FOPCON Blog: Exploring Milwaukee Gardens with The Friends Reciprocal Program

“The Domes” in Milwaukee is Well Worth a Special Trip

In early May my husband and I traveled to Milwaukee for a family wedding. We had some time to explore, so we decided to use our FOPCON reciprocal member privileges for free admission to the Mitchell Park Conservatory in Milwaukee. The Conservatory, also known as “The Domes,” encompasses three huge beehive-shaped glass domes. The three domes are the Tropical Room, the Desert Room, and the Floral Room. The Floral Room is used for special-themed exhibits throughout the year, including a train show. Our timing was perfect because we were able to catch the Floral Room’s Spring exhibit – “Abstracting Georgia O’Keefe.” This exhibit is a stunning display of flowers paired with fabric art to evoke the flower paintings of Georgia O’Keefe. The exhibit runs through May 27. 

Our next stop was the Desert Room.  We were impressed by the incredible variety of cacti and succulents. The Desert Room collection holds many of the iconic desert plants we have in the Oak Park Conservatory, like the prickly pear cactus, euphorbia, and agave, plus many more unusual specimens. The desert plants, trees, and succulents are grouped according to their countries of origin.

Our final stop was the Tropical Room. This room, like the Desert Room, reminded us of the Oak Park Conservatory’s Tropical Room, though on a much grander scale. The Tropical Room houses 1,200 species of plants, including banana plants, a cacao tree, a date palm, a coconut palm tree, a coffee tree, and a bizarre-looking sausage tree native to South Africa. We enjoyed the ponds with koi fish and the other water features throughout the Tropical Room. 

“The Domes” was completed in 1967 after more than ten years of construction. The original Milwaukee Conservatory, built in 1898 in the style of London’s Crystal Palace, was razed in 1955. View a video about “The Domes” here.  For more information, visit:

Side Trip to Boerner Botanical Gardens 

The Boerner Botanical Gardens is 20 minutes by car from the Milwaukee Conservatory in the village of Hales Corners.  It is part of the Milwaukee County Parks System. Like the Mitchell Park Conservatory, the Boerner Botanical Gardens participates in the American Horticultural Society’s reciprocal membership program. When we arrived, the gardens had just opened two days earlier, so most of the flowering plants and perennials were just beginning to emerge.  Luckily, the tulips and crabapple trees were in full bloom. We spoke to the peonies gardener who advised that late May and into summer were optimal times to see their award-winning collections of peonies and roses. In addition to the roses and peonies gardens, there are ten other unique gardens, including an heirloom garden, a rock garden, and a rain harvesting garden. We were impressed that each plant and tree is meticulously labeled with its scientific and familiar name.  There is a nice children’s garden with a playhouse and picnic tables. The grounds are extensive, and good walking shoes are a must.  The Boerner Botanical Gardens is named after the landscape architect Alfred Boerner, who designed the gardens in the 1930s with the support of the Milwaukee County Parks, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Learn more here.

On our ride home, we agreed that these garden gems were well worth a short visit. Our FOPCON membership provided the motivation. 

To join FOPCON visit our membership page.

By Kathy FioRito, FOPCON Membership Co-chair

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