The Livingston Inn | Madison, Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast

Madison, Naturally

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Back garden at The Livingston Inn

It’s that time of year when summer is at its fullest. There are plenty of warm days where everyone is outside taking in the lakes, parks, events, concerts, and festivals. It seems every day, and well into the evening, downtown Madison is buzzing with people walking around, finding fun things to do and dining out at so many fantastic restaurants.

Coinciding with all this activity, it’s also the time of year in Madison when the plants, gardens, and trees seem to be at their peak. A neighbor calls this the “full riot of summer” where every plant and flower has shot up, has bloomed, is blooming, needs trimming, or is getting ready to grow more heading into fall. Walking around neighborhoods, parks, or through Olbrich Botanical or Allen Centennial Gardens, there is so much beauty in all the varieties of flowers and plants enjoying the summer.

At this time of year, though, I also often think about what Madison looked like before humans tamed it. What did it look like before trees were planted along streets, grass was seeded, and all types of plants and flowers, not necessarily native to the area, adorned the many manicured flowerbeds and gardens? Thankfully, there is a place right in our city to find that answer. The UW-Madison Arboretum sits on 1,200 acres on the near west side of Madison, and it’s a place where you can see firsthand what Madison may have looked like before an influx of settlers changes its landscape a couple hundred years ago. The Arboretum is a beautiful setting with an ecological restoration of the Upper Midwest prairie along with some traditional horticultural arrangements of labeled plants in garden-like displays.

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Civilian Conservation Corps restoring farmland to prairie

Several well-known figures in Madison’s history had a hand in the making of the Arboretum, including John Nolen, Michael Olbrich, and Aldo Leopold. It’s important to understand the Arboretum is not on acreage untouched for hundreds of years. Instead, as first proposed by Nolen in 1911, it was the vision of early residents to take farmland in Madison and restore an historic ecological community. It was Olbrich who convinced the UW Board of Regents to aid in the land purchase of the first 246 acres acquired in 1932, growing to 500 acres two years later. Following the land purchase, the Depression-era Civilian Conversation Corps provided the supply of workers who turned the farmland into a prairie restoration.

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Aerial view of UW-Madison Arboretum and Visitor Center

Through additional gifts and purchases, the UW-Madison Arboretum has grown to its present 1,200 acres and features an abundance of hiking trails as well as options for bikes, cars, skis, and snowshoes. The trails and roadways will take you through areas restored as if you were in Madison hundreds of years ago. An outing to the Arboretum may involve encountering wild turkeys, turtles and other wildlife, or in addition to the hiking trails, touring three of the gardens where you can discover an impressive variety of woody plants, Viburnum, arborvitae, and other native plants. There’s also an outstanding Visitor Center and plenty of volunteer and educational opportunities.

140922_juniper-knoll_1586SD_web-348x232Today the Arboretum is undoubtedly the gem of Madison. While we love our lakes, plentiful parks, and neighborhood communities, the Arboretum, while large in size, quietly holds its place among us. Many days most residents likely forget it’s there, some not noticing it even when going around its edges on Madison streets and highways. But when we need a refuge from the busy and growing city around us, it’s always waiting there for us, allowing us to take a peaceful walk through it and marvel at the beauty and simplicity of a natural ecosystem.

imagesYou can bike in the Arboretum and on Sundays drive through it from one side to the other, but the best way to enjoy the Arb is on foot. The website has an easy-to-read map noting parking lots for trailheads. An ideal first trip would be to drive to the Visitor Center and make time to hike through at least a couple of the gardens and then venture out onto one of the many hiking trails. If you like to ski or snowshoe, take note of areas you’d like to return to when winter comes to our area (note: some trails are for hiking only).

With summer in full bloom, I strongly encourage you to put a trip to the Arboretum on the top of your list. While the excitement of summertime in the city is all around us right now, including beautiful flowers and plants, the Arboretum is a perfect respite to take a few steps back in time and picture the natural beauty of our area. It’s an opportunity to enjoy it now and enjoy as it always was.

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Farm-to-Table Abundance

farmersmarket2As we head toward next month where we celebrate harvest and are thankful for all that we have in our lives, we want to step back and recognize how far our communities have come with organic and sustainable farming. Without a doubt, the farm-to-table movement has grown tremendously nationwide, but we’re particularly proud of Madison’s accomplishments over the past decades.

To start, we must commend our iconic Dane County Farmers’ Market. Started in 1972, DCFM or “the Market” has undertaken ongoing positive steps to support local and organic farmers and producers, and today the Market is stronger than ever. Its flagship market day, Saturdays on the Capitol Square, continues to attract throngs of community members and visitors. It’s always the top attraction among our guests at The Livingston Inn, something they hear about whether coming from a neighboring state or halfway around the world. After an impressive forty years, you’ll find anything at the Market from the regulars at 6am zipping quickly to their normal vendors for items like honey and fresh produce to the leisurely mid-morning strollers sampling cheese bread while people watching on the counter-clockwise circuit.

561598817e394.imageThe phenomenon of the Market has led to its expansion as well as the growth of other farmers’ markets. DCFM successfully added a Wednesday market from 8:30am to 2:00pm a few years ago, attracting downtown workers on their lunch hours. Realizing a farmer’s market is more than fresh produce, the Market has also expanded into indoor winter markets at the Monona Terrace and the Madison Senior Center. Those markets can still feature the sought-after cheeses, breads, and tasty treats but then offer preserves and jarred products that extend the life of seasonal market products.

Beyond the Market, farmers and other vendors have enjoyed the opening of other markets stretching to all points of the compass across the isthmus and beyond. This list alone on the City of Madison’s website points to the incredible growth: http://www.cityofmadison.com/live-work/neighborhoods/farmers-markets. In addition, many of Madison’s local restaurants now purchase their ingredients and menu items from the many markets throughout town.

To add to our bounty of markets, we learned more exciting news this fall about our enthusiastic support of local farming. Starting up just a few weeks ago, Madison’s downtown will now also offer a Sunday Farmers’ Market. This market is open from 6am to 2pm on Pinckney and Mifflin Streets. The focus of the market is to provide healthy food to consumers from all income levels and to educate about food sources, nutrition, and preparation.

556e2116b1d6a.imageWhat’s wonderful and amazing about these markets is almost all of them are busy. The Hilldale market, on the west side, always draws a big crowd and continues to grow as well. Beyond that, no matter if it’s the Northside markets or those in Madison Southside neighborhoods, the stalls have a regular stream of patrons looking for fresh, local produce and other products for their weekly menu planning. In fact, some of those markets operate in food deserts – generally lower-income neighborhoods without a nearby grocery store – thereby offering a healthy and community-based source of food for the local residents. (Also notable is that DCFM accepts federal food assistance dollars and is the largest market in Wisconsin accepting them.)

The growth of farmers’ markets and their support of organic and sustainable farming has resulted in some positive “secondary” markets. In our next blog, we’ll feature the restaurants and a food delivery service that have helped local businesses succeed in their commitment to the farm-to-table movement.

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New Year, Special Wishes

Business EventIt has been quite a year for us, and as we head into the last half of our second full year of business (we hosted our first guests two years ago in July), Peggy and I wanted to take some time to express our appreciation for your support and enthusiasm toward The Livingston Inn and everything we’ve managed to accomplish.  We couldn’t have done any of it without you, so THANK YOU!

img_2942Over the past eighteen months, the Livingston Inn has hosted elegant dinners, weddings, showers, book clubs, garden parties, backyard yoga and a long, fascinating list of guests.  We even had a movie shot here!  We look forward to even more events — we’d love to host you and your friends; The Livingston Inn is a unique, beautiful space, but it’s also relaxing and refreshing.  We’ve been told time and again how much our guests love to simply sit by the fire and chat, or curl up with a good book.  We understand.  We noticed the inviting energy as soon as we set foot in the home ourselves.  So let us know if we can help you plan and host an event in 2013.

I thought it would be fun to let you know about some of the ideas we’ve had for The Livingston Inn.  Some are things we’ve actually considered and are working on for the near future, and some are things we’d like to see happen, but don’t have the time to put in place right now.  But if you have connections or a fierce drive to bring them to life, let us hear from you!

Backyard YogaBackyard yoga – we had a wonderful start to this program in 2012, and look forward to continuing it when warm weather returns in the spring.  The yoga class begins in the front yard, and after class the participants partake in tea and sweet treats in the Conservatory. Contact us to be included when we start up again!

Valentine’s Dinner – Following up on our successful Century Dinner last February, we’ll be hosting a special “romantic Valentine’s Day” event in February with our pop-up dinner chef, Dan Fox of Fox Heritage Foods.  Contact us for more details!

Betty Lou Cruises – we’ve talked to the Betty Lou Cruise-line and both sides would love to instigate Livingston Inn packages; so far it hasn’t worked out because the lake is too low to stop at our dock, but we’re hoping for better luck in the future.

Mystery Dinners – some friends have brought up this wonderful idea, to be hosted in the inn.  The right stars haven’t aligned to bring it together yet, but we’re hopeful it will come to fruition in 2013 or soon after.

Afternoon Tea

High Tea – We really like the idea of serving a high tea at The Livingston Inn.  As far as we can tell, no one in Madison offers this engaging afternoon experience, a big hit over the past few years on the East and West coasts.  We’re working on it as a public event, and could even offer it privately for small groups sooner.

Etiquette classes – apparently etiquette classes are a rising business model.  Who knew?  Peggy is a fan of Downton Abbey, and every time the show comes on it reminds us of our own wonderful home.  Wouldn’t it be fun learning about social graces and communication skills in a Gothic mansion that harks back to the days when such things were crucial to success and a good reputation?

DSC_0087-1Gardening classes – Peggy is a wonderful gardener, and she and some of her gardening expert friends are considering some simple classes during the spring and summer months.

Mad City Women – Peggy’s had a few conversations with friends and acquaintances about putting together some sort of group for the remarkable women of Madison.  What a great idea! We haven’t had the time to invest in it, but this is one thing we’d love to see happen this year, and we’ve put some feelers in place to try to generate some interest and energy around it.  Contact us if you’d be interested in taking part in a group like this and we’ll work on putting it together.

If you think it would be fun and interesting to host things like book groups, family reunions, business meetings or retreats at our B&B, we would love to hear from you.  The Livingston Inn is a unique, elegant alternative and chances are we can make it easier and less stressful than hosting in your own home.

Here’s to a grand new year – and to making all of our wishes come true!

Front Garden Event