Garden Photo of the Day

Horticultural Beauty in the Midwest

By: Kim Charles

Chris Neumann, from Madison, Wisconsin shares highlights from a local botanical garden worth a visit.

“I’ve shown photos of my home and work gardens before, but I wanted to share our local public garden. Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin, is a little known gem. The more my wife and I travel and visit other gardens around the country, the more we appreciate Olbrich. While parts are built on a grand scale, much of Olbrich is designed in ways a home gardener could use. I steal some of my best ideas from there. The golden building is a Thai pavilion or sala. It was a gift from the Thai alumni association to the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Built in Thailand, taken apart and then reconstructed by Thai craftsman at Olbrich, it is the only Thai sala in America. If you are ever near Madison, be sure to visit Olbrich.”


Echinacea pupurea is a wonderful backbone for this mix.


This combination of leafy perennials including multiple varieties of hostas and grasses is a wonderful shady surprise.


A bee rests on a red clover (Trifolium pratense), which is often found and destroyed in suburban lawns. Red clover can be left to help preserve some diversity in the other-wise monocrop of grass to lend interest to a meadow-themed yard, and it is pollinator-friendly to boot!


A long border play well with repetetive plants and forms.


Spiders are left to weave their webs in this naturally beautiful garden. Though you wouldn’t want to get too close, spiders play an important role in the garden ecosystem by trapping and eating unwanted pests.


Long shot of the fountain and pool. Stone benches offer the visitor a place to sit and rest and take in the beauty of the surroundings, while a lush green expanse beckons in the distance.


Garden art helps to draw the eye and lend interest to a garden bed. Copper pipe makes for a unique edging design.


Water lilies grace this koi pond near the Thai pavilion.


Water lilies close up.


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  1. frankgreenhalgh 09/15/2017

    G'day Chris - Great to see your post today and have a virtual tour of your local public garden. It is often the case that the 'grass is not greener' away from home! I really like the pic. with the cobblestone/paved area (sorry not sure of the terminology you guys use). The Thai sala is very special being the only one in your country. It looks like it is being well looked after. Cheers from Oz

    1. VikkiVA 09/15/2017

      We call it cobblestone also Frank. I've been told that our local "original" cobblestone came to America as ballast on board ships from Europe. Don't know if that is true or not. I live a "stones" throw from Norfolk, VA which is a very old seaport in the US. Vikki in VA

      1. frankgreenhalgh 09/15/2017

        Thanks for that interesting information, Vikki. The original laneways and gutters along streets in Melbourne were constructed of bluestone 'pitchers' (blocks of basalt which was a common rock due to local ancient lava flows). Most have now been replaced with bitumen and concrete, taking away some of the history and 'romance' of the city. Still a great city though! Cheers from down under

    2. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      The cobblestone area is part of the "new" rose garden which integrates low care roses with perennials and other woodies. The photo is looking down from the tower, across the great lawn, through the sunken garden, and out over Lake Monona.

  2. NCYarden 09/15/2017

    This is a pleasant public garden. I can see why you would take influence from it. The Thai pavilion is a nice feature. I really like that shady collection in pic 3. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      They do great plant combos.

  3. User avater
    treasuresmom 09/15/2017

    You are so lucky to have something like this to visit. Great photos!

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Thanks! I take photos every time I visit there!

  4. tennisluv 09/15/2017

    Chris, it must be nice to have a public garden in your area that does, as you stated, have garden areas that can be copied for the home garden. The big 'garden spider' made me smile cause they seem to be most prolific at this time of year. I planted an Edgeworthia last week and within one day I had one of their large, intriguing webs tethering it to the deck. The formal garden with the double fountain is especially nice - formal but not hard what with all the plants spilling over the edges onto the cobblestones. Thanks for taking us along on your walk about at Olbrich Gardens. You have sent me on a search of their website.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      I love the orb weaver spiders that show up in late summer.

  5. Jay_Sifford 09/15/2017

    This is really lovely. I can see how you'd get lots of great ideas for a home garden there. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      You are welcome. I also steal ideas for work from there!

  6. user-4691082 09/15/2017

    That Sala is beautiful!!! What a great garden. I think Jesse planted that creepy spider there...

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Spiders aren't creepy! I love the orb weavers especially the big black and yellow ones. I do sometimes forget other people are not fond of them. You should come visit the great Midwest. We'll try to hide the spiders.

      1. user-4691082 09/16/2017

        I'm not really afraid of spiders. I was just teasing Jesse. He had a post a while back with a copperhead snake in it, and we teased him.

        1. User avater
          gringopeligroso 09/18/2017

          ....yes..... and my Therapist says I should be over that teasing by now........ (wink, wink!!)

          1. user-4691082 09/18/2017

            I'm here to make sure you STAY in therapy. Heh, heh...

          2. User avater
            gringopeligroso 09/18/2017

            and I believe YOU can!!!! ;-)

        2. User avater
          gringopeligroso 09/18/2017

          Obviously, my work here is NOT done.

          This is Beau, (a rescue) in an encounter with another of the eight legged clan. He was smart enough to know NOT to mess with these! He was napping on the front porch just before this capture. He moved over and found another shady spot! They normally don't but CAN mess up one's day.

          Over in the gravel driveway one evening, we witnessed this:

          One afternoon after moving up to these mountains from the Metroplex, I was astounded to almost walk into a flying Wasp which was about the size of my thumb... NOT counting the legs and wings.... One that size WILL get your attention!! Google reported (1,603,420 times) that I had encountered a "Tarantula Hawk." This lucky capture shows one of those hunters being successful. The spider is paralyzed at this point by the "Hawk's" venom, and is being dragged, still alive but helpless to the sub-terrainian nursery of the parent, to become nourishment for the next generation of Hawk. (Happy Early Halloween!)

          We also had ten-legged (and more) varmints there, too.

          About once or twice a year, one of these hunters would find their way into the cabin. HOW, we don't know, but they can squeeze into some amazingly small crevices. The ones here are small..that's a 1/3 inch grout seam it's crouched in. However, I've had the accidental "privilege" of being on the receiving end of that whip tail, and I can assure y'all that the toxin and pain from them is unique, exquisite, and unlike any other sting/bite I've endured. I do NOT wish to repeat that sting, and yet it's happened twice....I'm normally barefoot in the house.
          This photo shows another characteristic. I've got a UV beam fixed upon the crouching and threatening creature. Kinda cool, no? In normal light, they're flat gray in colour.
          After the impromptu photo shoot, the little one was wisked into a dustpan and ferried to the dry stacked stones in a far part of the gardens! (Enter the ASPCA/PETA disclaimer: HERE! "No animals were hurt during.....)

    2. User avater
      gringopeligroso 09/18/2017

      INDEED I DID!!! Back in the Early 90's!! Glad to see she's still alive and kicking!! But, either Chris only found one of my minions, or only posted one!!
      And, while I'm confessing: I left another batch over at the Milwaukee Domes, too!!

      1. user-4691082 09/18/2017

        I think you need to give adult tours around Halloween... way more frightening than ghouls and goblins!

        1. User avater
          gringopeligroso 09/18/2017

          I"m on the fence on whether to bow in gratitude or recoil from the insult..... I'll take the "High Road" (as I have been labeled much worse than Ghoulish!! ;-) : SO: Thank You, Thank You!!!

  7. anitaberlanga 09/15/2017

    Gorgeous gardens! I go through Madison all the time (on my way to clients in Neenah) - this is definitely a must-visit on my next trip! Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Definitely stop. It's well worth the visit.

  8. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 09/15/2017

    Thanks for sharing this amazing garden, Chris. So many of your photos could easily be confused for someone's home garden (although some would be a quite grand!). Love that exotic Thai sala. I bet that's quite a sight under snow; something it would never see in its 'native habitat'! :)

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      They have so many amazing garden rooms that just flow into each other. I've seen other public gardens that set up demonstration home garden areas but each display has no relationship with the next. Kind of sneaky in a way since you don't necessarily realize you're getting a home gardening tutorial as you stroll through the garden. The Thai salad does look great in snow. It has held up amazingly well since it was installed in 2001. If I remember correctly, it is constructed completely using wood joinery. No nails!

    2. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Forgot to mention that all of Olbrich looks good in snow. If you want to understand the concept of "good bones" for the garden, visit Olbrich in the winter.

  9. perenniallycrazy 09/15/2017

    So exquisite!

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      I know! Not the words I would use but definitely the sentiment!

  10. btucker9675 09/15/2017

    What a spectacular garden! Another lovely park/garden in Wisconsin is Whitnall Park in Milwaukee. Their collection of peonies is especially impressive. That beautiful yellow garden spider (also known as a golden garden spider) is a welcome resident since they eat lots of detrimental insects. My maternal grandfather, Albert M. Fuller, was the Curator of Botany at the Milwaukee Public Museum for almost 50 years and he took me to many gardens and rambling walks when I was a child. He was a driving force behind establishment of the Ridges Sanctuary in Door County, Wisconsin as well.

    1. User avater
      LindaonWhidbey 09/15/2017

      You're right, Beth, Whitnall is very lovely as is Boerner. WI has many hidden gems.

    2. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      We've been to the Milwaukee area gardens and they are quite nice. The Ridges Sanctuary is an amazing natural area. We've only been twice but each time have been impressed with the variety of wild flowers to be seen. The various chips alone are worth the visit.

  11. Sunshine111 09/15/2017

    It's so nice to see photos from other garden venues across the country. Really appreciate you sending these in. I love the Sala, I've never seen one before!

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Thanks, Lily. You've certainly done your fair share of sharing garden venues. I always enjoy them; it was one of the things that inspired me to send in the Olbrich photos.

  12. user-6536305 09/15/2017

    Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin would be on my note and would pay a visit if I ever been in the area. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      You're welcome. Hope you can visit some day.

  13. edithdouglas 09/15/2017

    Thanks for sending's a lovely place.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Thank you. I'm glad you liked it.

  14. mhebb 09/15/2017

    What a lovely garden to visit. Definitely on my list to visit someday. You're right, Chris - it's very accessible. I love botanical gardens that provide lots of home gardening design ideas. We love Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne, Pa. for the same reason.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Chanticleer is high on our list of must sees. The current executive director of Chanticleer is a graduate of UW-Madison's horticulture program.

      1. mhebb 09/16/2017

        Chanticleer is a real dream of a garden. I've been there many times and never tire of it. I keep saying that someday I'll go and spend the whole day just wandering and sitting in the various spots that are hidden away throughout the garden, but it always seems like our visits are too quick. Hope you get there someday soon, Chris.

  15. VikkiVA 09/15/2017

    Beautiful Chris and thank you for sharing this gem. I especially like the shot of the long bed in front of the iron fence...lovely! Vikki in VA

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Thanks, Vikki. That is bed is on the outside of the fence facing Monona Drive, the street in front of Olbrich. It is sen by everyone driving past.

  16. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 09/15/2017

    Good morning, Chris and thank you for this post. You've made my day as Olbrich is one of the things that we truly miss about Madison. As you said, it is a rather hidden gem and continues to get better every year. I recently listened to the head gardener ( whose name I unfortunately don't remember) on Larry Mueller's show on WPR, and they talked about the prairie/ meadow area that you show in your first photo. You're right about getting ideas for your own garden there as it's where we went to pre-plant shop and always tried to catch their spring plant sale, too. We envied their liriope beds around the sala. Are they still thriving? Have a good weekend all.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      The liriope beds are still doing just fine. You were listening to Jeff Epping, director of horticulture there. During his tenure, the gardens have gone from good to great. He, along with his incredibly creative staff, have come up with some amazing displays. They are always experimenting with new plants and ideas. The gravel gardens he talked about with Larry Mieller is just one example of the cutting edge ideas seen at the gardens. I'm glad you enjoyed the virtual visit to your old stomping grounds.

  17. Meelianthus 09/15/2017

    Beautiful photography Chris. Enchanting gardens, thank you for the tour.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Thank you. Some places just make it easy to take great garden shots.

  18. user-7008735 09/15/2017

    Thank you for sharing your great photos of this lovely garden, Chris.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      I'm glad you liked them, Lorraine.

  19. User avater
    meander_michaele 09/15/2017

    This lovely public garden looks like it something for everyone...from the more au natural meadow to the incredibly ornate sala. Of course, I'm such a glutton, I'd want to see every inch of it. Thanks so much, Chris, for sharing these photos.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      You'll have to come visit, Michaele. The au natural meadow is one of the first gravel gardens they installed. The whole thing is planted into a five inch bed of gravel. The plants are placed on the soil and then surrounded by gravel. I've used the idea at work. Virtually no weeds.

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 09/16/2017

        "no weeds"...ha, talk about getting a girl's attention! Sounds like a very interesting (and effective) planting technique.

        1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

          Jeff did a presentation on gravel gardens at the Perennial Plant Association meeting in February. If you search online for Jeff Epping gravel gardens, you can find the slides from his talk. Also the transcript of the radio interview on the Larry Meiller show that Linda mentioned.

          1. User avater
            meander_michaele 09/16/2017

            Great info, Chris. Thanks for Jeff's full name and the nudge to search online for his presentations. Besides some slide shows, I pulled up a youtube video of his that is fairly lengthy. I think I'll watch it throughout the day when I am in and sitting at my laptop.

  20. Cenepk10 09/15/2017

    Whoa ! So gorgeous

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Thanks! Not that I can take any credit for the beauty!

  21. user-7007498 09/15/2017

    Good afternoon, Chris. The garden is beautiful and one that I would love to see. The meadow is awesome. I love the Sala. Such a cool spider.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      Come visit. Btw, see my comments to Michaele about the meadow.

  22. Luvfall 09/15/2017

    Chris, thanks for highlighting a local(ish) treasure. I always like to check out their annual borders for ideas for the following year's plantings. And I must add kudos to the staff at Olbrich who have always responded promptly to emailed questions.

    1. Chris_N 09/16/2017

      The staff at Olbrich are amazing.

  23. Chris_N 09/16/2017

    Thanks for all the nice comments. I would have replied earlier but we are on a short vacation and just flew in to Denver today. We have quite a full itinerary with Denver Botanic at the top of the list. We are staying in Golden which has impressive floral displays on the main street.

  24. greenfingeredblogger 09/16/2017

    Love the luxurious planting in the borders, so full of texture and colour!

  25. User avater
    gringopeligroso 09/18/2017

    WOW, Chris!!
    Thanx for the tour!! I've had the privilege of visiting this Garden back in the last century! (early 90's!) They've been busy since I see!!
    You're right on that account: it IS a delightful and almost unknown jewel of a place!!
    Altho I feel that way about Madison in general!! (But, I fear that secret is out in the open, now...) Not so sure I could handle y'all's Winters, tho. I've heard they're serious.
    Isn't there an Arboretum at or next to the Campus there, too? I seem to remember being led out by a tree hugging naturalist and then being employed for about an hour or so girdling Aspen seedlings...they didn't tell us we'ld have to work for our lunch!!!
    And, DBG, too??!!!! Hopefully you've got your lenses handy and perhaps you can share your views from that altitude? It's been even longer since I've visited that garden and those mountaineers do amazing and inspirational work, also!! Have a GREAT visit!!

  26. thevioletfern 09/19/2017

    Oh, thank you! I will be visiting Madison this fall and would love to stop at this gem of a garden.

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