Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Tell Me More About Madison...

The endangered rusty patched bumblebee

When traveling to a Garden Bloggers Fling, it’s always fun to learn a little more about the destination before visiting. Here are a few questions and our best attempts at answers to help you plan for your trip next summer.

What will the weather be like in late June?

If you’ve visited Chicago in the summer, you’ll have an idea. While weather is unpredictable always in the upper Midwest, summertime tends to be our most stable season. We may have thunderstorms, but they usually hit in the evening, as the day’s heat and energy draw down.

Our days may be quite comfortable, although late June can be hot and humid in Madison. Some general ranges: highs in the 70s to mid-80s F (23-30 C); nights in the 60s to 70s F (16-23 C). Days are long, with sunrises at 5:20 a.m., and sunsets at 8:40 p.m. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids during our busy days.

Richard Hurd, via Wikimedia Commons
Can you describe the Madison vibe?

Madison has been described as “progressive,” “educated,” “cosmopolitan,” and “a vibrant cultural hub of art, music, food, and beer.” Often referred to as “Mad City,” its population of about 270,000 (metro area surpasses 600,000) has an average age under 30. It's the fastest-growing city in the state. Approximately 60% of residents have a degree, and University of Wisconsin-Madison students and faculty make up nearly one-third of the population.

Though the summer student population is lower, you’ll find lots of pedestrians and bikers in the city and the surrounding communities. This is also because of a focus on health and wellness, and the more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails in and around the city.

Which plants will be blooming and/or peaking while we’re there?

Name a common annual plant, and it likely will be on display at the time of the Madison Fling. Our growing season is in full swing starting in early May after the last frost, and gardeners are enthusiastic after a long, cold winter.

The list of perennials you’ll see is long, too. Basically any plant—including water-lovers and succulents, alike—that can survive a USDA gardening zone 5a winter is fair game. And many gardeners “push” the zones in protected areas and with plants that spend winters indoors. Native perennials likely to be blooming include wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), and various milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), among many others.

What types of gardens will we see?

Madison sits at the edge of several unique ecological regions, so the plants we can grow here are somewhat diverse. Some of the gardens we’ll see will tend toward prairie plantings, while others will be woodlands with extensive water features. The soil here is generally very good, particularly further out from the city. Dane County has some of the highest-quality, silt-loam soil in the country.

Who were the indigenous people in the area?

The history of the Ho-Chunk people is part of the fabric of the Madison area. They continue to form an important framework within the area’s culture, land formations, and economy. You may be familiar with effigy mounds, or Native American burial mounds in the shapes of various animals. They are found only in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota. Many can still be found in the county, including at the UW-Madison Arboretum.

The Ho-Chunk people also support the area’s economy in many ways, including through tourism encouraged by their stories, businesses, and Ho-Chunk Gaming.

What rare plants are native in the Madison area?

Because of the loss of prairies and oak savannas to agriculture throughout the Midwest, plants that are native to those areas have become more rare over time. Some of these are included in Wisconsin’s list of rare plants. A few still common here in the Madison area include blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), and 
several species of wild indigo (Baptisia spp.).

Which local foods should we try?

If you’re lactose-intolerant, we’re sorry. Wisconsin is the dairy state, and we produce some of the best cheeses in the world, as witnessed by regular awards at the biennial World Championship Cheese Contest. Other foods we’re known for include bratwurst, kringles, Cornish pasties, and cream puffs. If you like beer, you’ll also find some excellent brews here.

sandhill crane
Are there rare or unusual animals we might see?

While Wisconsin is the badger state, and that mammal is here, we’re unlikely to see badgers because they’re elusive and active at night. A few unique animals we’re likely to see include sandhill cranes (very common here in the summer), dragonflies and damselflies, and beavers (we might see their lodges). If we’re lucky, we might catch a glance of the rare, endangered rusty patched bumblebee, which is active in June at the UW-Madison Arboretum.

These are just a few unique things you’ll likely experience at the Madison Fling. Any other questions? We’ll try to answer them, or find folks who can. Hope to see you in Madison in June 2022!