Roberta Sladky, Olbrich Botanical Gardens

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Roberta Sladky, director, Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

The most rewarding is the opportunity to work with a great staff, which have created and maintain an incredible public garden here in Madison. The public-private partnership that makes this happen is both rewarding and challenging. I am impressed with how hard both partners — Olbrich Botanical Society and the City of Madison Parks Division — work to give this garden experience to residents of and visitors to the city of Madison.

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

Nancy Potter of Potters Crackers. I’ve known her since middle school and I admire her entrepreneurial spirit in starting a new business about 12 years ago. She has created many flavors of artisan crackers to go with the many cheeses of Wisconsin. Her business is totally different than mine, but also requires creativity and vision!

What has been the high point of your career so far?

We received a written visitor comment — “Better than the Gardens at Versailles! HANDS DOWN!” That was a good day, but in reality I have been most satisfied by Olbrich’s growth in education programming, particularly programming for elementary classrooms and early childhood groups and individuals. We increased opportunities and staff while continuing to provide the everyday visitors and tourists with an incredible garden experience, and the adult learner with a wide variety of classes ranging from gardening to arts and crafts.

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Take time to smell the roses — oh, but I have done that every day in my career!



What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

There is so much to do and so many restaurants, and it’s a great place to entertain out-of-town family and friends.

Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I don’t know about this one. Maybe I know a lot about zoos and animals? My husband built exhibits at a large zoo and I met him when I was the curator of horticulture at the same zoo. I learned much from the professional animal care staff during those years — much more than I learned from a semester of zoology at UW (which I was lucky I didn’t fail).

What are your guilty pleasures?

I really enjoy friends and family. I am still close with a group of women from my high school days and even closer with a smaller group of women I met freshman year — we lived in the same wing of the same dorm. I spend time with my two stepdaughters and their families and have a cordial relationship with my deceased husband’s ex-wife. And I really love plants — their resilience, the impact they’ve hade had on human culture, the amazing stories they have to tell if you only take the time to learn more about them, and the incredible impact they can on our lives whether in nature, in garden settings, or in your homes and offices. I can’t imagine not having plants in my life.

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