Farm to Flavor Dinner Scheduled

Join the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative and Allen Centennial Garden for Farm to Flavor 2017, a signature dinner experience and celebration of Wisconsin food that will be held on Thursday, Aug. 24 from 5 – 9 p.m. in the Discovery Building.

This unconventional tasting event will celebrate biodiversity in food through small plate dishes from Madison’s talented chefs. Taste habaneros bred for almost undetectable spice, tomatoes with a dark indigo pigment or beets bred to be deliciously mild and sweet. Learn from keynote speaker Lane Selman about the important role plant breeders play in building a more just and resilient food system, and the ways local chefs, farmers and eaters are working together to further the cause. Sample vegetables straight from the plant on a tour of Allen Centennial Garden immediately preceding the dinner.

The eight chefs of the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative evaluate hundreds of vegetable varieties every season, providing valuable feedback to plant breeders around the country. Farm to Flavor is their chance to share what they’ve learned with you, by featuring each of their favorite varieties in a dish of their own design.

Participating chefs include:

  • Jonny Hunter, Underground Food Collective
  • Torry Miller, L’Etoile, Graze, Sujeo, Estrellon
  • Dan Bonnano, Pig in a Fur Coat
  • Eric Benedit, Cafe Hollander
  • Joe Cloute, Heritage Catering
  • Yusuf Bin-Rella, Dejope Dining
  • Kathy Griswold, Epic
  • Sean Fogarty, Steenbock’s on Orchard

Keynote speaker Lane Selman is the founding director of the Culinary Breeding Network in Portland, Ore., which brings together plant breeders, chefs, bakers and other stakeholders in the food community to create more relevant and desirable cultivars for organic farmers. Lane has earned national acclaim for her work furthering the concept of “culinary breeding” and is a tireless advocate for small-scale organic producers.

To learn more and purchase tickets, visit the Isthmus Tickets page.

Farm to Flavor 2017 dinner attendees may also be interested in attending the UW Organic Vegetable Variety Trials Field Day that will take place earlier that day.

Department Personnel at WPT’s 2017 Garden Expo

Julie Dawson, Vegetable Specialist

Amy Freidig, Master Gardener Program

Elin Meliska, Allen Centennial Garden

Wisconsin Public Television’s Garden Expo, in its 24th year, was held February 10-12.  The warm weather invited 10’s of 1000’s to attend.  Horticulture staff who participated include Julie Dawson, Eileen Nelson, Madeline Wimmer, Amaya Atucha.  Also participating: Ben Futa, Elin Meliska and Abby Granite of the Allen Centennial Garden, Johanna Oosterwyk from The DC Smith Greenhouse, Mike Maddox, Susan Mahr and Amy Freidig of the Master Gardener Program.

Medicinal Plant Symposium September 30

The Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is holding a unique Medicinal Plant Symposium on Friday, September 30, 2016 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

This is a free event and is available to the general public. The symposium will feature an evening filled with a community of professionals, students and the general public for a series of talks about medicinal plants.

The event will include talks by community professionals from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Ebling Auditorium in the Microbial Sciences building on UW campus, followed by a reception at Allen Centennial Garden from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., where attendees can explore the live collections of medicinal plants, mingle and enjoy refreshments.

There will be six speakers including fellow UW-Madison faulty from the Department of Family Medicine, Bruce Barrett and David Kiefer. Other speakers include, Edith Leoso of the Bad River Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Jeff Grignon from Menominee Tribal Enterprises, Yangbum Gyal from the Medicine Buddha Healing Center and Tibetan Medicine & Acupuncture and Chris Tyrrell from the Milwaukee Public Museum.

The talks will cover a range of topics including, a historical overview of the use of herbal medicines; traditional knowledge of plant healing; the intricate relationships of humans and plants in Wisconsin Native American communities; a Tibetan perspective on medicinal plants; using Echinacea to treat the common cold; and the importance of ethnobotanical collections.

To register for this event visit For more information, contact Claudia Calderón at or (608) 416-9335.

Originally posted in eCALS by Kaitlin McIntosh, Allen Centennial Garden student Intern

Farm to Flavor dinner will feature plant breeding efforts

Farm to Flavor is a signature dinner experience and celebration of Wisconsin food that will be held on Thursday, September 15, 2016 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Mendota Room inside Dejope Hall. It brings together the plant breeders, farmers, and chefs responsible for creating a new local cuisine. These co-creators encompass the motto that food is made at the intersection of seed, farm, and kitchen.

Taste the results of collaborative plant breeding in small plates from Madison’s highly acclaimed chefs including, Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective, Tory Miller of I’Etoile, Dan Bonnano of Pig in a Fur Coat and Eric Benedict of Café Hollander. Guest speaker Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library will kick off a dinner discussion about the intersection of crop varieties, culture and art. Questions about plant breeding, farming and food systems are welcomed throughout the dinner.

Prior to the dinner, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., a free plant-breeding showcase held at Allen Centennial Garden will give attendees the opportunity to meet leading plant breeders responsible for developing fruits and vegetables adapted for Wisconsin’s organic farms. While sampling the results, attendees will learn how collaborative plant breeding can increase productivity and the profitability of regional organic farms.

The cost to attend the dinner is $35 in advance and $40 the day of the event. Register at

For more information, contact Julie Dawson at or (608) 609-6165.

Boys Scouts earn Plant Sciences merit badges

Reported in eCALS on 8/22/2016 by Caroline Schneider, CALS Office of External Relations

Last Saturday, Aug. 20, Kevin Cope, a graduate student in Jean-Michel Ané’s lab, organized a Plant Science Merit Badge Workshop for Boy Scouts. The workshop was held in conjunction with the Plant Sciences Graduate Student Council (PSGSC) with help from PSGSC president Chris D’Angelo, a graduate student in Irwin Goldman’s lab. Boy Scouts from across Wisconsin and parts of Illinois attended, and 48 scouts earned the badge. More than 15 graduate student volunteers from several different departments and programs helped with the workshop.

Scouts attending the workshop took part in lectures, hands-on experiments, and tours of the D.C. Smith Greenhouse and the Allen Centennial Gardens. Said one parent who attended the workshop, “My son commented on how much they learned and came home in very good spirits after a long day. We’ve been to many different merit badge workshops…[This] was one of the best run and highest-quality workshops we’ve seen.”

This is the second time Kevin, who serves as vice president of PSGSC, has organized this workshop with the student council. They plan to continue offering this merit badge workshop in the future so that young men interested in plant science can learn more and enjoy the facilities that UW–Madison has to offer. They are also interested in expanding the workshop to involve young women and welcome ideas about how to do that. Contact Kevin at with any questions or suggestions.

Allen Garden Ready for Its Closeup

Framed by emerging spring blooms at UW-Madison's Allen Centennial Garden, freshman Rachel Smaby enjoys the area's return to more seasonal temperatures during a break among the botanical exhibits. Photo by John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal

Every gardener counts the days to spring. At Allen Centennial Garden on the UW-Madison campus, they have been counting the plants, too.

As interns work on an online plant databank, which should be ready by mid-summer, the garden’s new director, Ben Futa, is looking at a schedule that includes therapy dogs, slow food, 3,000 new bulbs and an updated Master Plan. A key point of that plan is that the garden should not grow beyond its 27 separate exhibit areas, but should mature. Education and public engagement will be a focus, in keeping with the hiring of an education coordinator, Elin Meliska.

The garden — it is singular — at Babcock and Observatory Drives may be the most accessible classroom on campus, with the most diverse syllabus. Even on a recent chilly Sunday, the walkers in the 2.5 acres surrounding the vintage 1896 Agriculture Dean’s House ranged from an old man and his dog to curious children to students from the nearby Lakeshore dormitories.

A visitor in the next week or so will be treated to a colorful result of a student project from last fall, when 3,000 Chionodoxa, Scilla, narcissus, hyacinth, and muscari bulbs were planted in the “English garden” area.

Futa, an Indiana native starting his second year as director, said that while several student interns and a new education coordinator are at work, there is a full schedule of events on tap for the garden this spring.

The garden, named after Oscar and Ethel Allen, who were prominent faculty, was dedicated in 1989, the 100th anniversary of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Current visitors will find two new serene landscape design projects underway, both winners of a student team contest. April 27 is already booked solid for an “open-mike” night featuring horticulture-related events. Therapy dogs will host a meet-and-pet event, “Dogs on Call,” May 4; and there’s a Slow Food UW Cafe on May 6.

Mid-summer should see completion of a unique online plant database, Futa said.

“It’s a world-class garden,” he noted, “with a wonderful group of volunteers. The community is craving and ready for these new programs.”

In February, an intern-planned event, “Luminous,” featured six luminary exhibits, bonfires and hot chocolate. It drew 3,000 visitors, when no more than 300 were expected.

“The bones of this garden are extremely strong,” Futa said. “We’re gearing up to an update of our master plan, re-evaluating everything.”

The garden is open daily from dawn to dusk. Parking is free at the Observatory Drive ramp and Tripp Circle after 4:30 p.m. Monday–Friday, and all day Saturday and Sunday.

Story Reprinted from Wisconsin State Journal – George Hesselberg

Luminous exhibition lights up Allen Centennial Garden

This past weekend’s Luminous: Luminaries in the Garden exhibition at Allen Centennial Garden was a huge success, says garden director Ben Futa. The special event attracted a stream of 1,300 visitors on Friday evening, and drew a similarly large crowd on Saturday night, with attendees queuing in lines to enter the garden and see the luminaria and lantern installations created by the garden’s interns.

Below are some beautiful shots from opening night taken by Jeff Miller, photographer for UW-Madison University Communications.

If you missed Luminous, don’t worry! Futa says it’ll be back next year.

Reposted from ecals newsletter 02.22.2016

Introducing Allen Centennial Garden (s)

Allen Centennial Gardens is now officially known as the Allen Centennial Garden (singular) – and it’s just as sweet. A request to change the name was recently approved by the Chancellor’s office.

Garden director Ben Futa kindly shared with eCALS some of the reasoning behind the shift:

The change came about as a result of our strategic planning process and our desire to make the Garden a stronger component of the campus community and student experience. While we’re made up of many special gardens (plural), we are one organization, one entity, one identity – the Garden (singular).

The Garden is the sum of many excellent parts and implies a cohesive vision and that we speak with one voice. It also helps us to brand our physical place. “Are you heading to the Garden? Have you been to the Garden lately?”

Another point to mention: We’ve generated a new marketing catchphrase through this process: “Uniquely UW-Simply Beautiful.” We want to emphasize the Garden as a critical part of the UW-student experience. We’re something you can’t get from an online class. We’re a reason to choose the UW-Madison campus experience.

Originally published in January 11, 2016

New curators for Allen Centennial Gardens and UW-Madison Arboretum

Plants brought new curators to a pair of public gardens at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but it’s people that Ben Futa and David Stevens are hoping to see more of.

“What I like the most about the public garden setting is connecting people with plants,” says Futa, the new curator at Allen Centennial Gardens in the center of the UW–Madison campus. “People come in and say, ‘I’ve never seen this plant. What is it?’ Or they ask, ‘How do you get away with growing this in Wisconsin?’ And you get to share something with them.”

At Allen, that brand of sharing has gone on for nearly 26 years. Across town at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum, untold thousands have visited Longenecker Horticultural Gardens since its first lilacs were planted in 1935. And yet, Stevens is only the third curator of the gardens — following his graduate school advisor Ed Hasselkus and William Longenecker, who also served as Arboretum executive director in the 1930s.

Stevens shares his predecessors’ deep attachment to his new surroundings.

Photo: Daniel Stevens

David Stevens

“Arboreta are a love of mine,” says Stevens, who studied ornamental horticulture at UW–Madison. “My wife and I actually met at an arboretum and botanical garden 28 years ago in Dallas, Texas. Whenever we travel, if there is an arboretum or public garden nearby we make sure to visit.”

Stevens was greenhouse manager at Agracetus in Middleton before spending the last 13 years as a forest genetics research specialist in UW–Madison’s Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology. For the university, he worked with state-run bare root tree nurseries, breeding new generations of trees from the progeny of superior wild plants.

Breeding trees that may take decades to reach maturity requires taking a view of the future much deeper than a single growing season. At the helm of an 80-year-old garden made up of about 6,000 mostly-woody plant specimens, Stevens must practice a similar brand of long-term planning — but with a slightly different focus.

“In forestry, you’re selecting for growth rate, tree architecture and disease resistance,” Stevens says. “In ornamentals, you’re looking for things like fall color, fruit retention, and architecture in a different form — how it looks in the landscape instead of how many board feet are in the trunk.”

“Sustainability is a drawing card, and Longenecker may be able to complement the sustainable aspects of the native landscapes at the Arboretum.”

The Longenecker garden, known for the lilacs and its expansive collection of flowering crabapple trees, seems an odd match for an Arboretum so deeply tied to the field of restoration ecology and the protection of native plant species. Stevens would like to link one mission with the other.

“Sustainability is a drawing card, and Longenecker may be able to complement the sustainable aspects of the native landscapes at the Arboretum,” says Stevens, whose wife markets herbal products from the bounty on their 130-acre organic farm near Baraboo. “Edible landscapes and permaculture — looking at landscaping as something to utilize beyond beauty — are things we can link into right away. We can help people understand with real examples the ways a particular deciduous tree species might help shade a home in the summer, but allow the sun to warm it in the winter.”

Stevens would like to strengthen campus’s connection with the garden through research and coursework in fields like horticulture, botany and landscape architecture, but most pressing is finding a way to make the vast Longenecker collection easily accessible to visitors. For now, the full collection (past and present) is packed into file drawers — each plant on an index card.

“The first thing was to create a definitive list — which we have, with GPS waypoints for almost everything in the garden — and now to make that list available and accurate in real time,” he says.

Photo: Ben Futa

Ben Futa

Futa, whose own attachment to public gardens began near his childhood home at Fernwood Botanical Garden in Niles, Michigan, has seen some very close personal contact with plants.

“When I worked in the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park (in Chicago), we’d come in in the morning and there would be a big human print in the echinacea — probably where somebody slept,” said Futa, who studied sustainability at Indiana University South Bend.

While he doesn’t think of his new gardens as a mattress, Futa is not one to fret over a broken stem or two.

“It is a little like a museum, with labels and catalog numbers,” he says. “But we don’t want people to think of it like it’s behind a pane of glass.”

Allen Centennial Gardens has advantages in that regard, Futa thinks, in that it’s open and free every day — and just 2.5 acres.

“Its scale is postage stamp, but that makes it relatable. Here, it feels to visitors like there are things they can pick up and take it home,” he says. “They may see a pot or container or small corner here, and picture it as a little piece of their yard or steps or annual garden. That’s empowerment.”

Showing visitors a full range of horticultural possibilities keeps Futa and a group of student interns busy with planning and planting to meet shifting seasons, but he wants empowered visitors to also be mindful of more than just the moment’s blossoms. That’s why he’s a fan of perennials — he gets to look forward to a plant in all its stages.

“(Visitors) may see a pot or container or small corner here, and picture it as a little piece of their yard or steps or annual garden. That’s empowerment.”

“You watch a little salvia from March when they’re little rosettes of green,” he says. “And then they’re blooming, and then plants are pretty in decay, too. They’re not just brown. There’s taupe, sepia, terra cotta, sand, black, silver, gray, white.”

Of course, neither Allen nor Longenecker need be treated like research opportunities.

“You don’t have to know a thing about plants,” Futa says. “Just come out, and embrace the space.”