The Allen Centennial Garden is a public botanical garden managed by the Horticulture Department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The garden serves as a living laboratory and outdoor learning venue for guests of all ages and is open from dawn to dusk daily. Admission is free. The garden covers approximately 90,000 square feet surrounding the historic Dean’s Residence.

Due to the varied topography and exposures, the site allows for a great variety of plants. The garden’s emphasis is on herbaceous ornamental perennials, but the site features annuals and woody plants as well. Garden plots include the Iris Meadow, Shady Annual Garden, English Garden, and Edible Garden. There is also a Japanese Garden, Dwarf Conifer Garden, and Rock Garden. The Student Exhibition Garden rotates annually based on student projects. The North and South Gardens were each designed by the winners of an annual student design competition.

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The Allen Centennial Garden is also home to a hive of honeybees, maintained by student beekeepers from the Greenhouse Learning Community. The students began the project in 2016 in response to the need to protect pollinators. The first honey harvest was a success and yielded 4 gallons of honey.

History: In 1979 the teaching gardens adjacent to the Plant Sciences building at the University of Wisconsin Madison were demolished to make space for a new building. Immediately, plans and donations were sought to design a replacement garden. Mrs. Ethel Allen, a former faculty member at the University of Wisconsin with a master’s degree in bacteriology, contributed with a substantial gift to the garden. Mrs. Allen was the widow of Dr. Oscar Allen, the noted UW Madison bacteriologist who taught at the University of Wisconsin from 1948 through 1976. The Allens co-authored what is considered to be the “encyclopedia” of the role of legumes in nitrogen fixation. Construction began on the garden in 1985. In 1989, when the garden was dedicated, the ceremony coincided with the centennial celebration of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, hence the naming for both the Allens and the college’s 100-year anniversary.

Currently, the garden comprises the 2.5 acres surrounding the home of the dean in residence. The Dean’s Residence is a Victorian Gothic home built in 1896 for the first dean of the agricultural college, as an incentive to keep him on staff at a time when other universities were attempting to lure him away. As one of the first buildings on the agricultural campus, it served as a home for the first four of the university’s deans, until 1980 when it was converted to offices. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and currently provides office space for the garden staff.

Ongoing Education and Programs: The garden provides docent-led guided tours for group. Tours are led by the garden director, student interns, or volunteer staff. It is recommended that both self-guided and guided tour participants call in advance to ensure their tours do not conflict with garden events. For those interested in self-guided tours, the garden’s website offers an update on what’s currently blooming, and has a plant search feature, by which guests may locate their favorite plants on the garden map. The garden offers student internships in a variety of areas for 3–12 months. Students will build skills in horticulture, sustainability and urban agriculture, the arts, communications, or special events. Student interns contribute to many of the programs at the garden.

Past and Future Exhibits: The Allen Centennial Garden is host to a number of public and private events. Sunrise Yoga takes place each spring for university students and members of the university’s Recreation Center on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, as weather permits. An Everyday Scarecrow exhibit features scarecrows designed and built by students at a local grade school. Public events during the winter included Luminous, a showing of six lighting displays, which hosted over 3,000 people for bonfires, s’mores, and hot chocolate. Summer events include Final Fridays, a gathering of food vendors and local artisans on the last Friday of each month. The event offers family-friendly activities and live music. Summer Sundays in the Garden is an outdoor concert series. Performances are free and supported by several local non-profit organizations, in partnership with Friends of the Allen Centennial Garden, the non-profit supporting organization which independently funds the garden.

620 Babcock Drive, Madison, WI 53706, website, Phone: 608-576-2501

Back to: Madison, WI

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