Rotary Botanical Gardens announces events to celebrate 25th year

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Shelly Birkelo
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

JANESVILLE—Rotary Botanical Gardens has blossomed from an abandoned sand and gravel quarry into an award-winning, 20-acre themed botanical garden during the past 25 years.

“It is recognized locally and throughout the Midwest, but also nationally,” said Mary Fanning-Penny, executive director.

The gardens, which have taken root along the 1400 block of Palmer Drive, also have cultivated 100,000 visitors a year to create an annual local economic impact of $3.4 million.

“It is an economic driver as well as the No. 1 tourist destination in Rock County,” Fanning-Penny said.

Instead of one event that might serve a small group of people, the gardens will spread the 25th anniversary celebration across its growing season and into fall and winter events, she said.

In addition to free admission days on the 25th of each month from April through October, many existing events within the annual roster will feature tie-ins to the anniversary, Fanning-Penny said.

For example, along with herbs, perennials, small trees, shrubs and bagged compost, this year's spring plant sale will feature 25 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 25 varieties of hybrid tomatoes, and 25 varieties of bell and hot peppers.

“Overall it will be the most expansive and substantial plant sale for spring,” said Mark Dwyer, the gardens' horticulture director.

Dwyer said the gardens' enhancement will continue throughout the year and will be highlighted by the new Thomas Jefferson and fun Cosmos collections.

The Thomas Jefferson Collection will feature 100 varieties of historic vegetables, herbs and plants that Jefferson himself grew in a half-acre plot. The Cosmos Collection will boast 70 annual varieties, ranging from 1 to 7 feet tall in a variety of colors planted side-by-side in a 1,000-square-foot section.

Dwyer takes pride in being part of the gardens, which have sprouted in a short time to attain national attention and become a well-known site for weddings and receptions.

The hope is the gardens will continue to thrive and prosper, Fanning-Penny said.

“It is always challenging being self-sustaining," she said. "We are an individual 501(3)c that receives no city, state or federal funding and heavily rely on our donors, admission and friends' memberships to help sustain us along with facilities rentals.

"The environment for funding and donor dollars is always challenging so we're always trying to identify creative ways to raise funds and grow appropriately at the gardens,” she added.

The gardens' existing strategic plan runs through 2018. Board members and staff are honing in on a five-year plan, Fanning-Penny said.

“Now we're looking toward the future, shifting toward sustainability and planning for the unknown to ensure we're on strong financial footing,” she said.

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