cold. Pretty.

      7. chelleisdiggin 01/04/2018

        But the ice formations are so gorgeous! I was just looking for a frozen view of the pond I had several years ago, but, all I could find was the pretty open one below. I have way more pictures of the pond in it's more tropical form and of the dogs with their paws in it, LOl.

        1. User avater
          meander_michaele 01/04/2018

          Very very pretty, chelleisdiggin. The water looks so clear and pristine. I love the little sudsy bubbles bubbles that show up particularly well in the first picture.

  10. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/03/2018

    Loving this rock garden. It's amazing. I'm wondering if they have a blog or a plant list of what thrives in their Wisconsin climate. Very cool.

    1. user-7008749 01/03/2018

      Hey Tim, Yes, Allen Centennial has a website and blog with info on the gardens and a plantfinder directory for plants located in the gardens. I live in Madison, and have loved watching Allen Centennial Garden grow since it was an idea on paper many years ago in the 1980s. It is a very special jewel of a garden located in the middle of the UW campus, and a great spot for lunch or a stroll anytime. Thanks, Joseph, for featuring this garden, welcome, and Happy New Year to all!

      1. User avater
        Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/03/2018

        Found it! Thanks, John,

  11. Maggieat11 01/03/2018

    I enjoyed your photos, Joseph. Awesome focal tree in the first photo!! And, of course, I love the rock gardens... and that crevice garden! Great! Thanks for sharing!

  12. sheila_schultz 01/03/2018

    My heart always beats a little faster when I have the opportunity to see a rock garden and this one is particularly lovely. Thanks Joseph! I love the natural flow of the stones in photo #3, their placement is so thoughtfully done, and the crevice garden in #4 is also wonderful.
    A few years ago I had the pleasure of chatting with Kenton Seth, a gifted crevice garden designer, when I was thinking about installing one in my Denver garden. His work looks effortless upon first view, but even a small crevice garden can take weeks/months to install. If any GPOD'ers are in Denver, check out his work at the Denver Botanic Garden, if not check him out online. He's a genius with stone placement and a genuinely nice guy.

  13. user-7008735 01/03/2018

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful photos, Joseph. I especially love the close up of the pink rock jasmine in the last photo. The photo of the Pulsatilla brings on a little residual guilt from the one I killed when I first built my garden. I had planted it in rich soil in a raised bed and watered it well -- and then gave it more water when it looked unhappy! Now I consider Pulsatilla as one of my early "teachers", helping me understand the concept of "right plant, right place". While I sometimes wish all plants would thrive in the same conditions (i.e. those exactly matching my garden!), I better understand why they don't. Rock gardeners must have an extra modicum of patience and persistence to create that perfect drainage for their tiny jewels.

  14. user-6536305 01/03/2018

    Very pretty University of Wisconsin-Madison campus garden. Love rock garden and pond. Thanks for sharing. Love your photos and all the botanical names provided!

  15. user-7007140 01/03/2018

    The crevic slope is very creative as is the mountain rock garden. Having attempted the creation and maintenance of a rock garden I can vouch for the work and planning which goes into that plus the maintenance of a rock garden is quite intensive so it is well that this beautiful little garden has and army of volunteers. Great little place.

  16. greengenes 01/04/2018

    This is a very special place! Love the rock gardens! Thanks for giving me some new ideas, Joseph! Happy new year!

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