In late June I joined approximately 50 garden bloggers, Instagrammers, podcasters, and YouTubers in picturesque Madison, Wisconsin, for the 13th annual Garden Bloggers Fling. After a COVID hiatus of two years, and a heroic display of patience, stamina, and dedication from the local planning team, the Madison Fling took place from June 23 to 26, and it was every bit as wonderful as I’d anticipated.
Madison Fling attendees
I’ve attended every Fling since it began in Austin in 2008 as a crazy idea to invite all garden bloggers to join the nascent Austin garden blogger gatherings. To our surprise and delight, 37 people from 12 states did just that, flying in from around the country for a single-day proto-Fling. And then an amazing thing happened. For the next decade-plus, bloggers from across North America volunteered to host the Fling in their own cities, turning what might have been a one-and-done event into an annual 3-1/2 day touring/social event, created by garden bloggers for garden bloggers.
Every single person who’s volunteered to host or been part of a planning team has my respect and gratitude. It’s a lot of work. But it’s also incredibly rewarding to share your city and its gardens with fellow garden bloggers.
That’s the backstory. But this post rightly focuses on the Madison Fling and the two women who made it happen, Anneliese Valdes of CobraHead and Beth Stetenfeld of PlantPostings. Both Anneliese and Beth are longtime Flingers. Anneliese even attended the first Austin Fling in 2008.
They started planning their Fling back in 2019, when they announced at the Denver Fling that they’d be hosting in 2020. We all know what happened next. COVID disrupted their plans not once but twice. The third time was the charm! Thanks to their dedication, Flingers enjoyed the sights and gardens of Madison. I’ll be sharing those with you over the next several posts.
Let’s start with Wisconsin’s beautiful capitol, whose tall, white dome serves as an orienting landmark wherever you are downtown. It may be 27 feet shorter than the capitol building in Austin, but it looms larger since it sits right on the street.
In the light of late afternoon, it takes on a warm peachy glow.
And at night, illuminated against a sapphire sky, it stopped me in my tracks. Madison is the state capital and a liberal college town with much natural beauty. It reminded me of Austin in some ways except one: it was so freaking easy to get around! With one-quarter the population of Austin, street traffic in Madison is light, the airport seemed nearly empty, and downtown restaurants didn’t require an hour’s wait to get in. It’s like the Austin that old-timers reminisce about.
We traveled from garden to garden by Badger Coach, which cracked me up.
Badgers are a thing in Madison, home of the Wisconsin Badgers football team.
As we were bused around, we were plied with snacks and waters to keep us fueled and hydrated. Here’s Diana with her favorite from the snack bag, Twizzlers.
We visited 11 private gardens, a corporate garden (you’ve got to see it to believe it), 4 public gardens, a community garden, a nursery, and a rooftop garden at the children’s museum, where the Fling’s opening reception was held. More on that below.
Madison farmers’ market
We also had an optional outing to the Saturday morning farmers’ market in downtown Madison, just steps away from our hotel.
It was early and drizzly, but what the heck. I’d been to the Dane County Farmers’ Market once before, in September (click for pics), and remembered how enjoyable it was.
I picked up a pint of strawberries and a sugar-dusted, cake-style donut. Yum.
When the raffle began, people cheered for each winner. But one attendee stood out for her excitement at winning: Austin’s own Lori Daul, who hurtled out of her seat, punching the air and leaping up and down when her number was called for this enormous hydrangea from Proven Winners. The room erupted in applause, and as she took her seat, clasping that hydrangea in victory, her tablemates saluted her with upraised CobraHead weeders, which they’d all won in the raffle. Psychic energy at work, as they claimed? Who knows, but well played, Austin table, well played. And no, Lori isn’t planning to subject that hydrangea to Austin’s summers. She’s helping her mom with her Wisconsin garden, so it’s to be a gift.
Rooftop garden at Madison Children’s Museum
On our first afternoon at the Fling, after checking in, we walked over to the Madison Children’s Museum and headed up to the rooftop garden, dubbed the Rooftop Ramble. What a surprise to find an edible garden, large shade tree, waterfall and stream, chicken coop, climbing structure, and outdoor classroom up there. We ate and drank mojitos in the garden, surrounded by downtown buildings new and old.
Mingling in the garden
A white hen made the rounds, checking out unattended plates and potted plants.
I believe she’s zeroing in on a cheese curd.
A friendly girl
At one end, a small patio overlooks a boulder-lined waterfall and stream, with a lovely lake view off to the right.
A windmill spins in the breeze
A jungle gym and grassy berm offer space for play.
Industrial scraps make a unique wall planter.
A scrap-metal fish swims through the foliage.
In the path paving, a mosaic squirrel appears with other mosaic animals. Remember that badger I showed earlier?
The hen house — a coop with a view
One of the residents
A very large bird lives on the rooftop too — this two-headed, scrap-metal bird sculpture.
You have to walk around it to appreciate all the details, like the top feathers curving in different directions on the two heads.
What a beak! And it has gauges, I think, for eyes.
Bird on bird
As we ate, Anneliese and Beth welcomed us to Madison and the Fling…
…and we enjoyed reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones.
Tomorrow we’d be off on the first full day of garden tours. I’ll be sharing gardens in random order, and I hope you’ll enjoy the tour recap.
Up next: The serene and stunning Japanese-style garden of Linda Brazill and Mark Golbach.
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