The 9 Best Reasons to Visit the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville Wi

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The 9 Best Reasons to Visit the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville Wi

If you are lucky enough to travel through the gorgeous town of Janesville, Wisconsin, you must plan a stop to visit the Rotary Botanical Gardens on Palmer Drive.  Janesville is just a short 90-minute drive southwest of Milwaukee, just under 2 hours from Chicago, and halfway between Madison, Wi, and Rockford, Illinois.  There are plenty of reasons to visit Janesville, but the Rotary Botanical Gardens top the list!  If you need to know why, here are the nine best reasons to visit!

The entrance to the Rotary Gardens

Reason #1 to Visit the Rotary Botanical Garden

Learn History

The land on which the Rotary Botanical Gardens sits is gorgeous, no doubt.  But can you believe that not all that many years ago, this land was a dusty, gray quarry filled with sand and gravel?  That’s right.  The sight of the original quarry turned into a storage area for the local Parks Department.  You could also find BMX bikers zooming about on the racetrack on the property.

Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front

In 1988, Dr. Robert Yahr, a retired orthodontist, began pursuing his dream of creating a themed public garden space with an international focus that would attract visitors worldwide.  He enlisted the help of the local Rotary Club, along with other community organizations, to make his dreams a reality.  The process was not simple, but his dogged determination transformed this land in amazing ways.  What used to be gray and dusty is filled with lush greens, colorful florals, spraying fountains, and gorgeous artwork.

A portrait of Dr. Yahr on the outside of the building
The sign on the outside of the Rotary Garden building
The original letter that Dr. Yahr wrote proposing the Gardens

When you visit the Gardens, consider a guided tour to learn more about the history of the gardens and everything contained therein.  Plan on spending at least a couple of hours wandering with your guide, and add additional time if you plan to stop at the restroom, take a look at the gift shop located in the visitor’s center, or grab a bite to eat.

Reason #2 to Visit the Rotary Botanical Garden

Enjoy the Story Walk – No Child Required

One of the first things you’ll see when you begin your walk through the gardens is the StoryWalk.  The Story Walk Program is part of the annual fundraiser for the Rotary Botanical Gardens.  Each year, the team at the Gardens chooses a theme for this event.  This year’s theme is based on the book “Except Antarctica” by Todd Sturgell.  You can get a copy of this adorable book here.

The StoryWalk takes place on a winding trail through the Garden, where you can see this excellent book come to life!  A team of volunteers works hard at creating unique details and characters from the book at multiple stations, each representing a page from the story.  Adults and children alike will get lost in the story as they wander through the StoryWalk.

A coiled snake spins in the breeze
an owl and a snake from the Story Walk

Reason #3 to Visit the Rotary Botanical Garden

Support the Arts

Each year, the Rotary Botanical Gardens team chooses an item that will make a great display throughout the gardens.  This year the team chose a turtle because it relates to the StoryWalk.  Members of the Rotary Club designed and cut the turtles.  Local artists then have an opportunity to use their talents and decorate them.

This year you will find 37 beautiful turtles scattered throughout the gardens, each unique and beautiful.  The range of creativity among these works of art is as impressive and diverse as the artists, who range from preschool-aged children to an octogenarian.  That means he’s in his 80s, for those of you who don’t like 6-syllable words.  Don’t worry – I had to look it up, too!

At the end of the season, the Gardens puts the displays on auction to raise money.  As of 2022, the Botanical Rotary Gardens have successfully carried out 13 seasons of this project.  All thanks to the over 500 volunteers who keep the gardens beautiful and the local community who support the project!

Participating in this auction isn’t just beneficial to the gardens; it also benefits the many artists who contribute to the project by getting their work in front of the people and bringing recognition to the various causes they support.  I particularly loved the turtle called “The Pioneer” because of its beautiful rainbow jewels. 

4 images of artsy turtles, each decorated differently

Reason #4 to Visit the Rotary Botanical Garden

Soak in Nature

With 26 distinctive themed gardens spread over 20 acres, you will find no lack of natural beauty at these botanical gardens.  Start your tour by walking through the English Cottage Garden, go to the Japanese Garden for some quiet meditation, and enjoy the various flower beds throughout the acres.  Be sure and wander the gardens’ paths to find your way to the moss garden, herb gardens, the Sunken Garden, the wellness garden, and even Hosta Hollow, filled with beautiful Hostas of all types.

There are varieties of plants and flowers that you can’t even imagine.  I especially loved the popcorn plants in the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children’s Garden.  Yes, in case you wondered, these plants do smell like popcorn!

If you love a full-bodied flower with bright colors, you would probably love the Dahlia beds as much as I did.  We got a peek at just one of the over 500 volunteers tending to the Dahlia Garden.  He was full of great information and willing to share his knowledge about these colorful flowers!

a volunteer gardener bends over to work in the Dahlia garden
a red and yellow dahlia
a giant red and yellow dahlia
a sign at the front of the dahlia garden bed
a dragonfly sits on top of a mesh baseball cap
You might get lucky and have a piece of nature land on your hat as my travel companion did!

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Reason #5 to Visit the Rotary Botanical Garden

Become a Backyard Botanist

Become a backyard Botanist with the help of the Rotary Gardens. You can’t visit the gardens and not be inspired to learn something new.  From the names of the plants and flowers to gardening secrets to the history of the grounds, you will walk away with a new nugget of information every time you visit.  But if you want to take that learning to the next level, attend one of the Garden’s educational programs throughout the year.  The gardens host events such as a discussion on local bee life, pressing flowers in a crafty setting, and identifying weeds in your backyard.

Reason #6 to Visit the Rotary Botanical Garden

Rest and Reflect

When you reach the back of the park, near one of the large ponds, be sure and look for the giant Adirondack Chair.  I couldn’t resist trying it out.  Trust me when I tell you the process of getting in and out of that chair was anything but serene.  But it was fun!

The author sits daintily on the edge of the giant Adirondack chair
Before I was brave enough to sit all the way in the chair.
Two women sit in a giant red Adirondack chair
We had so much fun climbing in and back out of that chair!

If a giant chair isn’t your thing, or you’re worried about climbing out of it, then bring a book and plan to spend some time relaxing on one of the many memorial benches places around the Gardens.  Even if you’re not a reader, these benches are all easily located in places where you can rest, relax, and reflect on the surrounding beauty.  If I lived close enough to these gardens, I would happily bring my lunch and a friend on a hot day and pick a bench to enjoy a visit together.

a beautiful bench sits in a sunbeam at the Janesville Rotary Botanical Gardens
4 benches scattered throughout the Rotary Gardens

Reason #7 to Visit the Rotary Botanical Garden

Enjoy the Lights

At Christmas time, the Rotary Botanical Gardens puts on a spectacular holiday light show with themed light displays throughout the gardens.  I visited in the summer, but our tour guide told us that they individually wrap the trees with strings of lights throughout the park during the holiday season.  An after-dark walk through the Gardens highlights the holiday season in Janesville.  I have added this to my list of places to take in unique seasonal displays for a holiday trip.

My adult daughter and I make an annual Christmas shopping trip around the holidays.  Since Janesville is only 4 hours from home, we could easily make this trip happen and take in the lights while we’re there!  The light displays are typically up at the very end of November, and visitors can view them through the end of December.  Look for me there if you visit!

Reason #8 to Visit the Rotary Botanical Garden

Have Your Photos Taken

The Botanical Gardens are simply gorgeous, and one cannot walk through the gardens without the temptation to photograph the beautiful grounds.  The great news is that you are encouraged to do just that!  Casual, fun photos are always welcome at the gardens.  They especially love it if you share your pictures on social media!  I had a great time showing off those photos in the big red chair. 

If you’d like to take posed photos, such as senior photos or engagement or family photos, the Gardens ask that you get a permit from them.  These permits help the Gardens stay beautiful and allow them to be aware of what is happening throughout the property.  You can check the guidelines and find the application for a permit on their website

I know that gathering a group of people, posing them, setting up tripods and lighting, and spending time getting everyone posed correctly can take a toll on a venue, especially if there are multiple groups all clamoring to get their space.  In addition to helping support their beautiful gardens, these permits allow the Gardens to be on top of the kind of traffic they have entering their beautiful space.  So get that permit and take your photos there.  You won’t find a more beautiful backdrop!

Reason #9 to Visit the Rotary Botanical Garden

Get Married

Are you planning an outdoor garden wedding?  You must consider this location for the wedding of your dreams!  You can choose from some of the more extensive outdoor gardens that accommodate up to 250 people.  Consider the French Formal Rose Garden, surrounded by roses and overlooking a pond and fountain.  Consider the Sunken Garden for a tree-lined area filled with gorgeous greenery, flanked by a stone walkway, and accented with a lovely fountain.  Finally, the Gazebo Garden is less formal but every bit as beautiful, with a large gazebo and plantings that provide plenty of shade.

If you prefer something charming and intimate and have a smaller guest list, consider the Japanese Garden with a beautiful pagoda, waterfalls, and an Asian bridge.  The English Cottage Garden is sweet and lined with beautiful flowers.  The North Point Garden has a beautiful architectural pergola and makes a lovely backdrop for exchanging vows.

The many versatile wedding garden spaces are gorgeous for outdoor weddings!  The Rotary Botanical Gardens also offer facilities for indoor receptions.  You can check out the website https://rotarybotanicalgardens.org/wedding-rentals/weddings/ for more information on having your wedding in these gorgeous facilities.  You won’t want to miss a peek at the elegant ballroom if you’re considering a wedding here—one last note.  The Rotary Botanical Gardens has been voted the number one wedding and banquet venue by the Janesville Gazette Readers’ Choice Awards.

The Sunken garden as seen through an archway covered with fines
All the gardens are gorgeous, but I really loved the Sunken Garden!

A Note About Accessibility

The Rotary Botanical gardens have ensured level paths throughout the grounds.  The grounds are fully accessible, except for the high path, where one can view the gardens from above, and the Japanese bridge, which is simply too steep to be traversed with any wheeled mode of transportation.  Rest assured that you can get around the rest of the gardens with no trouble with a walker, a wheelchair, or a stroller.

Wrapping It All Up

You can find all the essential information you need to visit the gardens, such as the entrance fee, hours, and special events calendar, at the Garden’s Website.  But here’s one bit of information that you’ll love.  Parking is free at the Rotary Botanical Gardens!  Trust me when I tell you you’ll love this beautiful facility.  You’ll learn a few things and walk away with a new appreciation for the transformation this land has undergone since its inception in 1998.

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Pin image showing the title and a photo of the front of the Rotary Botanical Gardens

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