McVay Courtyard garden is located in the middle of the Center for Urban Horticulture, providing easy access into and among the surrounding buildings.


The plant palette emphasizes textures, attractive bark and plants with architectural form and distinct foliage. The different leaf shapes, colors, and textures provide subtle variety.


The garden features many large boulders arranged in naturalistic groupings between the buildings and a sunken central seating area that immerses the visitor in the garden.  The plantings are anchored by 5 large Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (fernleaf fullmoon maple) that have elegant forms and deeply dissected leaves that have a long season of interest.  The leaves emerge light green in the spring with red flower, and then start to color in early July–building an intensity of oranges, reds and burgundies throughout the summer and into fall.  The autumn show is among the best of any maple. Several fragrant tea olives, Osmanthus delavayi, are sheared into shapes that complement the stone work.

The garden was renovated beginning in 2012 and now features an array of Arctostaphylos (manzanita) cultivars, two kinds of Corokia (wire netting bush), and Rhododendron moupinense, which is an early blooming dwarf rhododendron featuring peeling bark.  In 2015, several Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum ‘Blue Ox’, a striking blue-leaved of moderate size, were added.  A variety of groundcovering plants and seasonal bulbs complete the planting.

Pinterest board of plants. Note: photos in Pinterest are of the same plant cultivars, but most are not of the actual plants growing here.


acer-japonicum-grove-at-mcvay-courtyard_larsonThe courtyard contains two concrete bands which flow from the east entrance to the main entrance doors of Merrill Hall. Small stones and textured marks that represent flow and riffles are embedded in the concrete. This pattern suggests the flow of horticultural knowledge through and out of UW Botanic Gardens. Rocks and plant beds separate the central seating area from the main gathering space in front of the conference hall and from the circulation path around the perimeter of the space.

The aesthetic goals of this garden were that it be visually attractive from all views, demonstrate an integration of the buildings and the landscape, and use plants in a way that is pleasing.

The courtyard was built with funding from a gift from Mrs. John P. McVay.



Back to Top