Blooms & Blossoms

Posted on June 30, 2024 by Grace Olson

Worth the Drive Gardens

Spring and summer in Wisconsin are magic. Warm days with cool breezes reign supreme, and create the perfect environment for strolling. Luckily, the landscapes are pretty great too. 

Look no further than our worth-the-drive gardens. From storybook tie-ins to expansive spaces on Lake Michigan and acres upon acres of sweeping flowers, take a drive to soak in the beauty of our curated, outdoor nature:

Bookworm Gardens, Sheboygan
Mission: “To inspire the love of books and nature in the young and young at heart.”

Open seasonally from May 1 to October 31 (with additional workshops in November and December).

“Bookworm Gardens is a unique botanic garden inspired by children’s literature whose mission is to inspire the love of books and nature in the young and young at heart. The 77 books in the collection each have a corresponding garden space and laminated copy of the book,” Elizabeth Wieland, Executive Director, says. “Bookworm relies on the horticultural art of cultivated garden design and sculptures and art pieces to bring books to life in an incredible botanical setting; the immersive exploration of the Gardens provides an experience unlike any other. Educational programming has generated substantial interest as well; field trips (participation from 16 counties), camps, 3K preschool, and workshops round out high-quality nature-based education. Some of our signature events like the Fairy Folk Festival and Happily Haunted have attracted visitors from all over the United States.

Most popular components: It depends on your personal favorite story! However, the most beloved areas of the Gardens include: washing Harry, the Dirty Dog, finding the troll under the bridge in The Three Billy Goats Gruff, exploring the Charlotte’s Web barn, listening to birds chirp in the Magic Tree House, water painting in Action Jackson, and hopping on the Magic School Bus.

Bookworm Gardens allows all visitors young and young at heart to fully immerse themselves in books. The garden spaces are designed to be a magical experience for kids and adults alike. There is so much thought and care put into the plant materials in each garden space that it provides an educational experience at every turn.

Where else can you walk through a giant “caterpillar” adorned with trumpet flowers and vines after reading the book it was designed after, Inch by Inch? Where can you channel your inner paleontologist looking for Dinosaur Bones? The concept of reading books while you explore a garden space with details pulled directly from the pages is otherworldly. It captivates children, and it makes adults feel like a kid again. Visitors might be surprised to find out that we have a flock of 8 hens in the farmyard based on the book Sonya’s Chickens. We only have one garden space that changes every year called the Reader’s Round Up Garden and have been adding a few new books a year; in 2024, they are Frog and Toad, The Rainbow Fish, and The Pout Pout Fish.

The Garden Door, Sturgeon Bay
Mission: The Door County Master Gardeners Association, Inc., in partnership with UW-Extension, shall strive to make a positive impact on horticulture in our community through education, community outreach and stewardship of our environment.

Open year-round from dawn to dusk.

“The Garden Door is located on an acre of land at the Peninsular Agricultural Research Station. The construction of the gardens started in 1996 by Door County Master Gardeners and the gardens opened to the public in 2005,” Sue Kunz, Door County Master Gardener and Coordinator of The Garden Door, says. “The area is divided into twenty demonstration garden areas. Each garden exhibits a related set of plants: Grass Garden, Peony Garden, Cactus Garden etc., or a unique way of use in a specific garden area. Many of the demonstration gardens are similar in size to a home garden, so visitors can see examples that would work in their own spaces. The compact size of The Garden Door and its handicapped accessible pathways make it a wonderful, short showcase visiting place. Larger gardens such as The Green Bay Botanical Garden, The Rotary Gardens in Janesville, or Allen Centennial Gardens in Madison require more time and walking distance.”

Most popular components: The Garden Door has appeal for all ages! Children love the Toad Abode and The Fairy Garden. Adults appreciate the wide variety of common and unusual plantings including a cactus garden which is beautiful when in bloom (usually mid to late June) and a lovely grass garden which showcases over 30 varieties of ornamental grasses.

The Garden Door is located on highway 42 just north of Sturgeon Bay it is easy to find and visitors are always amazed at the wide variety of plants. Something is always in bloom, and it is a great place for beautiful photos. Visitors can spend a short amount of time or linger longer if they wish. The garden is free! Donations are greatly appreciated. 

In addition to the plant variety, the garden contains many unique structures and public art displays such as: an Interactive Human Sundial, a kaleidoscope with changing seasonal displays, mosaic benches and fused glass pieces designed by Master Gardeners and unique fence designs. A demonstration vegetable garden is another popular area. All vegetables grown in this garden are donated to local food pantries. There is a gazebo and a picnic table beneath the pergola which is a great spot for a picnic lunch. Many bird species call the garden home, so birdsong is the common background noise. Bees and butterflies pollinate the plants and hummingbirds enjoy the many colored blooms. Educational materials are available for those wishing additional information.

Wausau Botanic Gardens
Mission: “Cultivating well-being in people, communities and the environment with experiences that educate and inspire.”

Open year-round.

“Wausau Botanic Gardens, ‘Wausau’s Happy Place,’ is where the beauty of meticulously curated gardens blends seamlessly with the serenity of our natural areas,” Darcie Howard, Executive Director, says. “Crafted with love by our community, for our community, we’re proud to stand as north central Wisconsin’s shining beacon of environmental education and inspiration. And for the littlest green thumbs? Our Sprouts Garden Preschool offers a one-of-a-kind nature-based learning experience.”
Most popular components: The accessible treehouse, which allows everyone to have a view overlooking the garden. Most love to come and sit by the pond in the Meditation Garden to rejuvenate and escape from their busy lives.  

Imagine stepping into a world where every corner tells a story of community and passion – that’s the magic of Wausau Botanic Gardens, lovingly nurtured by volunteers for 15 years and with the tender care of our dedicated staff for the last 8. But hold onto your garden hats because we’re unveiling something truly spectacular this summer: Sara’s Storybook Garden! A place where whimsy meets wonder, complete with a Hobbit House, a shipwreck, and countless nooks and crannies that spark the imagination. It’s not just a visit; it’s an adventure waiting to unfold. So, come be a part of our ever-growing story – because at Wausau’s Happy Place, there’s always something new to discover and cherish!

West of the Lake Gardens, Manitowoc
Open Memorial Day weekend to mid-October (weather permitting).

“The garden was a dream of Ruth West. She spent much time transforming a sandy patch of soil with burrs and thistles into a beautiful garden,” Dr. Phyllis Schippers,  President and Chairman of the Board for the Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation, says. “There are several different areas, including:  a Japanese Garden, a sunken garden, a rose garden, an evergreen garden, a red and white garden, a path garden, which was the original garden, a Mae West Garden, in which the colors are hot, hot, hot. There is also a pond, a loop garden, and a formal garden. The gardens cover 6 acres on the shore of Lake Michigan.”

Most popular components: The rose garden is usually peak in early to mid July, pending the weather. Because the garden is situated right on Lake Michigan, the season is a bit later than inland, but we usually have beautiful color into early October.  

Ruth West was a self taught gardener, but was much sought after as a speaker around the state at various garden clubs. She had endless amounts of energy which she poured into her garden.  What makes the garden unique is that there is no charge to visit the garden. It is part of the legacy that Ruth and John West left to the people of Manitowoc. In fact, the first part of our charter instructs us to keep the gardens in perpetuity for the people of the local area. We have four year-round gardeners and a summer staff of another 6 to 8 to keep the gardens looking great.  

On Saturdays and Sundays, there is the Lester Bentley mural room which is open from 11 to 4. This is a mural which was uncovered when we were looking for the cause of a leaky skylight a few years ago. The mural was given a major facelift to restore it to its previous glory. The mural was part of the garage, which was used for the buffet of goodies when the garden was open for its tulip tea, which used to be held in the spring. At one point, there were some 30,000 tulips in bloom. With climate change, this has been discontinued because it is so difficult to predict when spring will appear.

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Worth the Drive

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