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Pioneering Woodland Restoration

Plant Science and Conservation - Sat, 05/10/2014 - 8:30am

Tranquil, peaceful, and serene are words often associated with the McDonald Woods, which wrap around the northeastern edge of the Chicago Botanic Garden. But to Jim Steffen, senior ecologist at the Garden, the oak woodland is a bustling center for natural processes and species, and may hold answers to unsolved scientific questions.

 Multi-flowered milkweed blooms.

Purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) blooms in the McDonald Woods.

“Nothing out there exists by itself. It’s all a network,” said Steffen. Since he arrived at the Garden 25 years ago, he has used his powers of observation to document, study, and breathe life into the systems that sustain a healthy woodland.

In the late 1800s, most area native oaks were cleared for settlement, leaving behind a fragmented and altered landscape. Invasive plants, including buckthorn and nonnative critters, such as all of our present-day earthworms, moved in. The climate began to change. While many may have thrown up their hands and walked away from this complex puzzle, Steffen saw a treasure.

Taking Flight

At age 15, he began to explore the natural world in earnest and to grow the insight that guides him today. After taking a course in his community, he was federally licensed to band birds for research, a pursuit he followed for another 40 years. As he searched for hawks, owls, and other birds of prey, Steffen couldn’t help but notice the activity beneath his feet. Among the fallen leaves were scuttling rodents, insects, and blooming plants. He realized their presence was integral to the entire community of life in the woods.

 A clump of blooming sedge grass.

Carex bromoides is one of many sedge plants essential to the woodland ecosystem.

“I started getting more into how those things are related rather than just narrowly focusing on the birds or the plants,” he said.

Steffen developed a broad ecological background as he pursued his education and worked toward a career in conservation science. He was hired to manage 11 acres of woods alongside a nature trail at the Garden. Now, that management responsibility includes more than 100 acres.

Master Plan

Although he does not expect to recreate the exact natural community of the past, Steffen does aim to grow an oak woodland of today. “My goal is to increase the native species diversity and improve the ecological functioning that is going on in the Woods,” he said.

Early in his career, he successfully advocated to expand the managed area to include adjacent acres. His management activities and detailed inventory work has grown the number of species there from 223 to 405. Of those species, 345 are native to the region.

 The woods in winter, showing both cleared, walkable woods and unpassable buckthorn-infested area.

Invasive buckthorn plants are interspersed among the trees on the right, while they have been removed on the left.

The leaf canopy of the second-growth woodland was nearly 100 percent sealed when he arrived. It is now more open, allowing sunlight to punctuate the ground—encouraging the reproduction of oak species and promoting the flowering and seed-set of the native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers. The rewards of his work? Less carbon being released from the soil, improved water retention and nutrient cycling, and a place to bolster native species of plants and animals.

 Jim Steffen in full protective gear including helmet and goggles, up in a tree with a chainsaw.

Jim Steffen begins to remove an ash tree infested with the invasive emerald ash borer insect.

Each season brings new challenges. This winter, Steffen, his crew, and hired contractors carefully removed nearly 600 ash trees killed by emerald ash borers, cleared three acres of mature buckthorn, and conducted a six- to seven-acre controlled burn.

“It’s a difficult thing to do,” he said of oak woodland management. Steffen is grateful for each helping hand. “I’d say I’d be about ten years behind if it hadn’t been for my dedicated volunteers who help with the physically demanding work.”

Springing Into Action

This spring, Steffen and his team will begin to collect seed from more than 120 native plants they nurture in the Garden nursery and from dozens more in the woodland.

The process continues through November. It includes plants like the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), which was once common in Glencoe’s natural areas.

Native woodland plants are grown for seed in the Garden nursery.

Native woodland plants are grown for seed in the Garden nursery.

Berries are collected for seeding.

Berries are collected for seeding.

Steffen also collects seed from external natural areas, bringing new genetic diversity into the Woods to strengthen existing plant populations. (This is an increasingly challenging task, as 50 percent of his collection sites has been lost.) Collected seeds are scattered in prepared areas of McDonald Woods, either in the spring or fall, or sometimes in the middle of winter on top of the snow.

Groundwork

“Everything you see growing, walking, or flying in the woodland is just 10 percent of the picture. In any native ecosystem, probably 90 percent of the diversity is at and below the soil surface,” he said. An entire network of plants and other living organisms exist and interact there, helping to sustain what grows above them. Oak trees and most other native plants rely on entrenched fungi, for example, to deliver nutrients and water or protect them from herbivores and disease.

 Closeup of a tiny brown spider clinging to the back side of a leaf.

This tiny Pisaurina spider helps support the woodland ecosystem.

Microarthropods living in the leaf litter and soil, such as tiny springtails and mites, and larger organisms including spiders, also play important roles. Together with a volunteer, Steffen has dedicated 14 years of work to better understanding those interactions. They have found several species never found before in Illinois and some that even appear to be new to science. “We are still identifying some of the things we collected ten years ago,” Steffen said. And similar, rarely studied subcommunities exist higher up in the trees. “That’s another hint as to how complex the system is and how much we don’t know about it,” he added.

Some things are clear. A pioneer of oak woodland restoration, Steffen was among the first to notice that the natural layer of decomposing oak leaves and plant material was vanishing from the ground in the McDonald Woods and most other woodlands in the region. He attributes the effect to higher levels of nitrogen from the decomposing leaves of nonnative plants, and the presence of exotic, invasive earthworms. “Because so many organisms live in that layer and depend on it for survival, they are disappearing,” he cautioned.

But first, it is time to take in the rewards of winter. May is peak season for migrating birds in the Woods, including warblers and flycatchers. Sedges will bloom, along with spring ephemerals such as trillium.

 A spare woods has dappled sunlight throughout.

The lush woodland landscape is healthy today.

Activity is everywhere, and it is a welcome sign of progress for Steffen. “It’s much healthier now than it was when I started,” he said. “All this diversity is able to function more easily now.”

The McDonald Woods are also an educational resource. Steffen will lead a rare off-trail hike there this year, and teach classes in bird watching and sedges through the Garden’s Adult Education programs.

Learn more about Jim Steffen and watch a video about his work.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Undercover Science

Garden Blog - Sat, 05/10/2014 - 8:30am

Tranquil, peaceful, and serene are words often associated with the McDonald Woods, which wrap around the northeastern edge of the Chicago Botanic Garden. But to Jim Steffen, senior ecologist at the Garden, the oak woodland is a bustling center for natural processes and species, and may hold answers to unsolved scientific questions.

 Multi-flowered milkweed blooms.

Purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) blooms in the McDonald Woods.

“Nothing out there exists by itself. It’s all a network,” said Steffen. Since he arrived at the Garden 25 years ago, he has used his powers of observation to document, study, and breathe life into the systems that sustain a healthy woodland.

In the late 1800s, most area native oaks were cleared for settlement, leaving behind a fragmented and altered landscape. Invasive plants, including buckthorn and nonnative critters, such as all of our present-day earthworms, moved in. The climate began to change. While many may have thrown up their hands and walked away from this complex puzzle, Steffen saw a treasure.

Taking Flight

At age 15, he began to explore the natural world in earnest and to grow the insight that guides him today. After taking a course in his community, he was federally licensed to band birds for research, a pursuit he followed for another 40 years. As he searched for hawks, owls, and other birds of prey, Steffen couldn’t help but notice the activity beneath his feet. Among the fallen leaves were scuttling rodents, insects, and blooming plants. He realized their presence was integral to the entire community of life in the woods.

 A clump of blooming sedge grass.

Carex bromoides is one of many sedge plants essential to the woodland ecosystem.

“I started getting more into how those things are related rather than just narrowly focusing on the birds or the plants,” he said.

Steffen developed a broad ecological background as he pursued his education and worked toward a career in conservation science. He was hired to manage 11 acres of woods alongside a nature trail at the Garden. Now, that management responsibility includes more than 100 acres.

Master Plan

Although he does not expect to recreate the exact natural community of the past, Steffen does aim to grow an oak woodland of today. “My goal is to increase the native species diversity and improve the ecological functioning that is going on in the Woods,” he said.

Early in his career, he successfully advocated to expand the managed area to include adjacent acres. His management activities and detailed inventory work has grown the number of species there from 223 to 405. Of those species, 345 are native to the region.

 The woods in winter, showing both cleared, walkable woods and unpassable buckthorn-infested area.

Invasive buckthorn plants are interspersed among the trees on the right, while they have been removed on the left.

The leaf canopy of the second-growth woodland was nearly 100 percent sealed when he arrived. It is now more open, allowing sunlight to punctuate the ground—encouraging the reproduction of oak species and promoting the flowering and seed-set of the native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers. The rewards of his work? Less carbon being released from the soil, improved water retention and nutrient cycling, and a place to bolster native species of plants and animals.

 Jim Steffen in full protective gear including helmet and goggles, up in a tree with a chainsaw.

Jim Steffen begins to remove an ash tree infested with the invasive emerald ash borer insect.

Each season brings new challenges. This winter, Steffen, his crew, and hired contractors carefully removed nearly 600 ash trees killed by emerald ash borers, cleared three acres of mature buckthorn, and conducted a six- to seven-acre controlled burn.

“It’s a difficult thing to do,” he said of oak woodland management. Steffen is grateful for each helping hand. “I’d say I’d be about ten years behind if it hadn’t been for my dedicated volunteers who help with the physically demanding work.”

Springing Into Action

This spring, Steffen and his team will begin to collect seed from more than 120 native plants they nurture in the Garden nursery and from dozens more in the woodland.

The process continues through November. It includes plants like the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), which was once common in Glencoe’s natural areas.

Native woodland plants are grown for seed in the Garden nursery.

Native woodland plants are grown for seed in the Garden nursery.

Berries are collected for seeding.

Berries are collected for seeding.

Steffen also collects seed from external natural areas, bringing new genetic diversity into the Woods to strengthen existing plant populations. (This is an increasingly challenging task, as 50 percent of his collection sites has been lost.) Collected seeds are scattered in prepared areas of McDonald Woods, either in the spring or fall, or sometimes in the middle of winter on top of the snow.

Groundwork

“Everything you see growing, walking, or flying in the woodland is just 10 percent of the picture. In any native ecosystem, probably 90 percent of the diversity is at and below the soil surface,” he said. An entire network of plants and other living organisms exist and interact there, helping to sustain what grows above them. Oak trees and most other native plants rely on entrenched fungi, for example, to deliver nutrients and water or protect them from herbivores and disease.

 Closeup of a tiny brown spider clinging to the back side of a leaf.

This tiny Pisaurina spider helps support the woodland ecosystem.

Microarthropods living in the leaf litter and soil, such as tiny springtails and mites, and larger organisms including spiders, also play important roles. Together with a volunteer, Steffen has dedicated 14 years of work to better understanding those interactions. They have found several species never found before in Illinois and some that even appear to be new to science. “We are still identifying some of the things we collected ten years ago,” Steffen said. And similar, rarely studied subcommunities exist higher up in the trees. “That’s another hint as to how complex the system is and how much we don’t know about it,” he added.

Some things are clear. A pioneer of oak woodland restoration, Steffen was among the first to notice that the natural layer of decomposing oak leaves and plant material was vanishing from the ground in the McDonald Woods and most other woodlands in the region. He attributes the effect to higher levels of nitrogen from the decomposing leaves of nonnative plants, and the presence of exotic, invasive earthworms. “Because so many organisms live in that layer and depend on it for survival, they are disappearing,” he cautioned.

But first, it is time to take in the rewards of winter. May is peak season for migrating birds in the Woods, including warblers and flycatchers. Sedges will bloom, along with spring ephemerals such as trillium.

 A spare woods has dappled sunlight throughout.

The lush woodland landscape is healthy today.

Activity is everywhere, and it is a welcome sign of progress for Steffen. “It’s much healthier now than it was when I started,” he said. “All this diversity is able to function more easily now.”

The McDonald Woods are also an educational resource. Steffen will lead a rare off-trail hike there this year, and teach classes in bird watching and sedges through the Garden’s Adult Education programs.

Learn more about Jim Steffen and watch a video about his work.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Bird Report

Garden Blog - Fri, 05/09/2014 - 9:31am

There was a nice assortment of birds at the Garden this morning!

White-crowned sparrows were the most abundant, and could be seen in almost every location. I saw a few warblers scattered about, but none in any large numbers. My best spot for finding birds was along the water in the woodland walk area of the Sensory Garden. I saw black-and-white warblers, Nashville warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, gray catbirds, warbling vireos, palm warblers, flycatchers, and an ovenbird.

Southerly winds are expected for the next two days, which should bring in a LOT more birds. Now is the time to get out your binoculars and cameras and see some of these amazing birds for yourself! In a few short weeks they will be gone.

 Nashville warbler.

I saw a few Nashville warblers in the newly budding flowering trees. ©Carol Freeman

 

 Black-and-white warbler.

Black-and-white warblers can often be seen hopping up and down tree branches, looking for insects. ©Carol Freeman

 

 Gray catbird.

Gray catbird calls really do sound like cats! These robin-sized birds are fairly easy to find. ©Carol Freeman

 

 White-crowned sparrow.

I saw white-crowned sparrows in almost every location of the Garden. They like to forage in the leaf litter. ©Carol Freeman

 

 Least flycatcher.

This is most likely a least flycatcher. These guys can be hard to identify. They dart out, grab an insect, then land. ©Carol Freeman

 

 Ovenbird.

The ovenbird is a thrush-like warbler. They like to forage on the ground. I find them to be shy birds, often flying off as soon as they see me. ©Carol Freeman

 

 Warbling vireo.

These guys love to sing! You can often find warbling vireos by following their sweet song. ©Carol Freeman

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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

Garden Blog - 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!

Garden Blog - 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

Youth Education - 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

Bottle Cap Bouquets

Garden Blog - 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

Garden Blog - 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

Garden Blog - 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

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

Overcoming Winter Scorch

Garden Blog - 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

Garden Blog - 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

Garden Blog - 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

Youth Education - 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 gather 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 research-based science 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 postgraduate programs. Visit chicagobotanic.org/research/training to find information on these programs.

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

Conservation and Land Management (CLM) postgraduate interns for 2013 pose for a group photo at the Garden. Visit clminternship.org to find out more about this program.

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

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

Enriching the Lives of Future Plant Scientists

Garden Blog - 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

Garden Blog - 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

Garden Blog - 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

In Bloom in the Garden, April 01, 2014

What's in Bloom - Tue, 04/01/2014 - 9:40pm
The dramatic banana plant (Musa x paradisiaca), a hybrid of Musa acuminata x Musa balbisiana, is a member of the Musaceae family often incorrectly referred to as a tree. It is actually a large perennial herb, with succulent, very juicy stems that arise from a fleshy rhizome or corm and reach a height of 20 to 25 feet. The huge, smooth, paddle-shaped leaves can grow as large as 8 feet. They number from 4 to 15 and are arranged spirally around the stems. They unfurl upward and outward at the rate of one per week in warm conditions. The flowers first appear as large, long, oval, tapering, purple-clad buds, which are actually waxy, hood-like bracts that cover the flowers inside. As they open, slim, nectar-rich, tubular, toothed white flowers are clustered in whorled double rows along the floral stalk. Hardy in USDA Zones 9-11, the banana plant is an ornamental, tropical-looking houseplant that in the Chicago area should be grown indoors in organically rich, moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Edible bananas originated in the Indo-Malaysian region, reaching to northern Australia. They were known as early as the third century B.C.E. Commonly called edible banana or French plantain, the genus is named for Antonia Musa, a first-century B.C.E. Roman physician.
The canary tree mallow is a tropical tree that produces a canary-yellow terminal (at the tip of the branch) and axillary (formed in the leaf axils) corymbose inflorescence (flat-topped clusters of flowers) in winter in the Chicago area. With a native range from Mexico south to Colombia and Venezuela, the flowers can vary from pale yellow through gold, sometimes with a red blotch near the center of the flowers. Grow canary tree mallows like abutilons — in full sun, in well-drained soil, and cut back the 12-foot-tall plants to a more manageable size during the dormant nonflowering season, from late winter to early spring.
Genista canariensis, commonly known as Canary Island broom, is a shrubby member of the pea family (Fabaceae) endemic to the Canary Islands, off the northwest coast of Africa. For years it was taxonomically placed in the genus Cytisus. For two to three weeks in early spring, it is covered with masses of fragrant gold flowers. The delicate little leaves have three leaflets, resembling clover, to which it is related. It requires cool nights, under 60 degrees Fahrenheit to flower, but cannot withstand frosts. Despite its limited natural distribution, Genista canariensis has become widespread in natural communities in southeastern Europe, California, and Washington.
A striking member of the Bromelioideae family, the urn plant (Aechmea zebrina ‘Surprise’) is an exotic, stately plant with beautiful, spiky, bright orange flowers held upright above rosettes of wide, thick, strappy gray-green leaves with dark stripes on the underside and backward-curving spines along the edges. The stunning flowers can last for months, making this one of the most popular bromeliads for the home. It should be planted in fast-draining potting soil with its central cup filled with fresh water, where it will thrive in indirect to moderate light in temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Native to Mexico through South America, bromeliads are epiphytic (growing on trees) plants whose name comes from the Greek aichme (spear). They are technically air plants that use their roots for support.

Rollins Brings Grace to Garden Parties

Garden Blog - 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!

Garden Blog - 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

 

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