A short course on shade gardening … and hospitality

My wife and I traveled to Madison, WI in early June to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. As the weekend approached, she suggested that we find a few public gardens to tour during our visit. We’ve grown fond of Madison over the years, but hadn’t ever thought about garden tours in our previous visits. So I used a little insider information by way of Ed Lyon, director of Allen Centennial Gardens on the University of Wisconsin campus, who I’d met earlier this year at National Green Centre in St. Louis. Ed graciously took time out of his hectic spring planting schedule to fill me in on all the area horticultural hot spots, and even invited us to tour his home garden on Saturday afternoon.

Ed greeted us like old friends on the sidewalk that fronts the home he shares with his partner Darrell, immediately engaging us with stories about the multiple iterations of plants he’s tried in the parkway strip, the only full sun area of his small urban lot. The rest of the front yard and entire back yard sit in moderate to dense shade under a canopy of silver maple and black walnut.

I’d seen photos of Ed’s home garden before, but our first steps down the front entry were nothing short of a breathtaking short course on shade gardening. What was nothing but trees and grass in 2006 is now a flowing masterpiece of green, gold, caramel, bronze and purple. Short of the narrow mulched paths that wind gently in a constant reveal of new vistas, there is no ground showing in the garden. Ed has mixed species, color and texture with the knowledge of a plantsman and the touch of a true artist.

It is with humility that I share these photos of Ed’s garden with you, for they certainly can’t capture its true splendor. Other gardeners will understand when I talk of a garden as both a peaceful oasis and arousing inspiration. I can find no other words than to describe Ed’s garden as unsurpassed among urban lot landscapes.

































We were touched by Ed’s generosity in spending so much of his afternoon with us, weaving stories of life through the history of his garden. As the filtered gold of evening began to backlight airy spikes of blooming Heuchera, Ed sent us in the direction of the Flower Factory, his favorite perennial nursery in the area. We were too late to do much shopping, but saw enough to draw us back the next morning.

It’s no surprise that the inspiration of Ed’s garden helped to fill our vehicle with lasting memories of Madison. Thank you, Ed, for the wonderful Wisconsin hospitality!

Published by Christopher Tidrick

Be real. Love always. Share beauty. Lead well. Learn more.


  1. What a beautiful shade garden! Such an incredible quilt of colors and textures. I love that first shot of the bed with the repeating Hakone grass and the golden Heuchera.



  2. Madison is a great town, we lived there for about a year a decade or so ago. Another garden worth seeing is the Olbrich, the local botanical garden.



  3. […] special thanks to our friend Ed Lyon (see my post about his home garden) who recommended we visit Olbrich during our weekend in Madison. It’s definitely worth a few […]



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