Friday, August 9, 2013

NEWSHA visits the herb gardens at Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison

Monday I joined some friends from the NE Wisconsin Herb Society of America on a trip to Madison to preview some possible sights to include on a tour we will host for a herb group that plans to visit from Scotland next year.

After touring the state capital, we headed to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens which were featured as one of Horticulture magazine' 10 most inspiring gardens in 2007:

'A place of inspiration and beauty, Olbrich Botanical Gardens graces the shores of Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, and offers its guests a 16-acre showcase of the best and hardiest plants for Zones 4 and 5. The display gardens at Olbrich—from the formal, sun-drenched herb courtyard to the acres of fragrant hardy roses—show home gardeners that even under the harshest conditions, beautiful plants can be successfully grown and used in innovative designs. Whether strolling past the meadow garden, with its bright dots of color in the spring, or surveying the view from the new That pavilion, visitors are reminded of the vision Michael B. Olbrich set forth as he went about acquiring land for the future gardens: “This park above all others, with a warmth and strength of love—of love of all the working world—should hold out its arms, should invite them into itself, until its naturalness and beauty enter into their lives.”—Carleen Madigan Perkins'

The gardens are free to visitors, with an entry fee to visit the butterfly exhibit in the conservatory.

After a brief introduction to the gardens on the free tram ride (donations welcomed), we headed for the herb gardens first being a n herb group after-all. 

"Olbrich's Herb Garden is designed as a series of smaller gardens meant to delight the senses and illustrate the historic and contemporary importance of herbs. Trees and shrubs border the entire garden and capture the herbal fragrances given off by a myriad of herbal plants within the garden.  Specialty herb gardens include the courtyard, tea, knot, thyme and sage, medicinal, dye, kitchen, mint and touch and smell gardens."

Potted fig trees at entry to herb garden
Obelisk of vines
Obelisk supporting vining plants
Note the curly branches woven into the
A "sinister" garden bed is included in the herb gardens
"Sinister" garden plants
A fascinating book by Amy Stewart, Wicked Plants, explores many of the possible plants that could be used in creating such a "sinister garden".
"Culling legend and citing science, Stewart's fact-filled, AZ compendium of nature's worst offenders offers practical and tantalizing composite views of toxic, irritating, prickly, and all-around ill-mannered plants." ---Booklist

Plants for gold and yellow dyes
Plants for blue and purple dyes
Ceramic bee skep in the herb garden

An appealing rustic rain "barrel" with a simple
rustice rain chain
Sensitive plant is one of the more intriguing plants
featured in the "touch and smell" garden
A bed of mint with taller varities planted in round metal
containers to prevent rapid spread
Spheres are scattered among the plantings in the mint garden.
A close-up of a dragon fly resting on one of the spheres
in the bed of mint.
 A large raised sundial is a prominent focal point in the herb
A sundial sits at the center of a traditional herb bed design
with carefully manicured boxwood hedges defining the
edges of the beds.
We pass beneath an arbor loaded with grapes as we exit
the herb garden

A prior visit to Olbrich Botanical Gardens with the Outagamie Master Gardeners several years ago had allowed time to take a peak at the herb garden and some of the other gardens.

As some of my herbie friends pointed out, Russian sage is not
considered to be a "herb", but it does add color and structure
to this herb bed with it's talll lavender spikes.

The bent twig edging used in the herb gardens caught my eye-
it seems it would be an inexpensive & easy addition to make
to our garden if we harvest the branches early when they are
still very flexible.  The willow branches and young red twig
dogwood branches we prune each spring should provide a good
source of materials.
 One of the highlights of the Olbrich Gardens is the Thai Pavilion.  The pavilion was a gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the Thai Government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. college or university.  The pavilion is able to withstand the winter weather of Wisconsin with no protection because it is constructed of plantation-grown teak and weather-resistant ceramic roof tiles. The gold leaf, however, is delicate and not able to withstand the oils of the human hand.  The Thai Garden surrounding the Pavilion emulates a lush, tropical garden with Wisconsin-hardy plants. Ornamental grasses, some reaching up to 12 feet tall, and several hardy bamboos are essential in creating a tropical look. Large-leafed shrubs and trees are pruned to give them the look of plants in a typical Thai garden. The Olbrich uses large Chinese junipers for clipped tree art called mai dat.

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