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A Taste of the Garden

Garden Blog - Mon, 05/25/2015 - 8:30am

On an early spring day in the offices of the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, Lisa Hilgenberg, Garden horticulturist, is seated at a rustic conference table sorting through pencil drawings of garden beds and photos of vegetable plants. Across the Garden, in the Garden View Café kitchen, chef Peter Pettorossi is considering a cabbage slaw recipe inspired by those same plants.

The concept of serving fresh, seasonal, local food at the Garden was key to café renovations completed one year ago. Produce and fruit from the garden, as well as from Windy City Harvest plots in the area, and other local vendors, is increasingly available in many dishes including salads, calzones, daily soups, and other specials.

 The bountiful Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden in 2014.

The bountiful Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden in 2014  ©North Branch Communications

Although the café and the Fruit & Vegetable Garden are physically separate, they come together in the growing season through an intricate network of connections that bring garden to table.

“It’s such a unique opportunity,” said Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development. “It opens people’s eyes to what we offer here.” New signage in the garden indicates which plants are on their way to the café. It also feels right, she explained. “If you are a true gardener, that’s how you live your life—by the plants of the season.” She added that the café has only grown in popularity, seeing about 200,000 unique food purchases last year.

Hilgenberg spent much of her lifetime learning how to match seeds with soil and growing conditions, perfecting each step. She lives with the rhythm of the seasons. “We are moving back in the right direction,” she said. “There’s something exciting about eating freshly grown vegetables seasonally. It’s always new and nutritious.”

Hilgenberg begins planning a year in advance for each growing season, mapping out what she will plant and how it will be arranged for display. Seeds for cool-season plants begin to grow in the Greenhouses in late winter, go into the ground in April, and are harvested in May and June. A similar cycle follows shortly after for warm-season crops.

 Chef slicing fresh cabbage.

Fresh cabbage from the Garden is put to use at the Garden Chef Series. Join us on Saturdays and Sundays, May 23 – October 4.

This is Pettorossi’s first spring at the Garden, after beginning in his role in November. He eagerly welcomes the arrivals of produce this spring. “If you can get something at the peak of freshness it always tastes better,” he said. As for the menu, “the season definitely dictates it,” he explained. “The menu features a lot of specials, depending on what we have in house.” No matter the season, he said the menu is always “fresh, mostly organic, local, and garden-inspired.”

Cool-season crops such as heirloom Tennis Ball butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa ‘Tennis Ball’) are the first to be ready this year. They will soon be joined by French Breakfast radish (Raphanus sativus ‘French Breakfast’), Hakurei salad turnips (Brassica rapa ‘Hakurei’), beets, and bunching onions. “All of our ingredients are very simple based on what they tell me they can grow,” he said, indicating that the most seasonal foods can be found in daily specials that he plans a day ahead.

 Staff and volunteers plant the Fruit & Vegetable Garden terraces with fall season crops.

Staff and volunteers plant the Fruit & Vegetable Garden terraces with fall crops.

The connection from garden to table extends to connect people as well, from garden mentor to student, or from an individual to their culture or family traditions, for example. Hilgenberg loves hearing from garden visitors about their connections to the garden crops. She spent much of her childhood on her Norwegian grandparent’s farm in Iowa, building her own such connections.

Hilgenberg makes a point to grow widely recognized plants in the garden each year, including herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables. She grows annual small fruits such as strawberries, gooseberries, and currants in addition to blueberries and bramble fruit. She also grows less common plants such as Marshall strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa ‘Marshall’), which she and her team propagated from three donated plants. Everything grown in the garden is done so organically. “I think it’s interesting for people to try different local varieties,” she said. Many, she explained, cannot be found in a typical grocery store, especially in organic form.

This year, several beds have been planted in the French potager style, and others laid out to mirror the gardens of Monticello. There are two beds planted with vegetables people may have seen in seed houses in 1890, the same year the Chicago Horticultural Society was founded. In honor of the Society’s 125th anniversary, seeds were made available through seed catalogs, the Seed Savers Exchange, and other sources. Edible flowers, such as Empress of India nasturtium (Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’), artfully border beds of radish, rutabaga, and turnips, for example. In addition, she included carrots, kale, collard, and three varieties of cabbage (Brassica oleracea): ‘Mammoth Red Rock’, ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’, and ‘Perfection Drumhead Savoy’. Each one was selected because it is adapted to our local growing conditions, a process Hilgenberg and her staff, volunteers, and interns have mastered over the years. Last year, they grew and harvested two tons of produce. The year before, that was combined with a bumper apple crop for 6,000 pounds of production.

 The Herbs de Provence garden bed in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

The Herbes de Provence garden bed in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden: what is not used fresh can be dried in one batch at the end of the season.

How does the chef manage to find a way to serve even the most unusual varieties with style? “I always try to add a little acid [such as lemon or vinegar] to food because acid makes flavors pop,” he advised. “A lot of lettuces are sweet, but others have a bitterness to them,” he added, “so you would have to find that perfect vinaigrette to go with that bitterness,and maybe add a touch of honey or something sweet.”

In addition to growing and preparing food at the Garden, “we are also this amazing workforce and training program for underserved youth and adults,” said Resnick, who explained that participants in the Windy City Harvest program, with large growing beds off-site, provide a significant amount of produce for the Garden View Café and learn to sell their produce at farmers’ markets. On-site each year, a few Windy City Harvest interns work directly with Hilgenberg.

Anyone walking through the Fruit & Vegetable Garden today may see the beginnings of a dish they can enjoy in the café by early summer. The season will continue to evolve in coming months, with the Garden Grille opening in late May. In June, warm-season crops such as heirloom corn, Japanese Nest Egg summer squash (Cucurbita pepo ‘Japanese Nest Egg’), White Patty Pan squash (Cucurbita pepo var. melopepo ‘White Patty Pan’), Yellow Pear tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Yellow Pear’), and Blueberry Blend tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Blueberry Blend’) will replace the spring plantings in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden, giving way to new edible discoveries.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Know your chaparral

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 11:21am

If you’ve never ventured into a chaparral forest – as I hadn’t just a few weeks ago – it might be hard to get a good mental picture. The name is derived from chapparo, a Spanish scrub-oak resembling some of the shrubs that thrive on California’s mountains and foothills. It’s the same word from which “chaps” derives – in the past few weeks I’ve often thought a pair could be useful in navigating the dense and thorny vegetation.

A trail through the chaparral at Pine Hill Preserve

A trail through the chaparral at Pine Hill Preserve

Three plants are considered characteristic of California’s chaparral, and are very common in the Pine Hill Preserve where I’ve been working – Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.), and Ceanothus (Ceanothus spp.). These plants are all characterized by extensive root systems that travel far and wide in search of water. These root systems hold the soil in place on steep hillsides. The species are well-adapted to fire, readily producing new shoots after a fire destroys their above-ground portions. In a stand of chaparral, most shrubs will be roughly the same height and age, dating back to the last fire. In the first few years after a burn, herbaceous plants take advantage of the abundant sunlight and emerge in great numbers. Some of these plants even have seeds that are activated by fire. This is of special interest at the Pine Hill Preserve – herbaceous rare plants have been noted to flourish after burns, both prescribed and accidental.

Layne’s butterweed (Packera layneae), a rare aster found in Pine Hill Preserve

Layne’s butterweed (Packera layneae), a rare aster found in Pine Hill Preserve

In my first few weeks of exploration, I found two plants to be particularly exciting. The leaves of Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum), as my mentor Graciela explained, are medicinal and can be brewed into a tea or chewed raw. When chewed, the initial taste is bitter, but slowly begins to have a cooling and sweet taste and a thirst-quenching effect. This has earned it the nickname of “mountain gum”, and after a few chews I was sold.

Eriodictyon californicum

Eriodictyon californicum

The second great discovery was a small, deep purple plant roughly shaped like a Christmas-tree – a native broomrape (Orobanche bulbosa). Its otherworldly appearance results from an aggressive survival strategy. It’s a parasite that doesn’t produce chlorophyll, instead relying on nutrients and water siphoned from the roots of neighboring plants.

Orbohanche bulbosa

Orbohanche bulbosa

First post from the Mother Lode Field Office!

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 9:58am

On Tuesday, my second day with the Mother Lode field office in El Dorado Hills, CA, I was very excited to head to the field for the first time. Our first stop at a small plot known as “vernal pools” was a little anticlimactic. We weren’t surprised to not find any pools – even outside of conservation circles, the four-year drought has been a hot topic, with water restriction measures getting more and more stringent. Without the vernal pools, my mentor Graciela informed me, much of the native flora we might’ve found at this plot was absent.

Our second venture was more exciting. Graciela and I accompanied the staff’s botanist to Cronan Ranch to check out the progress of a grazing project there. The rolling hills in Cronan are currently dominated by invasive non-natives – mostly yellow star-thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) and medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae). The grazing project aims to give natives a chance to get a foothold by allowing sheep to chew down the existing vegetation and reduce the amount of viable seeds produced by invasives.

Yellow star-thistle

Yellow star-thistle

The 500 sheep had made quite alot of progress when we arrived. The hill they’d been grazing on looked dramatically different from the others – almost everything green had been eaten. Sure enough, most of the star-thistle had been chewed nearly to the ground, in time to keep it from producing seeds in a few weeks. The sheep had done less damage on the medusahead – perhaps because, as our botanist pointed out, the plant is so high in silica during parts of its life cycle. This makes it unpalatable and undigestible to grazers.

Yellow star-thistle thrives just outside of the enclosure, while inside only short stalks remain

Yellow star-thistle thrives just outside of the enclosure, while inside only short stalks remain

A clear line between grazed and ungrazed turf

A clear line between grazed and ungrazed turf

Panoche Hills, California

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 9:52am

Hey Everyone,

I’m a first year Master’s student in Entomology at the University of Hawaii, and will spend the next few months working at the BLM office in Hollister, California. I have taken on several projects with my mentors. I will be studying native dune beetles in the Monvero Dunes, addressing concerns with malathion use to control spread of the Curly Top Virus and the Beet Leafhopper, and completing a genetic/statistical survey to address genetic diversity/primary productivity in grasshopper and leopard lizard populations. Our team is passionate, driven, and resourceful. I’m looking forward to collaborating and working with my mentors on awesome projects at various field sites this summer.

Good luck to all the other interns who are starting out.

Here are two pictures from my first day. I traveled to Buttonwillow, CA to look for leopard lizards. No such luck in finding any… but we found plenty of whiptails, and I noosed one on my first try! Looking forward to geeking out over science for the summer.

Cheers,

Jennifer Michalski
BLM, Hollister Field Office

Noosing Whiptail Lizards

Noosing Whiptail Lizards

Whiptail Lizard

Whiptail Lizard

Forestry and More…

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 9:50am

Hello CLMers,

My first month of working for the Arcata CLM has been an absolute blast! I have learned so much and I can’t wait to learn even more. What has been especially great about my internship so far is that while I am learning tons about forestry- a subject I had zero training or experience in before this appointment- I have also been able to work with many of the other resource specialists in the office. From taking out invasive scotch broom to working on archeological surveys with the Redding, CA BLM interns it has been great getting to know and learning about other topics besides just forestry!

One amazing experience I have had recently- while working with Kate the botany, range, and weeds CLM intern- was to hike the southern portion of The Lost Coast! I had never been backpacking before and I was definitely nervous about slowing our mapping project down, but in the end not only did I have an amazing time, but I was also able to keep up just fine! I always tell my friends and family that every time I leave the house I see something amazing in Cali, well The Lost Coast was no exception! From the sheer cliffs along the coast to the ocean itself, the trail was stunning! While it was a little stressful having to mind the tides- which make portions of the trail inaccessible at high tide- being completely locked in and totally isolated at our campsite was strangely calming. I don’t think I have every had a camping experience like the backpacking trip I took with Kate, and I honestly can’t wait to hike it again with my friends here!

Time and again I am reminded by how lucky I am to have chosen a field of work that gives me the opportunity not only to constantly be learning but also to be outside and see some of the amazing things this world has to offer! It is easy to be happy when you are doing something you love!

Keep Learning,

Steph

Sea Otter tracks along The Lost Coast

Sea Otter tracks along The Lost Coast

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The Lost Coast

The Lost Coast

CLMer Kate McGrath the Botany, Range, and Weeds intern for Arcata, CA BLM

CLMer Kate McGrath the Botany, Range, and Weeds intern for Arcata, CA BLM

Look at me I'm backpacking!!

Look at me I’m backpacking!!

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Hanging out with Redding, BLM interns after an Arch survey

Hanging out with Redding, BLM interns after an Arch survey

Finally collecting!

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 9:47am

It’s my second month working in Vale and I finally feel like I am getting to know the plants around here! In the last few weeks, my co and I have been busy visiting SOS sites and sensitive plant sites, checking on potential collections and monitoring a few sensitive species. Last week we started collecting Nothocalais troximoides seed, our first collection of the season! Unfortunately, it has been pretty windy and wet (very unusual here this time of year), making seed collection a little difficult. In the upcoming weeks, we are hoping to start collections of some Allium spp., Phlox longifolia, and orange globemallow. It’s exciting to finally be collecting seeds, and it’s fun to see how much each site changes with every visit.

Nothocalais troximoides seeds

Nothocalais troximoides seeds

The site where we’re collecting N. troximoides is one of my favorites because it is flat, and the volcanic rock doesn’t allow for much grass growth (walking through fields of cheat grass can be a pain). The site is also covered in one of my favorite flowers, Lewisia rediviva! We first visited this site at the end of April, when the flowers were in full bloom. I’ve wanted to see Lewisia in real life for a long time. It has been on my plant bucket list for a few years now (I’m not realizing just how nerdy it is that I have a “plant bucket list”). I spent probably 20 minutes trying to get the perfect picture on our field camera.

LEWISIA!!!!!

LEWISIA!!!!!

A couple of weeks ago, we started monitoring several sensitive species including Hackelia cronquistii, Mentzelia mollis, and Stanleya confertiflora. Some of our surveys have been more successful than others. We have visited a few sites where the population has declined in recent years, or become potentially extirpated. Around here, population decline is usually due to fire, competition from invasive grasses, or grazing, and often a combination of these factors. We have also found a couple populations that have flourished since their last survey. One population of Mentzelia mollis in particular has grown drastically, increasing almost 30-fold in the last two decades! Seeing sensitive populations thrive is one of the many rewards of land management.

With the field season picking up, I am really looking forward to more collections and monitoring!

Farewell Cedarville

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 9:45am

I spent 1 year as a CLM intern working for the BLM Surprise Field Office in Cedarville, CA. My experience was unforgettable and extremely beneficial. I gained such a wide variety of experience and new skills which as made me into a stronger, more confident individual ready to take on new challenges. Here is a short list of some of the projects I worked on:

-Native Seed Collection for Seeds of Success

-Assessment Inventory and Monitoring (Vegetation monitoring on SageSteppe habitat restoration sites)

-Developing seed mixes and implementing seedings as a part of Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (post-fire rehabilitation)

-Training with NRCS soils scientists on how to dig soil pits and identify soils

-Lots and lots of GIS work

-NEPA writing

-Sage-grouse trapping and collaring, and Sage-grouse lek surveys

This is not even a complete list. I learned so much from this experience and I highly recommend anyone thinking about applying to do so. You will make many connections and gain valuable skills. Not to mention meeting many great people at the CBG training in Chicago. It’s awesome.

These are my last words of advice as a CLM intern-

-Don’t limit yourself to location. I can’t stress this enough.  I was so nervous to move to Cedarville, fearing that I would feel isolated and bored out of my mind on the weekends. However, after a few weeks, I was enjoying my work so much that the location didn’t bother me one bit. I actually really enjoyed a break from civilization as most of us know it.

-Communicate with you mentor and be open about what skill you want to gain. Yes, your mentor will have an agenda for you but there is usually room for opportunities to learn. Let them know what skills you would like to develop.

-Be involved. A lot goes on at the BLM and other federal agencies. We are employed by Chicago Botanic Gardens but that doesn’t mean you can’t be in the loop as to what’s going on at your local field office. Talk with the experts at your office and soak up as much knowledge as possible!

Thanks to everyone at Chicago Botanic Gardens for making this program happen. Krissa and Rebecca you have been especially great! You are so good about being available and getting back to us with any questions or concerns and being flexible to meet our needs.

Thanks so much CBG and good luck to all the current and future CLM interns!

 

Amy Thorson

CLM Intern

BLM- Surprise Field Office

 

Roverandom

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 9:37am

Wandering the desert scapes of the GSENM in search of the target plant populations allows for long hours of careful contemplation. Hours upon hours of my internship are spent driving dirt roads passing RVs and horse trailers, tourists and cowboys, and endless acres of rabbitbrush and countless herds of cattle. All this is in search of the elusive plants divined for collection by the powers that be. Meanwhile my mind journeys over hills and mesas, down canyons and washes, independent of my driving body. I believe that Edward Abbey would have understood my mind’s inclination to wander freely when surveying the American West. And I like to think that Ed paved the way for the rest of us restless desert wanderers, justifying my reflections upon everything and nothing in my dutiful roving. I believe that another man (having no connection to the American West whatsoever) also understood my mind’s need to roam unfettered and wrote many stories of meticulously and whimicically crafted characters to share his thoughts on what it means to wander. Ed had his Desert Solitaire, but Mr Tolkien had Roverandom.

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Mr Tolkien famously wrote many stories, but he unfamously wrote many, many more. Roverandom, like The Hobbit, was meant for a much younger audience than the typical CLM intern, but it is nonetheless valuable. The story brims with the simple morality and fantasy that a father attempted to pass onto his bereaved child and distract him from the loss of a beloved toy. The themes, albeit simple and clearly intended to mollify an equally simple child from a fleeting time of grief, are universal and are therefore applicable to my tenure as an SOS intern in Escalante.

If you are not a Tolkien nerd like I am, then you have probably never heard of Roverandom and you probably don’t care about the simplistic novella, but, please, humor me for a moment. It’s a story about a mischievous dog named Rover who is first turned into a tiny, toy dog by a grumpy wizard, then turned into a tiny, real dog by a kinder (but still kind of grumpy) sand wizard, and eventually (after first being given wings to travel about the moon with his moon-dog friend, and then gills to travel around the ocean floor with his sea-dog friend) is turned back into a life-size, real dog. In his journey from real dog to toy dog to tiny dog to legitimate dog again, Rover (later renamed Roverandom to reduce confusion because both the moon-dog and sea-dog are named Rover…Tolkien, you scamp!) wanders the wide world and has many adventures. The main themes that I take from this story are: 1. Adventure and novel experiences will never be found in a stagnant location: one must put forth at least a little effort in creating their own adventure, 2. Wandering is good for the soul because wandering is freeing, and 3. One doesn’t need a definite end destination to arrive at an incredible one. These themes are easily applicable to my time in Escalante, and I owe a great deal to Mr Tolkien for writing such an affirming story.

This train of thought leads me in two different directions: on one hand, I think that stories by the curmudgeony, Western wanderer Edward Abbey and the inventive, fantastical dreamer Mr Tolkien both inspire and encourage roving, especially through landscapes as (relatively) untrammeled as the monument. This thought comforts me on my long drives and my mind’s contemplative walks, and largely justifies both. On the other hand, I think that both writers would encourage me to break free from the expected SOS duties every once in a while and have a scientific adventure exploring a different kingdom.

Clouds are the great muses of daydreams.

Clouds are the great muses of daydreams.

In addition to my SOS responsibilities, I also have the great pleasure of working on my interim mentor’s wildlife biology projects. Last week I was inducted into the cohort of hummingbird surveyors on the monument, and I had the delightful task of recording data, capturing the birds at the trap feeders, bagging them for processing, and feeding them prior to their release. I have been eagerly awaiting spring in the desert so I could add hummingbird work to my growing list of life and job experiences, and this work surely did not disappoint. There are many great joys in life, and holding a fat-depleted, desperately hungry male black chinned hummingbird, in his undiminished iridescent plumage, is certainly one of those joys for me. Friends, if you ever get the chance to work with hummingbirds – to hold such a small life in your hands, to feel a miniscule heart urgently beat so close to your own dutifully persistent pulse, to accidentally steal the hard earned heat from the little body of the bird and to feel awe that there is so much energy being exchanged between your two beings – then I highly recommend it. It is so choice.

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Processing one of the first black chinned hummingbirds of the season.

Plants are wonderful organisms for study, and they are undeniably important – especially given the unprecedented changes in local, regional, and global climate – but it is my firm belief that every conservationist, regardless of specialty and focus, must occasionally take the time to appreciate organisms beyond their study and the life within them. Merely working with hummingbirds for four hours reinvigorated me and has encouraged me to appreciate my botany work because of its role within the larger ecosystem.

I think that both Ed and Mr Tolkien would have understood the importance of my sojourn and my mind’s consistent tramps through the desert alone. Ed in particular had a distinct respect for and grasp of the big picture within such an enormous landscape. So I leave you now, friends, with an Edward Abbey blessing from Desert Solitaire:

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.

In the Spirit of Adventure,

Elise

Escalante Field Office, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, BLM

Greetings from Montrose, CO

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 9:24am

SnowMtnsCottonwoods

Hello All,

After arriving in Colorado, less than a week ago, I was welcomed by my mentor Ken Holsinger, Biologist at the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office. After general orientation, Ken introduced me to the endangered Eriogonum pelinophilum, (clay-loving buckwheat).

 rockymountainwild.org

Eriogonum pelinophilum
Photo: rockymountainwild.org

E. pelinophilum is endemic to the adobe hills in the salt-desert shrub ecosystem of the Uncompahgre Basin, within Montrose and Delta counties. The vegetation is sparse in these delicate soils, which are highly erodible and saline. The rolling hills and flats create unique scenic formations, with vegetation unlike any I have seen before.

Salt-Desert Shrub Ecosystem ACEC
Salt-Desert Shrub Ecosystem ACEC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday we began training and data collection for the Gunnison Sage-grouse habitat assessment, Crawford population, Black Ridge, Delta County.

Data collection with Ken and Julie

Data collection with Ken and Julie

We collected data using protocol as outlined in the Sage-grouse Habitat Assessment Framework (HAF). More specifically we used several different vegetation sampling methods along 50m transects including: 1) Point-intercept sampling method to collect vegetation type and height data for all graminoid, forb and shrub species; 2) Line-intercept sampling method to collect canopy cover data for sage-brush species; 3) Belt transect method to collect relative abundance data for preferred forbs.

 

Overall, I have to say, this CLM/BLM internship is off to a fantastic start. The scenery is absolutely beautiful, the wealth of knowledge which surrounds me is impressive, and the diverse array of new floral species to learn is more than intriguing.

 

Hope you all are enjoying your many adventures,

Elizzabeth

 

 

A Rare Affair is a gardener’s dream come true

Garden Blog - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 2:00am

If you are reading this blog, you are probably a plant person. So am I.

In my dreams I’m at a party, and there is no dirt under my nails. It’s a late spring evening at the most beautiful botanic garden in the world, with great food and drinks, and everyone who is there also loves plants. There is an auction of exceptional, unusual, and hard-to-find plant specimens I need to have. They have been vetted by a panel of experts and were donated by some of the top nurseries in the country. Best of all, the event will support fellowships for the plant biology and conservation graduate program, which is a collaboration between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University.

Click here to download a PDF catalog containing the entire rare plant inventory.
 Bidsheets and plants at A Rare Affair.

This plant lover’s dream come true is known as A Rare Affair. It is the ninth biennial plant auction presented by the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society. It will be held Friday, May 29, at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and silent auction begin at 6 p.m. in the Regenstein Center, with a catered dinner and live auction to follow at 8 p.m. in McGinley Pavilion.

The Woman’s Board and Chicago Botanic Garden staff members have worked hard to gather an amazing collection of exceptional offerings, including plants and garden-related items. A sampling of the plant offerings includes:

Snow Cloud maidenhair tree
(Ginkgo biloba ‘Snow Cloud’) 

The leaves of this slow-growing ginkgo emerge blonde with white-tipped edges, gradually becoming bright green with white streaking. It has brilliant gold fall foliage.

 Ginkgo biloba 'Snow Cloud'.

With its unusual variegated leaves, Ginkgo biloba ‘Snow Cloud’ makes a wonderful specimen tree. Photo © Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery

Inquinans geranium
(Pelargonium inquinans)

This may look like any geranium, but it comes from Monticello, and is a cutting of a species plant that is one of the parents of our modern bedding geraniums.

 Pelargonium inquinans.

Pelargonium inquinans is grown from a species geranium cultivated at Monticello. Photo by Magnus Manske (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cutleaf Japanese emperor oak
(Quercus dentata ‘Pinnatifida’)

This wonderful tree comes from our friends at Fiore nursery. Its grayish-green leaves are deeply bisected, resulting in a unique, feathery texture.

 Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'.

The delicately-lobed cutleaf Japanese emperor oak, Quercus dentata ‘Pinnatifida’ is a beautiful, smaller ornamental oak, growing only to about 15 feet tall. Photo via JC Raulston Arboretum

Peony collection
(Paeonia sp.)

A peony collection from Cornell Plantations includes Paeonia ‘Myrtle Gentry’—resembling a rose in both form and fragrance—in shades of pink and salmon aging to white.

 Paeonia 'Myrtle Gentry'.

Paeonia ‘Myrtle Gentry’ will be available as part of this rare peony collection. Photo © 2007 by Dr. Wilhelm de Wilde, Mariehamn, Aland-Islands

Floribunda is a collection of non-plant items for plant lovers who may have no more room in their garden and those who love them. Most of these treasures are garden-related or themed. 

Highlights include:

  • A pontoon boat ride at sunset led by Bob Kirschner on the lakes of the Chicago Botanic Garden. (Includes refreshments.)
  • An orchid photograph by Anne Belmont, similar to those that graced the walls of Krehbiel Gallery during the Orchid Show.
  • An exceptional opportunity for a foursome to play golf at the Dunes Club in New Buffalo, Michigan.
  • Lessons in flower arrangement and container gardening, taught by talented members of the Woman’s Board.

The Woman’s Board invites you to attend this event and partner with us in supporting fellowships for the plant biology and conservation graduate program—a collaboration between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University. Reservations are limited. For tickets and information, call (847) 835-6833.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Warbler Heaven

Garden Blog - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 8:30am

A lot of birds migrate through the area this time of year, but I have to say warblers are my favorites. The other day, when the rain cleared and the sun came out, I found myself in warbler heaven!

 Yellow-rumped warbler.

Yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) are some of the most common warblers to be seen at the Garden. You can spot them almost anywhere! Photo © Carol Freeman

As soon as I walked out of the Visitor Center, I saw movement in the trees next to the bridge: my first warbler of the day—a prothonotary! (Protonotaria citrea)—an uncommon warbler, and the first time I’ve ever seen one at the Chicago Botanic Garden! Next stop: the top of the Waterfall Garden. The birds were hopping! Here I added eight more warbler species, including yellow-rumped, palm, black-and-white, Cape May, American redstart, Wilson’s, magnolia, and yellow warblers! Wow! So much fun! I also saw red-eyed and warbling vireos, a scarlet tanager, and a ruby-crowned kinglet, to name a few.

 Red-eyed vireo.

Another lovely migrant: the red-eyed vireo ( Vireo olivaceus) Photo © Carol Freeman

 Black-and-white warbler.

The black-and-white warblers (Mniotilta varia) can be seen hopping along branches looking for insects. Photo © Carol Freeman

After delighting in the abundance of birds for a few hours, I slowly made my way back to my car, choosing to walk under the amazing flowering crabapple trees. Just at the end of the line of trees I heard what I thought was another warbler. I couldn’t quite see what it was. I tried calling it out, and to my delight, out popped the most beautiful male northern parula warbler (Setophaga americana). He hopped right onto a flower-filled branch and seemed to pose while I got some photos. I’ve only seen a parula a couple of times before, and never this close, and never on such a pretty perch. A perfect way to end my journey in warbler heaven.

 Northern parula warbler.

I could hardly believe my eyes when this beauty popped up in the flowering crabapple tree! Northern parula warbler (Setophaga americana) photo © Carol Freeman

While I can’t promise you will see this many warblers in a day, there is always something to see, and the fun part for me is never knowing just what might show up. Last week it was a white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus). This week, warblers. Next week, who knows? All I do know is I’ll be out there to see what wonders there are to discover and then I’ll be in heaven again.

 Palm warbler.

Palm warblers (Setophaga palmarum) can easily be identified by their tail pumping and rusty crown. Photo © Carol Freeman

 White-eyed vireo.

An uncommon visitor! I was surprised to find this white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus) in a tree in a parking lot. Photo © Carol Freeman

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Language of Flowers

Garden Blog - Sun, 05/17/2015 - 8:48am

Today we text hearts. But in Victorian times, flowers acted as the instant messaging and emojis of the day.

In nineteenth-century Europe (and eventually in America), communication by flower became all the rage. A language of flowers emerged. Books appeared that set the standard for flower meanings and guided the sender and the recipient in their floral dialogue. Victorians turned the trend into an art form; a properly arranged bouquet could convey quite a complex message.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Now an amazing collection of books about the subject, including many entitled The Language of Flowers, has been donated to the Lenhardt Library. The gift of James Moretz, the retired director of the American Floral Art School in Chicago, the collection includes more than 400 volumes from his extensive personal library on floral design. Moretz taught the floral arts for 45 years, traveled the world in pursuit of the history and knowledge of flowers, and authored several books on the topic. His bequest gives the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library one of the Midwest’s best collections of literature on the language of flowers.

As even these few photos show, there are books filled with intricate illustrations, books specific to one flower, handpainted books, pocket-sized books, and dictionaries. The oldest volume dates to 1810. Two are covered in pink paper—seldom seen 200 years ago, but quite subject-appropriate. Many books are charmingly small—the better to fit, it was thought, in a woman’s hands.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

 Carnation Fascination bookcover.

Carnations held several meanings: a solid color said yes, a striped flower said no, red meant admiration, while yellow meant disappointment.

The language of flowers translated well: there are books in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese…and English. Some 240 of the volumes are quite rare—those will, of course, be added to the library’s Rare Book Collection. (Fear not, you can peruse them by appointment.) The remainder will be catalogued and added to the library shelves during the course of the year. Are you a Garden member? You’ll be able to check them out.

 The tiny books of of The Language of Flowers.

Tiny books were sized for women’s hands—and to slip into pockets.

 Cupid's Almanac and Guide to Hearticulture bookcover.

This pocket-sized Victorian reference could come in handy when courting.

Librarians aren’t often at a loss for words, yet when I asked Lenhardt Library director Leora Siegel about the importance of the donation, she paused for a very long moment before responding. Clearly, her answer would have weight.

“It is the single most outstanding donation in my tenure as director,” she replied.

Pink rose illustrationAnd so to Mr. Moretz, one last word of thanks:

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Getting my feet wet in Northeast Oregon

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 2:32pm

Hello!

Over three weeks ago I packed up my bags and headed for Northeastern Oregon to the little town of Baker City. While I left the coast behind for the first time ever, I was welcomed by the awe-inspiring mountain ranges of the Wallowas and Elkhorns. The wilderness that surrounds this area beckons any outdoorsy folk to strap on the boots and explore! I am already planning my adventure on the Elkhorn Crest Trail. As it is also my first time in lovely Oregon, I plan to pack in as many ventures across the state. Ideas are welcomed!

Elkhorns

view of the Elkhorns from our lab

I came to work at the Baker BLM field office with the hydrology tech, monitoring the water quality streams and rivers as well as conducting riparian surveys. My first few days were full of the general orientation: defensive driving, computer access training, rig maintenance, calibration of equipment and of course a soldering lesson. One of the skills I am excited to gain from this job is MacGyver-like problem solving, be it fixing a malfunctioning probe in the field or soldering on wires to ensure proper connection for a flow meter.  As any field scientist knows, you got be prepared for the unexpected from missing sample bottles to finicky Trimbles that just don’t feel like working today, thank you very much.

We kicked off our field season on day two. Our main focus for now is measuring physical parameters, nutrient levels and flow at sites throughout the Powder River Basin. This is part of an ongoing project examining the nutrient export quantities from tributaries in the watershed, looking at long-term trends from 2003 to 2016. We often work in the lower elevations amongst the familiar (I hail from the coastal scrub of San Diego) sagebrush, which is currently bristling with lupine, arrow leaf balsamroot and an ever growing plethora of other wildflowers I’m only beginning to learn. Plant geeks, I’m a novice with the species so bear with me. At some of our sites, we enjoy the shade of cottonwood groves and the sweet smell of wild mint with the lovely sound of our (hopefully) burbling brook. In these idyllic settings, I’m learning how to examine stream systems such as appropriate sites to measure flow to identifying potential concerns such as elevated temperature, abnormal algal growth, or channel shifts. I am excited to gain a better understanding of the geomorphology of river systems.

I’m looking forward to our riparian surveys where we shall identify the surrounding plant community, as well as look more in depth at changes in the environment. I hope to learn not only the techniques and protocols of stream monitoring, but also riparian plant species as well as different stream classifications. I plan to learn more about the rest of the river community with our fish and wildlife biologists. With my college days behind me, I find myself itching for the chance to learn. Here’s to geeking out!

The pictures below are from my favorite site that is in the higher elevations where the greenery shocks my dry California eyes from the coniferous forest to aspens alight with vibrant new leaves. Currently our resource area also faces drought conditions, but as my mentor points out, the season can always change. Working on my rain dance!

Sisley Creek

Sisley Creek

Sisley Creek

Cheers,

Lara Jansen

BLM, Baker Field Office

will have more field pictures to come.

Join the food revolution on World Environment Day

Garden Blog - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 12:39pm

Check out 20 food-waste-saving ideas here—and learn more on World Environment Day at the Garden, June 6.

 Food waste infographic.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Idaho, land of lava fields, cows, and magic!

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 11:41am

Hello, everyone!

I just moved from Gainesville, Florida 2 weeks ago to Twin Falls, Idaho to work at the BLM Shoshone field office. I studied political science and natural resource conservation with a minor in sustainability at the University of Florida. Moving away from my family and friends was bittersweet. I spent my entire life in Florida (save for a few pretty forgettable years in Alaska from ages 0-3). But since my first day of work with the BLM I felt very welcomed by the staff and excited to learn everything I can about this mysterious state.

During my first weekend in Twin, my roommate and fellow CBG-er Carla and I visited Shoshone Falls, Snake River, and Dierke Lake. I was surrounded by beaches, lakes, and even the world’s highest concentration of springs in Gainesville, but we definitely don’t have the jaw-dropping cliffs, mountains, and waterfalls we found here. I was deeply impressed by the geological and aquatic beauty of these areas just 15 minutes away from our apartment.

Snake River & Canyon

Shoshone Falls

 

On our first day of work,  our mentor Joanna introduced us to everyone in the office and then we headed out to do a training session for HAF (Habitat Assessment Framework) monitoring. It was a great way to get to know everyone and get an idea of the ecology of the area. I learned a few plants and we even spotted a moose on the other side of the valley. My first impressions of the area were of how blue the sky was, the smell of sagebrush, how dry the air was, and… wait where’s the water? The allotment was called Poison Creek but I soon found out Idaho is in the midst of a 4-year drought. However, Magic Valley (the name of our region) was named after the ‘magic’ that is the construction of the series of dams and canals that profoundly improved irrigation and agriculture in the early 1900s in a previously desolate and uninhabitable area. The creation of giant reservoirs of water in a desert in the early 20th century would seem magical to me, too.

HAF Monitoring Training

I heard about more unique and unexpected landmarks in Idaho such as Craters of the Moon National Preserve and Monument, which the BLM co-manages with the NPS. President Coolidge himself described the area as “unusual and weird” and the Apollo 14 astronauts trained there to prepare for the moon landing. And, I was excited about the prospect of getting some training in raptor and bat monitoring. That will have to wait until the bulk of our range land monitoring is done and bat season starts, but! we did get to visit and do some caving at Craters of the Moon and it was pretty awesome:

Dwarf Buckwheat

And of course, plant identification! Dendrology was one of my favorite (and one of the most difficult) classes I took as an undergrad. We had to learn 130 species of plants, lots of different varieties of pines and oaks, which made transitioning to sagebrush grasslands a little difficult. I knew a handful of southeastern grasses and switching over from identifying mostly trees and large shrubs to shriveled up remnants of forbs the size of a pinhead and a variety of grasses took some getting use to. Luckily we got plenty of practice in the field and jumped right into long-term trend monitoring using photo plots and line transects. Just two weeks in and we’ve learned to identify ~30 species. What was most surprising about the fieldwork was how much driving was spent getting to different BLM allotments. The prospect of getting very lost is daunting but the trade off for the scope of ecological diversity we get to experience is more than worth it. Also, the weather has been great so far. Highs in the mid 70s and lows in the 40s, that’s fall weather for Florida (or winter if you’re in south Florida)! It won’t last, but I could definitely get use to it. Also I have seen more cows here than I have ever seen in my life. It’s great.

Racing a thunderstorm to finish our trend plots

Clasping pepperweed, my new favorite ‘introduced’ plant! Lepidium perfoliatum

 

Elk skull

Your friendly neighborhood Shoshone horses

 

22-degree rainbow halo (it’s a thing)

Thanks for reading! Shorter and more botanically inclined posts to come.

Diana Gu

BLM, Shoshone Field Office.

Speaking Science: Bringing Plant-Based Research to All Ages

Plant Science and Conservation - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 9:30am

Do you ever feel like trying to understand plant science research can be as daunting as deciphering a passage written in a foreign language?

As a budding plant scientist in the joint Chicago Botanic Garden/Northwestern University Ph.D. program, I find it exciting to pick through dense scientific text. Uncovering the meaning of a new acronym and learning new vocabulary can be thrilling, especially when decoding something new.

 Kelly Ksiazek speaking in Sydney, Australia.

This past fall I spoke to a group of green infrastructure professionals in Sydney about the importance of urban biodiversity.

But the commonly used styles in scientific writing and presentation packed with language used to convey big topics in small spaces can be really off-putting to an audience of non-scientists. Many of us can conjure up a memory of a professor or teacher who seemed to like their subject matter but couldn’t convey the material in an interesting way. All of a sudden, science became boring.

Rather than struggling to learn this “foreign language,” many folks stop paying attention. Lack of scientific literacy, especially as it applies to plants, is a pity. Plants are all around us! They are so valuable to the entire planet. The very applicable field of botany shouldn’t be something that’s only discussed and understood in laboratories or scientific conferences—it should be for everyone.

This idea inspires me to try and bring my current botany research to a wide variety of people.

 Ksiazek takes her presentation on the road to Pittsburgh.

I’ve had the chance to speak with many visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden about my research, and typically bring some of my research supplies, as seen here from a trip to Pittsburgh.

 A Book About Green Roofs.

Writing and publishing a children’s book helps bring my research findings to kids all over the world.

For example, I recently realized that there are very few resources available to teach young students about the habitat where I currently collect most of my data: green roofs. While some of the methods I use for data collection and analysis can be quite complex, the motivations behind my work and some of the findings can be broken down into some basic ideas, applicable to students of all ages. So a fellow botanist and I wrote and produced Growing Up in the City: A Book About Green Roofs.

Our children’s activity book teaches youngsters about some of our research findings. The book follows a pair of native bumblebees through a city, where they guide the reader through engaging activities about the structure, environmental benefits, and motivations for building green roofs. At the end, readers even have the opportunity to ask their own research question and carry out a green roof research project of their own.

Interested in your own copy of our book? More information and a free digital download of the book are available at greeningupthecity.com.

 Ksiazek presents her work to a girls' middle school.

Talking to 100-plus middle school girls about why it’s cool to be a botanist was a great experience!

The activity book is just one example of ways that plant scientists can engage with a broader audience and make their research findings more accessible. Some of the other activities that my colleagues here at the Chicago Botanic Garden and I have participated in include mentoring undergraduate and high school students, speaking to community organizations, creating lessons for schools and school groups, volunteering for summer programs, and maintaining a presence on the Internet through online mentoring, blogging, websites, and Twitter.

 Ksiazek and an undergraduate student identify green roof plants.

Teaching undergraduate students how to identify plants on green roofs is one way of passing on my research knowledge.

 Ksiazek discusses her research with a visitor to the PCSC.

My experiments on the green roof at the Plant Science Center are visible to everyone. Come take a look!

Here at the Garden, we scientists also have a unique variety of opportunities to share our science with the thousands of visitors who come to the beautiful Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. If you’ve never been to the Plant Science Center, you should definitely stop by the next time you’re at the Garden. You can see inside the laboratories where the other scientists and I collect some of our data. There are also a lot of interactive displays that aim to demystify plant science research and decode some of the “foreign language” that science speak can be. For a really interactive experience, come visit us on World Environment Day, Saturday, June 6, and talk to scientists directly. Bring your kids, bring your neighbors, and ask a botanist all those burning plant questions you have! We promise to only speak as much “science” as you want.

For more information about my research and science communication efforts, please visit my research blog, Kelly Ksiazek’s Botany in Action, and follow me on Twitter @GreenCityGal.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Speaking Science: Bringing Plant-Based Research to All Ages

Garden Blog - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 9:30am

Do you ever feel like trying to understand plant science research can be as daunting as deciphering a passage written in a foreign language?

As a budding plant scientist in the joint Chicago Botanic Garden/Northwestern University Ph.D. program, I find it exciting to pick through dense scientific text. Uncovering the meaning of a new acronym and learning new vocabulary can be thrilling, especially when decoding something new.

 Kelly Ksiazek speaking in Sydney, Australia.

This past fall I spoke to a group of green infrastructure professionals in Sydney about the importance of urban biodiversity.

But the commonly used styles in scientific writing and presentation packed with language used to convey big topics in small spaces can be really off-putting to an audience of non-scientists. Many of us can conjure up a memory of a professor or teacher who seemed to like their subject matter but couldn’t convey the material in an interesting way. All of a sudden, science became boring.

Rather than struggling to learn this “foreign language,” many folks stop paying attention. Lack of scientific literacy, especially as it applies to plants, is a pity. Plants are all around us! They are so valuable to the entire planet. The very applicable field of botany shouldn’t be something that’s only discussed and understood in laboratories or scientific conferences—it should be for everyone.

This idea inspires me to try and bring my current botany research to a wide variety of people.

 Ksiazek takes her presentation on the road to Pittsburgh.

I’ve had the chance to speak with many visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden about my research, and typically bring some of my research supplies, as seen here from a trip to Pittsburgh.

 A Book About Green Roofs.

Writing and publishing a children’s book helps bring my research findings to kids all over the world.

For example, I recently realized that there are very few resources available to teach young students about the habitat where I currently collect most of my data: green roofs. While some of the methods I use for data collection and analysis can be quite complex, the motivations behind my work and some of the findings can be broken down into some basic ideas, applicable to students of all ages. So a fellow botanist and I wrote and produced Growing Up in the City: A Book About Green Roofs.

Our children’s activity book teaches youngsters about some of our research findings. The book follows a pair of native bumblebees through a city, where they guide the reader through engaging activities about the structure, environmental benefits, and motivations for building green roofs. At the end, readers even have the opportunity to ask their own research question and carry out a green roof research project of their own.

Interested in your own copy of our book? More information and a free digital download of the book are available at greeningupthecity.com.

 Ksiazek presents her work to a girls' middle school.

Talking to 100-plus middle school girls about why it’s cool to be a botanist was a great experience!

The activity book is just one example of ways that plant scientists can engage with a broader audience and make their research findings more accessible. Some of the other activities that my colleagues here at the Chicago Botanic Garden and I have participated in include mentoring undergraduate and high school students, speaking to community organizations, creating lessons for schools and school groups, volunteering for summer programs, and maintaining a presence on the Internet through online mentoring, blogging, websites, and Twitter.

 Ksiazek and an undergraduate student identify green roof plants.

Teaching undergraduate students how to identify plants on green roofs is one way of passing on my research knowledge.

 Ksiazek discusses her research with a visitor to the PCSC.

My experiments on the green roof at the Plant Science Center are visible to everyone. Come take a look!

Here at the Garden, we scientists also have a unique variety of opportunities to share our science with the thousands of visitors who come to the beautiful Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. If you’ve never been to the Plant Science Center, you should definitely stop by the next time you’re at the Garden. You can see inside the laboratories where the other scientists and I collect some of our data. There are also a lot of interactive displays that aim to demystify plant science research and decode some of the “foreign language” that science speak can be. For a really interactive experience, come visit us on World Environment Day, Saturday, June 6, and talk to scientists directly. Bring your kids, bring your neighbors, and ask a botanist all those burning plant questions you have! We promise to only speak as much “science” as you want.

For more information about my research and science communication efforts, please visit my research blog, Kelly Ksiazek’s Botany in Action, and follow me on Twitter @GreenCityGal.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

For the Love of Trains

Garden Blog - Fri, 05/08/2015 - 8:55am

Once there was a boy who loved model trains. When the boy grew up, he became the chief engineer of train exhibitions at the Chicago Botanic Garden—and he still plays with trains. “I hardly get to play with my railroad at home because I get to play with this one,” said Dave Rodelius, in the tone of a man who can’t believe his good fortune.

 a steam engine!

Dave Rodelius shows off one of the stars of the Model Railroad Garden this spring: a steam engine!

This year marks Rodelius’s 15th season at the Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America, which opens Saturday, May 9, with a special treat. This season, the Model Railroad Garden will pay tribute to steam engines, in honor of the 125th anniversary of the Chicago Horticultural Society (the Society founded and manages the Chicago Botanic Garden). Models of historic steam engines will chug along 1,600 feet of track, representing the early days of the Society, when steam engines ran commuter coaches along Chicago’s elevated tracks and hauled freight over long distances.

Q. Dave, you have the greatest job title ever! How did you get this job?

A. I was retired, and my wife saw a little blurb in the newspaper that the Chicago Botanic Garden needed tram drivers. So I became a tram driver. One day, I saw that they had torn things up right in the middle of the Garden. I said, “What the Sam Hill are they doing here?” That’s how I found out there was going to be a model railroad out there. Then one of the secretaries, who worked for a vice president, found out that I had been into model railroads all my life. So one day, the vice president of visitor operations at the time called me into her office and asked if I would be interested in managing the railroad. I didn’t get a chance to ask her how much I’d have to pay.

 Visitors of all ages enjoy the Model Railroad Garden.

Visitors of all ages enjoy the Model Railroad Garden.

Q. But that was back in 2000—and the railroad exhibition was going to be a five-month exhibition.

A. We had more than 100,000 people come through in five months. The little path out there was constantly packed with people. One thing led to another. In our first year, the trains didn’t make any sounds—no choo-choos or whistles or anything, so we added sound cars. Gradually, the railroad became so darn popular that it became a permanent exhibition.

Q. So you became interested in trains as a kid?

A. When I was 6 or 7, my dad bought me a Lionel train. That train would go around the Christmas tree and in the bedroom. Now I have a model railroad layout of Solothurn, Switzerland, where my daughter got married; it’s in my basement. It has Swiss trains and a ski lift.

Q. It sounds like you were a busy kid.

A. My family had 2.5 acres that we farmed in World War II for vegetables. I sold vegetables in the neighborhood in my little wagon. Then I was in the Boy Scouts and became an Eagle Scout in 1948….I grew up in Evanston and still live in Evanston, and I have lunch with some sixth-grade classmates once a month.

Q. And you’ve had some other interesting jobs before you started running the railroad.

A. I received a bachelor’s degree in animal science at the University of Illinois. I wanted to raise cattle. In college, I was an intern at a purebred cattle farm. The most fascinating thing I did was to help birth calves. You get to see the little rascals trying to get up and stumble around….Eventually, I was drafted into the U.S. Army engineer corps. Two years later, I was discharged and became a manager at a livestock feed manufacturing company. Then my dad bought a photography studio in 1961, and I became a photographer.

Q. What keeps you motivated after all these years?

A. My passion for the railroad is what drives me—I absolutely love this railroad. The same passion goes for everyone. We have 18 engineers and 75 to 80 volunteers. They get along so darn well that I can’t believe it. You cannot keep these people away; they are just so dedicated. They whole thing has kept me young. I get up and down on my hands and knees all the time. I should write to the AARP—if you want to hear about a good job to have, we at the Garden have it.

 Model Railroad Garden volunteers.

Left to right: Model Railroad Garden volunteer engineers Ken Press and Mark Rosenblum with George Knuth, staff engineer

Q. What do you do in your spare time?

A. I do some gardening, and some fishing and boating. My wife and I have three daughters and three grandkids. My wife is spectacular, one of the greatest people I’ve ever met.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

World Bonsai Day

Garden Blog - Wed, 05/06/2015 - 10:00am

Join us for a new program at the Chicago Botanic Garden on Saturday, May 9: World Bonsai Day! 

Observed on the second Saturday in May, this day was established by the World Bonsai Friendship Federation (WBFF) in 2010 to honor WBFF founder and bonsai master Saburo Kato’s contributions to the world of bonsai, and to bring all bonsai enthusiasts together for a day to promote bonsai and friendship throughout the world.

 The late bonsai master Saburo Kato.

The late bonsai master Saburo Kato

The oldest son of bonsai master Tomekichi Kato, Saburo Kato followed in his father’s footsteps cultivating bonsai, and at his father’s death, became the third-generation owner of Mansei-en Bonsai Garden in Japan, one of the most famous bonsai nurseries in the world. As an author, teacher, and poet, Kato inspired countless people throughout the world to learn the art of bonsai cultivation. He believed so strongly that bonsai could bring peace throughout the world that he founded the WBFF.

In 2014, the following organizations celebrated World Bonsai Day: National Bonsai & Penjing Museum (at the United States National Arboretum), the North Carolina Arboretum, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, the Pacific Bonsai Museum, and Rosade Bonsai Studio.

 Jack Sustic (left), curator, National Bonsai & Penjing Museum (at the United States National Arboretum), with a volunteer, World Bonsai Day 2014

Jack Sustic (left), curator, National Bonsai & Penjing Museum (at the United States National Arboretum), with a volunteer, World Bonsai Day 2014

 Curator Chris Baker of the Chicago Botanic Garden trims a bonsai, under the watchful eyes of Jack Sustic (far left) and bonsai master Harry Hirao (seated).

Curator Chris Baker of the Chicago Botanic Garden trims a bonsai, under the watchful eyes of Jack Sustic (far left) and bonsai master Harry Hirao (seated).

Join me, curator Chris Baker, and some of our bonsai volunteers in the activities below on World Bonsai Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The stages of growing bonsai will be featured with specific examples. Explore the tools, pots, wire, etc., used to practice bonsai, and get information on upcoming bonsai classes.

Program Schedule:

  • 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Demonstration: Bonsai Tree Styling
    I will demonstrate how major tree shaping is done, with a tree being formed into a bonsai.
  • 1 p.m.: Spring Garden Walk: Bonsai Collection Highlights
    During the scheduled Spring Garden Walk, I’ll be showcasing selections from the Garden’s Bonsai Collection and pointing out special spring highlights. (Note: due to the recent warm weather, the Korean lilac, wisteria, crabapple, or azalea bonsai may be in bloom.)
  • 1 to 4 p.m.: Demonstration: Bonsai Landscape Planting
    I will demonstrate how I create a “landscape planting” with multiple bonsai on a rock slab.

Come back to the Garden May 16 – 17 for the Midwest Bonsai Society Spring Show & Sale.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Leave Room for Blooms

Garden Blog - Tue, 05/05/2015 - 3:28pm

Have you eaten a flower today?

Americans are getting comfortable with the idea of edible flowers. But how—aside from sugar-candied flowers for bakers—do you use them?

We asked horticulturist Nancy Clifton, who brought five really fresh ideas to the table.

 flavorful greens finished with blue flower petals.

Today’s blue plate special: flavorful greens finished with blue flower petals.

1. A modern salad: greens + color

Gone are the days of a plain side salad on a white plate: today, even a tiny saladette is vibrant with color and flavors. Start with a blue (or green) plate. Add a piquant mix of salad greens (and reds), including baby chards and chois, and leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro. Then finish with flower petals: snip blue bachelor button petals to highlight that plate, dot white sweet alyssum among the greens, and trade the traditional sprig of parsley for blooming sage and rosemary.

 Nasturtium or chive flowers make a lovely pink vinegar. For a fruitier flavor, pour white vinegar over one cup of gently washed fresh raspberries.

Nasturtium or chive flowers make a lovely pink vinegar. For a fruitier flavor, pour white vinegar over one cup of gently washed fresh raspberries.

2. Flowers are the new dressing

You’ll need a dressing for that salad above: Nancy’s flower-based vinegar recipe couldn’t be easier:

  1. Wash one cup of nasturtium or chive flowers and let dry.
  2. Gently add flowers to a sterile quart jar. Pour in plain white or white wine vinegar to cover.
  3. Let steep for two weeks in a cool, dark spot.
  4. Strain vinegar into a fresh jar to use. Note how flowers have lost their color to the vinegar.

Such beautiful pink color! Sprinkle as is onto leafy greens, or mix with oil and season to taste.

 a red/white/blue salad for the Fourth of July!

Blue bachelor buttons, red cranberries, and white apples: a red/white/blue salad for the Fourth of July!

3. Hello, Farro!

Also called wheatberry, farro makes a delicious base for a “superfood” salad chock full of fruits and nuts and topped with flowers. Nancy notes that all amounts can be adjusted to your preference.

To begin, cook one cup of farro according to directions (Nancy suggests substituting apple cider vinegar for part of the cooking liquid). While the farro is cooling (about 3 cups cooked), make the dressing:

  1. Toast ½ cup pecans in an oven or fry pan until fragrant. Set aside to cool, then chop.
  2. Sauté one small (or ½ large), chopped red or yellow onion in olive oil until translucent.
  3. Add one medium, unpeeled, chopped Granny Smith or gala apple to pan. Continue to sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in fresh thyme (leaves of 2 sprigs) and ½ cup dried cranberries.
  5. Dress with a mix of 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, seasoned to taste.
  6. Combine farro with the sautéed mix.
  7. Snip bachelor button or calendula petals and sprinkle over the top.
 Summer weddings, showers, and graduations call for a flower-spiked punch.

Summer weddings, showers, and graduations call for a flower-spiked punch.

 Nancy likes the look of fresh ginger ale studded with a flower that floats.

Nancy likes the look of fresh ginger ale studded with a flower that floats.

4. Flower floats

In the 1950s and ’60s, no punch bowl was presented without an ice ring. Nancy charmingly updates the idea for a homemade lemonade or champagne brunch punch, using fresh flowers. Try pansies or violets, or a mix of flowers and fruits, such as calendula petals with strawberries or bachelor buttons with blueberries.

A crazy good ice tip: to make clear ice cubes (rather than cloudy) or ice rings, use distilled water or filtered bottled water—or boil and cool the water twice before adding to ice mold or trays.

  1. Line a bundt pan or jello mold ring with gently washed and dried pansies.
  2. Gently fill with water. The pansies will float to the top.
  3. Freeze.
  4. When ready to use, dip the mold into a larger bowl holding an inch or two of hot water, which will loosen the ice ring.
  5. Invert and set ice ring into punch bowl. (Right side up or upside down? Either works.) Pour in punch or beverage of choice.

Floral ice cubes are great for summer parties, too: adjust the above directions for your ice cube trays.

 How do they taste? “Like mushrooms,” Nancy says. Dandelions are great as a conversation-sparking finger food!

How do they taste? “Like mushrooms,” Nancy says. Dandelions are great as a conversation-sparking finger food!

5. Deep-fried dandelions

We didn’t believe it, either, but Nancy’s how-to-fry-a-dandelion demo changed our minds forever about everyone’s formerly least-favorite flower.

  1. Pick freshly-bloomed dandelions (just the blossom, no stem) from a trusted, chemical-free site.
  2. Gently wash the blossoms. While moist, lightly flour each flower (shake with ½ cup seasoned flour in a zip-lock bag).
  3. Heat ¼-inch of olive oil in a small fry pan.
  4. Gently fry flowers, turning delicately, until golden brown.
  5. Drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Fry fresh sage leaves alongside dandelions, then crumble both on salads.

Next time you’re out at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, check out the spring edible flower bed in the Small Space area, where sweet alyssum, calendula, and dianthus are set off by towers of climbing peas for pea shoots—the new foodie rage!

Use common sense before eating flowers.

Know your flowers! Grow your own chemical-free flowers; don’t use unfamiliar flowers or those from non-organic sources. Our Plant Information staff has a good write-up about the difference between edible/inedible, plus a list of flower suggestions. More questions about what’s edible and what’s not? Call our Plant Information Service at (847) 835-0972.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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