Gardens have held spaces as special places throughout time and culture. Consider Monet's gardens that inspired some of the greatest Impressionist art of all time, Victory Gardens that kept families fed during World War II or the use of gardens in literature like Pride and Prejudice or Alice in Wonderland to tell rich and vivid stories about human nature. They serve as places to gather with loved ones, celebrate, mourn, relax and reflect. 

Madison's rich botanical offerings are a demonstration of our reverence for nature, sustainability, creativity and community. Destination gardens like Olbrich Botanical GardensUW-Madison Arboretum and Aldo Leopold Nature Center are grand showcases of horticultural excellence. But the hidden gem gardens below tell small, more intimate stories about our natural landscape and give you the opportunity to experience many variations of natural art.

Beautiful scenery

Allen Centennial Garden

When you hear the word laboratory, you probably do not envision lush greenery, a rainbow of flowers, water fixtures and lovely seating areas. But the Horticulture Department at UW-Madison has a different idea of what a laboratory is. The department's living laboratory, Allen Centennial Garden, is open to all from dawn to dusk.

Allen Centennial is comprised of several smaller gardens including Native American, English, French, Rock, Woodland, Pond gardens and more. The gardens surround a Victorian gothic house known as "The Dean's Residence" because it once housed the deans of the College of Agriculture. Now used as offices, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The garden hosts events and programs throughout the year including flower bouquet classes, tours and concerts.

UW Botany Garden and Greenhouse

Another UW-Madison educational space is open to the public and transports you to different places through plant life. The Botany Garden and Greenhouse is home to more than 1,500 unique plant species. The living plant collection includes aquatic plants, carnivorous plants, succulents, orchids, herbs and more representing a wide variety of climates and environments.

The garden is open to everyone from sunrise to sundown and the greenhouse is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Private tours are available on request.

Period Garden Park

Tucked away in the middle of downtown Madison in the historic Mansion Hill District is a Victorian-era park that defines botanic opulence. Period Garden Park originated as the front lawn of the Elisha W. Keyes House built in 1853. Keyes was a well-known local politician who had been appointed postmaster by Abraham Lincoln and later went on to be Madison's mayor. The house was the setting of many political and social events and is now a city landmark.

The lot was transformed into a garden in the 70s thanks to a group of community boosters who saved the space from redevelopment. The garden was built in the image of Victorian gardens that had previously dotted the neighborhood during the 19th century.

The park is known for colorful flower beds, a central water fountain and an iron fence indicative of Victorian-era outdoor decor. The garden is open to the public daily from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.

William T. Evjue Rooftop Garden

Frank Lloyd Wright believed architecture should be harmonious with the landscape and sympathetic to the needs of humanity. This belief is fully realized at the William T. Evjue Rooftop Garden at the Wright-designed Monona Terrace. The Monona Terrace was designed as a visual marriage of Lake Monona and downtown Madison which positions the rooftop space as having some of the best views of the lake, the Wisconsin State Capitol and downtown. 

The 68,000 sq. ft. rooftop features a garden that embraces ecological value in an urban landscape. The garden is home to native and low-maintenance plants that support area pollinators and fauna.

Visitors are welcome on the rooftop during Monona Terrace's open hours and during special night and weekend public events. While you stroll the garden, you can grab a bite from the rooftop Lake Vista Cafe, open seasonally.

Community Impact

Lansing Food Forest

Born during the COVID-19 pandemic on a small lot on Madison's eastside is the result of a community's long-term vision to support the natural ecosystem and improve access to food for all. The Lansing Food Forest was created in 2020 in partnership between Wisconsin Food Forests and members of the Eastmorland neighborhood.

Unlike a community garden, a food forest focuses on planting perennial fruit and nut trees in addition to other produce-bearing bushes and plants that will continue to generate food for years as it becomes an edible landscape. 

The food forest is home to two tart cherry trees, pear trees, strawberries, juneberry, honeyberry, gooseberry, currants, asparagus, rhubarb, herbs and more. Some of the trees are likely to not bear fruit until around 2026.

The food forest also houses a longstanding neighborhood tradition of being a drop-off area for people to bring plants, seeds, mulch and other excess gardening supplies to swap with or giveaway to others. Lansing Food Forest is located at Lansing Street and Starkweather Drive and is open daily to everyone.

Capitol Vegetable Garden

The Wisconsin State Capitol lawn is known for a beautiful landscape that changes regularly, providing visitors a new visual experience every time they're there. But what goes sometimes unnoticed is the 350 sq. ft. vegetable garden on the east corner of the Capitol Square that serves as a community resource and awareness space. 

Rooted, a local organization dedicated to improving the community through community gardens and other sustainable programs, started the Capitol Vegetable Garden in 2010 and continues to maintain it today. The garden typically has about eight different crops growing at a time, often dedicated to a theme. For example in 2023, the garden featured vegetables honoring the African diaspora such as celosia, collards, squash, basil, parsley and more.

Vegetables grown in the garden are donated to the Badger Rock Neighborhood Center and Kennedy Heights food pantries.

Off the beaten path

Madison greenhouses

For those looking for resources and inspiration to start their own gardens, the Madison area is home to many incredible greenhouses that make green-thumb shopping easy.

Dining on the farm

Farm-to-table is kicked up a notch at Four Winds Farms, an agricultural events center in Fitchburg. The beautifully modernized space hosts public events like Pizza on the Farm, agricultural-focused workshops, cooking classes and more, bringing you closer to your food than ever before.


The tech-giant medical software company Epic is not in itself a hidden gem, however, the gardens found on the property are unexpected to many who visit the campus. Epic is known for its larger-than-life Verona campus with themed buildings designed by theme park engineers but the grounds of the campus are equally stunning and masterfully created by Epic's horticulture team.

You can take self-guided tours of the campus from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Groups larger than seven are asked to visit on weekends.