When I set out to discover hidden gems on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus, I found a variety of experiences, places, and objects, which with my limited exploration means there is more here than meets the eye.
Campus gardens stand out as places of respite. The Botany Gardens, where North Mills Street intersects with University Avenue, provide a haven from the crowds of students moving from building to building, and it’s a nice place to sit and talk. On the hill between buildings, the garden’s beds are surrounded by paths and center on a pond and central patio. A gem within is an apple tree in the northwest corner. This tree was presented by U.S. Representative James Sensenbrenner, who received it in recognition of his work as Chair of the Committee on Science. The tree is said to be a direct descendent of the tree that inspired Isaac Newton to posit his theory of gravity.
On the western end of campus, explore the Allen Centennial Gardens, which are open dawn to dusk. The gardens showcase a variety of native, ornamental, and edible plants. I particularly like the mingling of edible plants with ornamentals and the inclusion of water features. The variety of paths and garden types make this a perfect place for a meditative walk, family photos (a permit is required to take professional photos), or to look for possible additions to your garden. Many of the vegetables grown here end up in UW–Madison dining halls via Slow Food UW.
The Wisconsin Historical Society building does not qualify as a hidden gem with its prominent location on Library Mall, but the collection itself certainly is one. You can read more about the building and collection in another article inside this issue. But while you are there, be sure to see John Muir’s desk clock on the first floor. Then head up the hill to see North Hall, where his old dorm room is located. Next, cross the street to the Robert E. Gard Memorial Storyteller’s Circle. It was here that John Muir was recognized by the University in a 1918 ceremony, and the knoll was dedicated to him.
Upon leaving the circle, you can descend into Muir Woods, Wisconsin’s version, and now part, of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. The sign at the top of the path provides the clue to another gem, the Lakeshore Nature Preserve Audio Tour (lakeshorepreserve.wisc.edu/media/audiotrail) , a gift from the class of 1918. The audio tour can be accessed by cell phone and covers past and present aspects of the preserve in short vignettes. A map is available online and at several places along the Lakeshore Preserve, which stretches from Muir Woods to Frautschi Point.
Artwork and exhibits can be found throughout the campus. The Ruth Davis Design Gallery in the School of Human Ecology hosts changing exhibits. When I visited, Professor Wei Dong had composed an engaging exhibit on Feng Shui, including a floor video pool with carp and interpretations of the seasons. An alumni confided this was a favorite gallery each visit.
The UW–Madison libraries constitute a tremendous public resource and gems to be discovered. From the Historical Society’s library to the Kohler Art Library, the 40 plus libraries cover a broad range of specialties, collections, and exhibits. Wisconsin’s Water Library’s materials, tucked into the second floor of Goodnight Hall on the western end of the campus, can be delivered to your local public library. The library contains a large children’s collection, as well as data resources and audiovisual resources. They offer a service, “Ask Water,” where you can pose questions or suggestions for the collection.
Look for a national traveling exhibition of Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623), the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, in 2016. The exhibition will be hosted by the UW–Madison libraries in partnership with the Chazen Museum of Art, another gem. The exhibition will be enhanced by art and literature held on the campus, and coincides with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
On a cold day, duck into the D.C. Smith Greenhouse, a wonderful spot to read Shakespeare, have a quiet conversation, or to just get out of the winter cold. While the greenhouse complex houses active research, look for the tropical plants in the northwest corner (Babcock Drive at Linden Drive). You will be whisked away to the tropics. Between the orchids and water features, your cares and chills will melt away.
Finally, the relatively new and intriguing Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. The ground floor, with its fountains and garden areas, invites you off the street. When I entered the space, I came across a treat: a quartet of musicians from the UW–Madison Chamber Orchestra. They played for everyone and anyone who passed by. For me, unexpected artists or artwork create a pleasant surprise and are an integral part of discovering the gems on campus.
Liz Wessel is the Owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .