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Easy Peas-y: Planting Pea Seeds with Little Sprouts

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 10:08am

Plant, water, and grow! Whether you are a parent, teacher, or caregiver, teaching children to plant seeds is a simple and authentic way to help them engage with nature. It’s an activity that the littlest of sprouts can do “all by myself,” or at least with minimal help from you.

 Little Diggers pea planting in the raised beds.

Growing future gardeners in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden

Planting seeds leads to discussions about what seeds and plants need to grow and how food gets to our tables. Watering is a simple chore young children are capable of doing; it teaches them about responsibility and helps them feel they are making a contribution to the family or classroom. 

Students from our Little Diggers class, ages 2 to 4, planted peas indoors in mid-March and transplanted them outside into the raised beds in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden in mid-April. Come follow the steps we took to get there.

March: Planting the Pea Seeds Indoors

Supply List:

  • Seeds
  • Soilless potting mix or seed-starting potting mix in a wide-mouth container
  • Plant pots (plastic or biodegradable, roughly 2.5 inches in diameter)
  • Trowels, spray bottles, or watering cans
  • Plastic seedling tray with lid

Set-up Time: 10 minutes

Activity Time: 10–40 minutes of actual planting (depending on the size of the group)

Appropriate for Ages: 2 and up

Clean-up Time: 10–15 minutes

 Large pea seeds are easy for small fingers to grasp.

Large pea seeds are easy for small fingers to grasp.

 Use this kind of plastic seedling tray and lid.

Here I am modeling the latest in seedling trays. You can purchase these and our other supplies at your local garden center or home improvement store.

Select seeds that are big—the smaller the hands, the bigger the seed should be—and quick to sprout, or germinate. Also consider the amount of space the mature plants will occupy, and the time of year you are planting. Some seeds can be planted during the cool spring, while others should go in the ground once the threat of frost has passed.

We chose ‘Tom Thumb’ pea seeds because they are large enough for little hands to easily manipulate, they germinate in 7–14 days, they thrive in the cool spring weather, and they only grow to be 8 inches tall and 8 inches wide, making them great for small-space gardens and containers.

Tip: Some other large seeds suitable for little hands are sunflowers, beans, nasturtium (edible flower), pumpkin, and other squash. For more details about how and when to plant these seeds visit www.kidsgardening.org/node/101624.

 A low, wide trug full of soil makes filling pots easy for younger gardeners.

A low, wide trug full of soil makes filling pots easy for younger gardeners.

 Watering the seeds in is the best part of planting.

Watering in the seeds is the best part of planting.

 

Set out the potting mix in a wide-mouth container such as a flexible plastic tub, sand bucket, or cement mixing tray on the ground. Have trowels, pots, seeds, and spray bottles ready.

Tip: A soil container with a wide opening will lead to less soil on the ground. Also, more children will be able to plant at the same time.

Using a trowel, fill the pot with soil. Set two pea seeds on the soil and push them down ½- to 1-inch deep. Then cover the seeds with soil. Spray with a spray bottle until the soil is saturated.

Tip: Planting depth will depend on the type of seeds you are planting. Read the back of the seed packet for details.

Finally, each child should label their pot. We used craft sticks to easily identify each child’s plant.

Tip: Pot up extra seeds in case some don’t germinate. I potted up 10–15 extras. Every child needs to feel successful and have peas to transplant when the time comes. Once kids have planted seeds a few times and are a little older, you won’t need to pot up extras. Having seeds fail is the next great gardening lesson for more experienced young gardeners.

 Our young grower adds his pot to the tray. It's a good idea to pot up extra seeds in case some don’t germinate.

Our young grower adds his pot to the tray. It’s a good idea to pot up extra seeds in case some don’t germinate.

 Craft sticks easily identify each child’s plant. Keeping the top lid on slightly open helps air circulate around the plantings, so they don't grow fungus.

Craft sticks easily identify each child’s plant. Keeping the top lid on, but slightly open, helps air circulate around the plantings, so they don’t grow fungus.

Put the containers on the plastic tray and cover with a clear plastic lid. This will keep moisture in and will require less frequent watering. Allow the soil surface to dry out slightly between watering. Using the misting setting on the sprayer works well because it doesn’t create a hole in the soil and expose the seed like a watering can will.

Tip: Watch for white fungus growing on the soil surface. If this occurs, remove the plastic lid. This will kill the fungus and promote germination. If you will be away from the classroom or home for a few days, put the plastic lid on so the soil doesn’t dry out. Remove it when you return.

Tip: Peas don’t respond well to transplanting, so we planted the seeds in biodegradable pots to avoid this problem. These pots break down in the soil, allowing the roots to continue to grow undisturbed.

 Seeds are absorbing water.  The roots and stems have started to grow.  True leaves have appeared.  Getting ready put our seedlings in the ground.

April: Transplanting the Pea Plants into the Garden

Supply List:

  • Pea plants
  • Trowels
  • Spray bottles or watering cans

Set-up Time: 10 minutes

Activity Time: 20–30 minutes or more (depending of the size of the group and the number of helpers)

Appropriate for Ages: 2 and up

Clean-up Time: 10 minutes

Choose a sunny location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight every day and has well-drained soil. We planted our peas in the raised beds at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

Bring all the supplies out to the site. Have each child choose where they would like to dig their hole. Pass out a trowel and plant to each child. Dig a hole as deep as the soil in the pot. Place the plant, pot and all, in the hole. Fill in the space around the plant with soil and water the plants.

Check the peas daily and water them with a watering can or hose when the soil is slightly dry. About 50 – 55 days after planting, these shelling peas will be ready to harvest and eat! Come see the plants that the students of our Little Diggers class planted in the raised beds, just south of the orchard at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden!

 Watering seedlings in the raised beds.

Remember to water in your seedlings when you put them in the ground!

 Watering seedlings in the raised bed.

Sunshine and a good squirt of water will help this pea seedling grow!

Direct Sowing: Easy Peas-y Approach

 it's fun.

Direct sowing is the easiest approach—and often the most successful with early spring vegetables. Not to mention: it’s fun.

As a working parent, I chose this approach with my almost three-year-old. All you really need is a sunny spot with well-drained soil, seeds (we used ‘Tom Thumb’ peas because we have a small garden), a small shovel (trowel) and water. Choose a sunny spot for planting (6–8 hours of direct sun).

First I showed him how to draw lines in the soil with his trowel (they should be ½– to 1-inch deep). Then he dropped seeds along the lines. I wasn’t concerned about spacing 2 inches apart as recommended on the seed packet because I can always thin them out once the seeds start to grow. He covered the seeds up and watered them with the hose. Every evening, we enjoy checking to make sure the soil is damp.

Tip: If you’re little one is getting impatient, these peas can be harvested early and eaten, pod and all, like snow peas!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Hand to Hand

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 12:30pm

Long-ago legend says that cranes can live for 1,000 years…and that folding 1,000 paper cranes, one for each year, can make a wish come true. 

So it is that the crane is the symbol of longevity and good fortune.

22 Folds
From the first corner-to-corner fold to the last crook of beak and tail, it takes 22 folds to make this style of origami crane. Because pictures are worth 1,000 words, we offer this visual guide to crane-making.

Download these instructions to create an origami crane.

Click on the image above for a larger version to print and save. Wishing you longevity and good fortune!

Fast forward to the turn of the twenty-first century, when Ray Wilke, a devoted volunteer in the Elizabeth Malott Japanese Garden, decided to make origami cranes as a take-away gift for children who visited the garden’s Shoin House. Each winter, Ray and wife Ginny folded cranes…and each spring/summer Ray handed them out, one by one, to the curious children.

Over the years, Ray and Ginny made 40,000 cranes.

When Ray “retired” from volunteering, fellow-volunteer Edie Rowell decided to keep the hand-to-hand tradition alive. She taught Interpretive Programs manager Mary Plunkett how to fold. Mary found more volunteers to train other volunteers, and set out stacks of paper for them to take at will.

Now there are 10 people who fold, bringing in bags of 20, 60, or 100 origami cranes throughout the winter.

And 3,000-plus cranes are ready to hand out for the 2015 season.

 Volunteers Susan and Edie with their stash of origami cranes.

Happiness is 1,000 paper cranes…and volunteers like Susan and Edie.

This just in from California…

Just 24 hours after our interview, Mary Plunkett called to say that a box had just arrived in the mail from volunteer Meline Pickus. She’d sent 50 cranes from California, where she was staying for the winter. In her spare time, she folded cranes…and she wanted them to arrive in Chicago before the Shoin House opened. Our volunteers are awesome.

 Origami paper cranes.

Origami paper cranes

From Ray’s original intent comes great good fortune: a community has sprung. “It goes beyond the normal notion of volunteering,” Mary explains. “You get into a Zen state when folding…it’s very relaxing…and you’re contributing to something that’s bigger than you. It’s social, too—a group of three or four might have dinner together, then fold cranes together.”

And what do the kids think when they’re offered a crane? “They’re over the moon, they’re very gentle with them,” Mary says. “We say, ‘We’d like you to have one,’ and you’d think you were giving them gold when you explain why. It opens the door for conversations, especially with 7-, 8-, 9-year-olds.”

Cranes are offered, hand to hand, at the Shoin House whenever volunteers are present…for as long as the handmade supply lasts. (Although adults make wishes, too, cranes are for kids only.)

Volunteer season at the Shoin House begins May 13. Bring the kids—and tell them to think about their wish!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Find style by the decades this weekend!

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 9:24am

Find the best of your favorite era available at the Antiques, Garden & Design Show this weekend! Join us April 17-19, 2015.

 Antiques, Garden & Design Show Design by the Decades

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Unexpected Signs of Spring

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 9:10am

Sometimes spring just doesn’t want to arrive. Sometimes it can’t wait to burst forth with flowers and foliage and make everything look fresh and new. This year definitely falls into the first category, but this isn’t a bad thing. It gives us time  to appreciate some things that might otherwise be overlooked by the flashier signs of spring.

 Red Charm Peony buds push out of the ground.

Red Charm peony buds (Paeonia ‘Red Charm’) look like alien asparagus pushing their way out of the ground in the Farwell Landscape Garden.

The cooler temperatures are slowing growth for most plants but also allowing for richer colors to develop. These peony stems have a rich burgundy color that is highly ornamental in an otherwise empty bed. Eventually these will grow out into large bushy plants with showy red flowers, but for now we can enjoy the unique form of the new growth.

Many geranium varieties also feature beautiful new growth in the spring. Geranium ‘Blue Sunrise’ in the Dwarf Conifer Garden has gorgeous bright green foliage in the summer, but in the spring it has stunning orange and red new growth that almost looks like flames coming out of the ground. Having plants with vibrant new growth can give your garden a whole new dimension. Imagine how bright blue Scilla siberica would stand out against the geranium, or how lush a planting of soft pink Chionodoxa lucillae ‘Pink Giant’ would look among the hellebores. It’s almost as though you’re getting two different plants for the price of one when you have such distinctive spring growth.

 New shoots of Geranium 'Blue Sunrise'.

New growth doesn’t have to be dull! These Geranium ‘Blue Sunrise’ have new growth that looks like flames coming out of the ground.

 New spring growth on Helleborus x hybridus 'Blue Metallic Lady'.

A Helleborus x hybridus ‘Blue Metallic Lady’ in the English Walled Garden sports new growth that is almost showier than its flowers.

Of course, since it is spring, there are plenty of flowers to see. Many people associate spring with bulbs, but there are some other unusual plants blooming now too. Petasites japonicus spends the summer looking like a rhubarb that has aspirations to take over the world. However, in the spring it graces us with patches of inflorescences that look like bright green cabbages. Nestled inside of the “cabbages” are clusters of lime green flowers that will gradually elongate into a short spike of tufty white flowers. They’re not the showiest flowers ever, but they have a clean, bright color that really makes them pop against the dark soil of the hillside in the Waterfall Garden.

 Petasites japonicus has rather unusual spring blooms.

Petasites japonicus has rather unusual spring blooms.

 Buds opening on Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas).

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) provides a gentle pop of spring color during a sometimes dreary time of the year.

And finally, the cornelian cherry trees (Cornus mas) in the Heritage Garden provide a soft glowing yellow that is a much gentler burst of color than the more common forsythia that can sometimes be almost gaudy with the intensity of its colors. During a time of year when so much is happening, it’s sometimes nice to have plants that allow your eyes to rest and regroup before moving on to the next batch of vibrant, eye-catching color.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Bonsai in the Semitropical Greenhouse

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 9:12am

I am happy to announce the addition of four bonsai trees on display in the Semitropical Greenhouse in the Regenstein Center.

 Bonsai on display in the Semi-tropical Greenhouse.

Bonsai on display in the Semitropical Greenhouse

The crape myrtle, two ficus species, and natal plum trees were placed on display on March 28. The display will be up through the end of May with a change of tree species the last week of April. It’s the first time these trees are being displayed in this fashion here at the Garden, giving visitors the opportunity to see tropical and subtropical trees that otherwise would not be able to be shown in our courtyards until late May, due to temperature requirements.

The courtyards will open on Tuesday April 21, 2015, with our cold-hardy evergreen and deciduous trees.

 Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) bonsai.

This crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is continuing to respond very favorably to the root work we did.

This crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) was the focus of my previous post on repotting. It is continuing to respond very favorably to the root work we did.

Crape myrtles are a genus of about fifty species of trees and shrubs native to South Asia, Northern Australia, and some Pacific islands. Some varieties can grow as tall as 100 feet, but most species grow as either small trees or large shrubs. Some varieties are deciduous, and some are broadleaf evergreens—this is a deciduous variety.

Crape myrtles are most famous for their flowers, which grow as clusters of small blooms. Flowering typically takes place between June and August. This tree has never flowered while here at the Garden. I am hoping that with the addition of a more appropriate soil mix, fertilizer changes, and a longer growing season we can can encourage this tree to bloom in the years to come.

The natal plum (Carissa grandiflora) is a dense evergreen tree with sharp spines. It’s native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Australia, and Asia.

 Natal plum bonsai in fruit and flower.

Our natal plum in fruit and flower at the same time!

Our natal plum produces beautiful flowers throughout the year. These can occur either as individual blooms or in clusters. The flowers have a powerful fragrance reminiscent of gardenia. The fruit is plum-shaped and can be red to dark purple-black in color. The fruit of the natal plum is edible and tastes like a giant cranberry—but please don’t eat ours! :)

 Willow-leaf fig (Ficus salicifolia) bonsai.

Willow-leaf fig (Ficus salicifolia)

 Chinese banyan (Ficus microcarpa) bonsai.

Chinese banyan (Ficus microcarpa)

Our two ficus trees on display are monsters! The Nabari (base of the tree) on these trees are huge, and they have a great presence. Ficus are tropical and subtropical trees native to southern Asia and India. However, they are also commonly found in South American countries and the southern United States. There are hundreds of species in the ficus genus in the world, but there are only about a half dozen that are commonly used for bonsai. Ficus benjamina, Ficus microcarpa, Ficus retusa (or Green Island fig), and Ficus salicifolia are among the most frequently used. These are great examples of tropical bonsai that will love their new temporary home in the Greenhouse.

Be sure to come down and see these amazing trees while they are on display! And keep a lookout for the new additions coming later this month. Here is a sneak peek at one of the trees you might see…can you tell what species it is?

 Bonsai in bloom.

This mystery tree might be blooming soon in the Regenstein Center—can you guess what it is?

Thanks for reading, and be sure to follow me on instagram @Windy_City_Bonsai for updates and pictures of the collection!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Step into a Designer’s Dream

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 1:15pm

The Antiques, Garden & Design Show is a dream for designers, who prize the annual event for its knowledgeable vendors and highly curated antiques. It’s a great place to bring clients searching for one-of-a-kind pieces and recommended for anyone trying to create a space that expresses his or her personality, values, and interests.

 Chandelier from Jessica LaGrange Interiors.

Chandelier from Jessica LaGrange Interiors

“The event is like a to-the-trade-only show with civilian access,” said Cindy Galvin, of Bardes Interiors and Maze Home Store in Winnetka.

A classical stone torso, a collection of fantastic black cast iron urns, a big gold peer mirror, a funky ′60s tabouret, a brown alligator handbag, and the perfect French farmhouse table and chairs are among the memorable pieces designers have found for clients—and themselves—in the past.

“Any collector, designer knows there’s always more out there, something you have never seen, and that’s the thrill that brings us back to a show like this year after year,” says Myla Frohman, owner of Glencoe-based Myla Frohman Designs.

 Lee Thinnes.

Lee Thinnes (Lee’s Antiques, Winnetka, IL) will be showcasing bold, modern paintings this year.

Now in its 15th season, the reinvented event has developed a reputation for the consistent high quality of its offerings. In social circles, the kickoff Preview Night is called the ribbon cutting for the spring season. Exhibitors, many of them designers themselves, present antiques, midcentury modern pieces, and outdoor furnishings in sophisticated displays that inspire and educate. Often arranged around a theme, booths can transport guests to a different time and place. The Golden Triangle, a Chicago-based exhibitor, plans to make an enchanting booth this year, drawing inspiration from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The designers will mix ancient and modern garden furnishings to create an imaginative scene. Lee Thinnes, owner of Lee’s Antiques in Winnetka, will feature bold modern paintings and a molded Lucite coffee table by Karl Springer.

“The exhibitors are incredibly knowledgeable and truly enjoy sharing the provenance of their wares,” said Galvin. Listen as you look, she advises, because much of the fun of owning antiques is knowing the story behind the piece.

 Exterior display by Suzanne Lovell, of Suzanne Lovell Inc., Chicago, IL.

Exterior display by Suzanne Lovell, of Suzanne Lovell Inc., Chicago, IL

With its strong emphasis on garden antiques, the Show provides clients one of the best venues for realizing the potential of an often overlooked space—the garden room. “Chicago has a secret—our beautiful garden summers. One can imagine outside rooms that make a garden another important room in any home,” said Suzanne Lovell, of Suzanne Lovell Inc., in Chicago. “The outdoor garden room is just as important as the living room!”                 

Designers typically come prepared with a punch list of their clients’ needs and a planned route. (The Show map can help with navigation). Many make a beeline for favorite exhibitors, then methodically visit the rest. Whatever strategy you choose, be prepared to deviate from your plan if you spot something you love and can’t live without. The good stuff goes fast!

“One year I found a set of Gracie panels, instantly adored them, and bought them on the spot,” Galvin said. “When I went back later to pick them up, the vendor said he could have sold them six times over!”

 The Gracie Panels found by Cindy Galvin (of Bardes Interiors and Maze Home Store, Winnetka, IL).

The Gracie Panels found by Cindy Galvin— now her dressing room closet doors!

While acknowledging trends, designers tend to look for pieces that express the individuality of their clients. “You need unique and singular things to make your home feel personal. Vintage works as well as bona fide antiques,” said Jessica Lagrange, of Jessica Lagrange Interiors, LLL in Chicago.

Younger clients may not be keen on antiques, but they are sophisticated shoppers who learn from blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram. “Millennials are striving to make their homes one-of-a-kind, unique to their families’ personalities. They know design and value it. They want to design their homes with intent,” Galvin said.

The Show’s lectures offer guests an expanded vision of what’s possible for the home and garden. Designers appreciate meeting the likes of this year’s keynote speaker, the legendary Mario Buatta, known as the “Prince of Chintz,” and other nationally and internationally recognized experts.

 Kristen Koepfgen and Cindy Galvin.

Kristen Koepfgen and Cindy Galvin enjoy a past Preview Evening.

Can’t wait? Guests attending the Preview Evening enjoy early shopping privileges, a boon for serious buyers. “The Preview Evening is great fun, and it gives you first crack at the goods,” Lagrange said, “which is really important because of the caliber of the stock.”

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Next Generation Starts Now

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 9:10am

When you dream of saving plants for a living, you don’t expect to wait for tribal elders to rule on whether you can get started…or to sleep in the sage-scented high desert on your first camping trip ever…or to walk through the woods to spray your hand-raised seedlings with a deer repellent that smells likes rotten eggs and garlic.

But when you are driven by a passion for plants, you do whatever it takes to move forward, said three alumni of a graduate program offered by the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University. The two institutions combined their resources in 2005 to offer a unique program in plant biology and conservation; the program marks its tenth anniversary this year.

 Tracy Misiewicz climbs into the canopy of a tropical rainforest to collect data on pollination.

Tracy Misiewicz climbs into the canopy of a tropical rainforest to collect data on pollination.

Students take courses at both the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University and work with researchers and faculty from both institutions. Alumni of the graduate program—which includes a doctoral track—are working for nonprofits and agencies including the Field Museum, the Morton Arboretum, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and participating in research projects in places including India, China, and Malaysia.

Here are the stories of these three graduates from the master’s program: 

Tracy Misiewicz

 Masters graduate Tracy Misiewicz in the field.

Program graduate Tracy Misiewicz in the field.

Tracy Misiewicz’s research project was on hold, while the village elders poured fermented rice wine into the ground. During the ceremony, in the western mountains of Cameroon, the elders chanted in Bakossi, a Bantu language, asking their ancestors if Misiewicz—a native of Maryland who decided to become a scientist in the seventh grade—could enter the rainforest. Then the elders threw down a handful of cacao nuts to see if they would land in a certain order. They did; the ancestor had granted permission.

And that, recalled Misiewicz with a delighted laugh, is how she began her fieldwork in Cameroon. With her sister as a research assistant and their Ngomboku neighbor—a basket weaver—as a guide, Misiewicz trudged through the forest to look for Dorstenia, the second largest genus in the moraceae (mulberry) family. Dorstenia species—some of which are considered threatened or are already extinct—are used by indigenous people for medicinal purposes and show promise in their use in modern medicine. As part of her master’s thesis, Misiewicz looked at the family tree and evolutionary history of some species within the genus.

In Cameroon, Misiewicz and her sister learned how to cook local dishes and dance to local music. “You really get to know the people and the culture,” said Misiewicz. “When we left, we were crying, and the ladies in the village were crying.”

For her master’s research at the Garden, Misiewicz worked with adviser and Garden scientist Nyree Zerega, Ph.D., and Garden conservation scientist Jeremie Fant, Ph.D. “They are two of the smartest and nicest and most supportive mentors I could have had,” said Misiewicz, who went on to get her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. “They made science fun. They made me understand that when your experiment didn’t work out or things are going wrong, it’s OK. I learned to overcome and move forward and still love science…at Berkeley, my experience was wonderful, but there were times where I was like, ‘What am I doing? I’m not having fun. Nothing is working.’ Always, I would think back to my experience at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and think, ‘I love science.’”

Misiewicz now works as a science project specialist for the Organic Center, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that focuses on research and education projects related to organic food and farming. The job is a good fit—she loves policy, science, and thinking through problems. “I think science is sort of like cooking in that you can follow a ‘recipe’ and learn to extract DNA,” Misiewicz said. “That’s not the hard part. It’s the thinking critically and creatively and problem solving, and understanding what’s going on. That’s what I really took away from the Garden…I learned how to think.”

Alicia Foxx

 Masters program graduate Alicia Foxx with Northwestern University Provost Daniel Linzer, and Chicago Botanic Garden President and CEO Sophia Shaw.

Program graduate Alicia Foxx with Northwestern University Provost Daniel Linzer, and Chicago Botanic Garden President and CEO Sophia Shaw.

Alicia Foxx hit the ground running when she started her master’s degree program, under the supervision of Andrea Kramer, Ph.D., a conservation scientist at the Garden. “The second time I met her,” recalled Foxx, “we were getting on a plane” to work on a research project in the Southwest.

The two of them drove and camped in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau, which covers parts of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, including the Grand Canyon. Foxx, a native of Chicago, had never slept outside or seen mountains before. And she had never seen the way that invasive species could choke out native plants, including bunch grasses and wildflowers.

“On paper, it was a very interesting subject,” Foxx said. “You’ve got invasive plants that are taking over the West. But I think seeing how there were pretty much one or two [native plants left] in a very large landscape and how we’re losing the plant diversity that we really need to gain back was very different than just learning about it. It made me think, ‘This work is really important.’”

Originally, as an undergraduate at Elmhurst College, Foxx had planned to become a veterinarian—until she worked with her advisor, a botanist, on an invasive species project. “I just loved it,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is really interesting, and plants are really cool.’” One day, while looking up a list of invasive plants on the Garden’s website, something else caught her eye. “I thought, ‘Oh, there’s a graduate program there?’ So I clicked on the link.”

Foxx was accepted into the Garden’s master’s program and, in June 2012, made the weeklong trip with Dr. Kramer to the Colorado Plateau. With a team of researchers, they gathered the seeds of promising native plants—those tough enough to thrive in harsh conditions—as part of the national Seeds of Success collection program.

For her master’s thesis, Foxx studied native species that may be able to compete with cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), an invasive species in the Plateau. Now, she is a doctoral candidate in the plant biology and conservation program. “I am so excited about working at the Garden for another five or six years,” she said. On some days, especially in the summer, she gets to the Garden an hour early to visit favorite spots, including the English Walled Garden.

Someday, Foxx hopes to have a role similar to Kramer’s, as both a researcher and an advisor. “Andrea is a very intelligent researcher who thinks of rather elegant research questions,” Foxx said. “On the advising side, she is very kind, understanding, and patient, and this has helped me to grow as a scientist.”

Byron Tsang

 Masters graduate Byron Tsang working in the field.

Program graduate Byron Tsang working in the field.

As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, Byron Tsang—now a project manager and ecologist with the Chicago Park District—was a chemistry and biology major. Tsang, who grew up in Atlanta, thought he might go into some sort of disease research, specializing in immunology and diagnostics. But something else tugged at him.

With a passing interest in ecology, Tsang took some field ecology classes and volunteered to work on the North Branch Restoration Project. (The organization helps protect and restore native Illinois ecosystems along the North Branch of the Chicago River.) And on vacation in New Zealand, he happened to learn about a challenging ecological problem—a common weed was taking over pastureland needed for sheep. When he finished his undergraduate studies and decided to pursue a master’s degree, Tsang had settled on a new field: plant biology. “I thought, ‘Hey, I could actually do this for a living,’” Tsang recalled.

Tsang wasn’t sure what his master’s thesis would be about, but he knew that he wanted to focus on a local problem. “I ended up falling in love with midwestern ecology,” he said. His adviser, associate conservation scientist Daniel Larkin, Ph.D., steered him to the Garden’s Jim Steffen, a senior ecologist. Steffen, who is leading restoration efforts in the Garden’s McDonald Woods, mentioned an intriguing question: why had two native wildflowers—pointed-leaf tick trefoil and violet lespedeza—failed to take off in the Woods? (The two legume species had been able to grow in other area oak woodlands; both are indicator species that appear in healthy woodlands.) Tsang took on the question as his master’s thesis; as part of his research, he sprayed young seedlings in the woods with a smelly deer repellent.

Tsang’s connection to the Garden has continued in his work for the Park District’s Department of Natural Resources. When he heard about a Garden project to evaluate urban nature pockets—as part of its Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program—he realized that the Park District had a similar goal. This summer, he hopes to work with an REU intern in the Park District’s natural areas.

“My experience studying at the Garden really set the stage for my career as an ecologist,” Tsang said. “I learned a great deal about the intricate and often delicate ecological relationships that tie Chicago’s natural areas together, but equally important, I built invaluable personal relationships with academics, scientists, and restoration specialists in the Chicago area, all of whom I consider my colleagues and co-conspirators in my ongoing work at the Park District.”

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Glimpse into the Carefully Guarded World of Bunny Mellon

Fri, 04/03/2015 - 9:00am

The New York Times described Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon as an amateur collector with a sure eye, great taste, and upper-class refinement. Architectural Digest called her self-assured in the way that often comes with enormous wealth. Labeled a connoisseur, philanthropist, gardener, and horticulturist by flower magazine, Bunny Mellon was crowned the true queen of green, and the high priestess of pruning and pleaching by Vanity Fair.

 Looking through espaliered crabapple trees to the potting shed at the Mellons’ Oak Spring Farm in Virginia.

Looking through espaliered crabapple trees to the potting shed at the Mellons’ Oak Spring Farm in Virginia
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Such is the mystique surrounding Bunny Mellon, an heiress who considered privacy her greatest luxury; an influential American landscape designer who rarely showcased her work; and a collector who could afford anything, but was known for acquiring only the things she loved.  

Historian and garden writer Mac Griswold will share her unique perspective on the carefully guarded world of Bunny Mellon during the upcoming Antiques, Garden & Design Show. Griswold forged a bond with Mellon, the mother of her close friend, Eliza, through their mutual love of gardening. Griswold’s lecture, “Green Grandeur: The Rarefied Simplicity of Bunny Mellon’s Garden Style,” will document the contributions the influential tastemaker made to home and garden design. Mellon is perhaps best known for designing the White House Rose Garden during the Kennedy administration, as well as the White House East Garden, and landscape features at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Renowned architect I.M. Pei called her the most gifted landscape architect of her time.

Join us for Mac Griswold’s lecture on Saturday, April 18, at 11 a.m. Click here for tickets.

 Mac Griswold

Mac Griswold
Photo © Sigrid Estrada

Mellon applied the same sense of scale and balance to her own properties, but these glories were rarely seen by outsiders. “Her gardens were like private kingdoms,” Griswold said. Griswold’s talk will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 18, in Alsdorf Auditorium. Following the lecture, Griswold will sign copies of her latest book, The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island, a saga about slavery, emancipation, and racism in New England told through the history of a single piece of land and a grand old house. She is currently working on Nothing Should Be Noticed: The Life and Gardens of Bunny Mellon 1910–2014. The book’s title refers to one of the Mellon’s maxims. “She was all about ensemble,” Griswold said. “She believed everything should work together. She didn’t want anything to be a gob smacker, indoors or out.”

Griswold was fortunate to see the simple and harmonious execution of this vision during visits to the houses and gardens Mellon maintained in New York, Cape Cod, Antigua, and the 4,000-acre Oak Spring Farm in Virginia. The estate is home to Mellon’s life work, the Oak Spring Garden Library, which contains one of the world’s largest private collections of works on horticulture, botany, natural history, and travel. The 12,000-volume facility will now serve as headquarters for a library and learning center supported by the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, named by Mellon after her father, a pharmaceutical baron.

Known for her statement, “Nothing should be noticed,” Bunny Mellon “had a highly developed sense of imperfect perfection.”

 Inside the walled garden at Oak Spring Farm.

Inside the walled garden at Oak Spring Farm
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Mellon developed her love of gardening early. She started her first garden plot at the age of 7 and acquired her first gardening book at age 12. In 1948 she married Paul Mellon, the son of financier Andrew Mellon, and the two lived a life of art collecting, philanthropy, horse breeding and racing, and entertaining. According to press reports, dinner guests included such luminaries as Queen Elizabeth and Truman Capote.

Griswold’s window into Mellon’s world looks out onto her gardens, which she designed according to three overarching rules: always use a horizon line, always make sure there is a formal feature, and always make sure there is a place to sit down.

 

Learn more about a fascinating, accomplished, and understated figure in American gardening and society, at Griswold’s April 18 lecture during the Antiques, Garden & Design Show, April 17–19, 2015.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Look, up in the sky: it’s the new PlantDropter™

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 12:02am

Love spring, but hate all that heavy lifting in the garden?

Tell us about it! That’s why we developed the PlantDropter™, our new remote control planting assistant.

 Drone quadcopter delivers a seedling to be planted.

PlantDropter™ is the intellectual property of the Chicago Botanic Garden

We tell it which plant we want to move, program the coordinates for a particular garden, and it does the carrying for us!

Staff is raving about the ability to travel “as the crow flies.” With 250,000 plants to put in this year, you can imagine the efficiency of the PlantDropter™! The only issue so far: it drops just one plant at a time.

That’s one down and 249,999 to go. We’ll keep you posted.

 

For more information or to order yours today, click here!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Easiest. Bonsai. Ever.

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 12:01am

Introducing the world’s first effortless bonsai!

Why wait 5, 10, even 20 years for your bonsai to be perfect? With our new Chia® Bonsai kit, you can have a picture-perfect, healthy, brilliant green bonsai in days instead of decades!

Chia® Bonsai is as easy as 1-2-3! Created in the slant style, the trunk grows at an angle, and the crown is offset from the base.

Chia® Bonsai is as easy as 1-2-3! Created in the slant style, the trunk grows at an angle, and the crown is offset from the base.

The kit comes with everything you need: authentic-looking tree trunk base, saucer, moss—and, of course—thousands of chia seeds!

Immediate success sprouts in just days! The instructions that follow are simple:

  1. Purchase Chia® Bonsai kit at our Garden Shop.
  2. Moisten seeds with water, spread on tree, fill trunk with water, and position on saucer.
  3. Sit back and enjoy! Your Chia® Bonsai should sprout in just three days!

Watch for more easy Chia® Bonsai tree styles at our Garden Shop! 

 

For more information or to order yours today, click here!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Repotting Season for the Bonsai Collection

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 10:12am

For many bonsai tree species, early spring is the best time for repotting.

As the days get longer and the temperatures slowly increase, the roots of a bonsai gradually become active. During this time, the energy of the tree that was stored in the roots over the winter begins to move back up into the tree branches. As this happens, the dormant buds begin to swell. This swelling is the first sign that the tree is beginning to break dormancy. Over the next few weeks, the amount of energy from the roots to the branches increases, and the buds go through a transformation from dormant nub to a fully-opened leaf.

 Dormant bud on bonsai.

Dormant bud

 Swelling bud on bonsai.

Swelling bud

 Extending bud on bonsai.

Extending bud

 Opening bud on bonsai.

Opening bud

The best time to repot is generally in the middle of this process, when the roots are active, and the buds are in the swelling and extending stage. All repotting should be done by the time the trees are in the opening stage.

The tree set to be repotted today is this wonderful crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). The first step is removing the tree from the pot.

 Bonsai ready to be repotted.

Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)

Using the root hook and saw, we slowly and carefully create a gap between the root ball and the sides of the pot. Creating this space will allow us to safely remove the tree from the pot.

 Loosening a bonsai from its pot with a root hook before repotting.

Use the root hook to carefully loosen the plant from the pot.

 Use a root saw to carefully remove the bonsai from its pot.

Once a furrow has been created with the root hook, use the saw to free the bonsai from the pot.

This tree was certainly in need of being repotted! You can see the abundance of roots on the sides and the bottom of the root ball (below). You can even see where the roots started to grow down through the drainage holes in the pot. These “root plugs” prevent proper drainage, which is very important for tree health.

 Root plugs—where the roots started to grow down through the drainage holes in the pot—prevent proper drainage.

Root plugs—where the roots started to grow down through the drainage holes in the pot—prevent proper drainage.

 Bonsai drainage screen covered by root mat.

Drainage screen covered by root mat

The frequency of repotting is determined by a number of factors, including species, stage of development, and pot size. Vigorous root growers like maples need to be repotted and root pruned more frequently than pine trees of the same developmental stage (which grow roots more slowly). Though root pruning is important to bonsai health, it can be stressful to a tree if the roots are disturbed too frequently. Knowing the tree species you have and how it grows is important in making the decision of when to repot and root prune. 

 Bonsai volunteer Ester Bannier assists in root trimming.

Volunteer Ester Bannier assists in root trimming.

 Root hook working bonsai roots free.

Use a root hook to work roots free.

Using root hooks, scissors, and chopsticks, the roots are teased out and pruned as needed. Cutting the roots back removes large woody roots, allowing more space for fine feeder roots to grow. The woody roots act only as transporters of energy. Woody roots do not absorb water, food, or oxygen; only the fine feeder roots do that. Having primarily fine feeder roots in our pots is what allows us to keep bonsai in such shallow containers. If the woody roots take up too much space, then the tree cannot absorb enough water, food, and oxygen to support the large amounts of foliage they have, and the trees’ health will suffer.

 The bonsai, carefully removed from its pot.

The bonsai, pre-trimming

 The bonsai rootball after pruning.

The bonsai root ball after pruning

While the tree work is going on, the soil and pot are being prepared for its return.

Bonsai soil is one of the most important aspects of growing bonsai trees. There are many different soil mixes and combinations that can be used based upon your tree species, the region in which you live, the amount of time you have to water, and many other factors. No matter what mix you choose, a good bonsai soil should support vigorous root growth, a healthy microbe balance, and have good drainage. Here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, we use a variety of mixes based on tree species and stage of development. For this tree, we will be using our base mix of akadama (a clay-like material mined in Japan), pumice, and lava rock. Our soil mix is sifted to remove any small particles and dust that could clog up the drainage holes, decreasing drainage.

 Soil mix of akadama, pumice and lava rock is used on this tree.

A soil mix of akadama, pumice, and lava rock is used on this tree.

 Volunteer Dick Anderson sifts soil for repotting the bonsai collection.

Volunteer Dick Anderson sifts soil for repotting the bonsai collection.

Once the pot has been cleaned, screens have been secured over drainage holes, and tie-down wires have been added, a layer of lava rock is placed to aid with drainage. After the drainage layer is placed, a small amount of soil is added to bring the tree up to grade and help position it in place.

 Bonsai pot prepped and ready for drainage.

Fresh mesh and tie-downs have been placed over drainage holes in the pot.

 Bonsai pot with drainage layer.

Drainage has been added in a single layer.

 Once the tree is in place and secured, soil is added and chopsticks are used to push the soil into all the open spaces in and around the root system. Any open gaps left in the pot will result in dead space where roots will not grow. The soil should be firmly in place but not packed too tightly; otherwise, the drainage will be affected, and it will be difficult for roots to grow.

 Adding soil to repotted bonsai.

Adding soil to repotted bonsai

 Chopsticks are used to push soil into open spaces around roots.

Chopsticks are used to push soil into open spaces around roots.

When the soil is set, the tree is soaked in a tub of water and a liquid product called K-L-N, which promotes root growth and reduces stress from the repotting process.

After a good soaking, the tree is removed and allowed to drain, then returned to its bench in the greenhouse. It will remain there until it is warm enough to go outside on the benches. Not all trees are moved to the greenhouse after repotting; most will return to the over-wintering storage. However, this tree was stressed at the end of the growing season, and I wanted to give it a jump-start on the year and give it more time to recover and gain back some of its vigor.

 Soaking the repotted bonsai in water and K-L-N.

Soaking the repotted bonsai in water and K-L-N

 Bonsai "benched" in the greenhouse until spring.

Bonsai “benched” in the greenhouse until spring

In just a couple of weeks, the tree is fully leafed out, and has had a slight pruning to help balance the new growth throughout all the branches.

This tree is just the beginning of a busy repotting season here at the Bonsai Collection. We will most likely be repotting nearly 100 trees this year—nearly half the collection! Thanks for reading, and be sure to look out for more bonsai blogs to come in the months ahead.

 A leafed-out bonsai, ready to display for the season.

A leafed-out bonsai, ready to display for the season

Upcoming bonsai events:

Tropical bonsai are installed in the Subtropical Greenhouse: Tuesday, March 31.

Trees return to the Regenstein Center’s two courtyards for the season: Tuesday, April 22.

Join us May 9 for World Bonsai Day demonstrations, and a tour of the courtyards.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Unfolding the Mysteries of the Ravines

Sun, 03/29/2015 - 9:10am

Standing guard along the western shore of Lake Michigan, the ravines are a naturally engineered filtration system from land to water.

Curving up from the flat lands of Illinois and arching alongside the coast into Wisconsin, their hills and valleys are filled with an abundance of foliage, plants, and animal life unlike any other ecosystem in the Chicago Wilderness region. Among other benefits, they help to filter rainwater. Rare plants, migratory birds, remnant woodlands, and fish are a part of this shadowed world that has long been entrenched in mystery for local residents and scientists alike.

As urbanization, erosion, increasingly intense weather events, and invasive plants begin to peel away at the perimeter of the ravines, it has become increasingly urgent for us to unwrap those mysteries and help protect the system that has long protected us.

New volunteers are welcome to dig in this spring and summer. Register to begin by attending a new volunteer workshop.

Volunteers and staff sample vegetation along a bluff transect at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.

Volunteers and staff sample vegetation along a bluff transect at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.

“The ravines are one of Illinois’s last natural drainage systems to the lake,” said Rachel Goad, manager of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plants of Concern program. “They are delicate landscapes. It can be challenging to get in to them. It can be challenging to move around on the steep slopes.” Those challenges have not deterred Goad and a team of citizen scientists from digging in to look for solutions.

For 15 years, the many contributors to Plants of Concern have been collecting data in the ravines, with a particular focus on the rare plant species that can be found there. The data, now quite valuable due to its longevity, is a treasure chest for land managers and others who are trying to better understand the system and how to save it.

Goad and her team are now in the final stages of testing a vegetation assessment connected to a virtual field guide for the ravines. She hopes it will be completed by the end of this year. Its purpose is to serve as a resource for ravine restoration and management long term. The plant-focused sampling method, called a rapid assessment, is the third piece of a larger ravine-management toolkit that includes a way to evaluate erosion and stream invertebrates considered to be indicator species. The toolkit has been assembled by Plants of Concern and partner organizations in recent years.

“The idea is that a land manager or landowner could pull these tools off of the Internet—there would be data sheets and an explanation for how to use them, and these resources would provide a practical, tangible way for people to better understand the ravines,” explained Goad. She and her volunteers will test the protocol this summer, as they meander through the ravines with their notebooks, cameras, and GPS mapping equipment in hand. What they learn could benefit managers trying to determine whether to focus on vegetation management or restoring the stability of a ravine, for example. The toolkit, according to Goad, “is complementary to restoration and understanding these plant communities.”

The data, however, is only one piece of the solution. Goad believes the connections people make when monitoring the ravines are what will impress upon them the significance and urgency of the issue. Her goals are to create connections between people and their local natural communities, and to engage a more diverse representation of volunteers in the program.

“What Plants of Concern is doing is engaging local citizens, introducing them to ravines, and getting them interested in what’s happening in these mysterious V-shaped valleys around them,” said Goad.

In all, Plants of Concern monitors 288 species across 1170 populations in 15 counties, covering 13 habitat types.

Rachel Goad monitors rare plants in a ravine.

Rachel Goad monitors rare plants in a ravine.

Goad hopes that by growing connections between these ravines and those who live nearby, she can increase the chances that this system will continue to protect rare plant species and one of the largest sources of drinking water in the world. As a recent recipient of a Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship, administered by Audubon, Goad is intent on better understanding how to build such connections.

“We are working to make connections between monitoring and stewardship,” she said. “Monitoring can be a transformative experience.” Once a volunteer is in the field, navigating the terrain and gaining familiarity, they learn to see existing threats, such as encroachment by invasive species. Documenting these threats is important, but can feel disempowering if they’re not being addressed. Goad wants to show volunteers that there is something that can be done about the problems they encounter, and build a proactive understanding of conservation. “I believe in citizen science, which is the idea that anybody can do science and get involved in research,” she said.

Goad stepped in as manager of Plants of Concern just last year, after earning her master’s degree. It was like returning home in some ways, as she had previously helped to manage natural areas at the Garden.

In part because of that initial experience, “I knew I wanted to work in plant conservation,” she said. “It felt pretty perfect to get to come back and work with Plants of Concern. It’s an amazing experience to live in Chicago and to be able to work in some of the most beautiful natural areas in the region.”

Early spring ephemerals in bloom on a ravine bluff.

Early spring ephemerals bloom on a ravine bluff.

Plants of Concern has been a mainstay at the Garden for 15 years, dispatching committed volunteers to the ravines and other key locations across the Chicago Wilderness region to monitor and collect data on endangered, threatened, and rare species. The mounting data collected by the program is often used as baseline information for shifting or struggling species, and is shared with land managers. Through special projects, such as with one of the Garden’s recent REU interns, they have also contributed to habitat suitability modeling for rare species.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Shop-portunities Await at the Antiques, Garden & Design Show

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 9:15am

Craig Bergmann is the creative force behind the horticultural displays at this year’s Antiques, Garden & Design Show. He’s also one of the Show’s biggest shoppers.

“There’s something about the adventure of coming to the show,” said the Lake Forest landscape architect. “You don’t know what you’ll find, but you’ll find something.”

 Committee member Donna LaPietra and Craig Bergmann at last year’s show.

Committee member Donna LaPietra and Craig Bergmann at last year’s show. Photo ©Cheri Eisenberg

Bergmann has practiced “the art of fine gardening” for decades as head of Craig Bergmann Landscape Design, Inc. This spring he will infuse the Show with his trademark style—an interplay of the classic and contemporary. Bergmann has devised a fresh, updated look—a series of indoor gardens that put a twist on traditional diamond motifs, and use a streamlined color palette of green, chartreuse, white and black. As an exhibitor in the Rose Garden Tent, his company will sell garden-related objects, containers and plants—and he will also carve out some time to peruse the antiques and collectables.

The pieces presented at the Antiques, Garden & Design Show have passed through an extreme quality sieve wielded by trusted dealers with a distinct skill set, according to Bergmann.

To give you a better feeling for what you’re likely to see at the Show, we’ve put together a gallery of some of Bergmann’s favorite finds from previous years, as well as antiquities he’s installed in clients’ gardens. Past performance can be a predictor of future success when it comes to the Garden’s annual event. “Dealers save objects for the show,” he said. “They bring in the best. It makes you feel really special that you’re able to shop there.”

 Four seasons statues at the Bergmann residence garden.

Bergmann couldn’t resist these muse statues, representations of the four seasons. The pieces are from France and date to 1917, the same age as his home. They now serve as the centerpiece of Bergmann’s main garden. Photo ©Linda Oyama Bryan

 Vintage patio set.

This vintage patio set, another one of Bergmann’s purchases, helps blend the garden with the interior of the home. “It’s much more the norm today to be inside and outside,” Bergmann said. Photo ©Linda Oyama Bryan

 A collection of stone troughs comprise a patio container garden.

“Stone troughs were used to feed and water livestock, Bergmann said, “now they’re on some of the finest patios in Chicago.” Vintage planters and accessories add interest and sophistication to Bergmann’s container garden design pictured above. Bergmann sees a trend toward using hardier plants in container gardens. Consider using an ornamental shrub—think a blue flowering hydrangea or boxwood—or some perennials. They can be heeled into the soil for easy in-ground storage over the winter. Photo ©Linda Oyama Bryan

 Craig Bergmann Landscape Design, Maki Residence, Buchanan Michigan.

Travel and the Internet provide clients access to a growing “gene pool” of design images, says Bergmann. Clients may be inspired by something they see on Pinterest or become fascinated by a roof top garden they visited in LA or the innovative High Line park in New York City. Growing sophistication gives clients the confidence to create interest by juxtaposing the ornate with the modern. The contemporary Michigan farm garden designed by Bergmann, above, uses an antique roof finial from France to guide the eye toward the horizon. Photo ©Linda Oyama Bryan

 Craig Bergmann Landscape Design, Linville Residence, Lake Forest.

A rusted armillary provides a focal point for Bergmann’s intimate garden design, a classic boxwood topiary bordered by roses and perennials. Intrigued? You’re likely to find similar armillary spheres at this year’s show or fall in love with your own one-of-a-kind object. Photo ©Linda Oyama Bryan

 Asian garden bench.

“Because our culture is so world savvy in relationship to style, people want to express that in their home,” Bergmann said. “Think of a traditional rose bouquet with baby’s breath and leather leaf ferns. Today this could be 2” high and 6” round and stuck into a 200-year-old Chinese mortar.” Vendors such as The Golden Triangle bring ancient objects new life by contrasting their uses. Bergmann uses tropical foliage, above, to compliment this venerable bench in his “Asian antiquities” garden design. Photo ©Linda Oyama Bryan

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Ready, Set, Spring!

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 10:41am

Sure, it snowed just three days into spring—it’s Chicago! This week we’re set to hit the magic temperature, 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and here’s what it will trigger in your garden.

 How trees set buds in spring.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Hail to the Queen of Flowers

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 11:10am

As the first day of summer approaches, the Krasberg Rose Garden begins a show of flowers like none other.

More than 5,000 roses begin to unfurl countless buds in myriad colors that gradually fill the air with delicate, sweet scents. Dedicated in 1985, the Rose Garden is home to 200 varieties of roses that include old garden roses (also called antique or heirloom roses), hybrid tea roses, floribundas, miniatures, grandifloras, climbers, shrubs, and several other types.

 Singin' in the Rain floribunda rose (Rosa 'MACivy')

Singin’ in the Rain™ floribunda rose (Rosa ‘MACivy’)

A focal point among the roses is an impressive fountain designed in the shape of a Tudor rose (see lore, below). Amble along the curving path through the three-acre garden and you’ll discover some of the more than 34,000 other plants—trees, shrubs, and perennials—that enhance the Rose Garden’s overall design. Nearby (technically outside the parameters of the Rose Garden) is the History of Roses Bed, boasting a rose collection that spans antique varieties, from the earliest wild rose to modern hybrids. Newer All-America Rose Selections winners are also on display.

“I hope visitors view the garden for the aesthetic experience it is—the way it looks and smells,” said Tom Soulsby, the senior horticulturist who oversees the Rose Garden. “There’s probably a rose for everybody and every place.”

 Walking on Sunshine floribunda rose (Rosa 'JACmcady')

Walking on Sunshine™ floribunda rose (Rosa ‘JACmcady’)

Besides their incredible beauty and an abundance of blossoms, many of the roses on display were chosen for their hardiness, disease and insect resistance, long period of bloom, and low maintenance requirements. “There’s not a lot to fear when it comes to growing roses,” said Soulsby. He aims to educate gardeners and demystify rose care.

Rose maintenance—pruning, removing spent blooms, mulching, and monitoring for disease and insects—is a collaboration among Soulsby, other garden staff, and volunteers. “We take the most environmentally friendly means of dealing with insects and disease, and sometimes that means doing nothing,” Soulsby said. “One of our objectives is to minimize the use of chemicals. The volunteers are trained to look for things that might need to be addressed. Sometimes it involves handpicking Japanese beetles to get rid of them or handpicking leaves with black spot if the problem is small. If fungus is prevalent, we’re careful about sanitizing our tools with disinfectants so it doesn’t spread from one plant to another.”

The roses receive a water-soluble fertilizer in summer, which is important because each plant spends a lot of energy creating blooms. Deadheading—removing the spent flowers—is also done during summer. “That encourages roses to repeat bloom. If you don’t deadhead them, they form hips,” Soulsby said. Hips are the rose fruits that contain seeds and they may be shades of red, orange, purple, or black. The colorful hips provide winter interest and are often enjoyed by wildlife.

Most of the roses are pruned after Thanksgiving, and the crowns of the plants are covered with 2 to 3 feet of composted horse manure (preferred over Styrofoam rose cones) for winter protection. The compost is removed in spring and used as mulch. “It’s a great soil amendment and we spread as much as we can,” Soulsby said.

 Black Baccara hybrid tea (Rosa 'MEIdebenne')

Black Baccara hybrid tea (Rosa ‘MEIdebenne’)

Rose Scents
Although their fragrance is sometimes indescribable, many roses, especially old garden varieties grown before 1867, fill the air on warm summer mornings with a variety of scents.

Pop your nose into a rose blossom and you may discover a hint of cloves, anise, citrus, honey, or pears. Or, perhaps one flower reminds you of apricots, while another exudes a trace of lemon. When the tea roses are blooming, you might detect a trace of sweet orange pekoe tea in the air. Like fine wines, roses often feature a fascinating, complex collection of sweet smells.

Rose breeder William Radler is a consulting rosarian for the Krasberg Rose Garden. He developed the wildly popular KnockOut® series of shrub roses, which are also on display. “Will has been breeding roses for our area, along with other breeders, for a long time,” said Soulsby. The rosarian meets annually with Soulsby and other Garden staff to review the rose collection. This year, Radler will receive the 2015 Hutchinson Medal, which recognizes “outstanding leadership or professional accomplishment that has been significant in furthering horticulture, plant science, or conservation.”

Some of the roses have celebrated a 30-year reign since the Rose Garden opened, but others have been replaced over the years. “We constantly evaluate the rose garden; a plant may not perform to its full potential here. However, the need to change out roses is pretty minimal overall,” Soulsby said. 

Although it’s difficult for him to name favorites, the Mr. Lincoln rose (Rosa ‘Mr. Lincoln’) tops Soulsby’s list. “I tend to favor hybrid tea roses,” he admitted. “There’s also ‘Olympiad’ and ‘Peace’ [see lore, below], but my favorites? It depends on the day.”

Soulsby calls June and September the “rock star” months for the Krasberg Rose Garden. “The best viewing time is around Father’s Day for the first flush of major blooms, and then again in mid-September through early October.” But there’s almost always something interesting to see. Flowering can begin as early as April, and there are even a few blooms in November. Come winter, according to Soulsby, there’s a lot of structural interest with the conifers and shrub roses silhouetted against—or accented with—fallen snow.

Long may the queen of flowers reign!

 The Krasberg Rose Garden in summer.

The Krasberg Rose Garden in summer

The Lore of the Roses

In ancient Greek mythology, the goddess Chloris (Roman counterpart: Flora) came upon the body of a lovely wood nymph one day, and asked other gods to help her change it into a flower. Aphrodite donated some of her beauty; the Three Graces bestowed qualities of brilliance, joy, and allure; and Dionysus provided fragrant nectar. When the nymph’s transformation into a flower was complete, Chloris proclaimed it the rose, queen of all flowers.

The rose was said to have bloomed without thorns in the Garden of Eden, but grew them after Adam and Eve were driven out of paradise as a reminder to man of his sinful nature. Inside and outside a religious sphere, roses have represented virginity and purity (white) and passion and martyrdom (red).

During the Middle Ages, the color of roses stood for different heraldic houses, such as the House of Lancaster (red) and the house of York (white), who fought in the War of the Roses (1455–85). At war’s end, after the houses were blended in marriage, a red-and-white striped Tudor rose became the national symbol of England and, eventually, its national flower.

The rose has long featured in literature, from Dante’s Inferno to the sonnets and plays of William Shakespeare, from William Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily to Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose, and many more.

Empress Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon, in the late eighteenth century sponsored the development of rose breeding at her gardens outside of Paris, where she reigned over more than 250 types of roses.

In World War II, while Americans grew victory gardens, the Peace rose (Rosa ‘Madame A. Meilland’) almost became a casualty when Nazis invaded the Lyon, France, home of breeder Francis Meilland. He smuggled the ivory-yellow hybrid tea rose out of Europe in 1940 to the protection of his business partner, Robert Pyle, of West Grove, Pennsylvania. Pyle continued its propagation, introducing the rose to the public at war’s end. The enduringly popular Peace rose is arguably the most popular in the world today.

This post was adapted from an article by Nina Koziol that appeared in the spring 2015 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

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