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Gardens of Earthly Delights in Janesville, WIS

Rotary Botanical Gardens is a year-round showcase of natural beauty.

Discover one of Southern Wisconsin’s most treasured landscapes–the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville. Throughout 20 sprawling acres are 26 international gardens and more than 4,000 plant varieties. It’s an award-winning oasis of beauty, serenity and education.

(I visited the Rotary Botanical Gardens as part of a media tour sponsored in part  by the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.)

During my summer visit, the Rotary Botanical Gardens presented a kaleidoscope of color. Some basked in the sunshine, while others thrived beneath massive shade trees. Grab a map at the entrance to help find your way around.

A brick low-rise building with flower-and-rock garden in front
A stunning entrance to Rotary Botanical Gardens hints at the natural wonders beyond.

Meandering pathways guide visitors past French, English, Scottish and Japanese gardens; children’s garden; herb garden; alpine garden; and extensive collections of hostas, ferns, moss and day lilies. A large pond is ornamented with a dazzling water feature, red Japanese arched bridge, zig-zag bridge and observation pier. The gazebo overlooking the pond is a popular site for weddings and other celebrations.

A grouping of trees creates a shady area for groundcover plants
Some botanicals thrive in sunshine while others prefer shady areas.

The newest garden is the Wellness Garden, which opened in 2018. Its raised beds;  a wide, circular paved path; and plenty of benches are designed to maximize accessibility for visitors with mobility and other impairments . The garden is planted to stimulate the senses with fragrance and color along with the soothing sounds of a central fountain.

A clear pond reflects the backdrop of trees; a water feature in the pond shoots a spray of water straight into the air.
A serene pond at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville invites quiet contemplation.

A calendar of events at the Rotary Botanical Gardens includes family-friendly educational workshops, demonstrations, art shows, plant sales and concerts. During the Holiday Light Show in December, the gardens sparkle with nearly 1,000,000 lights. I participated in an early morning yoga class on the terrace, while birds chirped and chipmunks scurried around us.

Be sure to browse the Cottage Garden Gallery, a boutique of home and garden decor, apparel and jewelry hand-crafted by local artisans. It’s in the main building.

Flowers and green plants border a sidewalk
Pathways meander amid 26 themed gardens.

It’s hard to believe these magnificent gardens haven’t been in existence forever, but they are little more than 30 years in the making. Back in the late 1980s, the space was an abandoned sand and gravel quarry. Dr. Robert Yahr, a retired orthodontist and Janesville resident, dreamed of a botanical garden the entire community could enjoy. 

He shared his idea and enlisted the support of two Janesville Rotary Clubs, who agreed to help. Dr. Yahr’s vision opened the gate for countless volunteers who transformed this once-barren land. For one thing, there was no dirt on the site. More than 800 truckloads of topsoil were hauled in the first two years. 

In 1990, a small band of volunteers joined Dr. Yahr in providing some of the labor. They called themselves the “Grumpies” after the movie, “Grumpy Old Men.” Their numbers have grown exponentially and to include men and women of all ages. The Grumpies meet twice a week to plant, mow, paint, build benches and pergolas, and generally do what needs to be done to keep the gardens at their most spectacular.

A field of purple flowers with a monarch butterfly sitting on one
I even captured the butterfly!

The Rotary Botanical Gardens, which welcomes 100,000 visitors a year, has won numerous awards for best landscape design, romantic setting and specialty gift shop in various competitions. It earned Travel Green certification in 2013 from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.  The secluded and contemplative Japanese garden, with its pond views and waterfall, is consistently ranked as one of the top Japanese gardens in the country.  

Rotary Botanical Gardens, 1455 Palmer Drive, Janesville WI 53545

Six Adirondack chairs overlook a peaceful pond
Relax and sit a spell at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin.

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