Tag Archives: gardens

14 Wisconsin groups in national Good Food guide

Fourteen Wisconsin-based groups are listed in the annual Good Food Org Guide announced this week.

The guide includes these Wisconsin-based groups: Hunger Task Force, Wellspring, Wisconsin Local Food Network, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, REAP Food Group, Central Rivers Farmshed, Community GroundWorks, FairShare CSA Coalition, FRESH Food Connection, Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, Madison Waste Watchers, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and Milwaukee Urban Gardens.

The James Beard Foundation (www.jamesbeard.org) and Food Tank (www.foodtank.com), along with an advisory group of more than 70 food system experts, developed the third annual Good Food Org Guide, which features 1,000 food-related organizations across the United States.

This guide highlights organizations that are “doing exceptional and dedicated work” in the areas of food and agriculture, nutrition and health, hunger and obesity and food justice.

The guide, expanded for 2016, incorporates new initiatives from across the nation and will be released at the seventh annual James Beard Food Conference in New York City Oct. 17-18.

”Working in collaboration with the James Beard Foundation, we are proud to bring the total number of listed organizations to the 1,000 mark. It is a testament to the tremendous amount of growth and support we have seen in the ‘good food’ sector,” said Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank.

She said the vision and objective of the annual publication is to focus attention on the organizations “that work every day in fields, kitchens, classrooms, laboratories, businesses, town halls and Congress to create a better food system.”

Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, said, ”The Good Food Org Guide continues to serve as a useful tool for individuals looking for opportunities to improve their local food system. The guide’s user-friendly design makes it the go-to resource for identifying nearby organizations doing good work in the areas of food justice, hunger, and agriculture.

Experts, including past recipients of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award and food and agriculture leaders, collaborated to generate the list.

Here’s a closer look at the Wisconsin institutions, as described by the creators of the guide:

  • Hunger Task Force

The Hunger Task Force, based in Milwaukee, operates a food bank that provides healthy and nutritious food free of charge to a local network of food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, as well as a 200-plus acre farm that grows fruits and vegetables for the express purpose of feeding the hungry.

In addition, a dietitian educator teaches a nutrition education curriculum to children in local elementary schools. Kids learn about nutrition, healthy eating and how to make healthy recipes. During the growing season, these kids make regular field trips to The Farm where they get to work in our school garden and demonstration kitchen, and get hands-on experience.

  • Wellspring

Wellspring is a nonprofit education and retreat center and organic farm whose mission is to inspire and teach people to grow, prepare and eat healthy food. In so doing, Wellspring hopes to transform food systems and build community. Programs in wellness education, ecology and gardening, the arts and personal growth have been offered to the public since 1982. The group offers a variety of cooking classes and workshops on horticulture and permaculture. It also operates a Farm to School program in addition to their Summer Farm Camp.

  • Wisconsin Local Food Network

The Wisconsin Local Food Network is a collection of individuals and organizations that all share a common vision for Wisconsin: a state that offers communities and businesses a local food system that supports sustainable farms of all sizes, a strong infrastructure for those farms and supporting food business to thrive, and affordable access to healthy locally grown food for all Wisconsin residents.

  • Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

Established in 1948, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association is one of the oldest organizations to be included in our guide.

Wisconsin is the third largest potato producing state in the country and this coalition of 140 farmers aims to educate Wisconsinites on their practices, research more sustainable growing methods, and create a social network of farmers where information can flow easily.

The group also operates the “spudmoblie,” a mobile potato farm that travels around the state educating children on the art of growing potatoes.

  • Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems

The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems is a research center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The outreach and training programs are helping farmers, educators, crop consultants, businesses, and eaters put these research nonprofit land trust committed to the acquisition and preservation of land in Milwaukee.

Through partnering with neighborhood residents, communities cultivate healthy, locally sustained gardens and improve the quality of life in Milwaukee.

  • REAP Food Group

REAP Food Group wants to see locally produced food on every plate in Southern Wisconsin. The organization has also produced a Farm Fresh Atlas that maps the food organizations, organic restaurants and farmers’ markets in the region. REAP’s Farm to School program partners with the Madison Metropolitan School District to offer fresh, healthy food at school. The program includes classroom education, local food procurement for school meals and a snack program that serves a fresh, locally grown fruit or vegetable to over 5,000 low-income students every week.

  • Central Rivers Farmshed

Perhaps the first “farmshed” in the country, Central Rivers defines the term simply as a network of people, businesses, organizations and productive lands that create a local food economy. Similar in concept to a foodshed, the farmshed idea helps envision and strengthen a community’s relationship with regional landscape. Farmshed organizes events, resources and partnerships to support a local food economy by providing opportunities for participation, education, cooperation and action to support a local food economy in Central Wisconsin.

  • Community GroundWorks

Since 2001, Community GroundWorks has managed Troy Gardens, 26 acres of public protected farmland, prairie and woodlands in Madison. Hands-on educational programs for children and adults, in gardening, urban agriculture, nutrition and environmental protection, allow Community GroundWorks to realize a goal of connecting people with nature and food.

  • FairShare CSA Coalition

The FairShare CSA Coalition, based in Madison makes CSAs more accessible by linking consumers to local farmers through outreach, education, community building and resource sharing. Annual FairShare CSA Coalition events includes the FairShare CSA Open House, a free event where attendees can learn more about CSA products and meet local farmers. The coalition also organizes two annual fundraising bike tours called Bike the Barns and Bike the Barns West, which work highlight local farms and food.

  • FRESH Food Connection

FRESH Food Connection is a group of farms in southern Wisconsin sustainably producing vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, cheeses, canned goods, wool and other farm commodities. As farmers seeking to produce in harmony with nature and with the least environmental impact, they sign onto a sustainability pledge that enumerates the principles they follow and adhere their practices to those sustainable standards.

  • Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative

The Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative is a farmer-led cooperative owned by the producers and the Wisconsin Farmers Union. They are dedicated to securing the most profitable markets for producer-members. The hub makes it easy for the retail, institutional, and foodservice sectors to buy locally. The organization helps local farmers by providing them with the opportunity, through marketing, sales, aggregation and logistics, to access wholesale markets they could not access easily before.

  • Madison Waste Watchers

Madison Waste Watchers is a Madison initiative dedicated to waste reduction in the city. The program provides recycling and composting education to communities to help reduce the amount of waste produced. The organization has been busy all through 2015, hosting a number of local food events and offering internships for youths to learn more about sustainable farming.

  • Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute promotes the ecological, social and economic resiliency of food and farming systems through programs like their Crop and Soil Research program, which uses classic plant breeding and modern screening methods to produce plants that perform highly and can be used in organic systems. In addition, the Public Policy program engages grassroots support for sustainable agriculture while helping farmers and others take full advantage of sustainable agriculture programs.

  • Milwaukee Urban Gardens

Milwaukee Urban Gardens, a program of Groundwork Milwaukee, is a mobile potato farm that travels around the state educating children on the art of growing potatoes.

Got fresh tomatoes? A recipe for Summer’s End Tomato Tart

If you’re like me, you believe that a fresh, ripe tomato is one of the best things about summer. And this tart is an ode to the tomato in season — and a lesson about how to make the most of it.

Let’s start with how to choose the best tomatoes. First, pick up your candidate, smell the stem and confirm that it smells strongly like a tomato. Next, figure out if it is juicy by hefting it. You want a heavy tomato; if it’s heavy, it’s juicy.

On the chance that you buy more tomatoes than you plan to eat right away, store the extras on a counter away from the sunlight. Do not put them on a sunny windowsill, which can make them rot. Likewise, don’t put them in the refrigerator, which can kill their flavor if they’re not already ripe and make them mealy after a few days.

If you bought a few tomatoes that weren’t quite ripe and you want to speed up the process, put them in a brown paper bag with a banana. The ethylene gas given off by both the tomatoes and the banana will do the trick.

Do not seed the tomatoes. Once upon a time we routinely seeded them, a nod to the French ideal of finesse, which decreed that seeds were crude. Years later, I read a story in Cook’s Illustrated magazine that persuaded me that discarding the seeds is a mistake. Apparently, the seeds and the jelly surrounding them are the most flavorful parts of the tomato. And — bonus! — you save a bunch of prep time when you don’t bother to remove the seeds.

One of the main reasons we love tomatoes in season is because they’re so juicy. That’s great when we eat them raw, not so great when we’re making a tomato pie. How to keep juicy tomatoes from turning that pie into a watery mess? By slicing and salting them ahead of time. The salt delivers a one-two punch, draining the tomato of its excess liquid and concentrating its natural flavors.

Though tomatoes are terrific all by themselves, they also get along famously with a cornucopia of other ingredients, starting with virtually every herb under the sun and moving on to just about any cheese you care to name. This recipe calls for Gruyere, but you’re welcome to swap in sharp cheddar, mozzarella or even feta. Point is, feel free to experiment with different herbs and cheeses that melt. Make this recipe your own.

Tomatoes are so meaty and satisfying that I’m sure everyone _ even die-hard carnivores _ will be happy to see a slice or two of this pie set down for lunch, maybe with a simple green salad on the side. And picnickers take note: This tart happens to be as scrumptious served at room temperature as it is hot right out of the oven.

SUMMER’S END TOMATO TART

Start to finish: 2 hours 55 minutes (30 minutes active)

Servings: 8

All-purpose flour, for rolling out the dough

1 pie dough (recipe below) or 12 ounces store-bought pie dough

1 1/2 pounds large tomatoes

Kosher salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyere cheese

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, thyme, chives, tarragon or a mix

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough until 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, easing the dough into the pan and pressing it into the corners. Trim off any excess dough hanging over the edge. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then chill it for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 375 F.

Line the pie shell with foil and fill it with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Bake in the lower third of the oven until it is opaque throughout, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil. Return the shell to the oven and bake until light golden, about another 8 minutes. Transfer the tart shell to a rack and let it cool 15 minutes.

While the tart shell is baking, slice the tomatoes 1/3 inch thick, sprinkle them liberally with salt, then arrange them on a wire rack to drain over the sink or a rimmed baking sheet.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 F. Spread the mustard evenly over the bottom of the tart shell, then sprinkle the cheese over it. Pat the tomatoes dry and arrange them over the cheese in one overlapping layer. Bake on the oven’s middle shelf until the pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes are very soft, 35 to 40 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, garlic and herbs. Sprinkle the pie with this mixture while it is still hot, spreading the mixture gently with the back of a spoon. Serve the pie hot or at room temperature.

Nutrition information per serving: 370 calories; 230 calories from fat (62 percent of total calories); 26 g fat (14 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 570 mg sodium; 24 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 9 g protein.

PIE DOUGH

Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active)

Make 1 batch pie dough

1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon table salt

10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

In a large bowl, stir together the flour and the salt. Add the butter and, working quickly, use your fingertips or a pastry blender to mix the dough until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with the rest in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the mixture and use a fork to gently stir until incorporated.

Gently squeeze a small handful of the dough. It should hold together without crumbling apart. If it doesn’t, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring 2 or 3 times after each addition until it comes together. Be careful: If you overwork the mixture or add too much water the pastry will be tough.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. With the heel of your hand, smear in a forward motion on the work surface to help distribute the fat. Gather the smeared dough together and form it, rotating it on the work surface, into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic, then chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Peace activists to march in Wisconsin

Peace activists, including those with the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, will march about 90 miles — from the Dane County jail to Volk Field in Douglas — to protest the military’s deployment of drones.

The Wisconsin Air National Guard is headquartered at Volk. Pilots on the base are trained to remotely operate drones used for reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting.

The march is set to take place Aug. 18–25, with walkers traveling about 12–16 miles a day.

A vigil is planned at the gates of Volk Field on Aug. 25.

For more information, email Joy First at

In other community news …

• PEACE IN THE PARK: Peace Action’s annual Lanterns for Peace and Peace Benefit Concert takes place on Aug. 8 in Milwaukee’s Washington Park. For more, check Annual Lanterns for Peace on Facebook.

• SOCIAL JUSTICE SPEAKER: The First Unitarian Society of Madison hosts national Interfaith Worker Justice executive director Ruby Lopez for a forum on Aug. 4. For more, go to www.fusmadison.org.

• LAKE MICHIGAN MONIES: The Fund for Lake Michigan recently awarded $1.9 million in grants to improve Lake Michigan beaches and natural areas. Plans include the restoration of Cat Island in Green Bay and the revitalization of Simmons Beach in Kenosha. A legal settlement over the construction of the coal-fired Oak Creek power plant requires We Energies, Madison Gas and Electric and WPPI Energy to contribute $4 million annually to the fund. For more, go to www.fundforlakemichigan.org.

• FARMRAISER FUN: Milwaukee-based Victory Garden Initiative holds a FarmRaiser at 4 p.m. on Sept. 19 at Concordia Gardens on Milwaukee’s near west side. The event features music and local restaurants offering takes on VGI fresh produce. For more, go to victorygardeninitiative.org.

• PLANET HOLLYWOOD: The Sierra Club formed an arts and entertainment council to raise awareness and money for the nonprofit’s mission to “explore, enjoy and protect the planet.” “The Sierra Club is about people. Millions of people from all walks of life banding together to protect our planet and our democracy,” said council member Susan Sarandon in a statement. For more, go to sierraclub.org.

• TO D.C. FOR THE DOGS, AND MORE: Animal rights advocates gather outside Washington, D.C. July 30–Aug. 2 for a national conference. Organizers plan a series of lectures, workshops, strategy sessions and a marketplace. For more, go to arconference.org.

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UW Gardens open gates to new audiences

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s best-kept secret hides in plain sight just west of the heart of the school’s massive campus. But if Benjamin Futa has his way, it won’t stay secret for very much longer.

Amid flat expanses of athletic playing fields and tucked among the boxy university classroom buildings sits a charming Queen Anne-style residence wreathed in historic gardens that bloom to life every spring. Allen Centennial Gardens is a public botanical garden and outdoor classroom for the UW Horticulture Department and Futa, at age 25, is the gardens’ newest and, historically, youngest garden director.

His goal is to bring more recognition to the garden, and make the 365-day-a-year enterprise even more accessible and inviting to audiences both on and off campus.

“At 2.5 acres, this is a human-scale garden with a historic residence on the property,” says Futa, who assumed his new position on May 4. “The size and scale help people feel that this is something they can do at home.”

The 27 individually themed gardens, located at 620 Babcock Drive on the UW campus, feature a mix of garden styles, plant materials and design innovations. Anchoring the property is the former home of the first four deans of the UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The house currently is being renovated to become a more integral part of the gardens’ educational programming, Futa says.

The gardens, originally located outside the UW Plant Sciences building, were moved to their current location in 1989 when Plant Science underwent an expansion. A major gift from Ethel Allen, the widow of UW bacteriologist Oscar Allen, helped fund the project. The gardens continue to be independently funded through donations and are not part of the UW System budget.

“I think everybody craves some level of connection to the natural world,” says Futa, a South Bend, Indiana, native who moved here with his fiance Paul Sexton earlier this year. “A garden is a special place that involves human interaction with nature, and it’s nature’s serenity that draws them in.”

Prior to coming to Madison, Futa served as head of horticulture and grounds at the Fernwood Botanical Gardens in Niles, Michigan, as well as working at the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park. A horticulturist at heart, Futa also headed up Fernwood’s member and donor relations, and he is hoping to find new ways to stimulate greater public interest in what Allen Centennial Gardens has to offer.

“I know that we spend $20,000 on plant materials each year, but we don’t have a plant database so I can’t tell you exactly how many types of plants we currently have,” Futa says. “We’re a living museum and museums tell their stories through their collections.”

Creating that database is something Futa hopes to get underway soon. More important, however, is broadening the gardens’ appeal, particularly among the student population that passes by every day of the school year.

“Our gates are open, but not necessarily the easiest place to find,” Futa says. “I want to open the gates in more ways than one. I want to show everyone that gardens can and should be part of their lives.”

Part of that, he explains, is programming. Futa would like to see more activities with more groups that are interactive with the garden environment. “Science cafes” that blend social or sustenance activities with outdoor educational talks might be one way, and yoga classes in the garden could be another, he adds.

“Gardening is a performance art that can bridge the gap for botanists, pharmacologists and other groups,” Futa explains. “We want to draw on a number of new audiences and get more people inside the gates.”

Much of the attraction, of course, is the plantings themselves. Each spring, more than 2,000 tulips blossom, one of the gardens’ biggest draws, Futa says. Other aspects of the garden give variety, color and appeal beyond what many such gardens can provide.

“The most interesting part to me is our extensive rock garden, which must comprise 10 to 15 percent of the property,” Futa says. “It’s done to a very high level and has been recognized by the North American Rock Garden Society. It’s really miraculous.”

The most arresting single plant in the garden is a very old larch tree. Several years ago an ice storm did significant damage to the tree, and its two remaining arms wrap themselves around a newly established Japanese garden, creating a striking horticultural statement.

“You can tell that the tree has a story to tell and that’s why people are drawn to it,” Futa says. “The sign by the tree says that we have no idea how old the tree is, but we do know that it’s very old.”

Like the gardens, Madison has great appeal for Futa, who plans to marry Sexton next summer. The wedding will take place among family and friends back in South Bend, but the pair will return to Madison afterward for what Futa hopes will be many more seasons of the Allen Centennial Garden’s blooming enterprise.

“I have just fallen in love with Madison,” Futa says.

Buy American Blooms: | ‘Slow Flowers’ movement pushes local grown, U.S. cut flowers

Come February, the owners of Farmstead Flowers begin nurturing seedlings and preparing three acres for their cash crop reaped from April through October — cut flowers.

Megan Hird and her husband founded their rural southeast Nebraska business in 2012 and are among the growing number of “farmer florists” intent on providing consumers the option to buy local — much as the slow food movement has sought to increase the use of locally grown, sustainable food.

About 80 percent of the cut flowers used in florists’ bouquets are imported, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. But flower industry experts anticipate that heading into Valentine’s Day, more people will eschew bouquets of imports for American blooms.

There’s been a recent — if small — rebound in the number of cut-flower growers in the U.S., from 5,085 in 2007 to 5,903 in 2012. The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers recently reported an all-time high of 700 members, the majority of which are based in the U.S.

The shift is two-fold, according to Debra Prinzing, a Seattle-based outdoor living expert who operates Slow Flowers, an online directory of florists, wedding and event planners and growers who use stateside flowers.

“I think a lot of it is just this rejection of the more structural bouquets — the flowers that are the Dirty Dozen, the same-old, same-old,” Prinzing said. “The romance of a meadow or a cottage-garden flower or an heirloom flower is really penetrating the consciousness of floral designers.”

There’s also a rising consciousness about the carbon footprint caused by the distance from which flowers are shipped, “just the same as it is with food,” she said. Critics of the flowers grown in South America and other places say those countries often don’t employ fair labor practices and that the flowers are often coated with chemicals to preserve them for a long journey.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Floral Importers of Florida — based in Miami, where more than 90 percent of imported flowers enter the country — said they’re using outdated information. While Colombia’s and Ecuador’s industries used questionable labor practices and pesticides years ago, they are now heavily regulated and have minimum wage requirements and bans on certain chemicals, Christine Boldt said.

South America is the most hospitable environment for flowers to grow year-round, Boldt said, which also makes them cheaper. But American-based growers counter that you get what you pay for.

“The florists I supply simply like how much fresher my flowers are … They’re not having to pick through my supply to pull out wilted or dead petals and leaves,” Hird said.

She offers local florists and grocery stores — even truckers who pass by Farmstead Flowers’ roadside stand — bouquets of locally grown snapdragons, foxglove, peonies, sunflowers and nearly 40 other varieties. But as with many who grow outside of California and Florida, Hird can only offer flowers during a six-month window. For Valentine’s Day, she’s selling gift certificates that can be redeemed for a 25-stem bouquet when her flowers are in bloom.

Next week is also the first Valentine’s Day for which consumers can be assured their flowers sprouted on American soil.

Kasey Cronquist is the administrator for the Certified American Grown program that launched in July with 36 members, most in California. All of them went through a supply-chain audit to guarantee the flowers’ origin before being approved to use the American Grown logo on their products.

Cronquist predicted that American-grown flowers will take a bigger share of the cut-flower industry in 2015.

“We have examples of where florists are starting to segregate their coolers, so that when they get the calls from their communities saying, ‘I’d like to buy locally-grown bouquets,’ people can go in and grab from the right side of the cooler so they’re not mixing the imported product with the desire of the customer,” he said.

That hasn’t been Rhonda Bullington’s experience.

The owner of Loess Hills Floral Studio in Council Bluffs, Iowa, said rustic wedding themes with cottage and meadow flowers were big trends in 2012 and 2013, but this year, “brides are wanting big, over-the-top pieces.”

She uses a local Nebraska grower for some arrangements and tries to buy U.S. flowers when she can, “but they tend to be a little more expensive.” As long as her customers demand lower prices over local sourcing, that’s what she’ll provide to stay in business.

And Bullington sees a big difference in the slow food movement and the push for local flowers: “You don’t need flowers; you want flowers.”

Pleasant under glass | Botanical gardens offer respite from the winter

Exotic insects chirrup and buzz as they flit among the palms, ferns, figs and tropical flowers. They patrol the jungle for other pests, provide food for the various species of birds breeding in the canopy and occasionally land in the hungry clutches of pitcher plants, Venus flytraps and other floral carnivores.

Meanwhile, just beyond the thermal glass that encloses the jungle, snow swirls across the icy Wisconsin landscape.

Bolz Conservatory, a part of Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is known locally as the “glass pyramid.” It’s one of a number of area conservatories offering plant and animal life from around the world. As temperatures drop and snow blankets the landscape, you can still experience the tropics, arid desert landscapes or spring gardens without purchasing a plane ticket.

What better way to shake the snow from your soul?

Inside the Glass Pyramid

Olbrich’s Bolz Conservatory offers 10,000 square feet of mixed tropical flora and fauna. The pyramid rises 50 feet at the center — high enough to house its 20-foot waterfall and the towering royal palms that take center stage among 650 plants, which include about 80 plant families and more than 475 species and cultivars from a variety of equatorial zones.

Operated jointly by the City of Madison Parks Division and the Olbrich Botanical Society, the conservatory’s environment is controlled by an external weather station that measures the impact of the sunlight and temperatures outdoors to create an indoor environment suitable for its tropical inhabitants. Exterior shades and misting nozzles help maintain an indoor humidity level of 60 percent and temperatures that range between 65 and 80 degrees year- round.

The conservatory, which opened in November 1991, anchors Olbrich Gardens’ 16 acres. The gardens begin to stir in early March, when outdoor beds devoted to roses, dahlias, perennials, annuals and irises begin showing signs of life. 

At the park’s far reaches, shimmering golden in the sun, stands the Thai Pavilion & Garden. 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.

Under the Domes

Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory invites visitors into three landmark, LED-illuminated domes, each housing a distinct environment.

The tropical dome houses jungle flora from five continents. On any given day, as many as 50 different species might be blooming there. A rushing waterfall, tropical birds and 500 varieties of orchids add to the ambience.

The arid dome is home to one of the Midwest’s finest collections of cacti and succulents, as well as an oasis of pampas grass and desert palms. Visitors can stroll through environments replicating arid regions of Africa, South America and North America.

The third environment, nicknamed the “show dome,” offers five seasonal displays annually. From poinsettias and holiday lights at Christmas to hundreds of lilies at Easter, the displays offer brilliant colors and fragrant aromas to help combat the winter blues.

The domes were built over a period of eight years, from 1959 to 1967, based on a design submitted by local architect Donald Grieb. Each dome offers 1 acre under glass and 750,000 cubic feet of space, rising 85 feet — that’s seven stories — from the lobby level. A team of four full-time horticulturalists tend the plants daily.

In addition to being located in Milwaukee’s first permanently named city park, the domes are the world’s only conoidal (beehive-shaped, as opposed to geodesic) glass houses, according to park officials. Grieb’s unique design offers a superior angle for solar heating and more interior height for tree growth.

More visibly, they also provide a glittering addition to the Milwaukee skyline. Each dome was outfitted with LED lights in the late ‘00s, bringing the Domes into the 21st century and re-attracting visitors to the Milwaukee landmark.

This time of year, the Mitchell Park Domes and Olbrich Botanical Gardens give visitors the opportunities to shake off the winter doldrums with a dose of tropical air, desert foliage and enough plant life to know that spring is just around the corner. 

At the very least, the weather is much more pleasant under glass, and the verdant growth offers a tangible tonic for the frostbitten heart.

In bloom

Olbrich Botanical Gardens are located at 3330 Atwood Ave. on Madison’s East Side. For hours and other information, call 608-246-4550 or go to olbrich.org.

Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes) is located at 524 S. Layton Blvd. on Milwaukee’s South Side. Phone 414-257-5611 or visit milwaukeedomes.org.

Women who helped remake the American landscape

Occasionally, landscape gardening goes well beyond flowers and shrubbery to encompass questions of national identity, culture, even social change. The era from 1900 to 1930 in America was one of those times, thanks to several enterprising and unsung women.

Well before American women could vote, these college-educated few rose to the pinnacle of their fields as garden designers, writers and photographers. Declaring American gardens to be distinct from those in Europe, they took as their mission the beautification of America, whose cities were polluted and whose residents were suffering from decades of grinding income disparity and rampant industrialism.

The New York Botanical Garden — itself a creation of that Progressive “push-back” between the height of the Gilded Age and World War I — explores these women and their work in “Groundbreakers: Great American gardens in the 20th century and the women who designed them,” a suite of exhibits on view through Sept. 7.

“Groundbreakers” explores the work of garden designers Marian Coffin, Beatrix Farrand and Ellen Shipman, and garden photographers Jessie Tarbox Beals, Mattie Edwards Hewitt and Frances Benjamin Johnston.

It combines original hand-tinted glass “magic lantern” slides and the hefty photographic equipment used to make them; detailed drawings of some of the greatest estate gardens of the time; gardening journalism and literary writing; and breathtakingly colorful flower gardens — most notably one evoking the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller garden in Seal Harbor, Maine (complete with Ragtime musical accompaniment).

“These women were the leading lights in their fields. And in a broader cultural sense, the work they did helped elevate the quality of life for many people across America through these landscapes and their photos and writing,” said Todd Forrest, the botanical garden’s vice president of Horticulture and Living Collections.

“This brief Progressive era is especially important to look at now as historians ask themselves how, in our present gilded age, we’re going to get this kind of momentum again,” explained Sam Watters, the historian whose “Gardens for a Beautiful America” book (Acanthus Press) helped inspire the show, and who curated its photographic segment.

Among the nation’s first specialized career women, the women highlighted in the show not only designed gardens for private estates, but educated and informed the public through lectures, writing and photos, Watters said.

Their work helped inspire the construction of landscaped parks and gardens across the country; the expansion of tree-lined streets; and the widespread planting of the lush lawns, bordered by flowers and ornamental shrubs, that remain emblematic of American yards today.

“Garden club women, inspired by the garden photos they saw, started going to prisons. They put a rose garden in the courtyard of Sing Sing. A big formal garden with a fountain was put in a prison in Michigan. And they planted gardens around train stations across the country,” Watters said.

“It really was landscape gardening as social activism.”

On the great estates, the cutting edge of landscape design at the time, photographs were commissioned and schoolchildren brought in with the edification of the masses in mind. 

Whereas 19th century American gardens replicated gardens in Europe, these new gardens combined Asian architectural elements, English-style flower borders, European ideas of space and distinctly North American settings for a unique sensibility. And before there was color photography, the lush hand-tinted coloring of Johnston’s lantern slides awed and inspired home gardeners.

The show is ambitious and sprawling, and experiencing it in its entirety requires the better part of a day. Although the exhibits can be viewed in any order, the story flows best by beginning in the garden’s Mertz Library Rotunda with “Gardens for a Beautiful America: The women who photographed them,” curated by Watters. Along with photos, books, magazines and journals of the period, the exhibit features examples of the era’s imposing wooden camera equipment — gardening photography required serious biceps — along with a few original lantern slides.

Two of Farrand’s masterpieces are on view in the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden and in “Mrs. Rockefeller’s Garden,” a dazzlingly colorful indoor horticultural exhibit. Shipman designed the garden’s Ladies’ Border, and Coffin designed the Montgomery Conifers Collection.

The show also includes a “Poetry Walk,” featuring poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, many inspired by her garden in Austerlitz, New York; a section on “Groundbreaking Women in Science”; a series of concerts, films, lectures and poetry readings; a free iPhone app with previously unpublished photos; and a section for kids on the science and art of landscape photography.