Allen Centennial Garden is the artful living laboratory and public botanical garden of the Horticulture Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Garden serves as an outdoor classroom for UW-Madison students and the surrounding communities, providing meaningful learning opportunities for visitors of all ages.
The Gardens are open 1pm until dusk during the week, and dawn to dusk on the weekend. Admission is free.
The History of Allen Centennial Garden
The Allen Centennial Garden was dedicated in October 1989. The former teaching gardens attached to the Plant Sciences building were destroyed in 1979 to make room for a new building addition. In the early 1980s, plans evolved for a new instructional garden (what would eventually become the Allen Centennial Garden) to be located on the 2.5 acres surrounding the historic Dean’s Residence, one block north of the Plant Sciences building. The development of the Allen Centennial Garden was designed to complement the home and its existing plantings, including the larch tree (Larix decidua) planted in 1899 to commemorate the birth of the dean-in-residence’s son.
Early donations from student groups and anonymous gifts were available for the initial planning and design. With a substantial gift from Mrs. Ethel Allen, the ground breaking was possible for construction to begin in the spring of 1985. Mrs. Allen is the widow of eminent University of Wisconsin bacteriologist, Dr. Oscar Allen. Professor Allen taught at the university from 1948 until his death in 1976. The couple co-authored what is considered the “encyclopedia” of the role of legumes in nitrogen fixation.
Ethel Allen, a former member of the UW faculty, received a bachelor’s degree in botany, a Masters in bacteriology and an honorary doctorate in science from the university. A Madison resident, she was instrumental in providing support for the early phases of Garden construction. Naming the Gardens after the Allens in 1989 coincided with the commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of the Department of Horticulture, hence the Garden’s full name of Allen Centennial Garden.
Allen Centennial Garden is constantly evolving. The varied topography and exposures of the 90,000 square foot site allow for a great diversity of plantings and the hardscapes. The major emphasis within the Garden is on herbaceous ornamental perennials but the site features many other plantings including annuals and woody plants.
The Dean's Residence
The Garden is built around a stately Victorian gothic house nestled on the agricultural campus. The house, known as the “Lake Dormer,” the “Fred House,” the “Agricultural Dean’s Residence,” and simply as “10 Babcock Drive,” was one of the first buildings on the agricultural campus and served as home for the college’s first four deans. It remains a cherished landmark for generations of students, alumni and friends of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Each of the four deans, William A. Henry (1891-1907), Harry L. Russell (1907-1931), Christian L. Christensen (1931-1943) and Edwin B. Fred (1943-1945), played a major role in the development of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW-Madison. Dean Fred continued to reside in the house after becoming president of the University.
While the house is no longer used as the dean’s residence, it continues to serve a vital role within the university. The house has been used as offices for the Agricultural Research Stations and later included the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Conference Services and Garden staff.
In 1984, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This provided overdue recognition of the building and its grounds and gave the residence its appropriate place among Wisconsin’s historic resources. Registration also saved it from certain demise as the campus grew and looked to expand classroom and research facilities.