Opened to the public in 1996, Green Bay Botanical Garden's 47 acres of display gardens and natural areas capture the beauty of northeast Wisconsin's four distinct and wonderful seasons. Visitors will enjoy outstanding architecture that sets the stage for an all-star performance by plants specially chosen for their ability to thrive in the Upper Midwest.
A horticultural and recreational resource to the region, Green Bay Botanical Garden offers a variety of educational programs to its members and the community. A year-round calendar of special events features a wonderful mix of gardening, cultural and family activities, including the Garden's popular Garden Fair and WPS Garden of Lights.
Research into the history of the property Green Bay Botanical Garden (GBBG) is developed on reveals a rich horticultural past. The Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) property, or as it is commonly known, "the old Larsen orchard", was originally part of a vast acreage owned by the William Larsen family of Green Bay. This acreage lay within the Town of Hobart, on what was once Oneida Indian Reservation Land. According to a 1951 edition of “The Wisconsin Magazine”, William Larsen founded a wholesale fruit and vegetable business in 1882 and marketed the produce in the surrounding Green Bay area. In 1880, Larsen expanded his business into a canning operation and founded what we know today as Agrilink Foods. Vegetables processed by the company were grown on its own farms, which by that time comprised almost 3,000 acres. The Brown County register of deed office reveals that the 65-acre GBBG site was acquired by Larsen, parcel by parcel, in the early part of the 20th century (the earliest plots were bought in 1909, the latest in 1915).
According to James Wagner, former treasurer of the Larsen Co. (now Agrilink Foods), apples from this orchard were canned into applesauce by the company during WWII. Apples were also sold at the company apple store, located near Larsen Co. on North Broadway. Later, the orchard became a pick-your-own operation, which was in business until the property began to be sold off.
After years of horticultural use, the property entered a transitional stage. In 1969, NWTC bought a 198-acre property, including the Larsen orchard on which the school was built. The orchard property was upgraded in the late 1970’s to encourage passive recreational use by the general public. Under the direction of NWTC, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a wetlands walkway and a lookout tower, established cross-country ski trails and constructed the drainage system that resulted in the creation of the pond. The orchard site became a place for the general public to ski, hike, walk, startle a browsing deer, photograph a wildflower and to enjoy seasonal changes.
An Idea Among Horticulturists Forms
In March of 1978, the nucleus group which later became Green Bay Botanical Garden came onto the scene. The group (named Plants in the Urban Environment) met to find ways to promote plants in Green Bay. A botanical garden sub-committee was formed which included Robert Mongin (chair), Jim Beard, Roger Murphy, Jerry Landwehr, Ray Pagel, Dave Parsons, Paul Hartman, Glenn Spevacek and Sister Nivard Schaefer. This group began looking for possible botanical garden sites and chose thirteen sites for consideration by November of 1978. Included were sites at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB), the Wildlife Sanctuary, Brown Co. Mental Health Center and NWTC. Eventually the group selected NWTC as the top site based on detailed examination of criteria. In January 1980, the group met with NWTC’s Assistant Director of Education, Allen Ellingson. In March of 1980, Geoffrey Rausch of Environmental Planning and Design in Pittsburgh, PA and Francis Dvo of the University of Minnesota Arboretum developed a preliminary garden plan to present to the NWTC board. According to Paul Hartman, the presentation was never given because “our group was not ready - we had no membership, finances, names, etc.”.
Incorporating a Dream
A few years later in March of 1982, Glenn Spevacek became chair of the group which then developed bylaws, seated a board and incorporated as a non-profit organization called Green Bay Botanical Garden, Inc. The now incorporated Garden continued to pursue a garden site. Hartman says, “We started over completely, with an open mind as to what would be the best site”. The group looked at over twenty sites and measured them against the criteria. NWTC was selected (again) as the most suitable property in the spring of 1986. In November of 1987, NWTC approved the lease proposal and final signing was expected late that spring. As the site passed into the hands of Green Bay Botanical Garden, Inc., not only was a piece of property with a horticultural tradition inherited, but the Garden was about to begin to build its own horticultural history. Green Bay Botanical Garden is the final phase for the “old Larsen orchard” and although its history is ending, the Garden’s history is just beginning.