Troy Gardens—where people, institutions and good will come together


It’s cross-cultural, it’s colorful, it’s quietly bustling with children as well as the elderly, and all ages in between—it’s Troy Gardens, a 31-acre site located within the Madison city limits. Consisting of 327 garden plots along with natural areas, a farm (the only Community Supported Agriculture farm located in a city), mixed-income housing, and even a modest residence for chickens, Troy Gardens lies adjacent to a northeastern Madison neighborhood.

“There’s a great deal to like about Troy Gardens,” says Christie Ralston, natural areas coordinator and office manager at Friends of Troy Gardens. “It’s pretty laid back, and you can learn so much from different people. There’s so much diversity here!”

She points to an herb garden, a children’s garden, a small maple woods, a Hmong traditional medicinal herb garden that may be the only such garden in the United States, an edible landscape garden, and a tall-grass prairie in brilliant bloom. Ralston adds that people drop in to the gardens and ask if there’s any way they can help. “It’s just that sort of place,” she explains, “and we always welcome visitors.”

The history of the Troy Gardens complex serves as a model for what can materialize when individuals, institutions, government bodies and good will come together.

Their goal was to encourage sustainability and ecological restoration in an urban setting, with an emphasis on community decision-making and cooperation—a tall order that would touch the lives of many neighbors, academics, researchers and others.

The concept began to take shape in 1995 when the State of Wisconsin placed 15 acres of the property on its surplus land list to be sold for development. However, neighbors and others had been gardening on 4 acres of the property for 15 years, as well as dog walking, hiking and birding. Alarms went off, and several groups joined together to form the Troy Gardens Coalition to save the land.

More undeveloped land was added to the parcel, University of Wisconsin departments and others joined the effort, and the Coalition was eventually granted non-profit status as Friends of Troy Gardens.

Restoration of the natural areas was designed in partnership with the local community and with the participation of two private land trusts and a conservation land trust. University of Wisconsin biologists and others helped the group learn the best ways to grow healthy and healthful plants. University interns filled a vital role in helping gardeners initiate sustainable practices.

Jeff Roe, Department of Natural Resources South Central Urban Forestry coordinator cited Troy Gardens as a model for conservation, restoration, and plant care in urban areas. “Perhaps their greatest success is the integration of a diverse population into the planning and design of the area from the very beginning—Troy Gardens is truly a community project from design, to implementation, to use,” says Roe.

Judges’ Note: Of particular note was the fact that this is a long-standing community-based project that has engaged community members both in restoration and community gardens in a diverse array of opportunities to learn and volunteer. Troy Gardens is exemplary of the ideals of the Kline Award.

Written by Jacky Kelley; photo by Bill Arthur.

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.