An All-Ages HOLIDAY Celebration
What a great family tradition! Wonderland Express appeals to everyone: kids love the trains (and the indoor snow), adults love the city sites and sights (and the indoor snow), and everybody loves the lights! It’s our eighth year for Wonderland Express, and we’re looking forward to seeing you there.
Anticipation builds quickly at the Lake Cook Road entrance as you catch sight of the trees twinkling with white lights. More than 750,000 light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs illuminate the trees on the path to Wonderland, including the 40-foot-tall concolor fir tree on the Esplanade. (The tree arrives by helicopter.) LED bulbs are small and energy-efficient, greatly reducing energy consumption (LEDs use 70 percent less energy) while looking ultra-bright and festive.
Lighting your way through the Heritage Garden are seven Cornelian cherry dogwood trees, lit in red and white, plus a regal concolor fir at the central fountain. Glowing holiday trees in handsome wood-box containers stand at the porticoes and bonsai courtyards as you reach the Regenstein Center. (Our prized bonsai collection overwinters in climate-controlled quarters at the south end of the Garden).
You’ll enter the Regenstein Center through the Greenhouse Galleries, where tree forms stuffed with bromeliads vie for attention with hundreds of poinsettias. Feel free to tour the three indoor greenhouses—tropical, semitropical, and arid—all heading toward peak bloom during Wonderland Express and the winter months.
Chief among the reasons to visit the greenhouses in winter: they’re always warm (not to mention fragrant and filled with unexpected flowers)! In the Tropical Greenhouse, eight slow-growing spindle palms, wrapped with white lights, line the entrance; a giant globe of white moth orchids draws eyes and camera flashes. The Semitropical Greenhouse is the place for poinsettias (including 4-foot globes suspended from the ceiling). Here, children like to search for the topiary animals (dragonfly! teddy bear! flamingo!) hiding among the greenery. Head into the Arid Greenhouse, too—lots of cactus species are in bloom (most for just one day) during Wonderland Express.
Kids are endlessly entertained by Wonderland’s 12 G-scale (garden-scale) trains, starting with the Wonderland Express in Joutras Gallery, which winds its way around a handmade gingerbread village with fantastic sugar-sculpted accessories. (Encourage the kids to look closely—what are those roofs/doors/chimneys made of?) Also in this gallery: Christmas trees decorated by local designers and incredible cookie swags on the walls, made by our own Nancy Clifton.
As you enter the main exhibition, trains pass high and low, appealing to railroad enthusiasts of all levels: for little ones, there’s a ladybug car popping in and out of her tunnel; more experienced rail fans will recognize the only-shown-at-Wonderland Express cars and engines from our 300-to-400-strong train car collection.
And, of course, there are the plants! Gardeners will be awed by the many dwarf and mini-conifers that landscape the “city.” Interspersed with poinsettias and other small-by-nature plants, the evergreen landscape is a tour de force of weeping, creeping, mounding shapes—all punctuated by snow falling silently from above.
Adults marvel like kids at the unbelievably detailed replicas of more than 80 of Chicago’s most famous buildings and landmarks. Handcrafted by railroad garden guru Paul Busse and his crew at Applied Imagination, the buildings are all constructed of natural materials: gourds, pine cones, bark, acorns, pods, seeds, grains, grasses, and other creatively-used bits of nature. All of your favorite Chicago sights are there: Frank Gehry’s band shell and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (the “Bean”) from Millennium Park…the South Shore’s Cultural Center and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House…Soldier Field and the Navy Pier ferris wheel…and the spectacle of Michigan Avenue, as exciting in miniature as it is life-size. And did we mention the waterfall that feeds the “river”?
In Krehbiel Gallery, you’ll stroll the local landmarks of the North Shore, which the Chicago Botanic Garden proudly calls home: Baha’i Temple…the Kenilworth and Glencoe train stations…and the just-outside-the-door landmarks of the Garden itself.
Ready for a break? The Garden Café (and the Caboose Café, which opens December 20) and a pop-up Garden Shop are popular gathering spots for relaxing with a cup of cocoa or shopping for fun, train-related gifts.
The sights and sounds of trains…the city of Chicago in miniature…interesting and unusual dwarf conifers and poinsettias… snow falling indoors…click here to purchase tickets for Wonderland Express!