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If it’s fresh, it’s at the new Garden View Café

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 2:20pm

“Fresh. Seasonal. Delicious.”

That’s how area executive chef Michael Kingsley describes his food philosophy at our newly re-opened/revamped (and renamed!) Garden View Café.

Let’s start with a few photos of the food—just to focus the brain.

 Yogurt with honey and fresh granola and berries.

Breakfast at the Garden? Try the fresh-made yogurt with granola and fruit.

 Salad of baby greens with watermelon radish, bacon, tomatoes, and homemade croutons.

Lunch at the Garden? Try a salad of baby greens with watermelon radish, a hint of bacon, and homemade croutons.

 Sandwich of grilled chicken breast, local white cheddar, roasted tomato, lemon-basil mayo, sourdough ciabatta.

Dinner at the Garden? Enjoy outdoor seating under the willows with your fresh-made balsamic chicken panini.

Chef Kingsley has the experience to know what those words really entail. He’s done it all in his decade-plus as a chef: cooked in the world of hotels, country clubs, and French restaurants; served VIP dinners to former President Bill Clinton, to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and to sommelier Alpana Singh of Check, Please! and, as area executive chef for Sodexo, overseen the restaurants at some of Chicago’s most popular public institutions.

In a fun and foodie interview, the chef explained what makes the Garden View Café’s approach so interesting.

The Menu: Seasonal and Plant-centric

 Flatbread with shaved cheese, grilled tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar on baby salad greens.

Seasonal veggies never tasted so good: arugula topped with shaved cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on a fresh-baked flatbread.

“We wanted a truly seasonal menu,” Kingsley says, “that changes three times per year, according to what grows in spring, summer, and fall. What we’re serving here is what’s really growing around here.” Of course, it takes a lot of planning to gather all the ingredients for a fresh-based café menu.

First, the chef worked closely with our horticulturists at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden and Windy City Harvest Youth Farm to coordinate what’s being grown outside with what’s being served inside. That means some of the heirloom tomatoes, supersweet peppers, kale, onions, and carrots—the staples of the Café—are grown by the Chicago Botanic Garden itself. “Sometimes the produce picked in the morning will be used in the kitchen that afternoon,” Kingsley says. “The cross-pollination between the Café and our other Garden programs gives visitors unique access to truly fresh food.”

Map showing local sources for food at the Garden View Café.

Know where your food comes from: local suppliers from the quad-state area are proudly pointed out at the Café.

Beyond the Garden, Kingsley honed relationships with the local vendors that supply what the Garden can’t: bread from Chicago’s Red Hen Bread, pastured chickens from Indiana’s Gunthorp Farms, handmade cheeses and fresh sausages from Wisconsin’s best artisans, asparagus from Michigan’s Daisy Farms. “It’s not just that we use local chickens,” Kingsley explains, “but also that we support our neighbors—and therefore grow an economically healthy community for us all.” It’s a fantastic group of resources, whose names are proudly posted in the Café. Check out the full list of providers here.

The Service: Quick and Casual

With his resources in place, the chef turned to the how-to’s of service. How to grab a quick takeout or snack (at easy-to-browse coolers and a farmer’s table at the Café entrance). How to order from the fresh-cooked menu (walk right up to the counter at the open kitchen, where it’s prepared on the spot). How to get hot food to your table quickly (servers deliver and/or pagers buzz when it’s ready).

 A pizza goes in to the pizza oven.

Flatbreads are baked to perfection on demand.

Two conveniences stand out:

  1. A Wood Stone brick-style oven. It’s big. It’s fast. It cooks Kingsley’s flatbreads (thin pizzas + yummy toppings) to crispy perfection. The daily flatbread special is always posted on the chalkboard, and there are four standard versions on the menu, too.
  1. Barista service. Double-skinny vanilla latte with a splash of hazelnut? No problem. At the new barista station, we proudly serve Starbucks coffee…and its full menu of hot and cold beverages. The baristas—all of whom have been trained by a Starbucks coffee master—are happy to talk roasts and brews, too.

An awesome view

 View of the remodeled cafe.

The new Garden View Café

 A view from the Skokie Lagoons of the cafe deck, with trees in bloom.

The café deck, abloom in springtime

It’s renamed the Garden View Café for a reason. The clean, open, airy interior lets in maximum light—and a photo-worthy view—through the big, Edward Barnes-designed windows. They act like frames around the always-changing view of the lakeside garden: daffodils in spring, flowering natives in summer, hibiscus in fall. Two outside decks (take your tray across the hall to relax with a view of Bird Island) act like the ultimate sidewalk café—except without the traffic, the concrete, or the noise. 

And then there’s the food

It’s good. Really good. Because it’s local and fresh, the tastes are vibrant. Because the cooking techniques are simple, it’s healthier for you. And because the menu is in tune with the seasons, each dish satisfies. “Even the desserts are minimally produced, but full of flavor,” the chef notes. (Yes, they are: have you tried the house-made baked goods yet?)

“Of course we give out Café recipes,” smiles area executive chef Michael Kingsley. “They’re not proprietary, and they’re uncomplicated—you can make meals this way at home, too.” Three seasons’ worth of café recipes are on our website.

Kids get the healthy treatment, too (though they won’t realize it). Sure, there are chicken tenders, but they’re baked with a cornflake crust. There’s mac and cheese, with good-for-you butternut squash as a hidden ingredient. And almond butter panini with apples subs for PB&J.

 Cornflake-crusted chicken tenders with a skewer of fresh fruit.

What kid wouldn’t try fruit shaped like a star?

“Food at cultural institutions used to be high calorie and high fat,” Kingsley recalls. “Now, we want to educate people about how to stay healthy. The Café isn’t just a place to go out of necessity—we want you to say, ‘Let’s go eat at the Garden. The food’s great there.’ ”

We couldn’t agree more.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Expanding Food Horizons…Kohlrabi Lovers Unite!

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 8:50am

Recent interactions at the neighborhood market have reaffirmed our work of inspiring folks to become more adventurous vegetable gardeners and consumers. The girl at the checkout counter often questions my vegetable selections. Recently, she had to ask (holding up a bag of produce), “…peas?” I said, “fava beans.” Of another bag, she asked, “lettuce?” I replied, “Napa cabbage.”

It’s exciting to expand our food horizons. Like the mouse who expands his horizons in If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff, when you set out to do one thing, it often snowballs, becoming a cascade of challenges and rewards. You often become more involved and do more than you originally set out to accomplish. The mouse only wanted to eat a cookie, but quickly realized that if he ate that cookie, he’d need a glass of milk. Set a goal of growing three new vegetables this year—it may be the beginning of an interesting sequence of events. If you grow three new veggies in the garden…you’re probably in for new culinary adventures in the kitchen, or maybe you’ll dig out an old family recipe. Perhaps you’ll share a meal with a neighbor. Sounds pretty good to me. Here are a few veggies you might like to try.

 Young kohlrabi plants bordered by onions on the Fruit & Vegetable island.

Kohl is the German word for cabbage, and rübi means turnip. Find kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea ‘Kolibri’) in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

Kohlrabi

The Victory Garden movement of World War II was responsible for bringing kohlrabi to the American dinner table, because it was so easy to grow. Kohlrabi is a reliably cooperative vegetable to grow, and completely underrated. There are two old varieties—green and purple. ‘Early Purple Vienna’ is not only a beautiful heirloom in the garden; it has sweet, white flesh, and is crisp like an apple when eaten as raw matchsticks. It can also be cooked like cabbage. A quickly-maturing, hardy spring and fall crop, it matures in 55 days. Due to its ability to hold well in the field, the bulbs (botanically, the edible bulb is actually part of the stem) won’t need to be harvested all at once. You can enjoy one sweet kohlrabi at a time. 

 Rutabega in the garden.

Rutabaga (Brassica napus)

Rutabaga

Another common vegetable in the Victory Garden, rutabagas are “a butter and cream veggie, as Scandinavians would prepare them,” according to Deborah Madison in Vegetable Literacy. Rutabagas are named for their dense roots—the name in Swedish means root bag. They are also commonly known as Swedes or yellow turnips. This cabbage turnip cross yields lovely, pale, crisp, buttery yellow flesh. More nutritious than turnips—unless you eat their greens—rutabagas are delicious mashed or pureed with root vegetables or julienned into french fries. Long-seasoned in the field, they take 90 days to mature and last a long time in proper post-harvest storage. What a difference the rutabaga made to hungry families in lean times! 

Turnip

Our final selection, turnips, are best grown quickly during the cool seasons of spring and fall, and vary greatly in taste and quality depending on climate, variety, and culture. Some varieties were widely used to feed livestock, while other turnips indulged the most sophisticated epicure. The Hakurei turnip is a beautiful, white, Japanese salad turnip that is best grown quickly (40 days) in the spring garden. When harvested young, Purple Top Globe lends itself to delicious sea-salted slices. While turnips and radishes resemble each other, turnip greens are more nutritious. Both can be sweet and crisp or hot and spicy depending on maturity and weather. Enjoy raw or cooked turnips with radish greens. They are wonderful when eaten together.

 A bunch of white Hakurei turnips.

Hakurei turnip ( Brassica rapa ‘Hakurei’)

Turnips also happen to be part of what we are growing this year as part of our Victory Garden display, growing the vegetable varieties and plants people would have grown during wartime to sustain themselves and their community. The value of Victory Gardens is tremendous, and the message is current again: a local and multi-faceted food system—home gardeners, urban farmers, other small scale growers—supports a more resilient community overall.

As these Victory Garden plantings unfold in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden this season, perhaps we will take a moment to contemplate our own personal food histories allowing them to inform us as to why we eat the way we do. Our work of today finds such congruence with the Victory Garden experience—a time when the United States government printed and circulated vegetable-growing primers. This was a time when our country grew 41 percent of its produce at home out of duty, honor, and necessity, and with the help provided by botanic gardens, community gardens, horticultural societies, and garden clubs. While our war is thankfully different today, it is a war still. It’s a war on nutritional deficiencies and obesity, on food deserts and hunger. Learning to grow your own is a powerful way to participate, to contribute and to change your food footprint!

Like the mouse who eats the cookie, which leads him to ask for a glass of milk, perhaps we will plant the heirloom seed that will grow a bumper tomato crop that will necessitate learning how to can tomato sauce. Whether it’s food preservation, saving on your grocery bill,  sharing with a neighbor, or exploring exotic vegetables that interests you, dig deep and find the motivation to grow food at home!

Tweet to me @hilgenberg8 and let me know which three vegetables you chose to plant in your garden this spring. Good growing to you!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Bottle Cap Bouquets

Sun, 05/04/2014 - 8:50am

Miniature flower arrangements offer a charming and whimsical gift for mom, grandma, or anyone special. A nice feature of these tiny bouquets is that you can show off the beauty of small flowers that always sing backup to showier blossoms in large arrangements. Also, you can use aromatic herbs with small leaves as filler greens to add a pleasant scent.

 The supplies for creating bottlecap bouquets.

The supplies for creating bottle cap bouquets.

 a tiny bouquet of mini carnation, baby's breath, and a sprig of sage.

This little arrangement of mini-carnations, baby’s breath, and a sprig of sage has pink burlap ribbon wrapped around the bottle cap to mimic a fancy basket of flowers.

What you need:

  • A cap from a plastic bottle, such as a milk container or soda bottle
  • Floral foam (the wet kind)
  • A bunch of small flowers—I used mini-carnations, waxflowers (Chamelaucium uncinatum), and baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata)
  • Fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, and lavender work well because they have stiff stems)
  • Optional: ribbon for added decoration

The directions are pretty simple.

Cut the floral foam to fit the inside of the bottle cap. Start a little larger than you need, and then trim it to fit. Push it into the cap. If your cap is narrow, like a milk bottle cap, you may want the foam to be above the level of the cap so there is enough room to hold the flowers. Otherwise, trim the top so the foam does not stick up. Add water to soak the foam.

 hands tracing around a bottlecap and block of foam with a pencil.

Trace the cap on a piece of foam and then carve the foam with a butter knife to fit inside the cap.

 hands poking flowers into floral foam.

Begin sticking the flowers into the foam. Here, we started with a waxflower in the center and added smaller flowers and herbs around it.

Cut the flower and herb stems about 3 inches. You can trim them shorter depending on the desired height in the arrangement. Stick them into the foam. You might want to start with one of your larger flowers in the center and then add smaller flowers and herbs around it.

 a tiny bouquet of waxflower, baby's breath, and rosemary.

Waxflower, baby’s breath, and rosemary complete this delicate arrangement.

 a tiny bouquet of baby's breath and thyme.

Not into pink? This yellow cap with baby’s breath and thyme is fragrant and cheerful.

When you are satisfied with your floral creation, you can either leave it as is—especially if the color of the bottle cap looks nice with the flowers—or you can tie a ribbon around the bottle cap. The best way to keep it in place is by using a few drops from a hot-glue gun. 

 a tiny garden created in an old contact lens case.

Surprise! An old contact lens case becomes a miniature garden of waxflower and thyme that smells as amazing as it looks.

Tips

When using a shallow bottle cap, limit the number of larger flowers like mini-carnations or mini-daisies to three or fewer. Floral foam has limits. Adding too many flowers will cause the foam to fall apart and the flowers to flop over. If the first attempt suffers from floppy flowers, start over with a new piece of foam and add fewer flowers. 

If you really want more than three large flowers, use a taller cup, such as a medicine cup from a bottle of cough syrup, as the vase. Even then, take care not to overload the foam. This is a small bouquet, after all!

 the final bottlcap bouquet arrangements in a group.

Precious and colorful, these-mini bouquets will stay fresh and bring cheer for a few days.

Floral foam is irresistible. Your kids, even teenagers, will want to play with it. Parcel it out in small pieces so they don’t play around with the whole block before you can use it. 

You can use the same procedure to make a mini-dried flower arrangement; just don’t wet the foam. Any way you make them, these little bouquets are sure to bring big smiles from someone you love. 

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Year in Bulbs: Part Two

Sat, 05/03/2014 - 8:20am

Things move quickly in the bulb garden in the spring!

In three weeks, we’ve already seen the “little blue bulbs” (Scilla and Chionodoxa) come and go, the first of the species tulips burst forth with color, and the foliage fill out, creating a rich, green backdrop, allowing the flowers to shine. Even with our cold spring, we’ve already had a month of flowers—which goes to show just how tough these plants really are. We’re on our third flush of flowers while many other gardens are still just waking up for the season.

 A view of the south path, dotted with the blues and reds of scilla and tulips.

The south path on April 21, showing the last of the Scilla and Tulipa batalinii ‘Bronze Charm’

The little blue bulbs are making way for the most popular and well-known of the bulbs; the daffodils (Narcissus) and hybrid tulips. We’ve also got many types of Fritillaria, Corydalis, and Muscari adding unique colors and forms to the display. The foliage is filling out, creating a lush oasis of green in an otherwise still-dreary spring.

 A view of the south path, now filled with narcissus.

The south path on April 30—note how the Scilla and tulips have given way to Narcissus, with many more flowers waiting to burst forth

 A combination of differently-shaped blooms in purple and white make a beautiful contrast.

Corydalis solida ‘Purple Bird’ and Muscari aucheri ‘White Magic’

 Closeup of Muscari 'Pink Sunrise' blooms.

Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’

Look closely as you walk along the paths, and you’ll see many unique flowers, such as several varieties of Erythronium and Fritillaria of all different sizes and colors.

 A closeup of Fritillaria imperialis 'Aureomarginata'.

Fritillaria imperialis ‘Aureomarginata’

 Closeup of Erythronium hendersonii in bloom.

Erythronium hendersonii

On May 1, we had our first Meet the Horticulturist for the season. I had the opportunity to lead a group of visitors around the Graham Bulb Garden and highlight some of the most unique and exciting things in bloom. Some visitor favorites included Corydalis varieties with their jewel-toned flowers and soft cushions of blue-green foliage; the cheerful spikes of blue, white, or palest pink Muscari; and dwarf Iris ‘Evening Shade’, which is a new hybrid Juno iris, with a unique growth habit, that looks very much like a miniature corn plant. Another plant that really wowed the visitors was the variegated crown imperial fritillary (Fritillaria imperialis ‘Aureomarginata’).  

Meet the Horticulturist events are a great way to get a more in-depth view of some of your favorite gardens. We’ll be featuring four more throughout the summer, with various other gardens as the highlight. Come talk with us!

 Narcissus in the Bulb Garden.

Narcissus are just starting to put on a show.


 Closeup of dwarf Iris 'Evening Shade'

Iris ‘Evening Shade’

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Plant Science = High Fashion

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 8:55am

In the world of fashion, floral and botanical prints cycle in and out of style regularly—think Lilly Pulitzer in the 1960s or Christian Lacroix in the late ’80s. This year, flowers are big again: plenty of designers and brand names are offering up gorgeous flower and plant prints in dresses, shoes, scarves, handbags, and even trench coats for this spring, summer, and fall. Here’s a recent rave in the New York Times.

Saturday, May 3, is Members’ Double Discount Days in the Garden Shop. Members receive an extra 10% off regularly priced items.

Naturally, the trend has popped up in our Garden Shop, too, especially as accessories, like this floaty floral scarf…or a cluster of way-cute flower-shaped handbags…and in jewelry that makes a flowery statement, large or small. Pollinators and insects—bees and butterflies and ladybugs and beetles—have designers buzzing, too. At our Garden Shop, Bali-based Paula Bolton’s bee-and-honeycomb jewelry is thought-provokingly beautiful in sterling silver and 18K gold.

Mother’s Day gift ideas, anyone?

 A gauzy, pink silk scarf with felted white 5-petal flowers.

A pink-as-a-flower silk scarf with felted wool blossoms can wrap neck, waist, hair.

 Delicate crystal and sterling silver children's earrings in the shape of 6-petal flowers.

Found in our kids’ section, but go ahead and admit you’ll be borrowing these: Swarovski crystal flower earrings, in posts or wires.

 Round, leather clutch purses with decorative roses in jewel tones.

Flower power that doesn’t overpower: a comment-worthy clutch

 A collection of 3 rings in the shape of various flowers.

Bling the blooms: flower rings are big this season.

 Silver loops with honeycomb interiors support sculpted metal bees on necklace pendants and earrings.

Handcrafted jewelry by Paula Bolton celebrates bees and their honey handiwork.

Nonetheless, I was gobsmacked when I walked into my long-time favorite clothing store in the city* and saw this top and skirt (pictured below) from designer Christopher Kane hanging on a mannequin. Its style couldn’t be simpler: a basic crew neck top and an A-line skirt, easy enough for every body to wear. It’s the “print”—and its message—that made me gasp.

His floral print celebrates science—in this case, botany. (In other pieces from the same collection, he highlights the process of photosynthesis. View his spring show here.)

Each flower in the skirt's print has a petal that waves in the breeze as you walk.

Each flower in the skirt’s print has a petal that waves in the breeze as you walk.

From a distance, the words and images are pleasing graphics, but look closely, and you’re startled into a flashback. That big, exploded graphic on the top is a stylized science textbook illustration, and those words are the names of the plant parts you learned about back in grade school: petals and sepals…anthers and ovaries…filaments and nectaries. With the shock of recognition, you start to test your memory, “Now how does a flower work again? And what was it that a nectary does?” A glance…and a gasp…and a conversation.

As with any art, the best fashion is that which pleases as it provokes thought. We think nothing of wearing a sweatshirt with a college name on it…or a baseball cap with a team name on it…or of carrying a handbag with a brand name’s logo on it. In doing so, we advertise what is important to us.

But how often do we choose to wear…a scientific fact? Or an item that advertises nature? Or an outfit that stimulates a discussion about learning?

 Detail of flower part diagram embroidered on Christopher Kane skirt.

Detail of flower diagram embroidered on a Christopher Kane skirt.

The influences of cutting-edge fashion often take a few seasons to reach everyday fashion. Here’s hoping that plant science captures the imagination of fashion fans everywhere!

*Thank you, Adriene at Blake, who shared these photos.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Harvesting Radishes

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 8:50am
 Infographic of radish cultivation, harvest, and dining facts.

Overcoming Winter Scorch

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 2:26pm

Gardeners are facing bigger challenges than usual this spring due to a “perfect storm” of weather conditions that scorched evergreens, protected plant predators, elicited heavy use of road salts, and encouraged snow molds. The scorch or burn that has left patches of brown on arborvitae (Thuja), yews (Taxus), boxwoods (Buxus), and other evergreens is the worst and most widespread I’ve seen in my 29 years at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Branch damage from voles and rabbits is also particularly bad this year, and heavy and prolonged snow cover also promoted snow molds, creating bleached-out patches of lawn. Road salts put additional environmental stress on our landscaping.

 A boxwood hedge with the outer foliage killed by winter damage.

Although slow-growing, this boxwood (Buxus microphylla) should make a full recovery.

The bad news is that more plant damage is likely to appear once the weather is consistently warm, though many plants will recover from the long, hard winter. While plants may have to be severely pruned or removed altogether, the polar vortex has given us a few important reminders about growing in the Chicago area and could ultimately make us all better gardeners.

 A completely brown, winter burnt white cedar.

Winter was particularly hard on this Heatherbun white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Heatherbun’).

During the cold winter months, evergreens continue to lose water vapor through their leaves or needles. The leaves must replace the water by pulling it up from the roots. But when the ground is frozen, the plants’ roots cannot absorb water to resupply the leaves.

If the weather turns warm and sunny while the ground is frozen, evaporation from the leaves increases and the water cannot be replaced. The resulting symptoms, discolored or “burned” foliage, tend to show up quickly in spring, when days are sunny and warm.

Bright winter sun and strong winds can accelerate evaporation, and it’s typical to see the worst burning on the west- and south-facing sides of a bush or tree. Signs of winter burn include needles or leaves that have turned golden or brown. Sometimes a plant has an overall yellowish or off-green color. Leaves may appear bleached. Salt sprayed up by passing traffic can exacerbate the problem and accentuate damage on the road-facing side of the plant.

Many evergreens—particularly fast-growing varieties such as yews—will be fine after a light pruning. Deeply scorched plants will require heavy pruning, leaving unsightly “holes.” Slower growing evergreens may take years to recover from a severe winter burn, and gardeners must decide on a case-by-case basis whether it’s best to remove the specimen.

Unfortunately, some evergreens will be a total loss. This is especially true for plants grown at the edge of the hardiness zone. To determine whether a bush is going to make it, look for new buds or lightly scratch a branch to look for signs of green wood. Patience is often a virtue in gardening, so if you have any doubt about a plant’s viability, give it some time. 

 A browned Bosnian pine, with fresh green growth at the tips of its branches.

This Emerald Arrow Bosnian pine (Pinus leucodermis ‘Emerald Arrow’) also shows hard winter damage.

The deep drifts of snow and prolonged snow cover were a boon to such plant predators as voles and rabbits. The blanket of snow shielded voles, mouse-sized creatures that travel under the snow, from hawks and other predators, leaving the creatures free to gnaw on branches and trunks. The drifts also provided a stepladder for rabbits, which feed on top of the snow, allowing them to reach higher into bushes. Signs of rabbit damage include a 45-degree cut in branches. Severe rabbit damage often looks like a bad pruning job, but gardeners can improve the situation by evening out the bush. Branches that have been girdled—or chewed all the way around—are likely to die and should be pruned back.

The sparkling white drifts also promoted snow molds, which can leave large patches of dead-looking lawn. Typically, lawns will bounce back after raking and light fertilizer. Lawns damaged by salt spray might not recover as quickly, and strips growing along roads might need to be replaced altogether.

 Grass showing winter damage.

Grass showing winter damage will recover fairly quickly with attentive watering and care.

It’s never good to lose a plant or shrub to the elements, but the polar vortex did provide the type of reality check that can lead to best gardening practices. In a relatively mild winter, Chicago-area gardeners may have success with plants growing at the edge of their hardiness, but these plants can be killed or severely damaged in typical USDA Zone 5 conditions. Perhaps you’ll think twice in the future before putting something less-than-hardy in the garden. Good mulching and watering habits, and planting in the spring to give plants an entire growing season to become established, will increase the vigor of your plants and may help minimize winter burn.

Another virtue of gardening is that it forces you to look forward. So keep last winter’s lessons in mind as you clean, prune, maintain, and perhaps replant this spring.

For more information about gardening post-polar vortex, go to our free public Plant Information Service: chicagobotanic.org/plantinfoservice

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Emerald Ash Borer: Sad But True, Part 2

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 8:56am

In the past few months, the number one question I have been asked is “Will the cold winter have an effect on the emerald ash borer?” It’s sad but true that our cold winter will have very little effect on the emerald ash borer.

 Emerald ash borer larva closeup.

An emerald ash borer larva lurks just under the bark of one of the Garden’s ash trees.

As we know, the emerald ash borer overwinters as larva under the bark, and that alone gives it some winter protection. More importantly, the emerald ash borer has another very interesting overwintering strategy: “supercooling.” In the fall, as the borer senses the cooler temperatures, it begins to produce a natural antifreeze that allows it to survive well below 32 degrees without freezing. The borer can also purge its stomach of materials that could freeze, flattening out and folding over. They are often found in this folded-in position under the bark in spring—I have seen this firsthand when I scraped the bark off an ash in January. Researchers in Minnesota have determined that it takes a prolonged period of about minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit or more to kill the borer. Our lows this past winter only reached about minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit (twice), as recorded by the Chicago Botanic Garden’s weather station. So, in our area, the march of the emerald ash borer continues undisturbed by our nasty winter.

 A neighborhood ash tree with huge gaps in foliage, caused by dieoff from borer damage.

Crown die-off, due to emerald ash borer damage. Photo by Eric R. Day, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bugwood.org

If you have ash on your property, I recommend monitoring closely for signs of emerald ash borer; if you don’t see signs, it is only a matter of time. When you do discover the borer, begin treatments as soon as possible. Treatments are best made proactively—before you see signs of damage on the tree! You may wish to simply plan/budget to have your trees removed. Be aware that dead ash trees are hazardous, not just for their spread of the beetle. They become brittle quickly and become a hazard as limbs fail and fall.

The Garden is a great resource if you have questions or just want to learn more about the emerald ash borer. If you have recently removed ash trees, or have already scheduled removal and are looking for replacement trees, consider our list of ash tree alternatives. Drop by our Plant Information Service with your questions! Our new location is outside the Lenhardt Library.

Click here to register online for one of two informational sessions, Emerald Ash Borer: What You Need to Know, from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, May 16, and Saturday, May 17. This is a free seminar, but advance registration is required.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The miracle that is migration

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 9:38am

After such a long, cold winter, I am especially looking forward to the gifts that migration brings.

Each day is a present just waiting to be opened. Here in Illinois, we can see more than 400 different bird species. Some are local residents, but most are just passing through. Starting in March and lasting through June, millions of birds will be heading north through Illinois to their breeding grounds.

 American Coot.

These guys (American coot) are fun to watch. Photo ©Carol Freeman

First to move through are the ducks, then blackbirds, kinglets, shorebirds, herons, egrets, and finally the big show, warblers! If you don’t know what warblers are, I suggest you look them up; after you see your first one in the wild, you will be hooked. These tiny gems are a wonder to behold. I saw my first warbler of the year yesterday, a yellow-rumped warbler (one of the most common of the species). I’ve seen them hundreds of times, yet I was just as thrilled yesterday as I was the first time I saw one. I guess I’m hooked.

 Yellow-rumped warbler.

The first warbler of the year—always a thrill. Photo ©Carol Freeman

 Goldfinches cover a set of 3 feeders at the Garden.

The feeders were a blur of activity, with a goldfinch at every spot. Photo ©Carol Freeman

The Chicago Botanic Garden is a hot spot for migrant activity. With the advantage of water, woods, and prairie, it is an attractive spot for a large variety of birds. I’ve seen more than 200 species of birds at the Garden, and just this past week I was treated to migrating red-breasted mergansers, coots, and grebes. Plus, it was fun to see the resident birds returning from their winter in warmer climates, like grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and great blue herons. The goldfinches were also getting their breeding colors back after dulling down for the winter. Spring may be slow to get going this year, but the garden is full of colorful birds!

A fun way to spend the day is to grab a field guide, a pair of binoculars, or a camera, and see how many different species you can find and identify. There is even a ledger at the front desk to record your finds. If you need help, you can sign up for a bird walk and learn from an expert.

 The iridescent feathers of a common grackle bathing in a puddle.

Wow, just look at the colors of this common grackle in the sun! Photo ©Carol Freeman


 A ruffled, adolescent pied-billed grebe floats on the water.

There were lots of these cute little grebes all around the garden. Photo @Carol Freeman

Migration is one of the greatest miracles on Earth, and is here for all of us to enjoy.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Enriching the Lives of Future Plant Scientists

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 1:07pm

On any given day, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s science laboratories are bustling with activity. Some of the researchers are extracting DNA from leaves, analyzing soil samples, discussing how to restore degraded dunes—and talking about where they’re going to college. The young researchers are interns in the Garden’s College First program, studying field ecology and conservation science, and working side by side with scientists, horticulturists, and educators.

 Orange-shirted middle schoolers examine palm trees and take data in the greenhouse.

Science First participants take data in the greenhouse.

 Two high school girls wearing blue "College First" tshirts and latex gloves examine samples in the lab.

Two College First participants work on analyzing samples in the Garden’s plant science labs.

The Science Career Continuum consists of five programs:

  • Science First, a four-week enrichment program for students in grades 8 through 10.
  • College First, an eight-week summer internship for high school juniors and seniors with monthly meetings during the school year.
  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), a ten-week summer science research-based internship supervised by a Garden scientist and funded through a National Science Foundation grant. In 2014, three College First graduates will participate.
  • Conservation and Land Management (CLM) internship, offered through the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and held in 13 western states.
  • Graduate programs in plant biology and conservation, offered jointly with Northwestern University for master’s degree and doctoral students.

The program is part of the Science Career Continuum, which is aimed at training the next generation of dedicated land stewards and conservation scientists. The Continuum engages Chicago Public Schools students from diverse backgrounds in meaningful scientific research and mentoring programs from middle school through college and beyond. “Each level of the Continuum challenges students to improve their science skills, building on what was learned at the previous level and preparing them for the next,” said Kathy Johnson, director of teacher and student programs.

College First is a paid eight-week summer internship for up to 20 qualified students. Isobel Araujo, a senior at Whitney Young High School in Chicago, attended the College First program in 2011 and 2012. As part of the program, she did research on orchids and learned how to estimate budgets to fix hypothetical ecological problems. “It was definitely challenging, but it was awesome,” said Araujo, who plans to major in environmental studies.

During the school year, College First students also attend monthly meetings that help them select colleges, complete applications, and find financial aid to continue their education. More than 94 percent of College First graduates attend two- or four-year colleges, and many are the first in their family to attend college. Three students, including Robert Harris III, received full scholarships to universities beginning in fall 2013.

Harris is a freshman at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. As a junior and senior at Lane Tech High School in Chicago, he made a three-hour daily round-trip commute to the Garden for the College First program. During his internship, he learned to extract plant DNA and study genetic markers in the Artocarpus genus, which includes breadfruit and jackfruit. Harris said the program was a great experience. “You get out of the city and experience nature close up,” he said. “The Garden itself is one big laboratory, and it was a lot more hands-on than in high school.”

 An intern carries a quiver full of marking flags, and takes notes on her clipboard.

Science First and College First programs lead into other graduate and post graduate programs. Find information on those programs at: www.chicagobotanic.org/research/training.

 A group of about 50 people pose at the end of the Serpentine Bridge.

2013 Conservation and Land Management (CLM) post-graduate interns pose for a group photo at the Garden. Find out more about this program at www.clminternship.org/.

Because of funding restrictions, enrollment for the Continuum programs are limited to students from Chicago Public Schools. For more information, call (847) 835-6871 or visit chicagobotanic.org/ctl/teacher_students.

This post was adapted from an article by Nina Koziol that appeared in the spring 2014 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Year in Bulbs

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 9:20am

Bulbs are often thought of as a single season “wow,” beautiful in spring and gone by summer. This couldn’t be farther from the truth!

With a little planning, you can have beautiful displays of bulbs throughout the season. You can blend colors seamlessly for a year-long display, or you can mix things up seasonally to give yourself three or four new displays, one for each season! The ephemeral nature of most bulbs allows you to keep things fresh without constantly replanting.

This summer, we’ll be following the Graham Bulb Garden throughout the year to show how a palate of background perennial plants can be transformed into a stunning display of different colors and textures throughout the season.

 View of the Bulb Garden.

Iris reticulata ‘J.S. Dijt’ provides some of the earliest color in the Bulb Garden.

 

 View of the Bulb Garden.

A bed of Scilla rosenii, Ornithogalum umbellatum, and Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Alba’ getting ready to burst forth with color.

 

 View of the Bulb Garden.

It may not look like much now, but soon this hillside will be a sea of Narcissus, Muscari, Lilium, Allium, and dozens of other bulbs blooming continuously for the entire season.

So what’s blooming now in the Bulb Garden? 

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) provides an important source of nectar and pollen for early pollinators. On any warm day, you can see hundreds of honeybees scurrying among the flowers.

Giant snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) is often one of the first things we see blooming in the Bulb Garden. This year, the first flowers were seen on March 20, well-timed for the start of spring! Snowdrops are best planted near doors or paths where you can appreciate their delicate nature.

Dwarf reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) come in a wide variety of colors, but the one thing they all have in common is their rich color and striking presence in the garden.

Early scilla, or white squill (Scilla mischtschenkoana ‘Tubergeniana’), might not be the most readily available bulb, but its icy blue color and ease of growth make it a great choice for early spring color.

 Giant snowdrops in bloom.

Giant snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii)

 Winter aconite in bloom.

New-blooming winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is already being pollinated by honeybees.

 Scilla mischtschenkoana 'Tubergeniana' in bloom.

Delicate Scilla mischtschenkoana ‘Tubergeniana’ in bloom.

 Iris reticulata 'J.S. Dijt' in bloom.

Miniature Iris reticulata ‘J.S. Dijt’ is an early spring bloomer.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Trialed and True

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 12:29pm

When the glossy gardening catalogs come in the mail, or when you stop by to see what’s new at your local nursery, it’s tempting to dream—wouldn’t those pink-hued purple coneflowers be lovely in the front yard? Or what about that new, show-stopping snowflame hibiscus?

But before you grab your credit card, consider the pertinent question: which plant would work best in your garden? That’s where the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plant Evaluation Program comes in. For more than three decades, the program has conducted scientific studies to determine which plants offer superior performance in the Upper Midwest and in areas with similar climate and soil conditions.

 Overhead view of the bridge and gardens in mid-spring.

A view of the Serpentine Bridge and Plant Evaluation Gardens

 “So many plants have a premium price, and if they don’t perform as expected, people get disenchanted,” said Richard Hawke, plant evaluation manager. “You’ll find what’s hot and new in catalogs and magazines, but I’m all about the tried-and-true. We’re here to tell the average gardener and the green industry how plants performed in our evaluations.”

Few plant evaluation programs are as large or as diverse as this one. There are currently 30 groups of plants growing in the Bernice E. Lavin Plant Evaluation Garden, a 2.5-acre site in full sun, and in the William Pullman Plant Evaluation Garden, which has perennials, vines, shrubs, and small trees growing in partial shade.

Plants are rated based on their ornamental characteristics, how well they adapt to the site, whether they are winter hardy, and how well they resist diseases and pests. “When we look at winter hardiness, it’s not just for cold temperatures but for wet soil, which can be very detrimental,” Hawke said. None of the plants is treated for diseases or insects.

The length of the evaluation varies from four to ten years based on the type of plant. Perennials are studied for four years, while shrubs and vines are a six-year study, and trees may take seven to ten years. “We observe and review them over a long period so we can say with fair certainty how the plant performs for us,” Hawke said.

The results are published in the Garden’s Plant Evaluation Notes, a series of reports made available to home gardeners and the green industry and available on the Garden’s website at www.chicagobotanic.org/plantevaluation.

The latest issue of Plant Evaluation Notes reports on Joe-Pye Weed. Click here to view the full list of plant evaluations.

 Closeup of a Joe-Pye weed in bloom.

A Joe-Pye weed cultivar, Eutrochium maculatum ‘Glutball’ in bloom

Hawke is also involved in evaluating the potential for some popular ornamental plants, such as maiden grass (Miscanthus) and smartweed (Persicaria/Polygonum), to be invasive. This is a concern not only for home gardeners, but also for forest preserves and other open spaces where invasive plants compete with native plants.

It’s easy for visitors to check out the plant trials underway—the Trellis Bridge connects Evening Island to the Lavin Evaluation Garden across from the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, and there’s a new path within the evaluation site. “What’s great about the evaluation gardens is they are densely planted with things that you won’t necessarily see anywhere else in the Garden,” Hawke said. “You can see a group of different filipendulas or lavender growing side-by-side.”

The Plant Evaluation Notes are made possible in part by the Woman’s Board Endowment for Plant Evaluation Research and Publication. This post was adapted from an article by Nina Koziol that appeared in the winter 2013 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Rollins Brings Grace to Garden Parties

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 4:39pm
Fresh herbs, terra cotta pots and seed packets grace the table top for a summer pizza party at Boxwood, the Atlanta residence of Danielle Rollins.

Fresh herbs, terra cotta pots, and seed packets grace the tabletop for a summer pizza party at Boxwood, the Atlanta residence of Danielle Rollins.

Danielle Rollins, preeminent Atlanta hostess and tastemaker, has a special connection to Chicago—a place that’s very close to home. Rollins lives in the stately home, Boxwood, that was built by Eleanor McRae in 1928 as a small-scale version of her Lake Shore Drive childhood home. Designed by architect Philip Shutze, Boxwood has been lovingly refurbished and serves as a gracious setting for the inviting parties Rollins shares in her book, Soirée: Entertaining with Style.

Rollins will be our guest in April when she gives a keynote presentation April 12 at the Antiques & Garden Fair. We couldn’t wait, so we called Danielle last week to learn a little bit about her talk:

Q: Chicagoans are only able to entertain outdoors in the warm summer months. Can you suggest some ways to bring the grace and warmth of the South to our Chicago parties?

A: I think the key to entertaining in any of the four seasons is to focus on what makes your guests feel welcome, wanted, and happy. There are so many great celebrations coming up—Easter, Mother’s Day, or simply just because!

To me, summer is about outdoor entertaining. You’ve got nature as your inspirational backdrop and that should be your focus, with everything else blending into that. I love bringing the indoors outside. Without hesitation, I will incorporate my heirloom china as the place settings on a rustic table or have a full-blown picnic. Don’t be afraid to mix old and new, high and low. You don’t have to have the perfect items for entertaining. Stadium blankets, quilts, or even bed linens make the perfect table topper; I have even been known to use shower curtains as outdoor tablecloths! For your arrangements, nature provides everything you’ll need—as long as you have the clippers. With all this talk of nature, I offer my final suggestion for any fête: always make sure you have a backup plan; Mother Nature is a notorious party crasher.

Food does not have to be complicated or fancy to be pleasurable.

Food does not have to be complicated or fancy to be pleasurable.

Q: At the Chicago Botanic Garden, we encourage visitors to grow their own vegetables and support local farmers. How can these ideals be incorporated into entertaining?

A: I love shopping at my local farmers’ market down the street from me. I recommend shopping without a list. Go through and see what’s available and what’s local and build your menu around that. I can get really excited about radishes, carrots, English peas, asparagus, and fresh strawberries in early spring. What’s seasonal and what tastes best at the moment is my building block for any venue. The tabletop and flowers come second.

One of my favorite dinners I have ever orchestrated was a dinner with Blackberry Farms to honor heritage Southern farmers, complete with a flock of sheep on my front lawn! I used simple vases filled with a variety of wildflowers, and the place cards and napkins were tied with twine. The menu featured heirloom vegetables and mint juleps sweetened with sorghum. I think there’s nothing prettier than huge mounds of vegetables or fruits on a table. You don’t even need flowers.

Q: You’re known as a “gracious living” expert. What does that term mean to you?

Simple ingredients served in abundance, such as fresh salad from the farmers' market, bring grace and style to a summer party.

Simple ingredients served in abundance, such as fresh salad from the farmers’ market, bring grace and style to a summer party.

A: Gracious living means having a sense of grace. It’s the one thing we can give to each other and to ourselves that makes life worth living. It means slowing down and focusing on each other. It means working to live, rather than living to work. Be kind to each other. Be kind to yourself. Take the time to enjoy the details. I think that’s something that’s hard for us all to do. The same thing translates to entertaining. Focus on what makes your guests happy and what gives them pleasure, and ultimately that will bring you pleasure.

Q: You’ll be a keynote speaker at the Antiques & Garden Fair, along with your friend and colleague Miles Redd. What have you and Miles learned from each other?

A: Miles is a great friend, and we share the same birthday. We met in 2001 and can finish each other’s sentences. He taught me a sense of scale, not to be afraid to change things, and that every room needs some sparkle! While Miles is a rule breaker, at heart, he’s really a traditionalist. He is also, without question, the reason I wrote my book. Miles is good at recognizing talent, but he’s even better at pushing that talent to realize their dreams.

Rollins often starts her parties with leisurely cocktails—her signature Rollins Collins and other creative mixes of spirits, fruits, and edible flowers. A favorite summer drink is the Bloody Mary, served at a bar abundantly stocked with limes, lemons, carrots, celery, cucumbers, skewers of olives, pickled okra and onions, a selection of store-bought tomato juices, Mexican beers, and vodkas infused with pepper, horseradish, and other flavorings. Guests can assemble drinks to suit their tastes. Rollins calls hers a “salad in a glass.” She likes using a heavier glass—French hand-blown La Rochère or even a pilsner glass—with a nice rim to dip in lime juice or Tabasco, followed by seasoned celery salt. We’ll be serving a version at the Antiques & Garden Fair, April 11 to 13. Come and try one! (You can download her special recipe—with candied bacon garnish—here.)

Danielle Rollins’s Classic Bloody Mary

 Full pitcher and cocktail.

Try a new twist on a classic cocktail—download this recipe!

Ingredients

Celery salt
1 lemon, juice of
1 lime, juice of
2 oz vodka (freeze vodka overnight)
6 oz pre-made Bloody Mary Mix (Freshies is my favorite)
1 dash Tabasco sauce
2 tsp prepared horseradish
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch celery salt or Old Bay seasoning
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Pour  some celery salt or Old Bay seasoning in a small plate. Squeeze lemon or lime juice into a small bowl and dip the glass rim into  the  juice. Roll the outer edge of the glass in the salt or seasoning until fully coated. For extra zing, use Tabasco sauce instead of the lemon or lime juice. Add the remaining ingredients into a shaker and fill with ice. Shake gently and strain into the prepared glass.

Garnish with celery stalk (with the leaves on) and a strip of candied bacon (see recipe below) or a bamboo skewer of olives, tiny grape tomatoes, and a lime wedge.

Candied Bacon

Ingredients

½ cup packed light brown sugar
1½ tsp chile powder
20 slices of thick-cut bacon

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil. In a small bowl, whisk the brown sugar with the chile powder. Arrange the bacon strips on the foil and coat the tops with the chile sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until caramelized and almost crisp. Transfer the bacon to a rack set over a sheet of foil to cool completely.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Springvision comes to the Garden!

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 9:03am

Are you tired of winter? Silly question—we all are. Spring is way overdue.

Cheer up! The Garden has an answer to the dragged-out-winter blues: Vertverre™ (green vision) glasses. Put on a pair of these specially designed glasses and you’ll see the drab landscape turn into a time when spring came six weeks early.

 Google glasses showing a spring view through the prism, while the landscape is brown and wintry.

Using Google.AFD glass technology, the user’s experience of spring seems real.

Our sense of sight is a curious thing, and it can be manipulated to affect our outlook on the world. In the 1950s, a scientist created a set of vision-flipping goggles that made the world appear upside down. The first people who tested these glasses couldn’t even walk without stumbling when first wearing them. Eventually the brain adjusts, so that wearers see the world right side up again through the lenses. That is part of the scientific principle behind Vertverre.™

Garden staff approached Google.AFD about this idea two years ago when we realized the wonderful health benefits of experiencing an early blooming spring. Google.AFD works with not-for-profit organizations like the Garden to develop tools and technology for a better world. While creating sense-altering vision seemed like a stretch, Google.AFD techies were already working on several devices to enhance retina viewing, so the partnership turned out to be a natural fit.

 March view of the shoreline from the land bridge.

Vertverre™ technology turns the clock
forward, turning this…

 May view of the shoreline from the land bridge.

…into this lush, verdant landscape.

How does Vertverre™ work? The lenses in these glasses send a signal to your retina, which transmits to your visual cortex, releasing a memory of that early blooming spring from years past. When you look at the landscape, Vertverre™ tricks your eyes into remembering spring flowers, green grass, from warmer times. The effect is so stunning that it has the same mood-enhancing effect as light therapy. Instantly you feel healthier and have a more positive outlook on life.

As the French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote: “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Come visit the Garden and see for yourself. We only have a limited number of prototype models for our visitors and are taking reservations on a first come, first serve basis.

To reserve your pair click here today!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

 

An Inside Look at Spring’s First Party

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 4:40pm

As April 10th gets closer with each passing day, our excitement builds for the Garden’s first spring party, the Antiques & Garden Fair Preview. We talked with Cathy Busch, one of the co-producers of the show to get an inside look at what they have in store for us!

cathy Busch 2Cathy, you have supported the Garden’s Antiques & Garden Fair for years as a Co-Producer. What do you like best about it?

I have always thought of this event as the unofficial kick-off to the spring season in Chicago–whether Mother Nature cooperates or not! The past few months spent in the polar vortex were grueling and our hope is that people will be inspired to step out and reconnect with friends they haven’t seen in a while. There’s a celebratory feeling about the whole weekend, beginning with the preview party, where guests have the first chance to shop. It’s a chance to see beautiful objects, think about new ways to live and entertain well this summer, or just feel part of a welcoming community. We hope people will visit the Garden, this year especially, and feel the winter blues fade away.

Antiques & Garden Fair Preview Evening

AGF food Carts

Hors d’oeuvres will be served on new rolling carts this year.

A great party needs great food and drinks. Do you know what’s on the menu this year?

Our caterer again this year will be Jewell Events Catering and they always pull out all the stops for this party. Their creative and culinary team really understand Preview—the importance of shopping, socializing and sampling! They’ve devised charming new garden carts this year that will stroll through the aisles so the food comes to you! We happen to believe that if you’re well fed, you’re in a good mood! The seasonal food complements all the other influences at the show—it’s a complete sensory experience.

The Isle of Man is creating a Men's Lounge for this year's preview party.

The Isle of Man is creating a Men’s Lounge for this year’s preview party.

This event has done a great job attracting women to shop and have a fun night with girlfriends. What about the men?

We absolutely hope the men will come! New this year at the preview party will be a Men’s Lounge assembled by the creative team at Isle of Man America in Chicago. They’ve thought of everything to entertain the guys: vintage motorcycles, humidors and sporting equipment, custom furniture and good scotch—just a lot of cool masculine stuff. For the men who also stroll the booths, there will be fabulous food and drinks circulating throughout the fair. No one will go home hungry!

What’s so special about a Fair at the Garden?

The setting is what really sets us apart from other national shows. The Chicago Botanic Garden is a cultural gem and a leader among national gardens. Being there, surrounded by hundreds of acres of natural beauty when spring is just beginning to show its promise is pure magic. We hope first-time visitors will fall in love with the Garden and come back often to see the gardens grow more and more beautiful as the seasons progress.

Lees Antique's booth from last year’s Antiques & Garden Fair

Tell us about the speakers who will be appearing at the Fair this year. Quite a lineup!

We are so excited about this year’s speakers! Miles Redd is one of the hottest talents in interior design today. His fresh and fearless approach to design, his exuberant use of color, and his ability to mix periods and styles are inspiring. He’s oozing with talent and, oh, by the way, he also happens to be incredibly nice. His friend, Danielle Rollins, is a star in her own right too! As the reigning guru of entertaining and author of the stunning book, Soiree, Danielle claims a successful party is all in the details and we will be there with our pencils sharpened taking notes.

Cathy's Bulldog

My well-mannered English bulldog. Well-groomed is another story!

You have exquisite taste and have made your home a great space for entertaining. Have you found any items at the Fair and how do they create a great space for entertaining?

There are so many tempting objects to drool over at the show! I’ve managed to pick up a few things over the years—some fun mid-century pieces that are easy to mix, unique silver and gifts. I’m also a sucker for vintage Lucite. My favorite find is definitely a goofy stone English bulldog statuary that lives in our backyard. Our bulldog, Rose, just can’t figure it out, terrorizing it until she collapses from exhaustion. The statuary has far better manners and is better looking than the real thing for sure.

Bette is part of Big Blooms by Paul Lange

Bette is part of Big Blooms by Paul Lange

Are you anticipating any trends this year? What will you be watching out for at the Fair this year?

Old school garden statuary and antiques will never go out of style, but I think we’ll see more mid-century offerings this year because living with them is so easy and chic—nothing too precious or off-limits.

I’m excited about some of the incredible new talent appearing at the Antiques & Garden Fair this year—Janus et Cie for chic outdoor furniture and acclaimed New York photographer, Paul Lange, with his giant blooms, to name a few.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Undercover Science

Sat, 03/29/2014 - 9:22am

The dress rehearsal is complete, spring is preparing to turn on the lights, and within a few weeks the curtains will go up on the Chicago Botanic Garden’s newest shoreline restoration—the North Lake.

According to Bob Kirschner, Woman’s Board Curator of Aquatic Plant and Urban Lake Studies, the project that began in 2010 will come to full fruition this year.

“One of the most important details is the maintenance and management after it is installed,” he said.

Since the restored North Lake was dedicated in September 2012, its 120,000 native plantings have been busy growing their roots as far as 6 feet deep into the soil, trying to establish themselves in their new home. The process has been all the more tenuous due to the barrage of extreme weather during that time, from droughts to floods to the deep freeze.

 Bob Kirschner poses on the restored lakefront.

Bob Kirschner was trained as a limnologist, or freshwater scientist.

“The first few years after a large project is installed, we’re out there babying the native plants as much as we can because these plants are serving an engineering function,” said Kirschner, who explained that plant roots play an integral role in the long-term stability of the shoreline and are essential to the success of the entire restoration.

Wading In

The Garden’s lakes were rough around the edges when Kirschner arrived 15 years ago. Wrapped in 60 acres of water, the land was eroding where it met the lakes.

Although the Garden could have surrounded the shores with commonly used barriers such as boulders or sheet piling, Kirschner advocated another route.

“We’re using much more naturalized approaches,” he explained. “They are taking the place of conventional, structural approaches.”

Why? In the long run, the shoreline becomes relatively self-sustaining. In addition to preventing erosion, it offers habitat for native wildlife such as waterfowl and turtles, and filters water to help keep it clean. When the plants flower, a shiny bow of blooms wraps all of those benefits up in a neat package.

 View across the lake of the Cove; swamp loosestrife is in bloom.

The North Lake shoreline restoration surrounds the Kleinman Family Cove.

Bright Ideas

For many Garden visitors, a stop at the shoreline is inspirational. “We’re trying to help them visualize that native landscapes can be created within an urban context to be both beautiful and ecologically functional at the same time,” said Kirschner, who counts on the attractive appearance of the plantings to open conversations about restoration, and how individuals can generate similar results. “When thoughtfully designed, you can have both the ecology and the aesthetics,” he added. 

It was this concept of incorporating the art and science of restoration in a public setting that brought him to the Garden in the first place, after more than 20 years as an aquatic ecologist with Chicago’s regional planning commission.

Kirschner, who is also the Garden’s director of restoration ecology, has managed six Garden shoreline restorations incorporating a half-million native plants.

 Marsh marigol (Caltha palustris) in bloom along the shoreline.

Marsh marigold is a harbinger of spring.

He and his team know where all of the plants are, and they track them over time to identify those best suited for urban shoreline conditions. His favorites include sweet flag (Acorus americanus), common lake sedge (Carex lacustris), swamp loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus), and blue flag iris (Iris virginica). Perhaps the most exciting of them all is marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), the first shoreline plant to bloom each spring.

Natural areas comprise 225 of the Garden’s 385 acres.

According to Kirschner, the Garden’s hybrid approach to shoreline restoration, which incorporates ecological function and aesthetic plantings, is unique. “Part of our mission as environmental scientists is finding a way to make our work relevant and valued by as much of the public as we can reach,” he said. “It’s emotional for me because I believe so strongly in it, and that this is a path to increase ecologically sensitive landscape values within American culture.”

Changing Seasons

 Drifts of native plants along the restored shoreline.

Drifts of native plants are a hallmark of the Garden’s restored shorelines.

The North Lake was his last major shoreline restoration for the time being. He is looking forward to taking a breath of fresh air and enjoying the show this spring. “It should be really interesting to watch how this year progresses,” he said. Because the long winter may mean a compressed spring, he said the blooms could be that much more intense once they begin in about May. “Every day when we come to the Garden, the plants will be noticeably bigger than they were the day before,” he anticipated.

When Kirschner finds a moment for reflection, he wanders over to the Waterfall Garden, where he enjoys serenity in the sound of the rushing waters, and walking the two staircases that invite discovery along the way.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Q & A with Miles Redd

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 9:56am

We can hardly wait for the über-charming design star, Miles Redd, to hit the Antiques & Garden Fair on April 11!

In order to whet our appetites for all things Miles, the fabulously talented Redd graciously agreed to answer a few of our questions—a little hint of what’s to come when he comes to town. All we can say is buy your lecture tickets now so you don’t miss this design legend in the flesh!

 Miles Redd.

Miles Redd
Photo by Patrick McMullan

There is an art to mixing materials, periods, and styles in order to create interest and harmony. You get it right every time. What’s your secret?

I think Picasso said it best: “good artists copy, great artists steal!” I really love to look at the masters, past and present, and really, it is simple; you imitate what turns you on. Also, a feeling in my gut helps a lot!

We’d say you’ve definitely mastered old Hollywood glamour! Does your background in film and set design influence you as an interior designer?

When I was young, blockbusters were among my best friends. I do love the interiors of films in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. They give you a fantasy of what they want it to be, rather than how it probably was, and you know, often it is better—the fantasy, that is!

Which designers inspire you and your work today? Which “up and comers”?

That is a long list, but here goes: Nancy Lancaster, Albert Hadley, Syrie Maugham, Elsie de Wolfe, Francis Elkins, Jansen—and then today I love what Studio Peregalli is doing, and I think Daniel Romualdez has lots of style, and David Kaihoi—a very talented guy in my office—is a terrific springboard. (His apartment was on the cover of House Beautiful and worth a Google search!) Do you think will have staying power in the business?

 Danielle Rollins and Miles Redd hold a tablecloth over his stone circular garden table.

Danielle Rollins and Miles Redd begin to dress the table in his garden. Photo by Quentin Bacon.

We read that you enjoy the view of your garden from your bedroom. What kind of garden have you created in New York City?

Very much a French architecture—it’s all about clipped hornbeams and boxwood and deep turquoise treillage—very architectural, with no flowers…my kind of garden.

You must adore hunting for unique furniture and objects through dealers at shows like this one. What advice do you have for someone shopping an antiques fair?

If you love it, and the price is right, seize the moment! The worst is regretting something you should have gone for!

 High ceilings accentuate a bathroom finished in mirror and Italian marble.

A master bathroom designed with Hollywood glamour by Miles Redd. Photo by Paul Costello.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Negotiating Your Way at the Antiques & Garden Fair

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 2:02pm

I’m finally doing it: after years of thinking, talking, plotting, and chickening out, I’m finally tearing out everything in my front yard and putting in a practical, useful, well-designed (and hopefully beautiful) vegetable garden this year.

Of course I’ve got a wish list for the hardscape: a few practical, useful, well-designed (and hopefully beautiful) items that I hope to find at this year’s Antiques & Garden Fair (April 11-13). 

    1. Tuteurs for the peas and beans and roses to grow on.
    2. A bench or seat to perch on.
    3. A garden gate or arbor or very-cool-I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it item to mark the entrance.

I’m open to ideas and negotiable on style, materials, shape, color—and, of course, price. All of which made me wonder: just how do you negotiate your way through this enormous (half an acre of halls/galleries/tents), diverse (115-plus vendors from 24 states—and the UK), and visually stunning event to find the right item?

We called an expert to find out.

 Beau Kimball.

Beau Kimball of Kimball & Bean

Antiques expert Beau Kimball has been a friend to the Antiques & Garden Fair for years—in fact, he and wife Nancy will host the first booth you’ll come to under the Krasberg Rose Garden tent. As proprietor of Kimball & Bean Architectural & Garden Antiques in Woodstock, Illinois, Kimball has 27 years of experience with antiques, and lots of insight about negotiating the Fair.

Have fun—you’re at an amazing show!

When so many top-notch antiques dealers gather under the tents, it’s more than an antiques show—it’s the equivalent of “Fashion Week” for the garden. “The quality level of this show is what makes it different,” Kimball says. “Dealers put a lot of time and energy into curating for it, and they bring the best of their best to this show.” Yes, you can pull out your smartphone and take photos at the beautifully decorated booths; Kimball suggests you ask first (it’s common courtesy) and, just as you’d mention the designer’s name at a fashion show, always give credit to the dealer when you’re tweeting or blogging about their merchandise.

 Antiques dealer's booth.

Kimball and Bean’s booth from last year’s Antiques & Garden Fair

Ask questions.

Fun conversations make for a fun show! Antiques dealers are passionate about their collections and love to talk about their merchandise. Dealers are happy to answer questions. “These are the experts among experts—if you want to know an item’s history or how it’s made, they’ll not only give you the real story, but also explain why it’s important,” Kimball said. Got an item you’re looking to sell? Approach a dealer during a lull or less crowded moment, when they can give you and your antique their undivided attention.  

Be prepared to…

Kimball recommends a few pre-show strategies for potential buyers:

  • Bring measurements with you. If you’re in the market for a garden bench with specific size requirements but don’t have them that day, you might miss out on a unique antique to another shopper who came prepared.
  • Take notes as you go. It’s a big show, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed! Jot down booth locations on a business card, show map, or smartphone so you can return for a second look later.
  • Bring checks and/or cash, too. Credit cards are accepted, but the offer of cash or check is appealing to a dealer, who incurs extra fees with credit card use. For the best possible deal, mention that you’re happy to pay with cash or check.
  • Arrange delivery service for larger purchases. The Antiques & Garden Fair offers delivery and shipping services onsite, by companies who know how to handle heavy, large, or fragile antiques. Take advantage of this service—many dealers are from out of town, and not in a position to help you arrange delivery.

The final negotiations

A few courtesies that go a long way toward building rapport and, ultimately, a good price:

  • Unlike at auctions or flea markets, dealers have already done the work for you in terms of condition. Most items are ready to take home and put on display; know that pricing reflects the time, care, and transport costs put into each item.
  • Negotiation is a common practice at antiques shows. Kimball says that antiques are at reasonable price levels these days, with 5 percent to 10 percent flexibility in some prices. Offering much lower than that is considered a bit of an affront to the dealer’s professionalism.
  • There’s a crucial distinction between asking, “What’s your best price?” and “Would you take X dollars?” The former is a courteous way to question a dealer on price; the latter implies that you’re ready to buy the item at that moment if the dealer agrees (like holding up a paddle at an auction). It’s easier to negotiate when both parties are speaking the same “language.”

What’s hot in 2014?

We had to ask! Kimball says to look for indoor/outdoor pieces that are stylish enough to spend the summer outside, then move straight into your home at the end of the season.

Hmm…that garden bench I’m looking for could work in the front hall next winter…practical, useful, well-designed, and hopefully beautiful.

 Whitewashed antique wrought iron bench.

Could this be the kind of bench I’m looking for?

The Benefits of Outdoor Spaces for the Elderly

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 9:11am

A well-designed outdoor space can do wonders for seniors and those with Alzheimer’s disease. But how do these gardens differ from other outdoor spaces and why are they so important?

Housing for the elderly has been provided in many western cities since the Middle Ages. Facilities such as independent living centers, skilled nursing homes, dementia or memory care units, and hospice facilities have traditionally included some form of outdoor space.

 Book cover.

The Role of the Outdoors in Residential Environments for Aging, published in 2006.

The majority of the elderly (over 65) reside in their own home or with relatives. Whether in a facility or at a personal home, particular symptoms of decreased quality of life begin to show during these stages. These symptoms are often displayed in the form of boredom, helplessness, and loneliness. Fortunately, many, if not all of these symptoms can be improved with gardening and exposure to outdoor spaces.

The keys (and often the greatest challenges) to successful aging are to remain physically active and socially engaged, and to retain a sense of self. There are many measureable health outcomes for seniors and the outdoors. Even a short visit in a garden can lower blood pressure, improve vitamin D absorption, improve stability, and help with better sleep patterns.

Boredom can be remedied with sensory stimulation and interaction with nature. Nature can aid the feeling of helplessness with providing a space for temporary escape (actual or visual), and the feeling of loneliness can be decreased in a garden that provides multiple places for socialization.

The benefits are endless. So how do we make sure these wonderful gardens are implemented properly so that they will be used by seniors?

 An elderly woman smelling a yellow rose and smiling.

A senior engages with colorful and inviting roses at Elm Tree Gardens in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

For today, we’ll concentrate on four factors of design: The entrance and exit to the outdoor space, plant material, pathways and ease of accessibility (circuit and materials), and seating.

The entrance/exit to an outdoor space—the threshold—is perhaps the most important factor to consider when designing an outdoor space for the elderly, and this largely comes down to one single detail: the door. Doorways are high on the list of residential complaints. Often they’re hard to open, or locked. They don’t have windows and therefore inhibit visitors from viewing the garden (…what’s the weather like?). Perhaps the door has a lip that makes it difficult for seniors in wheelchairs to cross the threshold on their own.

Another factor involving the threshold is the comfort (or perceived comfort) when entering or exiting the garden. Creating a transition or “comfort zone” between the indoor and outdoor space is key. Aging eyes have difficulty adjusting from indoor light to outdoor sunlight. Providing shade at the entrance/exit in the form of an awning or patio will increase the transitional comfort.

This brings us to the next factor: plant material.  I didn’t mention a pergola with draping vines as a possibility for the transition space. That’s because it’s a detail that is strongly discouraged in outdoor design for seniors.  A pergola or draped plant material creates patterned shadows on the ground. This is referred to as “visual cliffing” in design. Seniors react to changes in paving color, or deep shadows on a path as if they were a change in depth. This may lead to stumbles, fear, and discomfort. Simply avoiding structures such as arbors or trellises will alleviate this issue.

Plant selection for the garden is fairly straightforward. Use a variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, and vines and place them where they can be touched and smelled. Aging eyes can see highly saturated colors—such as oranges, reds, and yellows—more easily than blues, purples, and greens. Also, certain plant material such as herbs and traditional shrubs (hydrangeas, roses, etc.) help to stimulate memory as they often bring deep-rooted and cherished memories to mind for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Color choices are not just important when it comes to plant material, they’re also important for paving, our third factor. Since aging eyes have trouble with glare, use non-glare paving surfaces such as tinted concrete. Other satisfactory surfaces include rubberized asphalt and stabilized decomposed granite.

 A brick garden path leads to a white gazebo in a circular garden.

A gazebo provides an easily accessible destination to garden visitors.

The pathway circuit is also pivotal. Creating interesting places to walk with shorter and longer loops, destinations points (such as a water fountain or gazebo), and changing vistas will encourage engagement and exercise. With these pathways, be sure to pay attention to safety. Pathways with edges or railings will ensure safety for wheelchair users or individuals with impaired sight.

It should be noted, however, that in a facility for those with Alzheimer’s disease, a destination point or wandering path should be adjusted so that its pathway circuit never takes an individual to a point where the entrance/exit is no longer visible. This may lead to the feeling of being “stuck” or agitated if confusion sets in. Not knowing which route to take or how to get back can be very stressful for someone with Alzheimer’s. Instead, create a series of large and small destinations and landmarks that will help users orient themselves in a space (flagpole, gazebo, group of chairs, etc.).

Lastly, think about seating. It is important to design different areas for seating to create options. Some may like an area to sit alone. Living with other people in a facility is a new experience for many residents and it can be stressful. A garden can provide a place for quiet contemplation. On the other side of the spectrum, there should also be places to sit with others. These spaces create socialization, either with visitors or among the residents.  

 A lush urban garden has raised beds which provide seating, and a riot of colorful plantings.

Lush planting, smooth pathways, and seating areas enhance the quality of the experience in—and use of—any garden.

Consider also the kind of seating to be provided. Wood, fabric, or hard plastic materials are preferred, as they are more comfortable than steel, aluminum, or concrete surfaces. When possible, provide seating with cushions to increase comfort. Using moveable seating is also very popular. Use of the overall space skyrockets when people of any age are able to move or manipulate their seat for optimal comfort and satisfaction. This enables garden users to feel in control, which may be lacking inside the building.

These factors as well as countless others help to create spaces that are inviting and engaging to the elderly. There are additional factors to consider in an outdoor space that relate to programmatic intentions on top of the physical design but we’ll visit those topics another day.

Outdoor spaces in facilities for the elderly and aging are immensely important. The next time you visit one, take a moment for a quick assessment. With these basic tips, everyone can be an expert and wonderful advocate for successful outdoor spaces and gardens for the elderly. 

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Spring Awaits in Production Greenhouses

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 2:56pm

Spring isn’t progressing very quickly outside, so we stopped by the production greenhouses to find out how spring is growing behind the scenes. Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist, was excited to show us what it takes to grow thousands of the spring annuals and vegetables that will soon be planted outdoors.

Tim told us we are growing 73,000 spring annuals and vegetables this year to be planted outside in the gardens in April. If you like pansies and violas, you are in for a treat, as we’ve planted almost 30,000 of them! A lot of planning goes into scheduling when to start seeds, thin them, transplant them, and harden them off to be ready when each horticulturist needs them. The production team of more than 50 staff members and volunteers makes it all look easy, but I’m guessing with this harsh winter, it hasn’t been easy.

Just one of the wows visitors will see this spring are the hayracks that hang over the bridge from the Visitor Center to the main island. Staff members and volunteers just recently spent 12 hours planting them with 1,200 plants. They will grow safely in the greenhouses until the weather gets warm enough to bring them outside. Can’t wait!

 

Click on the video link above or watch on YouTube to learn all about getting ready for spring!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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