Business of the Week: Monk Botanical Gardens

Wausau pilot & review

Editor’s Note: Business of the week A sponsored feature that shares the stories of locally owned and operated businesses in the Wausau area, the products and services they offer and the ways they contribute to the unique flavor of the metro area. Learn how to get your business featured by emailing

This week’s featured Wausau organization is the Monk Botanical Garden, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The Gardens, 1800 N. First Ave., was established in In 2003, Robert W. Monk, a non-profit organization, donated 21 acres of land to a group of dedicated volunteers to create the vision of a beautiful botanical garden focused on education. Free to the public, this is the only public botanical garden in North Central Wisconsin and now encompasses 30 acres, highlighting ornamental plants and connecting people to nature through educational participation. This is the only organization within a 60-mile radius that provides local education services to the Wausau area, and is home to the only nature-based preschool in the area. Preschool registration is now open.

Monk Botanical Gardens offers special events to the public that highlight the beauty of nature. Wausau’s first ever light snow walk, Flower of Light, will be held again in the fall for the second year in a row, with thousands of spectacular, artistic lights and gardens offering a chance to stroll through the various landscaped sculptures. Winter brings snowshoe illumination walks, while spring and summer feature hands-on learning opportunities for kids and adults, including Yuccapalooza and Aquapalooza summer camps, garden tours, theater in the gardens and more. The yurt, planned for 2024, will house additional programs and allow for indoor space to teach small groups.

In its early years, the Monk Botanical Gardens were known as “Wasau’s best kept secret”. But executive director Darcy Howard said the garden’s growing popularity meant the label no longer applied.

“Gone are the days of being a hidden gem, the word is getting out that we are a thriving garden for everyone to enjoy,” Howard said.

Now, according to Howard, the dream that was conceived in 2003 has become a reality thanks to the support and vision of the community. Monk Botanic Gardens’ first three-phase plan will begin with plant growth and culminate in a future visitor and education center.

“Be on the lookout for additions, renovations and changes,” she says.

Monk’s Botanical Gardens can also be rented out for weddings or other special events. With the addition of an English garden designed to accommodate 100 people, the site offers a unique and beautiful story for weddings. The kitchen can be rented for corporate events, graduation parties and meetings. See below for contact information.

Howard, along with Events and Education Manager Elise Shuler, are working with staff and the board to ensure that anyone can offer a program or event at the Gardens, despite the financial constraints. Funding is available.

“This garden is being developed for our whole community and we want it to be accessible to everyone,” she said.

Check out this link for information about Monk Botanic Gardens’ upcoming 20-year celebration week, and read Darcy Howard’s answers to our questions about the organization and its mission below.

Scroll for photos.

Give us a little history. How do monk botanical gardens grow over the years, and why is a botanical garden an important resource for the monk?

In the year From 2003 to 2018, volunteers with the support of the community and local foundation created 10 hectares of landscaped gardens and hosted thousands of visitors. Gardens hired its first full-time employee, a CEO, in 2017. With this investment, the gardens have grown rapidly in the last five and a half years. In the year As of 2022, the garden has seven full-time and three part-time employees, added a host/shade garden, purchased an additional 9 acres and implemented the area’s only nature-based preschool with environmental education programs. For the entire community. By 2022, the Gardens hosted 64,000 visitors, 4,000 children and 7,000 adults through programs and events. As the only botanical garden in north central Wisconsin, we serve many Wisconsin counties. Blossom of Lights, which debuted in 2022, has hosted 5,400 attendees in more than 95 Wisconsin zip codes and 15 states. The gardens themselves are among the top five attractions for visitors to Wasau.

Over the past 20 years, we have established seven themed gardens serving hundreds of thousands of community members. The Gardens is committed to fulfilling Robert W. Monk’s vision of a botanical garden that provides the community of Wassa with a beautiful and serene green space, connects people to plants and nature through educational engagement, and celebrates our relationship with the natural environment.

What is the economic impact on Wasau?

Gardening’s mission is to foster wellness through experiences that engage, educate, and inspire people, communities, and environments. Our goal is to develop long-term relationships and make the Gardens a permanent part of the Wausau and North Central Wisconsin community. A green space where the community can learn, participate and renew is a valuable product. of Life in Marathon County The publication calls on local organizations to support healthy living, which will improve the mental and physical health of the community, especially the youth. One asset highlighted in the report is access to natural areas and outdoor activities. Gardens provide programs and green spaces that support healthy living and outdoor space and activities.

Children’s programs at Monk’s Garden. Photo courtesy of Monk Botanic Gardens.

Monk Botanical Garden is the only botanical garden north of Madison and west of Green Bay, making it a tourist attraction, adding to the beauty and value of the Wassa community. This results in out-of-state tourists and day-trippers spending top dollar in the wider community. Every major city has a botanical garden. Wasau has a botanical garden. The botanical gardens and the experiences and programs they offer draw people to the Wausau area to live and work. This provides local businesses with a high quality and diverse workforce. People want to live in a city with a variety of outdoor amenities, and Monk’s Botanical Gardens are a key attraction.

Botanical gardens are timeless attractions across the US, valued as places to visit and enrich the city’s reputation as places to live, work and rebuild. The gardens also host community events such as the Blossom of Lights, an attraction that brings thousands of people to Wausau. We offer private hire for weddings, corporate outings and family events. From spring through fall, we offer public tours and host two plant sales selling native plants that work with local nurseries.

Tell us about your youth education opportunities, including Sprout Garden Preschool. Why are these programs important to society?

As fewer and fewer young people spend time in the natural world, exploring opportunities to learn, play and explore, opportunities for bonding and community and stewardship must be created. The garden’s environmental education for children is essential to countering the youth’s gravitation toward flammable and electronic-oriented indoor activities. All programs developed are place-based local education. This means that students are immersed in what they are learning. Many of the on-site programs include a stewardship project. Exposing children to community service helps motivate adults to give back to society. Fostering community involvement, volunteering, and service learning creates stronger communities and provides volunteers with many benefits: developing outdoor skills, improved interpersonal skills, and improved self-esteem.

Photo from Sprouts Garden Preschool, courtesy of Monk Botanic Gardens

Since 2018, participation numbers in environmental education programs have grown significantly every year. In the year In 2022, through our free after-school program, winter camp, spring break camp, Tots in the Gardens (parent and preschool program), school and scout field trips, in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Wausau, Wausau schools over 4,000 We served. The district’s community relations and Growing Great Minds program and Marathon County head start, to name a few.
Sprouts Garden Preschool opened in September 2021 with 28 children enrolled. Given the importance of preschool programs in Marathon County, this preschool is based on high-quality early childhood education and local learning experiences. It helps lay the foundation for local reading. This program directly served 28 students in its first year and is fully enrolled with 44 students for the 2022-2023 school year.

This year we are expanding the program to offer a full day session for 4 and 5 year olds. Offering a full-day program of before and after care allows working families to send their children to preschool, an option not previously available.

How does your organization connect with local school districts to improve outdoor learning through field trips?

School districts from this county and surrounding counties use our field trip programs. All 4K units from Wasau participate every year. We have also worked with Head Start for the past three years to provide six free field trips each year to their 10 classrooms.

What about adult education programs? How do you work to reach the entire community through these offerings?

In the spring and summer we offer plant workshops for adults, a variety of events such as Theater in the Garden, Booths and Plants, Flower of Light and Walk of Light. We provide programming for our neighbors at our homes. Every week during the growing season we use the raised beds we have built to put in the soil by hand. In the year We hope to offer more workshops and classes in 2024 in addition to the yurt.

Plants on hand. Photo courtesy of Monk Botanic Gardens.

You have been called “Wasau’s Happy Place”. What exactly does it mean and why is the connection with nature so interesting to so many?

I dare you to walk into the gardens and not feel happy. And this is the meaning. As soon as you enter those doors, you are surrounded by beauty, serenity and a place where all are welcome. Spending 20 minutes outside in nature can increase people’s focus, reduce depression and anxiety, and help the immune system. Getting your hands dirty has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety and depression. The Wausau Happy Place provides a place to reconnect with themselves, nature and improve their overall health.

Connect with the monk botanical gardens


  • From March to September: 7 am to 1 pm
  • October to February: 7:30 am to 4:30 pm
  • Open 7 days a week including holidays

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