Sunday, February 9, 2020

Madison and Beyond: Destinations Before and After the Fling

Lower Yahara River Trail

There are many places to explore in and near Madison if you have extra time before or after the Fling. Madison is centrally located in the south of the state, so many of these destinations are short drives away or easy day trips.

We’ve mentioned the numerous bike paths that loop in and around the city and the county. There are more than 100 miles of shared-use trails throughout Dane County. Some are great for other purposes, too. For example, the Capital City State Trail is a 20-mile, paved trail accessible for bicycles, skaters, strollers, walkers, joggers, and wheelchairs.

The Capital City Trail meets the Lower Yahara River Trail southeast of the city, on the western side of Lake Waubesa, and traverses across the northern edge of the lake. The core of this trail is a mile-long boardwalk/bridge that’s the longest boardwalk in Wisconsin and one of the longest elevated bike/pedestrian structures in the U.S.

Old World Wisconsin Clausing Octagonal Barn

A little further to the east, about an hour’s drive from downtown Madison, you’ll find Old World Wisconsin, an open-air, living history museum, depicting the lives of 19th Century Wisconsin settlers. The 600-acre property features more than 50 immersive spaces that bring the stories of Wisconsin immigrant families to life.

Local residents play the parts of historical figures in period costumes, describing and demonstrating daily life for typical settlers of the time. They demonstrate cooking, cleaning, crafts, chores, and gardening in and around the historical homes, businesses, and farms. A 45-minute tram tour provides an overview of the entire property, or you can hop on and off as often as you like at the tram stops.

Lake Geneva Gardens

Another easy destination to the east of Madison is Lake Geneva, named USA Today’s 2019 #1 Best Small Town for Adventure. From water sports to ziplining to mountain biking and hot-air balloon rides, Lake Geneva is a bustling place.

The town of about 8,000 residents has been a popular resort destination since the American Civil War, when it became known as the “Newport of the West,” a popular year-round resort for wealthy Chicago residents who built homes and estates on the lake and in the hills around the town. Tourism now dominates, and Lake Geneva is known for its scenic beauty, luxurious resorts, and historic mansions. A 23-mile path—open to the public—circles Geneva Lake, passing through the backyards of extravagant mansions once owned by the Wrigleys, Rockefellers, and other famous families. The colorful, well-maintained gardens along this path are impressive.
Mitchell Park Desert Dome

About 45 miles from Lake Geneva, or 75 miles from Madison, lies downtown Milwaukee. Where do we start to cover all the things you can do in this bustling big city along the shores of Lake Michigan? Some of the more famous Milwaukee attractions include Miller Park, home to the Milwaukee Brewers; the Milwaukee Art Museum, one of the largest in the U.S.; the Harley-Davidson Museum; the Pabst Mansion, home of the famed beer family; and many more.

The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory is a great destination for plant-lovers. The three domes, designed by a Milwaukee architect in the 1950s, include the Show Dome, which transforms with each season; the Desert Dome, featuring plants from the deserts of the American Southwest, Africa, Madagascar, South America, and Mexico; and the Tropical Dome, which includes more than 1,200 species of tropical plants.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin
Photo by Edward Stojakovic

A completely different day trip includes a one-hour jaunt to Spring Green, Wisconsin, to experience Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate and museum. The 600-acre property was developed on land that originally belonged to Wright’s mother’s family. The design of the original building was consistent with the design principles of the Prairie School, emulating the flatness of the plains and the natural limestone outcroppings of Wisconsin’s Driftless Region.

Spend a day or more in Spring Green and you’ll have enough time to visit The House on the Rock, a complex of architecturally distinct rooms, streets, gardens, and shops designed by eccentric architect Alex Jordan Jr. It’s hard to describe this place; suffice it to say the attraction’s description, “An experience you will never forget,” is appropriate. Allow several hours to tour it.

Devil's Lake State Park
A drive to Devil’s Lake State Park, also about an hour from Madison, takes you northwest, through the stunning scenery of the Baraboo Hills. Devil’s Lake, itself, draws 3 million visitors each year to see its 500-foot quartzite cliffs, clear blue lake, and rare plants. The park is home to around 1,500 plant species, including 71 species on the Wisconsin rare vascular plant working list, 7 endangered species, 17 threatened species, and 47 species of special concern.

The bluffs at the state park show evidence of the collision of continents that crumpled the land 1.6 billion years ago into the bluffs we see today. Volcanoes, tropical oceans, and glaciers all left visible mementos of their stays. Devil’s Lake, itself, is spring-fed, and ranges from 40 to 50 feet deep.

Wisconsin Dells Ducks
self [CC BY-SA (]

Just a half-hour drive north from Devil’s Lake, you’ll find Wisconsin Dells, which claims the title of the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” There are at least six waterparks in the area, including those at area resorts, but there’s much more to do in Wisconsin Dells. Wineries, golf courses, museums, live entertainment, ziplining, lumberjack shows, and many more activities can be found in this Midwestern tourist mecca.

A must-do activity while in the Dells is to take a scenic “duck” tour. Originally developed to ferry troops and supplies from ship to shore during World War II, the duck is an amphibious truck. It’s the perfect way to explore the Dells—easily maneuvering with ease through steep trails, deep ravines, and rugged rock formations, and then splashing into the water for a smooth boat ride.

Yellow Lady's Slipper Orchids
The Ridges Sanctuary

If you have more time, a trip to Door County is worth your while. The trip is about three hours from Madison. Often described as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” Door County is the “thumb” of the hand that forms Wisconsin. It’s a peninsula surrounded by Green Bay on its western edge and Lake Michigan along the eastern edge.

Door County offers 300 miles of shoreline, thousands of acres of fruit orchards, plentiful art galleries, endless shopping opportunities, wineries and breweries, five state parks, and 11 historic lighthouses. For plant-lovers, The Ridges Sanctuary is a botanical wonderland. Wisconsin’s most biologically diverse ecosystem, its ridge-swale complex is home to rare plants like trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens), dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris), and the yellow lady’s-slipper orchid (Cypripedium parviflorum).

There’s much more to see, of course, but this gives you a start to exploring highlights of the Badger State. Visit for more suggestions. Stay tuned for more information on attractions in and around Madison, itself.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Brunch at the Goodman Community Center

Following our morning exploring the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturday, June 20, we’ll head to a catered brunch at the Goodman Community Center. Located on the near East side of Madison, the Goodman Center is a private nonprofit that serves the entire community through programs such as early childhood education, its TEENworks high school program, older adult activities, and many others.

Our group will be served through the center’s Working Class Catering participants—a “classroom” of teens who work and learn alongside food service professionals. The students are integrated into all parts of the business, learning all aspects of running a full-service catering company.

Meals are made from scratch, with high-quality, organic ingredients—locally sourced, when available. The program is a win-win: providing delicious meals and empowering local teens in education and employment.

After brunch, we’ll walk past the Atwood Community Gardens to Olbrich Botanical Gardens, just a short distance from the community center. Saturday will be a day to fully explore and appreciate all types of gardening—from edibles to ornamentals.

***Note: If you missed it, registration is now open!***

Friday, January 24, 2020

Register for the Madison Fling!

Registration is now open!

To register, fill out this APPLICATION, and we'll send you the link to the registration portal.

The 2020 Madison Garden Bloggers Fling aims to showcase diverse gardens and gardening styles found in the Madison area, and leave you with great memories and new inspirations. We’ve included tours of exceptional private gardens and some of the best public gardens in our area. Our preliminary itinerary, also shared on the 2020 Madison tab above, includes many, but not all, of the gardens that we will visit:

Madison Garden Bloggers Fling

June 18 - 21, 2020

Madison Fling Co-Coordinators
Anneliese Valdes – The CobraHead Blog
Beth Stetenfeld

Any questions? Feel free to contact us:

Get ready to Fling in Madison, Wisconsin! The Madison area is a meeting place: It’s roughly where the Eastern hardwood forests meet the prairies; where the edge of the glaciers morphed the land and melted, leaving a series of five lakes; and where garden bloggers will meet in 2020 for the Garden Bloggers Fling!

While the soil in the area varies somewhat, Dane County soil is among the most productive in North America. Many gardeners here are blessed with excellent silt loam soil as a base for their plantings. While Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland, the state also ranks first in the nation for snap peas for processing, cranberries, ginseng, mink pelts, dry whey for humans, milk goats, and corn for silage, among other crops.

So, it’s an excellent place to grow things! And an excellent place to gather and visit gardens together!

Plan to join us for three full days of garden touring, plus an opening event Thursday, June 18, afternoon/evening. Please check here for eligibility guidelines. More details on the hotel, registration, gardens, special events, sponsors, and more, will be posted here in the weeks ahead. All announcements will be posted on this blog and on the official Fling Facebook page.

Just to tease you with a preliminary itinerary (times and places may change):

The horticultural gardens at the UW-Madison Arboretum

Friday, June 19, we’ll start out visiting private gardens and then we’ll enjoy lunch, a short presentation, and tours at the UW-Madison Arboretum, home to distinct garden collections, including horticultural gardens, prairie and woodland restorations, a native plant garden, and more. In the afternoon, we’ll visit more private gardens, and then head to Epic Systems for a tour of the company’s very unique outdoor gardens, led by Jeff Epping, one of the Epic gardens lead landscape designers.

The Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Saturday, June 20, enjoy a leisurely walk around the Wisconsin State Capitol building at the Dane County Farmers Market, America’s largest producers-only farmers’ market. Then we’ll load the buses for a delicious brunch before visiting the award-winning Olbrich Botanical Gardens, voted one of the top 10 most inspiring gardens in North America by Horticulture Magazine. We’ll round out the day with more private garden tours. (Our event banquet and auction likely will occur on Saturday. Stay tuned for updates.)

Sunday, June 21, begins with private garden tours and a trip to The Flower Factory, Wisconsin’s premiere hardy plant nursery, featuring a large selection of perennials, hostas, and ornamental grasses. Next, we’ll take a quick drive to Janesville, Wisconsin, to visit Rotary Botanical Gardens, a 20-acre botanical showcase. Private gardens and our final destination—Allen Centennial Garden, in the heart of Madison—will conclude the 2020 Fling. You’ll want to stick around until the very end, because we have a special surprise planned at Allen Centennial.

When Does Registration Open?

When Should I Arrive?

We recommend arriving on Wednesday, June 17, or, at the latest, by mid-afternoon on Thursday, June 18, so you can attend the Fling welcome event, pick up your name tag and swag bag, and settle in. The Fling ends on Sunday, June 21, with a special surprise that you won't want to miss! We'll have you back to the hotel by early evening. We recommend departing on Monday, June 22. (To be safe, hold off on making any noncancellable reservations until after you're registered.)

Of course we hope many of you will come early or stay later to see more of Madison's attractions. Stay tuned: We’ll highlight many of them in the weeks ahead!


When you arrive in Madison—a vibrant cultural hub of art, music, food, and more—you’ll be staying at the Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club, located at 1 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI, 53703. This is where we'll board our buses every morning and drop off at the end of the day.

Downtown Madison is known for easy walk-ability, bike paths for miles, delightful festivals, an awe-inspiring farmers’ market, dozens of live music venues, world-class restaurants, and art museums—all nestled on an isthmus between two sapphire lakes and steps from the Concourse Hotel.

The hotel is also located just a short walking distance from the pedestrian-only State Street, the State Capitol, and the waterfront summer hangout Memorial Union Terrace.

The entire isthmus is a busy, vibrant area full of opportunities to explore and enjoy!

Each room at the Concourse has complimentary wifi access, making it easy to check in on social media and connect with friends and family. An indoor pool and fitness center are also available if you’re so inclined.

You’ll find contemporary American dining at the CIRC restaurant, which crafts seasonal dishes featuring ingredients from local farmers and producers.

The Bar, located on the first floor near the lobby, offers an extensive wine list, an impressive craft beer selection, and artisan cocktails. In addition, a full-service Starbucks is adjacent to the lobby.

The Concourse offers gathering spaces throughout the lobby—perfect for relaxing and catching up with other Flingers.

State Street is just around the corner from the hotel, and you’ll want to explore this seven-block, bustling pedestrian thoroughfare for shopping, dining, or simply people-watching. We're also planning some time on Saturday morning to explore the Dane County Farmers' Marketconveniently located on the tree-lined grounds surrounding the Wisconsin State Capitol building, near the hotel.

We'll be blogging ab
out all of this in much more detail as we get closer to the Fling. If you're planning on an extended stay, we'll also provide information about additional plant shopping, garden visiting, sightseeing, and entertainment opportunities in Madison and the surrounding area. Consider adding a day or two on the front or the end of the Fling dates.

Our reserved (limited number of rooms) room rate is $189/night for single and double; $199 for triple; and $209 for quad. At registration time, you'll have access to the special rates.

Getting to the Hotel

Driving: If you'll be driving to Madison, hotel parking is available for a special rate for our group of $10 USD daily; valet parking $20 USD daily. Max height 6'. Our official Fling hotel is the Madison Concourse Hotel.

Flying: If you'll be flying to Madison, The Concourse provides complimentary airport shuttle service between the airport and the hotel; simply call the hotel when you’re ready for pick-up. We do not recommend renting a car during the Fling tour days (June 19-21) because we'll be busing you everywhere. A rental car will be useful, however, if you'll be staying in the Madison area longer and exploring beyond the downtown area.

Other options for getting from the airport to the hotel:
    >Rideshare options include Carmel, Uber, and Lyft.
    >Taxis can be hailed outside baggage claim, on the lower level. Estimated fare is $25 USD one way.

    >More options can be found on the airport’s ground transportation page.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Saturday Morning at the Dane County Farmers' Market

We're changing things up a bit for the Madison Fling's Saturday morning schedule, June 20.

Instead of loading our buses first thing in the morning, we'll have some "free" time to explore the Dane County Farmers' Market, conveniently located a block from our hotel—along the tree-lined grounds surrounding the Wisconsin State Capitol building. This area is referred to "the Square" in Madison. The Market encircles the Square.

The grounds surrounding the State Capitol are an ideal site to host the market. The magnificent landscape and stunning architecture serve as an impressive backdrop.

The Dane County Farmers' Market is the largest producers-only farmers' market in the U.S. It's been going strong since 1972, when the mayor recognized a need to unite two strong cultures in the county—rural and urban—to allow city dwellers to reap some of the county's agricultural benefits. All products are Wisconsin-grown. As a producers-only farmers' market, vendors are limited by their production and harvest yields, so they sometimes sell out of items.

Get there early (the market opens at 6:15 a.m.) and you'll get the best selection. Also, it gets very busy, so you'll want to allow enough time to explore before our day's other events begin. (We expect to load buses mid-morning: exact times to be published later.)

What can you expect to find at the market? The season's best bounty of vegetables, fruits, flowers, meats, cheeses, baked goods, and specialty products from approximately 200 vendors. Market producers regularly receive national and international recognition for the quality of their products.

When you visit the market, you can get to know the people who grow, raise, and produce the food and other products offered. The vendors behind the tables are the most knowledgeable resources for their specific areas, and they welcome questions. Bring your own bag, or you can buy a souvenir bag at the market.

When you arrive at the market, you'll see that the flow of foot traffic heads in one direction around the square. It's recommended that you follow the crowd, and walk with the vendors on your right-hand side. Another tip: Be prepared for fun, and allow yourself a little time to just sit (there are plenty of spots around the perimeter and on the capitol grounds) and watch the people go by.


Note: Fling registration will open on Friday, January 24! Follow us here and/or on Facebook for notification that it’s time to sign up and how to do so!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Saturday's Private Gardens: Impressive Urban Retreats

Tours of private gardens are huge highlights of any Fling. Earlier, we previewed the Friday gardens; now let’s take a quick look at the private gardens we’ll visit on Saturday, June 20. These are on the West and near-West side of Madison.

Sue Niesen “started playing in the dirt in 1975" and continues to "love finding worms.” Her gardens include perennials and annuals that she grows in her sunroom from harvested seed from the previous year. “Of course seed catalogs contribute with new species, as I’m curious how they’ll look and grow in my setting,” she describes. “Some not so successful…but I’m always looking for new varieties to add to the gardens.”

Because of the early indoor start, even large plants like Brugmansias bloom in early summer in her garden. Each year, she features a particular annual throughout the garden—something to watch for when we visit. Sue and her husband, Dick, created all the large concrete stepping stones in their garden, themselves, over the course of a year. Whimsical garden gnomes and decorations are found throughout, and you'll find surprises around every corner.

Tom and Cheryl Kuster moved to their home in 1990. The yard had been professionally landscaped in 1968 when the house was built, including a small pond and waterfall. Tom says he didn’t get serious about gardening until 2004 when he asked a local landscape designer to create a plan. “As I started working on the plan and studying various plants, I was amazed at the vast array of plants available for landscaping.

“During the past 16 years of gardening, my focus has been on diversity,” he adds. “You might call me a collector of plants, with more than 600 different varieties. I’ve divided our yard into 20 sections—each with its own genera of species.” Areas include miniature and dwarf conifers; a Tufa rock garden with various alpines, hens and chicks, and woodies; and a Japanese garden.

Linda Brazill (also a garden blogger at Each Little World) and Mark Golbach moved to their half-acre lot 25 years ago. Linda describes it as “a perfect canvas on which to create a garden: a sloping site with trees and shrubs mostly at its edges.

“Our goal was to walk out our back door and be in a tranquil retreat that married the rocks, water, moss, and contemplative qualities of Eastern gardens, with the pines and perennials of Wisconsin,” she adds. To do that, the couple planted some 200 trees and shrubs, and used more than 200 tons of stone in walls, paths, and boulder groupings. Their garden has multiple water features, unusual trees and conifers, a birch glade, woodland peonies, a traffic island bed, and a Japanese teahouse. “As we’ve worked to create our retreat,” says Linda, “we’ve also created a gardening partnership that has been a mutual source of heated debates and delight.”

Cindy Fillingame acknowledges that all gardens are shaped by the terrain, exposure to sun, and drainage concerns, and hers is no exception. A desire to improve drainage led to her first raised bed in 2004. “I chose concrete retaining wall blocks as an inexpensive ‘do-it-myself’ solution,” she says. “They proved to be very versatile, allowing me to create fluid lines, and to adjust the height and enrich the soil. This initial success has led to other raised beds designed to solve other issues—namely gardening on a severe slope and defining the property line more clearly.”

As Cindy’s gardening knowledge has grown, she’s tried to create diverse garden beds with something to offer in each season of the year. The garden features many newly planted trees and shrubs, including ginkgo, oak leaf hydrangea, pagoda dogwood, beech, and stewartia. Older established trees and shrubs include river birch, Montgomery spruce, and a sprawling juniper pruned to follow the terrain. Lilies, including Martagon, Asiatic, and Orienpets, join garden sculptures to provide vertical accents among a wide variety of perennials.

Stay tuned for more overviews of the other private and public gardens to be featured as part of the 2020 Fling. (The schedule may change; this is the current planned private garden itinerary.)


Note: Fling registration will open soon! Follow us here and/or on Facebook for notification that it’s time to sign up!