Prospect Gardens Summer Time

Prospect Gardens Summer Time
Summer Scene

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Tour of Five Gardens: "One Vast Garden"

Prospect Gardens is just one of several gardens along the Southwest Bike/Pedestrian Path. Get ready for a tour of five other gardens. These gardens, along with others not part of the tour, make the Southwest Bike/Pedestrian more than a transportation corridor. Each of the five is unique with its own history. All depend on dedicated volunteers. Their time and energy has resulted in colorful prairies, places for human connections, habitat for birds, butterflies, insects, animals, and pleasing views for all who use the path.

Furthermore, volunteers have restored plots of what a spiritual leader and one of the great Hindu saints, Sri Ananandamayi Ma (1896-1982), referred to as "One Vast Garden", a metaphor for our universe. Here are her words. Please note two male pronouns in the original have been replaced with gender neutral terms. Changes are underlined.   

 "I find one vast garden spread out all over the universe.

All plants, all human beings, all higher mind bodies

are about in this garden in various ways ,

each has their own uniqueness and beauty.

Their presence and variety give me great delight.

Every one of you adds a special feature to the glory of the garden.”  

Our first prairie is the furthest one west of Prospect Gardens covering areas along both sides of the Hammersely connector to the Southwest path.  Laura from the Midvale neighborhood seeded these areas mostly on her own in 2001-2002.  Laura also tends other prairie gardens between Midvale Boulevard and west towards the Beltline.  She affectionately refers to one section just west of the Midvale as "the big ditch."

I estimate that the pictured prairie is at least 300 feet long and 60 feet deep. I stepped it off with my Fitbit. Across from it and on the east side, is a long stretch of mostly cup plants. Bikers, runners and walkers use the bridge in the picture to cross over the busy four lane beltline.  Further down the path and just past the Allied Neighborhood, the path connects with several other trails including the Capital Trail that takes you around Madison through the Nine Springs area. About a block from our apartment, I can get on the Southwest Bike Path and do an 18 mile loop that includes the Capital Trail.

 Here's another view of the prairie surrounding the Hammersely connector. Pictured are some usual prairie plants such as native Bee Balm, Purple Cones and the tall Cup plants. These will have large yellow blooms in late summer. The large leaves form a cup which catches rain water.

A few weeks ago Laura emailed reporting several discoveries while pulling hedge parsley and wild parsnip in the "big ditch" west of Midvale Boulevard. As Laura hoped, over the small pools created in the ditch bottom by erosion from flood waters, she noticed tadpoles and damselfly nymphs in the pooled water. In the bottom of the ditch she also discovered swamp milkweed and wet tolerant grasses. These discoveries are worth celebrating. They are also are a testimony to Laura's seventeen years of persistence caring for the "big ditch", the Hammersely connector and other prairie sections along the Southwest Path.

Traveling east from the "big ditch" on the Southwest Bike/Pedestrian Path to the intersection of  Odana Road, takes you to the magnificent Dudgeon Monroe Prairie. It's on the southeast corner. I consider this the crown jewel of the all the prairies along the Path because of its diversity and size. This gem spans a total of 6,490 square feet.

Sue and volunteers began planting in 2000 before the Southwest Path formally opened on July 28, 2001. The first plantings were 320 forbs and grasses from Agrecol, a commercial supplier near Janesville.  Much of the seed came from Audubon's Goose Pond in Arlington and Pleasant Valley near Black Earth. 

Sue, Laura, caretaker of the "big ditch, and others were the initial members of the Friends of the Southwest Bike and Pedestrian Path, formed before the path opened. A 2000 article by Bill Jordan states their aim:  

"to foster a sense of community along the bike/pedestrian corridor, with due regard for plants and animals as well as for the human community--a sense of the cultural commons that includes goldfinches and walnut trees as well as people. " (see   

Sue and her volunteers through hard work have achieved this lofty aim drafted nearly 20 years ago. This picture is just a glimpse of the beauty and majesty of their creation.  You must visit this prairie to fully appreciate its beauty and what Sue and other volunteers under her guidance have achieved.

The prairie was the staging area used to construct the path.  As a result, underneath this prairie is crushed asphalt, the remains of the staging area. Heavy equipment was parked there plus two work trailers. Soil, including four tons of sand in the front third of the main prairie, was trucked in to cover the asphalt.  According to Sue: " the plants are thriving in spite of it all." Among the thriving plants are several species on state lists as either endangered or of special concern.

Sue continues caring for the Dudgeon Monroe Prairie. She is still deeply committed to the aim for the entire Southwest Path corridor that she helped set in 2000.

Bonnie, Chair of the Westmorland Greenspace Crew, and volunteers also have achieved the 2000 aim. Ten years ago Bonnie and her stalwart volunteers took on the challenge of restoring a ravine on the north side of the path at the intersection of Glenway Street. The site,  sometimes called the "Glenway Gulch", is east of The Dudgeon Monroe Prairie and is in the Westmorland Neighborhood.

Initially, City Engineering helped the crew to eradicate a carpet of garlic mustard and then established prairie/native plantings. City Engineering contracted for both tasks. 

Bonnie's crew manages the almost half acre site. This includes yearly burns, seeding and planting.  Also required is frequent removal of  aggressive species such as garlic mustard, dame’s rocket, motherwort, ragweed, Canada thistle, and Japanese hedge parsley.

Bonnie says that because of its difficult history:  "We are happy with nearly anything native that grows there; the goal is not necessarily diversity or a particularly garden look." This picture shows that Bonnie and crew have succeeded and can be very happy with the results.  A once weed infested ravine is now a space of beauty and a natural habitat.

Across the street from the Glenway Gulch and in the Dudgeon Monroe Neighborhood is the Glenway Area Prairie. The north section covers 3,267 square feet in 3 sections separated by grassy strips. Another south section of 566 square feet is bordered by grass and private property which includes woods.

This prairie has a special place in my heart. Robin, a Dudgeon Monroe resident, originally did some planting in a smaller area of the current prairie. Sandy agreed to take over when she moved into the neighborhood in 2007. I volunteered for the first time after the initial area was expanded with the help of the city and the Dudgeon Monroe Neighborhood Association. I fondly remember that day when I pedaled my bike to the site. We smoothed out black dirt and planted seedlings, also known as "plugs."  During a break, we enjoyed chocolate chip cookies from the Saturday Market. Since 2007 other sections were added to the prairie.

I continued volunteering at Glenway until 2010 when we (Steve, and his late wife, Peg, and myself) began the Prospect Gardens, and I then became its crew chief or lead volunteer. Thanks Sandy for introducing me to prairie gardening along the Southwest Path and for encouraging us to start the Prospect Gardens site.

This picture is a small window to the beauty of what Sandy started over a decade ago. The north side of the prairie is mostly short grass prairie plantings, with a border of native ornamental plants in an area closest to Glenway.  Small dogwoods and native shrubs are also part of this area.

The native plants were chosen based on Sue's Dudgeon Monroe Prairie, with allowances for more shade and moisture. The south section has wildflowers and a woodland garden.

Our final prairie garden is about three quarters of a block west of Prospect Gardens at the Commonwealth Avenue intersection and is the newest garden along the path. David and his wife, Jeannette, began planting this beauty in 2014 after receiving a Madison Neighborhood grant. The garden is in the Regent Neighborhood.

It's a 1,200 square foot garden with a focus on plants that attract butterflies and native pollinators. The garden has a diverse mix of flowers and grasses that are native to the area. According to the initial grant, the goal was "to beautify an underutilized neighborhood space that can be enjoyed not only by the surrounding neighbors, but also the many people that enjoy the bike path every day."

The goal has been accomplished. The garden includes special seating designed and installed by Peter, a landscape architect. Much of the stone was donated. Another bench is opposite of the one pictured. David applied the finish to the benches.    
This is just one of many colorful prairie plants in the garden.  The garden has 38 different species of wild flowers and 4 different native grasses.  A plastic box on a pole has a catalog showing all the plants in the garden. Check it out if you visit this garden.

Sit quietly on one of the slab benches and enjoy this beautified space. A Monarch butterfly may gently float pass or you may see, in the late summer, a Gold Finch feeding on the Purple Cone seeds. A chipmunk may check you out and Cardinals may fly across the garden.

Rest awhile and contemplate your place in what Sri Ananandamayi Ma calls "one vast garden."  Perhaps you may notice your special contribution to our universal garden and how we are all interdependent and connected. 

This concludes the five prairie garden tour. May these five plots of the "one vast garden" continue nurturing all beings who live in them, live near them, care for them, and travel by or through them. 



  1. Oh, such a nice and comprehensive write up. Thanks Jake.

  2. The above was written by Sue Reindollar. I thought it would automatically note that, but it didn't