Mad for Madison

Madison private garden

We’re not exactly known as “fly-over” states, but some of us in the Great Lakes area have to try harder to convince out-of-towners we’re cool. It shouldn’t be necessary. Thanks to, in part, glacial activity, we’re blessed with spectacular scenery. Thanks to the inland seas we surround, we have abundant access to fresh water. Thanks also to those inland seas, as well as other factors, we have rich farmland and warm summers—in addition to lake effect snow in winter. 

Grounds of Epic Systems

If you live in Buffalo, as I do, you’re all too familiar with this narrative. Buffalonians have managed to overcome it, to some degree, by defiantly redefining ourselves as a garden destination. Partly because of that struggle, we’re sympathetic to the other underdogs throughout the Great Lakes region. Cleveland is a great city, for example. Not only does it have one of the best art museums in the US and the more recent Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, it’s enveloped in 23,000 acres of parkland. 

Private garden

And then there is Madison. The nation’s eyes will be turned to what’s shaping up to be bloodbath in Milwaukee, come July, but, before that, June 18–21, there is a kinder, gentler reason to visit Wisconsin. The Annual Garden Blogger’s Fling takes place in Madison, WI, this year, and I, for one, can’t wait. I have been hearing great things about Madison for years. Everyone I know who has visited Madison has loved it. Though located west of Lake Michigan, the city is embedded in four small lakes (or are the lakes embedded in the city?), so there must be water views everywhere. It has eight Frank Lloyd Wright structures (he grew up and studied here) and plenty of other spectacular architecture. Oh yes, and gardens. 

Janesville Rotary Gardens

The Madison Fling will focus, as most flings do, on some public spaces and many private spaces, unavailable except for this tour. There is one space that, on the surface, sounds unremarkable, even banal, but once you actually hear it described, it’s jaw-drop time. Epic Systems is a healthcare software company. Its Madison corporate headquarters has an over-the-top landscape that must be seen to be believed. There’s a castle, a treehouse, a barn, gravel gardens, sculpture, and more. Can’t wait for this one. 

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Also pictured here are the Olbrich Botanical Gardensthe Janesville Rotary Gardens, and one of the private gardens on the tour. 

If you blog, the Garden Bloggers Fling offers garden touring, socializing, and the ability to enjoy new destinations in the company of other gardeners, many of whom will become lifelong friends. That’s how it’s worked for me.  Picture yourself in Madison this June.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. The Fling is always a one-of-a-kind (and reasonably priced) tour that allows you to see a new part of the country every year. And doing all that with fellow bloggers is what really makes it a joyous experience. Madison is a charming city, and I can’t wait to return and see more of its gardens at the Fling!

  2. As a non-blogger who has lived for almost 40 years in Madison, within minutes of more than a few of the planned tour stops, might I suggest that I could take a few carefully chosen people to other amazing but lesser known places in exchange for sneaking me into the private gardens I’ve not yet seen?

  3. Sounds like a wonderful place.
    As a side note Epic Systems was just featured on a CBS show either Sunday Morning or 60 Minutes. It seems like it is a fairy tale (this is not just because of the breakthrough work that they are doing with medical records and innovation) .
    They felt that they had to do something to make the location as appealing as possible as they compete for workers with Silicon Valley and the pacific Northwest. Looks like they are successful!

  4. I hope a visit Allen Centennial Garden on the UW campus is on the list. The whole garden is beautiful but the rock garden, designed and maintained by volunteers, is not to be missed.


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