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!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Olbrich Botanical Gardens: A Midwestern Horticultural Treasure

Olbrich's rose garden; photo by Jeff Epping

On Saturday, June 20, Madison Fling attendees will have the pleasure of visiting a nationally recognized botanical garden. Among its many accolades, Olbrich Botanical Gardens was voted one of the top 10 most inspiring gardens in North America by Horticulture magazine, and it has received the American Public Gardens Association’s Garden of Excellence Award.

Sixteen acres of outdoor display gardens and an indoor, tropical conservatory offer plentiful opportunities for horticultural discovery. Outdoor gardens include a sunken garden, perennial garden, herb garden, meadow garden, rock garden, wildflower garden, rain garden, serenity garden, shade garden, hosta garden, event garden, and birch garden.

A sampling of roses

Another highlight, Olbrich’s rose garden, encompasses two acres and showcases a variety of roses blended with colorful perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, trees, annuals, and spring-blooming bulbs. This part of the garden is drawn together in a prairie-style design, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, with a 30-foot tower and fountains built into native stone.

The rose garden celebrates the beauty and adaptability of hardy and environmentally friendly shrub roses. This garden embraces the climate and gardening challenges of the Upper Midwest and creates a sustainable rose garden in all seasons. Some of these roses likely will be blooming during our visit.

The Thai Pavilion

Olbrich’s Thai 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. Amazingly, the pavilion is able to withstand Wisconsin’s winter weather with no protection because it’s constructed of plantation-grown teak and weather-resistant ceramic roof tiles. The gold leaf, however, is delicate and unable to withstand the oils of human hands.

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 create a tropical look. Large-leaved shrubs and trees are pruned to emulate the appearance of plants in a typical Thai garden.

Butterflies in the gardens

Throughout the gardens, we’re likely to see pollinators of all types, including monarchs and other butterflies. Native plants, including host plant milkweeds, and nectar-rich annuals invite impressive numbers of monarchs to the gardens during the spring, summer, and fall.

Olbrich is a great place for butterfly sightings and counts, generally, and more specifically for viewing migrating monarchs in the late spring and early autumn.

Gravel garden

Another unique feature at Olbrich is its gravel gardens—inspired by designs by Roy Diblik, perennial plant expert and author, and Jeff Epping, Olbrich’s director of horticulture. Once established, gravel gardens require very few resources: next to no weeding, watering, or fertilizing. They incorporate native, drought-tolerant plants with deep roots that eventually reach down below the thick surface layer of gravel.

Olbrich has several gravel gardens throughout its property, including one at the entrance and another featuring pathways and all-weather Adirondack chairs. These are great locations to observe bees and other pollinators enjoying the plentiful, nectar-rich perennials.

As described in its vision statement, Olbrich Botanical Gardens is “a locally treasured and globally renowned source of beauty and education celebrating the importance of plants in a sustainable world.” Our visit during the Fling is sure to be a highlight of our event.