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Cover Story

Alfred Boerner’s vision blooms in botanical gardens

WHEN Alfred L. Boerner made plans for the Milwaukee botanical gardens that now carry his name, he clearly stated his vision:

“It is not only for us, but for our children and grandchildren who will reap the full benefit.”

The nationally recognized landscape architect and general manager of the Milwaukee County Park System died in 1955, but there is no doubt that Boerner Botanical Gardens today fulfill his vision, offering a constantly changing array of visual delights enhanced by an impressive new Education and Visitor Center.

Landscape architect Boerner designed the formal gardens and arboretum.  During the Great Depression of the 1930s they were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Works Projects Administration (WPA) and the Milwaukee Relief Project. Wisconsin’s oldest remaining CCC project building is located at Boerner Botanical Gardens.

Located in Hales Corners, just 15 minutes southwest of downtown Milwaukee, the gardens today are entered through the new Visitor Center, with its glass façade that recalls the elegant conservatories of the early 1900s.  Featuring a two-story glass atrium, the center offers space for corporate events, wedding receptions, banquets and special events. The center also is home to Nell’s Café, presented by the Bartolotta Restaurant Group.  Bartolotta also manages the year-round Sunday Brunch in Boerner Hall.

The Friends of Boerner Botanical Gardens organization supports the gardens, manages the center and is dedicated to preserving and promoting Boerner Botanical Gardens and Arboretum as an outstanding regional resource and vital regional asset. By providing quality educational programs, the Friends stimulated interest in, appreciation for and understanding of horticulture and gardening.  Annually, the Gardens host more than 200,000 visitors serving as a “living museum” and an outdoor classroom, appealing to horticulturalists and botanists of all levels.

Laid out according to Boerner’s plan to provide aesthetic and educational gratification, the grounds provide something for anyone who enjoys natural beauty. Among the many features are:

  • A walled garden displays long-blooming annuals.

  • An Arboretum with native and woody plants from throughout the world, including the largest collection of crabapple trees in the U.S.

  • Lilac Lane providing blooms, fragrances and even a nut tree collection.

  • The Bog Garden, a lush, green-blanketed fen that becomes an exotic, jungle-like escape as the season progresses.

  • Day Lilly Walk, a curving path of pale yellow to rich purple flowers, blooming at different times and peaking in July.

  • The Herb Garden, a secluded assemblage of more than 300 varieties of herbs.

  • The Peony Garden offering a profusion of blooms from mid-May through late June.

  • The formal Rose Garden, European-style garden displaying All-American Rose selections among more than 500 varieties of roses. Massive stone and wood arbors to the south provide support for climbing roses.

  • Trial Gardens that provide a testing ground for All-American Rose selections and flower trials.

Upcoming Events at Boerner Botanical Gardens

Saturday, May 21
Virginia Small, Editor Fine Gardening, Lecture

Virginia Small, Editor, Fine Gardening Magazine, will give a lecture entitled “Learning from Legendary Garden Designers: American Landscape Visionaries and Their Legacies”.

Sunday, June 5
Honor the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)

During the Great Depression of the 1930s the gardens were constructed by the CCC, the Works Projects Administration (WPA) and the Milwaukee Relief Project. Meet living CCC members, view historical photos and enjoy a soup kitchen lunch.

Saturday, June 18
Annual Garden Party – Fiesta de las Flores

The vibrant flavors of contempory Latin cuisine will be orchestrated by The Bartolotta Catering Company.  A Voice Auction featuring Katrina Cravy, of FOX Channel 6, will follow dinner.  Corporate Tables and individual tickets are available.

Wednesday - Sunday, June 22 – 26
Annual Festival of the Rose

This festival bursts into bloom each summer to celebrate the Roses with events, excitement and entertainment for all ages.  Discover why people keep coming back, year after year, to be part of this beautiful event.

Friday, September 30
Annual Herb of the Year Dinner

Celebrate the 2005 Herb of the Year – Oregano!  Enjoy culinary masterpieces prepared by the Bartolotta Catering Company.  Each course will feature the honored herb.

Boerner Botanical Gardens are located in Hales Corners at 9400 Boerner Dr. in Whitnall Park. The Gardens are south of W. Grange Ave. and north of W. College Ave. between S. 92nd and S. 108th Sts. More specific directions and a list of events are posted on the Friends' Web site at or, for more information, call 414-525-5650.



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