November is my least favorite month: dark, wet, and nothing but winter in sight for the next six months. But gardeners can find ways to brighten November–or at least work with its palette. Yesterday and today, I’m on a road trip to the Chicago area. En route to Chicago, I stopped at the Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wis. Olbrich is a city garden, nestled in a large park along Lake Monona. Its executive director is Roberta Sladky, formerly of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul.
Like Madison itself, Olbrich is big enough to be interesting, but not so big it overwhelms visitors. I toured Olbrich on a hot, sunny day in the summer of 2006 and loved the garden’s bright colors, especially its rose garden. This time, fall and a persistent drizzle gave the place a pleasant but muted feel.
Visiting public gardens is a great way to get ideas for your own garden. Public garden designers really know how to frame vistas and outlooks. This view is not far from the entrance to the garden and it clearly tells visitors they are entering a special place. That tower in the distance overlooks the rose garden.
Olbrich uses grasses, fruiting trees, and ground covers to provide interest and color in the fall garden. The gardeners there also leave many of their perennials standing, rather than clearing them out for the winter.
I love the rich purple color of this Ajuga ‘Burgandy Glow’ which is underplanted in a bed of shrubs and perennials. Planted nearby are several crabapple trees with their bright red fruits dangling down. Other highlights of Olbrich are its Thai garden and its use of grasses. More on those in future posts.