A (Pandemic) Year in the Life of Olbrich Gardens
Despite unexpected and uncontrollable challenges in 2020, Olbrich Botanical Gardens had a great year and remained a safe place where visitors could stroll, dream, laugh, learn, and find community with others who love plants and gardening. Although the gardens closed in March, Olbrich’s operations did not stop: all staff were mobilized to do what needed to be done to keep the gardens in good shape, welcome visitors when possible, and prepare for eventual reopening.
The plants—indoors and outdoors—continued their seasonal growth. The horticulture and conservatory staff had the big job of keeping up with all the planting, weeding, mulching, and countless more tasks without volunteers. With plenty of items on their to-do list, conservatory staff began indoor maintenance projects like leveling walks, hanging new structures, and replacing arbors.
In the outdoor gardens, staff were busy cleaning up the gardens from a long winter and prepping for the coming growing season. Many office staff traded computers, copiers, and phones for gardening gloves, pruners, and shovels, filling in where volunteers would normally assist. The closing also offered an opportunity for walkway improvements and other maintenance in the outdoor gardens.
In mid-June, with limited capacity, directional signage for distancing, limited hours and Member Mondays, Olbrich welcomed back visitors into the outdoor gardens. Visitors were so grateful to have the opportunity to stroll the outdoor gardens. Being outside in nature was one of the few “safer” activities and Olbrich offers an abundance of nature! Whether it was self-guided Pollinator Walks or socially distanced outdoor live music, Olbrich staff worked hard to give visitors a good experience.
Olbrich’s education department also pivoted, moving most classes online for the time being. A new lecture series, A Gardener’s Call, features once-a-month presentations by national and international garden speakers who teach about the necessity of supporting all life (plant, animal, insect, microbes) in our gardens.
With better control of COVID-19, after approval from Public Health Madison & Dane County, Olbrich re-opened indoors in mid-October with limited capacity and a mask requirement. A special display welcomed tropical garden guests with an original mural installed for the month of October. In December, poinsettias and other colorful plants complemented the tropical collection.
This spring, the outdoor gardens are waking up again, and are ready to welcome visitors from 10 am to 4 pm daily. Come visit the gardens, the conservatory and our newly LEED Platinum certified Frautschi Family Learning Center. The Learning Center is open for in-person classes but not open to the public otherwise just yet. The rooftop terrace though, is open and accessible from both outside and inside. If you are not comfortable visiting in person, check out some of the online resources to stay connected Olbrich and the gardening community.
Olbrich is Madison’s public garden; it is here to connect our community to the natural world. While those connections happened a bit differently than usual because of the pandemic, the gardens, like our community, are resilient, adaptable, and able to grow when faced with adversity.