Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Exploring Madison: First stop, Olbrich Botanical Gardens June 6, 2018

My first view of the downtown Madison skyline with Lake Monona in the foreground.


GREEN SPACE. Those words define my first impression of Madison, Wisconsin. This is an outdoor-friendly city with prolific public pathways, with an obvious bend for recreational activities that take folks outside.


Closing in on downtown Madison with the state capitol on the left.


In woods, parks, gardens, open spaces and tree-lined streets, green colors the lush landscape. Lakes and waterways add to the city’s natural beauty. This capital city of 252,000-plus pulses with bikers, boaters, joggers, walkers and others simply enjoying the outdoors. There’s a certain undeniable vibe in Madison, as if those who live and visit here need to spend every minute outside before winter sweeps cold and snow into the land in a matter of months. But I expect even then plenty of outdoor activity happens.







On my first visit to Madison, where my second daughter and her husband recently relocated, I walked through the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a 16-acre space of outdoor gardens and a tropical conservatory. On the afternoon of our visit, exceptionally high heat and humidity left me drained and occasionally seeking a shaded bench. Time and temps kept us from the Bolz Conservatory, a spot I’ll check out during a cooler season.





While the gardens are beautiful, they were not at their peak during our transitioning from spring into summer tour. Yet, it was a delight just to be there with my daughter and husband, walking the pathways, smelling fragrant flowers, enjoying the art and water features, observing young people celebrating quinceanera


The Thai Pavillion from across a creek.


Of special visual interest is the Thai Pavilion and Garden, the only one in the continental U.S. It was a gift from the Thai government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison, located in the heart of the downtown, has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. post-secondary institution.







Some 1,000 volunteers work these gardens, greet visitors and more. What a labor of love in a place that seems so suited for Madison, a metro area with a small town feel and lots of green space.



FYI: Check back for a second post from the Olbrich Botanical Gardens as I take you up close into the Thai Pavilion and garden.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “Exploring Madison: First stop, Olbrich Botanical Gardens”

  1. Ruth Says:

    Thanks for the tour, Audrey. I’m sure you’ll return to the gardens in another season when you visit.

  2. Beautiful place. I love seeing representations of other cultures, Thai Pavillion, in places where you wouldn’t think of finding something like that.

  3. Beautiful photos 🙂 I could spends hours photographing in gardens and nature. Happy Day – Enjoy!

  4. valeriebollinger Says:

    Olbrich Botanical Garden is a wonderful place. I have been there a few times. Madison is a fun place too. Did you get to the farmer’s market?

  5. Sue Ready Says:

    even if this was a transitional time for the gardens your posting was able to showcase its beauty and attention to detail in flowers and plants
    your keen observing eye always finds the best in common everyday things m0st would overlook.

  6. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    We love Madison! My husband went to UW-Madison and spent many years living there. We go through it all the time when we go back to Oconomowoc to visit Mick’s family. It’s been a long time since we’ve been to the botanical gardens, though – thanks for the reminder!

  7. Murphy's Law Says:

    Beautiful gardens. Easy to see the amount of maintenance that goes into this place because it is pristine. The Thai Pavilion was a nice surprise. As always, your photos capture the smallest detail. My favorite is the turtle on the log! He doesn’t seem to have a care in the world and looks like he has no intention of rushing for anyone. Lol. In fact, he was probably very pleased to stop and be photographed!!
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

  8. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    What a beautiful garden! Thank you for sharing

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