01 September 2008

Mad Town

John and I just got back from a weekend in the Old Home Place: Madison, Wisconsin. It's a bucolic little European-esque city, with the world's best farmer's market, bike paths (and bicyclists) galore, stately buildings, Brandy Old Fashioneds and fish fries. Gotta love it. A lot of people say that it's like Austin before Austin grew up, but I'm not comfortable with that comparison. It's got a really different, Norwegian-Swede, progressive, socialism vibe going on that's pretty different from Austin's wild west, libertarianism.

We stayed on our old street with friend Tony. Tony lives in a cedar shake house with a beautiful mature garden that he's been working on for over two decades. Tony and our friend Catherine both helped us seed our first garden with hosta transplants, cimicifuga, ferns, wild geranium and more.

Here's a pic of Tony's backyard on a gorgeous 85 degree Madison summer day (note the ubiquitous bicycle - everyone does it in Madison).

It's so pretty lined with various types of hostas, fruit and maple trees. Tony's potted herb garden on the back porch impressed me too. Sage, mint, oregano, tarragon and chives are handy for fresh yummies (e.g. cool sweet pea soup dotted with mint).

The pear branches are drooping under the weight of ripening fruit, just next to Tony's quaint garage.

Madison is home to the tallgrass prairie, and lots of people - especially in our old neighborhood - fill their front yards with a mix of tallgrass natives and adapted plants. Many people really like their yards to be full and wild looking. It's interesting to see how the same prairie species can grow so differently there. For example, check out the Little Bluestem in the foreground of this photo:

It's got a completely different, more sedate growth pattern up there. I also noticed other familiars and related species to some of our plants down here, like black-eyed susan, echinacea, and northern sea oats.

Rain gardens are big up there, too. This is one at the local food co-op, just full of goldenrod and other yellow asters.

Madison's system of bike trails is like none I've ever seen anywhere. Lots of old rail lines have been converted into bike highways. Here's a shot of one that ran by our old house. Community veggie gardens line the left side and a restored prairie lines the right. The prairie is all yellow this time of year, but there are the remains of some purple coneflower and gayfeather to be seen too.

Here's a very creative firewood fence at the house of a locally successful restaurateur. It'd be fun to see the fence deplete as the cold winters wear on.

Just next door is a garden that is an amazing combination of evergreens, mostly low growing and of various colors. Cool stuff, and I remember that it looks great draped in white snow.

And finally, here's a guerrilla art project that I installed the fall before leaving Madison, with the help of Megan and Jeff. It's survived a long time now and is pretty integrated into the fabric of the bike trail up there. Someone even added a new directional sign to Fairbanks, Alaska.

I'm glad the sign has made it this far, and hope that someone takes care of it from time to time. It got me to scheming for something similar here...


Pam/Digging said...

Thanks for the tour. What a great looking town. Reminds me of Boulder, based on your description. That sign would be cool in a garden---sort of bottle-tree-esque, but cleverer.

Lee17 said...

I dig this town already, move me in! I really like that bike trail with the community garden on one side and the restored prairie on the other. They need more bike lanes/trails/roads in Austin.

Taryn said...

i had no idea that you made that sign. at least now i have some tour stops for my next trip to the Mad City . . .