By Shelby Deering | Photo courtesy Milwaukee County Zoo
Even though spring is almost here, those beautiful blooms and balmy breezes can’t come soon enough for many of us. Get your fix by visiting these three Wisconsin indoor gardens, all with their own distinct vibe.
Each locale has sturdy COVID-19 safety measures in place, including required face coverings, one-way walking paths and limited capacities. To confirm that they are indeed open, be sure to double-check the hours before going.
MILWAUKEE COUNTY ZOO’S HERB AND NADA MAHLER FAMILY AVIARY
Since 1961, the Milwaukee County Zoo has been wowing adults and kids alike with its bevy of beasts. From lions, tigers and bears to some antelope, gorillas and lemurs for good measure, it’s always been a wild place, so to speak — that is, until you reach the oh-so-peaceful Herb and Nada Mahler Family Aviary (above). It’s like ducking into an island oasis right in the middle of Milwaukee. Outfitted in verdant, warm weather- loving plants, it’ll feel as if you’ve stepped right into summer, with one difference — you’ve likely never seen this many birds all in one place. Cardinals live in harmony alongside penguins, boat-billed herons wade in water next to whooping cranes and vibrant turquoise tanagers and fairy bluebirds add color to the scene.
OLBRICH BOTANICAL GARDENS
If you need an escape to the tropics, albeit temporarily, look no further than the Bolz Conservatory (above) at Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens. With more than 650 plants from all over the world, it might give you a taste of that international travel you’ve been dreaming about — and it doesn’t hurt that it’s always a balmy 65 to 80 degrees. Rare orchids, banana trees and ferns galore are on display while canaries, Japanese koi and even some elusive toads and geckos dot the environment. Linger over the 20-foot waterfall, meander the paths and park on a bench for a mini vacation made even better with a book in hand.
MITCHELL PARK DOMES
Reserve tickets to visit the famed Mitchell Park Domes. With their futuristic, geodesic design that’s punctuated the Milwaukee skyline since 1967, these glass structures hold entire ecosystems. There’s the Tropical Dome where you’ll feel as if you’ve jetted off to Bali with its hibiscus flowers, guava trees and rainforest vegetation. The Desert Dome (opposite page) is warm and arid with cactus-laden scenery reminiscent of the American Southwest, the African Sahara and beyond. To see kaleidoscopic blooms in all their glory, go to the Show Dome where floral designers display their talents within themes that change five times a year.
GREEN VIRTUAL EXPERIENCES
If you’d prefer to admire the beauty of the gardens (and learn a thing or two) from the comfort of your home, you can take part in these virtual experiences and classes.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens is offering a virtual lecture series with topics ranging from “Bumble Bee Basics” to edible landscaping. Register for a class and you could learn how to make a Pakistani vegetarian feast, paint an abstract landscape or discover how to properly care for orchids. olbrich.org/education/virtuallectureseries.cfm
The Mitchell Park Domes have a website section called The Domes @ Home that’s filled with family-friendly, educational videos; virtual tours; and kid-approved activities. milwaukeedomes.org
You can visit the Milwaukee County Zoo from your laptop. Their webcams featuring jaguars, lions and penguins are sure to put a smile on your face as you watch from home. To support the zoo from afar, you can always pick up toys and tees through the online gift shop. milwaukeezoo.org; zooview.tv