Allen Centennial Gardens
620 Babcock Drive
Madison, WI 53706

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Victorian Garden exterior along fence
Orientation Garden map
New American Garden Fall
Corner Garden 2000
ACG Lawn Garden aerial view
Sunny Larch
Conifer Garden 2009
ACG Rock Garden
Water Garden
Iris Garden
French Garden 2009
Shady Annual Garden
Daylily Garden
Italian Garden
Gazebo as focal point in English Garden
Pergola fall 2010
Edible Gardening
Edible Gardening fall
Ornamental Shade Garden
Wisconsin Woodland Garden fall
Beautiful views
Elegant respite


Download a PDF copy of the map.

ALLEN CENTENNIAL GARDENS sits at the corner of Babcock & Observatory Drive and surrounds a stately Victorian house. This beautiful structure was built by the College of Agriculture (today called the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) to specifications of William A. Henry, the first professor of agriculture and later dean, as provisions to his tenure. Three other deans lived in the house, Harry L. Russell, Christian l. Christensen, and Edwin B. Fred, who served as dean for only two years before he became University president in 1945. He and his wife Rosa continued to live in the house until their deaths in 1980 and 1981. The house was then converted to office space, which remains its use today. In 1984, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


In the early 1980’s an addition to the Plant Sciences building for Agronomy displaced the horticulture teaching gardens. A decision was made to move those gardens to the 2.5 acres around the house. In the process of soliciting donations to accomplish this goal, generous donors provided enough money for the creation of a more expansive teaching garden, in fact, a botanic garden open to the public. The largest contribution to the Garden’s endowment fund is from Mrs. Ethel Allen, a former UW faculty member, along with her bacteriologist husband, Dr. Oscar Allen. Naming the Gardens after the Allens in 1989 coincided with the 100th anniversary of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, thus the name “Allen Centennial”.


The Gardens’ mission is to serve as an outdoor classroom for University students and staff but also serves as educational outreach to the public as well as the professional green industry and visitors from outside the state.


Here’s a convenient way to find your way around Allen Centennial Gardens. Starting at the front entry make your way to the south and follow the key.


A. The Victorian Garden surrounds the semi-circular brick drive and gates as well as the front entrance of the house. It is designed primarily with flowering bulbs in the spring and annual plantings that complement the Victorian Gothic structure of the house. A Victorian based garden is as eclectic in plant materials as was the architecture and reflects tropical plants, bedding plants and anything considered exotic and unusual to the British Isles.


B. The Orientation Garden has a large permanent map near the entrance and a brochure station. Interpretive signage is also placed throughout the Gardens and moved regularly to highlight plants and areas of particular focus. Our web page provides more detailed and updated information on plants, specific gardens, rentals, photography policy, opportunities, navigation, events and other pertinent information. The steps are a popular spot for portrait photography and the authentic cast iron urns lend a sense of age and formal perspective.


C. The New American Garden was a gardening style

borrowed from South America and vaulted into American gardens almost single-handedly by Oehme, van Sweden & Associates in Washington, D.C. who felt this style was a metaphor for the American meadow that reflected the year-round beauty of the natural landscape. The intent was to plant in “sweeps and drifts” to weave a tapestry across the entire garden plane using tough and durable American prairie wildflowers and ornamental grasses. Some of the primary components of this gardening style included strong drifts of brightly colored native flowers, a naturalistic “feel”, the importance of foliage massed, pathways and ‘hardscape’ that give freedom to the visual effect and a sense of drama and importance.


D. The Corner Garden is aptly named because it is the first garden you notice on the corner of Babcock and Observatory Drives. Perennial Pee Gee hydrangeas, Chinese junipers and golden Japanese falsecypress anchor a bed of bulbs in the spring and a seasonal theme throughout the summer. It is the first invitation to explore the Gardens.


E. The Lawn Garden provides a unique view of the gardens and is popular for special events such as weddings, retirement parties and reunions. It also provides a calming green oasis and transitional area for intensely planted garden beds.


F. The Sunny Annual Garden and G. The Tapis de Fleur Garden are used for seasonal displays reflecting the annual theme. They are connected by paths that allow the garden visitor to view new and interesting plant materials with ease.  “Roman ruins” arches and a ‘Stonehenge” tie the two areas together and provide visual interest in the off season. Plant selections might include annuals, perennials, woodies, tropicals and edibles but the intent is to change over all plant materials each season to reflect a new theme.


H. The Dwarf Conifer Garden features a variety of shapes, forms, and textures in dwarf conifers, slower growing species better suited to the smaller landscape. These plants reflect only a fraction of the enormous selection available. You will find other conifers used in almost every garden within ACG as part of their design. They provide true four-season interest and a solid foundation for a garden landscape. In 2009, both peony and lily collections were added for more flower color.


I. The Rock Garden. Rock gardening was started by enthusiasts interested in alpine, saxatile, and low-growing perennials. They are interested in the study and cultivation of wildflowers that grow well among rocks, whether such plants originate above alpine tree line or at lower elevations. There are many styles and forms of rock gardening but the plants more often tend to be ones that have adapted to harsh environmental, geographical and cultural conditions. They may thrive only in very specific conditions. The ACG Rock Garden reflects a number of diverse growing conditions including, but not limited to, tufa beds, high plains and sand gardens, scree beds, troughs and a crevice garden.


J. The Water Garden. Water is often an important element in garden design, adding the element of calm reflection. Planted with native and tropical water lilies and lined with moisture loving plants, it is a perfect place to sit and relax.


K. The Iris Garden features many types of irises, a flowering plant that has been part of garden design for centuries. Irises have a season of bloom that can be extended by using types that range from an early season to late (in our area generally late April through mid-June). The irises most often used as garden plants fall into three main groups: bearded, aril and beardless irises (American Iris Society Because planting this garden solid with irises would create a monoculture that aids rapid spread of pest and disease issues, and to extend the bloom and make it a more complete garden, you will also find an extensive selection of sun loving perennials.


L. The French Garden. The French countryside where the wealthy built their castles tended to be wide, open acreage so formal gardens were designed to be viewed from the ramparts above. Intricate garden border designs were created by closely trimming hedges of lavender, rosemary, yew, boxwood or other plants into manicured “parterres” such as the Fleur di Lis design in Allen Centennial Gardens. The Sun King railing and terrace is provided to replicate  a view from above. French parterres were generally planted with annual flowers to provide a colorful design from above or with herbs and kitchen plants for utility.


M. A Future Sustainability Garden is in the planning stages with the focus on methods to garden in more sustainable ways. The area has been cleared and will be managed without plants until funding, through donations and/or grants, is secured. Planning and fund raising will progress over the 2010-11 winter season.


N. The Shady Annual Garden displays annual plants that thrive in shady conditions. Since there are degrees of shade tolerance, the plants on the east and north sides of the bed prefer more shade whereas the plants on the south and west sides are more sun tolerant. They represent annuals that are shade tolerant and will provide color throughout the season.


O. The Daylily Garden in all its glory June through September shows the wide variety represented in our collection. Flower colors, sizes and forms are enough to suit anyone’s taste. Hemerocallis are tough and reliable and will grow almost anywhere with full sun to partial shade. Our daylily garden is completely changed over to the newest and latest cultivars every three years by the Wisconsin Daylily Society.


P. The Italian Garden. The Italian Renaissance garden was a new style of garden which emerged in the late fifteenth century at villas in Rome and Florence, inspired by classical ideals of order and beauty, and intended for the view, for contemplation, and for enjoyment of the sights, sounds and smells of the garden itself. In the late Renaissance, the gardens became larger, grander and more symmetrical, and were filled with fountains, statues, grottoes and other features designed to delight their owners and amuse and impress visitors. The style influenced the gardens of the French Renaissance and the English.


Q. The Orchard.  This path is an area planted to with apple and cherry trees, important to Wisconsin horticulture and agriculture.


R. The English Garden is a formal planting surrounded by a yew hedge. It reflects several historical English garden design styles. The enclosed space is reminiscent of the English cottage garden, the plantings reflect the English perennial border and the lawn captures a sense of the picturesque style. The ACG English garden features plants that reflect English design but are Midwest hardy and durable.


S. The Pergola defines the east-west center of the gardens.

A handsome 60 foot cedar structure is both the defining element of height for the Italian Garden and the design base for the English Garden. Ornamental vines drape the pergola, Hortisculpture sculptures reflecting garden tools in foliar form as well as a larch arbor and container plantings of colorful annuals make for a pleasant respite on the benches beneath.


T. The Terrace provides a wonderful place for relaxation and is a favorite place for lunch for many who work on campus. The ‘Memorial Union’ signature chairs with tables enhance the area. The containers are planted to reflect the annual theme and are most appropriately near the Kitchen Garden.


U. The Small Fruits Garden is filled with a variety of berries and small fruits that can be grown in Wisconsin gardens without requiring large amounts of space. This includes lingon berry, blueberry, raspberry, current and gooseberry.


V. The Kitchen Garden is represented by both a traditional garden bed and raised beds. The goal is to show that fresh, safe, organic produce is easy for anyone to grow in limited space. The square-foot-gardening beds are based on Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening book. The raised planters enable people with disabilities to garden easily and with minimal effort. The produce is harvested and served by the U.W. Housing, Dining & Catering Services. At the end of the season, all usable produce and edible plants are harvested and delivered to those in need.


W. The Herb Garden is designed and planted by the Madison Herb Society. An herb is a plant that is valued for flavor, scent, medicinal or other qualities other than its food value. These gardens may be informal patches of plants, or they may be carefully designed, even to the point of arranging and clipping the plants to form specific patterns, as in a knot garden. Herbs have a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, or in some cases even spiritual usage. Few gardens offer more pleasure and utility than the herb garden with close proximity to the kitchen door! Herbs also work well in mixed usage gardens, containers and window boxes.


X. The Ornamental Shade Garden helps Midwest gardeners discover there are many ornamental plants that provide color and beautiful design with the challenge of shade. Some are either non-indigenous to Wisconsin or they are cultivars genetically different in color, form or other features of the native parent species. Shade gardening relies more heavily on colorful foliage than flowers.


Y. The Wisconsin Woodland Garden captures the harmony and natural quality of Wisconsin’s surrounding forests. Like natural forest, the garden is composed of four tiers of vegetation; canopy, understory, shrub and ground layers. A limestone path wanders among the plantings passing a ring of stone benches. The woodland garden plants were all selected based on the natural occurrence in Wisconsin forests, their noninvasive habit, unique features and shade tolerance. Many are ephemeral, which means they flower in the spring when enough light still enters through the upper canopy before foliage has fully emerged but all vegetation goes dormant in mid-summer when shade deepens to levels where photosynthesis is nearly impossible.


Z. The Ornamental Shrub Garden displays the versatility of shrubs for the home landscape. Often tough and durable with less care than annuals and perennials, shrubs have become a popular low-maintenance option that provide additional height and visual interest, especially combined with small-scale trees. We attempt to demonstrate this added “middle layer” of the landscape using small-scale trees and shrubs in between the upper canopy layer of mature trees and the ground level annuals and perennials from the northeast corner of the Gardens up to the house porch.

Ornamental shrubs front house