Thai sala at Olbrich Botanical Gardens


While my husband rested up for his big race in Madison, Wisconsin, two weekends ago, I stole a few hours with my friend and local guide Linda Brazill of Each Little World. Our first stop was Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Knowing I was short on time, she attempted to direct me straight to the rear of the 16-acre garden, past a potager-style herb garden, a xeric perennial garden, sweeps of ornamental grasses surrounding an oval lawn, a pond garden, and more delights at every turn. “I want to show you something you can’t see at any other garden,” she urged. But my feet dragged and my camera shutter clicked as Linda tried to hurry me through the beautiful gardens.


And then the view opened and I understood why. A gleaming, golden Thai pavilion shimmered like a mirage in a sunny garden across Starkweather Creek. Linda explained that the sala was given as a gift to the University of Wisconsin from Thai alumni. “UW-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. college or university,” according to the garden’s website. “Olbrich was chosen as the site for the pavilion because of its garden setting and its proximity to water. Water is important to Thailand because of its implications for good health and prosperity.” Lucky Olbrich to have such a jewel in its garden.


One of only 4 authentic Thai salas located outside of Thailand (you’d have to go to Germany, Norway, or Hawaii to see another), the pavilion beckons along a long approach—across an arched bridge over the creek and through a jungly garden composed largely of hardy plants. Signs explain that the tropical effect is achieved in zone 5 by selecting hardy trees and shrubs with large leaves, planting lots of vines, using hardy bamboos and ornamental grasses, planting brightly colored annuals, and using potted plants that must be stored indoors in winter.


A serpent statue enhances the feeling of being a world away.


A banana tree and hot-colored blooms enliven a sitting area.


More of the tropical-style garden


Zinnia elegans, not Gaillardia (Thanks for the correction, Joseph.)


Linda fits right in with her bright-yellow sweater and Carmen Miranda-style earrings.


Like part of a ruin overtaken by jungle, this piece lay crookedly amid the foliage.

What a stunning building and complementary garden to discover in the midst of a midwestern botanical garden. Olbrich is full of surprises and creative design.

For more, see yesterday’s post about tropicals at Olbrich. On Saturday I’ll post some intimate views from Olbrich‘s various gardens.

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

12 Responses

  1. What a gorgeous place.

    It truly was, Linda. —Pam

  2. Darla says:

    Breathtaking I must say!

    It was a surprising vision indeed. —Pam

  3. What you can’t see is my very Wisconsin cap from the Falling Rock Tavern over on the Mississippi River proclaiming “bar and bait.”

    The essentials—too funny! Thanks again to you and Mark for the garden tours and hospitality. —Pam

  4. One of my biggest regrets is that I wasn’t into gardening yet when I traveled to Hong Kong, Beijing, and Paris in the last decade. Oh the sights I could have seen. How nice to find a bit of Thailand without the long overseas flight!

    I think back on my non-gardening years with regret too, Heather, even if they were only spent in North Carolina. What did I miss?? —Pam

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    This is a major WOW. You certainly captured that other worldly feeling of the setting for the Thai Pavilion. Aren’t you glad you got to see it?? These photos make me want to go there.

    Very glad, Lisa. The whole place was a gold mine. —Pam

  6. Stunning, Pam! You must have had your new camera with you and I bet you’d love to go back and take LOTS more pics. Glad Linda took you back to this treasured spot. I LOVE the serpent piece. What a wonderful energy! Lucky you to have gone! Thanks for sharing!

    I did have my new camera, and I DID go back, Kathryn. I had a free morning on another day, so I went back and explored as much as I could for about 3 hours. Most of my pictures in this series of posts are from that day, when I had more time to stop and compose photos. I’m glad you enjoyed them. —Pam

  7. Cyndy says:

    Good morning Pam, I have been loving your Olbrich posts! So many public spaces seem dull and formulaic to me, but not this one! I want a banana for my own yard :)

    If Steve Silk at Clatter Garden can grow bananas up in Connecticut, you can too! —Pam

  8. Pam, thank you and thanks to Linda. My heart was gladdened by this sight. One of my favorite cuisines is Thai food because it is mostly gluten free. I’ve become very close to my Thai friends who have a small restaurant in Edmond, OK. If you ever come back to visit, I’ll take you and your mom there. They are such lovely people, so gracious. I wish I could show them these pictures. Maybe with my laptop?

    What a neat idea, Dee. I wonder what your Thai friends would think of this garden? —Pam

  9. How gorgeous!!! So glad you shared this. Gardens have personalities and this one shines.

    Thanks for your comment at Hill Country Mysteries. Your photos are so extraordinary–unique angles and focus, art and visual story-telling. It’s one of the reasons I love your blog.

    Well, thanks, Kathleen! I could say the same about yours. —Pam

  10. PS So tickled about your PBS appearance!

  11. Les says:

    I would love to see this garden and that pavilion in person. I got to have a sneak preview of the new South Asia section of our local zoo. They have chosen to make all the structures look like thatched Balinese temples, but not nearly as elaborate as what you have shown. I love the phormium pics from the previous post.

    The zoo structures sound very cool. Thanks for your comment, Les. —Pam

  12. So lovely… BTW, the orange-red flower is a zinnia (can’t think of the variety off the top of my head), not gaillardia.

    Oops, thanks for the correction, Joseph. It looks remarkably like Gaillardia in coloring, but you are right. —Pam

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