Be Our Guest: Summer Home and Garden Tours

Homes and gardens open their doors and gates for annual summer tours

Olin House. See more photos of the Attic Angel House and Garden Tour in the slideshow below.

Olin House. See more photos of the Attic Angel House and Garden Tour in the slideshow below.

It’s summertime and for many home and garden lovers, that means one thing: tour season! This year, expect to see cherished historic revivals, homes built for the modern-day family and tranquil gardens.

Living History

The Attic Angel Association has chosen “The Grand Finale” as the theme for its fifty-eighth and final House and Garden Tour. Placed in University Heights, one of Madison’s historically rich neighborhoods, the tour features five homes, many of which have undergone historically accurate restoration in hopes of preserving attributes from the early 1900s.

The centerpiece of the tour is home of UW–Madison chancellor Biddy Martin, the one-hundred-year-old Olin house originally built in 1911 for prominent attorney and UW alum John Olin. Olin deeded his property to UW–Madison after his death in 1924. The 11,000-square-foot mansion’s renovation in 2007 preserved much of the home’s historical integrity yet improved the vitality for future generations. With added energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, the thirty-room house operates quite smoothly. The architecture and design of the home represents the revival of sixteenth century England.

“It truly is a showplace,” says Attic Angel Association publicity chairman Nancy Latta. “It is a big highlight; a lot of people can’t wait to get in [the house].”

Latta says those who treasure historical homes also will not want to miss the Storybook House at 2114 Van Hise Ave. Popularized by Hollywood set designers in the early 1900s, the Storybook house resembles a cottage, quaint and homey. Katherine Hall, the first homeowner, utilized the talents of architect Frank Riley. The current homeowners added frost glass, revived an original built-in desk and built a new garage. Even the laundry room floor claims bragging rights—it consists of salvaged roof tiles from an old school.

Perennial gardens and a Koi pond breathe life into the home tour. Garden lovers will appreciate the floral arrangements at the Storybook house. A recently added roof garden rests above the garage, brightening up the bird’s-eye view of the home. The current homeowners also maintain a historically accurate garden. “For garden and plant lovers, [the tour] will be a feast,” Latta says.

With magnificent proportions, the Tudor-style home at 168 N. Prospect Ave. is virtually unchanged since 1909. With three floors of living as well as a living area for domestic help, the home paints a snapshot of a different time. Rich dark woodwork creates a luxurious atmosphere within the home. “It is an architectural masterpiece,” Latta says. “It looks the way it did all those many years ago. It’s definitely not to be missed.”

All proceeds from this year’s tour benefit homeless issues among children and independent living for seniors through Porchlight, Middleton Outreach Ministry, SAIL and the Attic Angel Resident Aid Fund. Latta anticipates the final House and Garden tour will be quite popular. “People seem to really love old neighborhoods,” Latta says. “The tour will truly be grand.”

The Attic Angel House and Garden Tour is June 20 from 10am to 7pm. Advance tickets are $16 and onsite tickets are $18. For more information call (608) 662-8900 or visit

Spreading Out

New homes are popping up all over the greater Dane County area this summer as the Madison Area Builders Association showcases its sixty-first Parade of Homes. As the nation’s unstable economic condition humbled many homeowners over the past couple years, MABA built accordingly. Many of the homes on tour share a characteristic: better use of space within the home.

“There is a different attitude toward the houses being built,” MABA president Dan Duren says. “People will think about how they use space. You will see multi-purpose rooms.”

In one of the homes in the Bristol Gardens neighborhood, the kitchen, living and dining room are one large shared space. The island in the kitchen creates an open vibe, which is prefect for entertaining. “Opening up and sharing living space allows you to communicate easier with people and interact a lot better,” Duren says.

Though many of the homes are downsized this year, MABA expanded the area of the tour. Seven different plots of homes are scattered all over Dane County: in Bristol, Fitchburg, Oregon, DeForest, Deerfield, Verona and Waunakee.

“We have diversified a little bit as far as location,” Duren says. “We have a total of twenty-seven homes and twelve of them are sold already.”

More than two-dozen builders participated in building homes in the $300,000 to $800,000 range.

“We have a few new builders,” Duren says. “We have some that haven’t been in the Parade for a while. I hope it attracts more people.”

Parade of Homes runs June 11–26. Tickets are $12, $6 for seniors and children, and free for children under 3. Adult and senior tickets are also good for a meal at Bonfyre Grille. For more information, contact MABA at (608) 288-1133 or visit

Floral Serenity

Feel a rush of calmness this summer at Olbrich Botanical GardensHome Garden Tour. Featuring seven gardens, the theme this year is “The Garden as Sanctuary.” True to its theme, the numerous gardens all share a common element of harmony and peace with nature. About a year ago, when Olbrich’s Home Garden Tour committee members started looking for gardens to feature in the tour, the idea of the theme manifested.

“We went out looking for gardens that we could a build a single theme around,” Olbrich’s Home Garden Tour committee member J.T. Covelli says. “Every gardener said the exact same thing: I come to my garden to escape, it quiets my mind.”

While the theme captures the essence of the gardens, Covelli says the gardens are a perfect example of urban residents utilizing small spaces to create something spectacular. Showcasing Japanese and Eastern Meditation gardens as well as Wisconsin woodlands, the gardens vary in texture and presentation. Hummingbirds and butterflies liven up the spaces with color and movement.

The gardens exude a sense of tranquility and serenity, especially at a Westbrook Lane residence. A secretive getaway, this Japanese garden hides behind handcrafted gates. A large rockery sits in the middle of the garden, with a waterfall splashing water softly into a nearby koi pond. The rockery hosts a mix of garden conifers, such as a bird’s nest spruce and Asian-infused weeping blue cedar. Contrastive to the colorful Japanese blood grass and Tiger Eyes sumac, a bridge and stone lantern give depth to the landscape. A copper fish and bronze bird sculpture add a finishing touch to the aesthetic treat. “[The gardener] really uses her imagination,” Covelli says.

Truly a floral haven for patients and staff, Hospice Care Inc.’s facility effortlessly reflects the Home Garden tour’s theme. With seventeen acres of vibrant gardens, 12,000 to 14,000 plants border the facility. The gardens juxtaposed to patients’ patios instill a sense of familiarity, as many are reminiscent of a home-like setting. A sunny rock garden houses a collection of rare dwarf conifers. Slow and tranquil, the pleasant atmosphere is buttressed by the plentiful plant life.

Celebratory of Door County’s woodland landscape, the backyard at Bryn Wood Drive resembles this Wisconsin floral feel. “When you look back at the house, you feel like you are in Door County, but it is fifteen minutes from the Capitol Square,” Covelli says. “It is quiet, peaceful, wooded and paths run throughout the garden.” Hostas line the labyrinth-like path through the “Door County” garden. A mix of witch hazel, hydrangeas, and redbuds flourish as they paint the landscape with color. Bloodroot, wild ginger ferns, and Solomon’s seal provide the Home and Garden Tour with a diverse mix of wildflowers.

Quiet and relaxing, the Home and Garden Tour also features dry steam-beds, distinct fences, pergolas and trellises. Learn how to transform an average yard into an exquisite haven; talk with homeowners, landscape designers and garden specialists at this serene event.

Aside from the experts’ advice, Covelli believes the home-gardeners’ floral masterpieces will inspire. “Our hope is that gardeners will come away thinking that they can do it themselves,” she says.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens’ Home Garden Tour takes place July 8, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., and July 9, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. Advance tickets are $10 for members, $12 for non-members; tour-day tickets are $12 for members and $14 for non-members. Tickets are available at Olbrich Botanical Gardens on May 1. For more information, call (608) 246- 4550 or visit

Slideshow: Attic Angel House and Garden Tour

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