Buy Parking  |  Tickets  |  Join

Garden Blog

Subscribe to Garden Blog feed
A blog for visitors to the Garden.
Updated: 17 min 43 sec ago

Where Love is in the Air

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 8:25am

A bridge can be a portal, a passage, a strategic position, an arrival, a departure, or a place to meet halfway. And of course bridges can be marvelously romantic, as anyone who’s gasped at a mist-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge or taken a Parisian boat ride on the Seine can attest.

Bridges are integral to the Chicago Botanic Garden, too, built as it is on nine islands.

For a lovely summer evening, take a long walk together…cross these six romantic bridges together…and prepare for some memorable moments.

Daisy ChainShall we Cross that Bridge?

Bridges are one of the most spectacular places at the Garden for photography—as countless brides, prom groups, families, and sweethearts can attest.

 Trellis bridge.

Sunset frames the Trellis Bridge in golden glow.

Halfway along Evening Island, the Trellis Bridge is a surprise invitation to explore what lies on the other side. The Trellis Bridge has different acoustics than the other bridges: it goes quiet at the center. Listen for the sounds of gardens, rather than the sounds of people. Its sinuous shape and curving boards invite you to pause…and enjoy each other’s company.

 Japanese Garden bridge.

The serene scene at the Malott Japanese Garden bridge.

Intentionally steep, the arched bridge that leads to the three islands of the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden forces you to slow down as you climb. At the top, you pause naturally to take a breath, to stop and lift your gaze, to look around, not just ahead of you. This bridge signals change—your passage into a very different garden and a very different mindset.

 The Zigzag bridge at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

In good spirits? Cross the Zigzag Bridge.

Separating two of the three Malott Japanese Garden islands is the Zigzag Bridge. While legend holds that humans can elude evil spirits by crossing a zigzag bridge (because those spirits move only in straight lines), a zigzag bridge also has a practical purpose: to slow your progress, encouraging you to enjoy the beauty around you…including your sweetheart.

 Lotus frame the ends of the Arch Bridge in midsummer.

Lotus bloom in the shallows of the Arch Bridge in midsummer.

Turn left as you leave the Malott Japanese Garden, and the very next turn brings you to the Arch Bridge, which connects to Evening Island. With its height above the water and its panoramic view, this bridge has a grand, soaring feeling. Plan to be there at sunset, when late light strikes and illuminates the bridge, making it—and the person you’re with—positively glow.

Set the SceneDine and dance every evening Monday through Thursday at the Garden to the rhythms of swing, Latin jazz, samba, bluegrass, big band, country, rock ’n’ roll, and salsa.

 Dancing couple.

For the complete lineup of music on summer evenings, click here.

Return to Evening Island and you’ll soon reach the Serpentine Bridge, which carries you back to the main island. It also brings you quite close to the water, as if floating above it. Meanderingly quiet and peaceful, the Serpentine Bridge feels very protected. Fish swim just below you, lilies and lotuses rock with the breeze, and the view toward the Arch Bridge at sunset is simply glorious.

Bridges set the scene for what’s ahead, and the long boardwalk to Spider Island does that in a particularly brilliant way. Hand-hewn from black locust, the boardwalk bridges our largest island to our smallest, with an angled path lying low across the water. What could have been a short, direct, 90-degree crossing becomes instead a private journey to Spider Island’s sole, spiral path—like a tail on the curve of a question mark. 

 Spider Island boardwalk.

Follow the path to its end, a small and private sitting area.

Daisy Chain

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Savoring Savory

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 9:37am

“One of the pleasantest of the sweet-herbs, and sooner or later to be tried by every gardener.” That’s how Henry Beston sums up summer savory in his classic Herbs and the Earth.

Savory is an under-appreciated herb that doesn’t make many American top ten herb lists. This is your year to change that, as savory has been designated 2015’s Herb of the Year.

Savory stars at Herb Garden Weekend, July 25 & 26, 2015, at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden—it’s our July plant giveaway! (One per family while supplies last.)

 Summer savory (Satureja hortensis).

Summer savory (Satureja hortensis)

While there are 30 savory species, two are especially welcome additions to Chicago’s USDA Zone 5 herb gardens: Satureja hortensis, or summer savory, is grown as an annual, and considered more refined than Satureja montana, the winter savory crucial to the cuisine of Provençal.

Both take their genus name, Satureja, from the half-human/half-immortal satyrs who were said to favor the herbs. And both have a well known affinity for beans, Winter savory is sometimes called the “bean herb”—typically cooked with all kinds of beans, even from a can. It turns out that savory helps humans to digest beans more easily, too.

The stronger of the two herbs, winter savory has been known to world cuisines for at least 2,000 years. Peppery and spicy, it’s strong enough to replace garlic or pepper. A semi-evergreen plant, winter savory is a fine addition to flower/herb beds, and sometimes overwinters here. Gardeners with poor soil will be happy to know that it actually prefers those conditions.

 Winter savory (Satureja montana).

Winter savory (Satureja montana)

Plant summer savory in a raised bed so it gets the good drainage it needs. Plant two: one for you, and one to go to flower for the bees!

Summer savory wants light, well-fertilized soil. With a taste similar to oregano, it’s great with both meat and bean dishes (think fresh green beans + savory + chunky salt). Sow it from seed, but buy new seed every year (it doesn’t stay viable for long). Harvest regularly, then cut the whole plant and dry it for winter use. Drying lots of herbs? You’ll want summer savory as one of the key ingredients for bouquet garni and herbes de Provence mixes.

Learn gardening and culinary tips and techniques at all three of our Fruit & Vegetable Garden festivals:
Herb Garden Weekend, July 25-26,
Heirloom Tomato Weekend, August 22-23
Harvest Weekend, September 19-20

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Top 9 Green Roof Plants

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 3:24pm

We’ve selected the top 9 plants for green roof gardens from our 5-year study of 216 taxa. Download the results of plant evaluation manager Richard Hawke’s extensive study. 

 Top 10 plants for green roof gardens.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Sky’s the Limit

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 4:03pm

When the Green Roof Garden was first planted in 2009, everything we knew about long-term rooftop gardening was theoretical. Which plants would live more than one year on the roof? No one knew for sure. Were native plants better to plant than non-natives? Unknown. What about soil depth, extreme weather, pests, diseases? The list of questions was long.

Download An Evaluation Study of Plants for Use on Green Roofs here.

 The Roof Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden Plant Conservation Science Center.

Download the results of this 5-year study. Click here.

Today, after five years of watching, waiting, documenting, and evaluating, we now have actual data to guide us—and others—on the ever-more-popular topic of green roofs! I’ve just published the Plant Evaluation Notes from our research—the first national plant evaluation study of its kind.

Among the data are a few surprises.

The biggest surprise may seem the most obvious—it’s that the green roof survived as well as it did!

I was blown away by the survival rates among plants, and by the fact that so many of them thrived and even excelled in such a challenging landscape. Of the more than 40,000 plants that we installed on both roofs, 30,568 of them were still alive in 2014. Just 14% of the 216 taxa died—that’s a pretty good success rate when you consider rooftop conditions. In fact, adaptability was one of the main criteria that we evaluated each plant on. Here’s the five-point list:

  • Adaptability (to hot/cold, dry, windy conditions, plus shallow soils)
  • Pests/diseases
  • Winter hardiness
  • Non-weediness
  • Ornamental beauty

Other surprises? Definitely the wild white indigo (Baptisia alba var. alba). Although I didn’t expect it to fail, I also didn’t expect it to be as large and vigorous as it has become. By year five, it was nearly three feet tall, with dramatic spires of white flowers. Meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis) was in the same elegant category. But the absolute standout was prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). It looked good all year, at all soil depths, and the fragrant flowers made the roof smell like popcorn in August and September.

 Antennaria dioica.

Antennaria dioica

 Baptisia alba var. alba.

Baptisia alba var. alba

 Phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue'.

Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Blue’

 View of the Green Roof Garden from above.

The Green Roof Garden today: a tapestry of plant life

It also surprised me that some of the drought-tolerant plants like sulfur flower (Eriogonum umbellatum), tufted fleabane (Erigeron caespitosa), and long-petaled lewisia (Lewisia longipetala ‘Little Plum’) didn’t do better on the green roof. Same goes for sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis). In a broader sense, I’m disappointed that we haven’t had greater success with plants in the shallowest, 4-inch soil depth. It’s the most challenging area on the green roof, so we’ll strive to add more types of plants to this trial area in the coming years.

 Richard Hawke, Plant Evaluation Manager.

Monitoring plants in the field

Top 10 starstarstarstarstar Performers
on the Green Roof

  1. Pussytoes (Antennaria dioica)
  2. Dwarf calamint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta)
  3. Juniper ‘Viridis’ (Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii ‘Viridis’)
  4. Creeping phlox ‘Emerald Blue’ (Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Blue’)
  5. Creeping phlox ‘Apple Blossom’ (Phlox subulata ‘Apple Blossom’)
  6. Creeping phlox ‘Snowflake’ (Phlox subulata ‘Snowflake’)
  7. Aromatic sumac ‘Gro-Low’ (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’)
  8. Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
  9. Prairie dropseed ‘Tara’ (Sporobolus heterolepis ‘Tara’)
  10. The 69 other plants that got four-star ratings (good)! 

 

What else is coming to the Green Roof Garden?

We’ll bring in a new set of plants (both native and non-native) to be evaluated and increase the replication of trials in 4-, 6- and 8-inch soil depths. Our goal is to compile a broad list of proven plants so that anyone—businesses, architects, governmental groups, and residential homeowners—has the information they need to grow a green roof. The sky’s the limit!

Visit the Green Roof Garden at the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Center—open ‘til 9 p.m. all summer. The garden has two halves: the Ellis Goodman Family Foundation Green Roof Garden South and the Josephine P. & John J. Louis Foundation Green Roof Garden North.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Following Nature’s Path to Living Museums

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 4:20pm

We often refer to the Chicago Botanic Garden as a “living museum.” As an art historian and a natural history museum aficionado, this term makes sense to me.

 The Japanese bridge in Giverny by Claude Monet.

The Japanese bridge in Giverny by Claude Monet

When I worked at the Art Institute of Chicago, I helped curate the 1995 encyclopedic Claude Monet: 1840–1926 retrospective. So, when I first joined the Garden in 2006 and began thinking about the “living museum” term, I recalled that experience. Indeed, what canvas is more similar to Monet’s than our garden’s 385 acres of exquisitely arranged plants that change with the light and weather hour-to-hour—exactly like Monet’s Impressionist subjects? And then I considered the hundreds of millions of specimens in the collections of natural history museums; the only difference between these institutions’ curated collections and the Garden’s is their current state of life.

When we slow down enough to look carefully, museum collections provide us with tremendous opportunities to learn about ourselves—and the world. At botanic gardens, plants provide us with inspiration and metaphors for life; trees, flowers, grasses, shrubs, and their cycles of life reflect our own. Similarly, at an art museum, by examining closely and quietly paintings and sculptures, we open our minds to the complexity, creativity, and diversity of people who have lived and now occupy our planet. Studying the skeletons, insects and birds, ceremonial clothing, and objects from daily life in natural history museums allows us to celebrate both the magical and mundane aspects of the human spirit and to marvel at the exquisite miracle of evolution. The same can be said for the experience at a zoo or an aquarium—two other “living museum” examples. These institutions provide us a unique opportunity to admire, and also to protect through breeding and conservation programs, animals whose natural habitats are worlds away from our own.

 Wyrex Edmontonia fossils.

Wyrex Edmontonia fossils

 Japanese macaque, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.

Japanese macaque

Common to all of these museum experiences is that the original “object”—whether a plant, painting, fossil, mask, fish, or monkey—is the focal point. The experience of activating all of our senses when encountering something that has been crafted by a person, by nature, or as a result of some human-nature collaboration (which is usually the case) cannot be replicated online, in print, or on the screen. Those experiences matter, too. And even though I love and admire National Geographic across all its media, I am never so moved as when I take in the paintings in a brilliantly curated art exhibition, examine the fossils or stones in a perfectly explained science exhibition, contemplate the earth and its people while examining a compelling collection of artifacts, or stop to admire the play of colors, composition, form, and chiaroscuro (the contrasts of lights and darks) of an expertly crafted garden bed.

As you can tell, I love all types of museums. However, I owe my passion for living museums, especially botanic gardens, to Lewis and Clark. Why? A couple of years before the bicentennial of the explorers’ journey, I set out on a tour of the Pacific Northwest. I was working for the Field Museum at the time. My mission was to figure out how to create an exhibition that would rival the Missouri Historical Society’s planned anniversary show, a show chock-full of all the original artifacts such as diaries and navigation devices that had been touched by Lewis and Clark’s own hands.

While I never did figure out an exhibition for the Field (since no original artifacts would be available to come to Chicago, we finally gave up since an exhibition of replicas wouldn’t do), I did stumble upon the passion that would guide the next chapter of my career.

 Fern.After driving three hours through verdant, wooded, beautiful Washington State, I parked my car and started to climb the wooden staircase up a steep hill to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at the mouth of the Columbia River. Along both sides of the steep path, nature was thriving. In the still-cool late-morning air, I saw and smelled—could almost taste!—moss and lichen in dozens of shades of green, gray, and yellow; ferns, mosses, and trees; and small and large butterflies. I knew at that moment that I wanted to give people, especially those from Chicago’s urban center, the opportunity to experience nature first-hand.

And that is when my journey to the Chicago Botanic Garden began, my definition of a museum expanded, and my commitment to sharing with all people the wide variety of fascinating and inspiring curated collections became life-long.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Embracing Trees for Our Future

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 9:34am

If you spot a Chicago Botanic Garden volunteer wrapping their arms around a tree trunk this summer, don’t be surprised—what looks like a loving hug is actually a scientific measurement in process.

Using a specially designed tape measure, volunteers are recording the diameter of each tree before calculating the amount of carbon dioxide it stores. The study, launched by the Living Plant Documentation department five years ago, records the amount of the pervasive greenhouse gas stored by the Garden’s trees. The research team is interested in determining which trees are able to hold the most carbon for the longest amount of time.

 Boyce Tankersley is researching the trees' response to increased carbon in the atmosphere, using data such as the growth rate of the particular tree species.

Boyce Tankersley and volunteers measure the diameter of each tree on the Garden campus each year. He is researching the trees’ response to increased carbon in the atmosphere, using data such as the growth rate of the particular tree species.

The Tall and Short of It

It is one of the first such studies underway in a botanic garden setting. “We know carbon is increasing but we don’t have the numbers on how much carbon is being locked up by the urban forest,” said Boyce Tankersley, director of the Living Plant Documentation department. “This is where the Garden can play a role.”

Although similar studies have been completed by the lumber industry and others, it is important to understand how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are mitigated by cultivated trees, explained Tankersley. It’s also essential to document how those trees fare long term in evolving conditions.

The Garden has an especially diverse number of taxa, Tankersley said, positioning it perfectly to document how numerous species behave in locations from the McDonald Woods to the English Walled Garden to the parking lot. “The Garden is among the first to look at the trees in a Garden setting and at the diversity of taxa,” said Tankersley. “That’s a piece we’d like to shed more light on.”

This summer marks the second time the trees have been measured since the original data was gathered in the first year. Measurements will continue to be taken for another 15 to 20 years.

“We hope, when the data is analyzed, to be able to identify not only the trees that are best but the Garden settings that support their efforts in this regard,” anticipated Tankersley.

 Tree canopy.

The Living Plant Documentation department is calculating the amount of carbon dioxide stored in each of the Garden’s trees.

Deep in the Woods

Trees are lauded for coming to our rescue in the face of climate change, but scientists have learned that these strapping heroes may not be infallible. “One thing we are looking for is the influence of carbon on the growth rate,” said Tankersley. His research team is paying close attention to the trees’ response to increased carbon levels in our atmosphere.

According to Tankersley, it has been documented that trees are growing more quickly than they have in the past, which comes with positive and negative repercussions. “Trees are providing an environmental service in a major way by absorbing carbon, but there’s a point of diminishing returns,” he explained. The wood of a fast-growing tree is softer, for example, which has a negative impact on the lumber industry, he explained. In addition, “with an increased growth rate, you also get increased susceptibility to insects and diseases.”

The concern underscores the need to observe the Garden’s trees for many years to take all such factors into consideration.

In addition, the team is watching the impact of weather on the trees, and taking dry spells or rainy periods, for example, into account when documenting tree growth over a given time frame. The Garden hosts a National Weather Service monitor on-site, which allows for weather-related calculations to be even more precise.

The Zipline

When the measurement phase of the study is complete, Tankersley plans to provide the data to a doctoral student in the Garden’s joint degree program with Northwestern University for formal analysis. “My take-home would be a list of the six best trees, perennials, and shrubs for sequestering carbon in the landscape in Chicago,” he said.

“We expect to find that trees like oaks, elms, and hickories—trees that are long-lived—provide a greater environmental service in this regard,” he added.

For homeowners who would like to assist with the issue now rather than wait for the final analysis, he suggests that they begin planting longer-lived trees. It may help mitigate, or reduce, the amount of carbon in the air and resulting climate change impacts such as extreme weather.

Our 2013 adaptive planting study carefully selected 60 suitable trees to plant for future generations. View the full list of suggested trees here.
 Fastigiate English Oak acorns (Quercus robur).

It takes more than one year for the Garden volunteers to check the diameter of the 13,493 trees on-site, and enter the estimated carbon storage into a specialized database. The calculations are made using a formula developed by the U.S. Forest Service, said Tankersley.

The technique of measuring existing trees and planning for new plantings is something Tankersley hopes will have broad impact. He has already shared his process with countries in Africa through The Eden Projects and in China in an effort to help governments replace denuded forests there.

Tankersley is hopeful about the long-term implications of the study. After all, he said, when pioneers first came to the United States, they found oak trees that were about 300 years old, and had been providing benefits such as carbon sequestration for all of that time. Many of those hard-working, long-lived species have been a key part of our natural heritage since the beginning. By embracing the issue now, Tankersley and team have cleared the way for trees and their vital functions to endure.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Garden Outreach Programs Bring Community Solutions

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 11:08am

The Garden received recognition and praise for two outreach programs at the recent American Public Gardens Association (APGA) Conference.

Award for Program Excellence

The American Public Gardens Association awarded the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Science Career Continuum the national Award for Program Excellence, marking the third time the Garden has received this prestigious prize since it was established in 1989.

“a truly innovative spirit in the development of an original program with demonstrated results”

This honor recognizes an APGA member garden that has innovated in conservation, botany, research, or other public garden areas of expertise. The Garden won the award for its groundbreaking Science Career Continuum. On June 23, during its annual conference, the APGA review committee praised the Garden’s program, saying “The Science Career Continuum has displayed a truly innovative spirit in the development of an original program with demonstrated results. APGA is proud to have programs such as yours at its member gardens.”

 The Garden's emeritus Vice President of Community Education Programs Patsy Benveniste and CEO Sophia Shaw receive the award for Program Excellence from Dr. Casey Sclar, Executive Director of APGA.

The Garden’s recently retired Vice President of Community Education Programs Patsy Benveniste and CEO Sophia Shaw receive the award for Program Excellence from Dr. Casey Sclar, Executive Director of APGA.

The Science Career Continuum engages 65 Black and Latino youth from Chicago Public Schools in science through hands-on exploration of nature, mentored internships, and college and career preparation with the aim of increasing the representation of people of color in environmental science careers. Over the past five years, these students have shown a 100 percent high school graduation rate, 92 percent college matriculation rate, and 76 percent selection of science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) majors, 65 percent in science.

Learn more about Science Career Continuum students in this video. 

Recognition for the Garden’s Work with Veterans

“the Chicago Botanic Garden has, for more than 30 years, used its unique resources to provide opportunities for healing…”

Ford Bell, the recently retired president and CEO of the American Association of Museums in Washington, D.C., also praised the Garden in his keynote presentation. 

Bell said, “Museums of all types are, at their core, community institutions, and I like to say, if you name a community problem, I will find you a museum somewhere in our country that is working to address that problem. I was certainly reminded of that at AAM’s Advocacy Day in February, when Iraq War veteran Fernando Valles was honored as one of our Great American Museum Advocates at the closing evening reception. Fernando was nominated for the award by the Chicago Botanic Garden, where he is a participant in the Garden’s initiative for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional challenges, in partnership with Thresholds, a community-based mental health agency. It is certainly admirable that the Chicago Botanic Garden has, for more than 30 years, used its unique resources to provide opportunities for healing, stress reduction, physical exercise, and learning through its Horticultural Therapy Services, a striking example of the work that museums and gardens do in their communities, work that is often unheralded.”

Learn more about our work with veterans in this video.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Local Restoration Successes Lead Global Movement

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 9:37am

Wildfire. Flooding. Thirst. These issues can all be addressed through large-scale landscape restoration according to speakers at the 2015 Janet Meakin Poor Research Symposium. Addressing a crowd of regional stewardship professionals and academics, as well as Conservation Land Management (CLM) and Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) interns at the Chicago Botanic Garden on June 12, they focused on solutions for ecological challenges.

The effects of strong conservation work are magnified when done on a large scale, they shared, and the theme of the day was how to magnify every step from seed-management procedures to restoration time frames and budgets to make the process as beneficial as possible. As mining, drilling, and similar industries move broadly across open lands in the United States and abroad, along with increasingly frequent and far-reaching extreme weather events, conservation practices must evolve with the times to keep pace.

 Conservation and Land Management (CLM) interns measure species density in the field.

Conservation and Land Management (CLM) interns measure species density in the field.

As the CLM interns prepare to set off on a summer of hands-on restoration work across the United States, and potentially launch their careers shortly thereafter, these are critical issues for them to understand, according to Kay Havens, Ph.D., of the Chicago Botanic Garden, who organized the symposium. Many of the interns work in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the ground in forestry, wildlife management, and habitat restoration, among others.

Fittingly, the first speaker of the day was Amy Leuders, the acting assistant director of BLM who noted that the partnership with the Garden since 2001 has led to the training, hiring, and placement of more than 1,000 interns on federal lands. About 50 percent of those interns are later hired by a stewardship agency. “The Bureau of Land Management has had a long and successful partnership with the Chicago Botanic Garden…developing the next generation of land stewards,” she said.

In particular, she imparted to the audience the importance of developing a large scale national seed strategy, so that targeted plant seeds will be thoughtfully collected and preserved for future use. She cited examples of events in which seeds saved by chance allowed for the restoration of areas that later succumbed to natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes. This new process would allow for seed saving to take place in a more proactive and calculated manner.

 Seeds are collected at the Garden and stored in the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank.

Collected seeds are stored in the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank.

According to the second speaker, Kingsley Dixon, Ph.D., professor at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia, the current supply of wild seed cannot support global restoration demands. Innovations are helping to change that. Tools that process seeds into pellets or other small packets facilitate their successful mass delivery into recovering ecosystems, helping to achieve the level of seed performance seen in the agricultural sector. He noted that, “Only by thinking at an industrial level of efficiency will ecological restoration be able to achieve the pace needed to protect and enhance natural resources.”

Drinking water quality can also be managed by restoration, said Joy Zedler of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She shared examples of how restoration has been ‘scaled up’ adaptively (learning while restoring) to benefit large areas. When it comes to managing water, she explained, it is essential to manage an entire watershed. One area of poor water quality will flow into every crevice in the system, for example. In the end, she explained, it is about safeguarding ecosystem services that human health and wellbeing depend on, from clean water to fresh air. “Our global society needs to redirect itself to achieve a sustainable future,” she said.

Brian Winter of the Nature Conservancy in Minnesota echoed her sentiments, as he ran through a real-life wetland restoration process for the audience. He emphasized that wetlands hold rainwater and are capable of preventing disastrous amounts of water from washing through nearby agricultural fields. The value of wetland restoration is immense and ongoing, he explained.

Conservation is in transition, explained speaker John Rogner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Rogner discussed the steps involved in planning for a successful restoration, and the importance of landscape conservation cooperatives that can work together across states or even countries to identify and address issues in a given geographic area such as the Great Lakes watershed. He outlined an ongoing project to improve blockages in the Great Lakes system that impede fish migration. This can lead to a buildup of invasive plant species that create additional system blockages. A regional perspective and collaboration across entities is critical, he said. “It is absolutely essential that everyone have access to the same information to keep moving in the right direction,” added Rogner.

Issues that often fall to the side in planning are conceptual, according to James Aronson of the Missouri Botanical Garden. He urged the audience to pay attention to the economic side of their work by learning to speak and think in terms of renewable natural capital. Across land and ocean, natural capital can be restored to facilitate the flow of ecosystem services such as fresh air and clean water.

 the Colorado River Basin.

One of our greatest national resources and treasures: the Colorado River Basin.

Lastly, Megan Haidet with Seeds of Success emphasized the importance of partnerships to meet the goals of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration 2015-2020. She noted that increased coordination is vital to accelerate the pace and scale of restoration and provide native plant materials when and where they are needed.

The Garden’s CLM interns have now dispersed across the United States where they will work for the next five months on public lands to put these lessons into action.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Insta-improved Photos!

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 9:46am

Simplicity is critical in creating a striking Instagram photo. Here are some tips to help you reduce distractions and bring focus to your pictures.

Red White and Blue contestShow us your reds, whites, and blues on Instagram June 29 through July 7! Go outside and snap a pic of any red, white, or blue flower or plant for a chance to be featured on our feed and website. Tag @chicagobotanic in your post and use #CBGcontest15.

The most important thing to keep in mind when photographing for Instagram, is that your photo will be viewed at a relatively small scale. Your composition needs to grab the viewers’ attention as they scroll through their feed. Nature is full of beautiful detail, intricate patterns, and delicate textures. However, keep in mind that once a picture is posted, the subtlety and tiny details of the subject matter may be lost.

Consider placing subject matter that has very small details in a context. A close-up of these penstemon flowers alone makes for a very chaotic image, but when the surrounding landscape is included, the flowers form a shape that mirrors the line of trees above.

 Closeup of Penstemon.

Penstemon blooms make a chaotic closeup.

 Penstemon in the landscape.

Framing the shot gives these blooms context.

The opposite is also true. Removing context by getting closer to your subject usually simplifies your composition. In the case, of these penstemon flowers, most phones will not focus close enough to capture just one.

 Roses in dappled sunlight.

Dappled sunlight draws attention away from these blooms.

 Roses photographed in even shade.

Even shade brings out the color of the roses.

Avoid dappled sunlight to allow viewers to focus their attention on your subject matter. Try finding shade if you are photographing on a sunny day, or take pictures during the morning and evening when the light is softer.

Choose a point of view for your subject where light falls on the subject but not the background. This will emphasize the shape of your subject and increase contrast between it and the background. Keep your eye out for this lighting situation at the edge of large shadows cast by buildings where tall flowers pop out into the light.

 Echinacea with path in background.

The background in soft focus detracts from our highlighted subject.

 Echinacea isolated on dark background.

Isolating the bloom makes this echinacea the star of the photo.

These two photos are of the same flower but taken from different perspectives. You can see the edge of the shadow cast by a building in the first photo. The second photo was taken after stepping to the right and facing toward the building.

Instagram is a great place to get and share ideas; don’t hesitate to experiment and try new things.

Most importantly, have fun!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Food for Thought: Celebrating the Vegetables of the 1890s

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 5:10pm

Think about this vegetable fact: In 1903, 544 varieties of cabbage were listed by seed houses across the United States. By 1983, just 28 of those varieties were represented in our national seed bank at the National Seed Storage Laboratory (now the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation).

Hundreds of other varieties have disappeared—not only of cabbages, but also of lettuce and corn and tomatoes and too many other crops to list. And that, in a nutshell, is why it continues to be important to plant heirloom varieties.

Vintage Varieties,
Still in Vogue

 Cover of Vaughn's seed catalog, featuring Osage musk melon.

Stunning color illustrations made vintage nursery catalogs hard to resist. A fine selection of them are now on view at Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125 in the Joutras Gallery and its sister exhibition, Keep Growing: The Chicago Horticultural Society’s 125th Anniversary, at the Lenhardt Library. Through August 16, 2015.

Heirlooms have special meaning at the Garden this year, as we celebrate the 125th anniversary of our parent organization, the Chicago Horticultural Society, which was officially established in 1890.

What was growing in Chicago vegetable gardens that year? Two big and beautiful beds at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden honor the tried-and-true midwestern varieties that were the staples of our great- and great-great-grandparents. The cabbages beloved by the immigrants who flocked to the Midwest, like ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ and ‘Mammoth Red Rock’. The beans that could be canned to sustain the family, like ‘Henderson’s Bush’. The root vegetables that could overwinter, like parsnip ‘Mammoth Sandwich Island’ and rutabaga ‘Laurentian’. And the onions and lovage and cutting celery that were the flavor enhancers of the day.

Horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg tracked down the varieties by going to the source: the seed catalogs that nurserymen, farmers, and gardeners ordered from and depended on. In the Rare Book Collection of our Lenhardt Library, she pored over an 1891 Storr’s & Harrison catalog, a Burpee’s from 1901, and numerous Vaughan’s Seed Store catalogs. (Vaughan’s started on the East Coast, then became one of the leading Chicago seed houses.) Recognizing that some varieties from the turn of the twentieth century were still available today (‘Bull Nose’ pepper, ‘Philadelphia White Box’ radish, ‘Wapsipinicon Peach’ tomato), she sought out those seeds from sources like Seed Savers Exchange, the D. Landreth Seed Company, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

As seedlings arrived at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden from the production nursery this spring, Lisa planted them in a classic bed layout inspired by the vegetable gardens at Monticello: 4-foot by 6-foot beds (easy to harvest from either side) separated by mulched paths made with wood chips that would have been straw in earlier centuries. As one crop is harvested, the next crop is planted—a nod to the constant production that was a matter of survival for our forefathers and foremothers.

 Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage.

Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage

 Mammoth Red Rock cabbage.

Mammoth Red Rock cabbage

 A view of the heirloom seed beds in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

As they fill in, the beds create a strikingly beautiful mosaic of color, of texture, and history.

Heirloom fruits and vegetables are more than interesting food ingredients—they represent the voices of each generation informing the next. Think about that as you tour the beds (turn left past the breezeway), and as you plan to grow heirloom varieties in your own vegetable garden this year.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Summer Comes to the Dwarf Conifer Garden

Mon, 06/22/2015 - 9:13am

Early summer in the Dwarf Conifer Garden is all about the new growth. Everything is bursting forth with fresh new growth in vivid shades of green, chartreuse, yellow…and blue!  

 Dwarf Conifer Garden in spring.

Layers of color draw you into hidden paths throughout the Dwarf Conifer Garden.

Many of the trees feature entirely unexpected colors. For most of the year, Spring Ghost blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Spring Ghost’) looks like your average Colorado spruce. From early spring through midsummer, however, the tips of every branch shine with the palest yellow—nearly white—new growth. Likewise, Taylor’s Sunburst lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’) is a handsome green tree for most of the year—until spring, when radiant yellow new growth bursts forth, bringing a welcome dose of sunshine to the garden.

 Picea pungens 'Spring Ghost'.

Picea pungens ‘Spring Ghost’

 Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst'.

Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’

 Pinus cembra 'Blue Mound'.

Pinus cembra ‘Blue Mound’

New needles aren’t the only attraction this time of year. Many conifers have cones that start out in surprising shades! Blue Mound Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra ‘Blue Mound’) would be a beautiful plant in its own right, with its long, soft, blue-green needles. But when you throw in dusky purple cones, you get a plant that is truly a gem. As the cones age, they’ll slowly turn into the more typical brown of a ripe cone, but right now, they’re as pretty as any flower.

Red can be a difficult color to find in conifers, but Acrocona spruce (Picea abies ‘Acrocona’) has cones that start out a vivid ruby red and slowly fade to a soft tan. The cones start out upward-facing, but slowly begin to droop as they age.

 Picea abies 'Acrocona'.

Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ has cones that start ruby red, and slowly fade to tan.

 Abies koreana 'Silver Show'.

Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’

Another unique plant is Silver Show dwarf Korean fir (Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’). Unlike other conifers, the firs (Abies sp.) have cones that always face upward. ‘Silver Show’ is beautiful any time of the year, but its purple upward-facing cones really make it special in spring. The cones start out small and green, but as you can see in this picture, they begin to turn purple as they grow until you’re left with dozens of dark purple cones set against perfectly tiered, silvery green foliage. There really is nothing else like it in the Garden.

 Male cones on Pinus leucodermis.

Male cones on Pinus leucodermis

On most conifers, it’s the female cones that are most showy and most often noticed, but on Bosnian pine (Pinus leucodermis), it’s the male (pollen-bearing) cones that steal the show. Arranged in groups at the end of every branch, they light up the tree like little Christmas lights. Even on a gloomy day, the bright orangey-tan color stands out against some of the deepest green needles in the garden.

All of these colors are a seasonal show that is best appreciated before things start to heat up for the summer, so now is your best time to come see them!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Summer Infographic

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 9:30am

What does June 21 mean to plants? Day length, temperature, sunlight, and water trigger all sorts of behavior in the world of plants…

Summer Infographic

Another Outstanding Year for the Chicago Botanic Garden

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 2:18pm

Halfway through its ten-year strategic plan, “Keep Growing,” the Chicago Botanic Garden has never been stronger. Since the plan was launched in early 2010, the Garden’s science, education, urban agriculture, and horticultural therapy programs have grown significantly. Our wide array of programs, classes, and exhibitions—including the new Orchid Show—attract more visitors each year, and in 2014, more than a million visitors came to the Garden for the second year in a row. We have had five years of record-breaking fundraising and operating budget results. Last year was particularly important as we broke ground for a new nursery on the Kris Jarantoski Campus and finalized plans for the Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus; we broke ground for Learning Campus and its centerpiece, the Education Center, this past April.

Please take a few minutes to review the Garden’s strategic plan update for 2014, which includes our Annual Report and the wonderful new video of the year’s accomplishments below. On the strategic plan website, you will also find an array of supporting documentation, including operating plans for various Garden departments. In every way, the Garden’s achievements exemplify its mission: We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.

Click here to view video on youtube.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Get Ready, Get Set, Grow! New Windy City Farm Launches

Sun, 06/14/2015 - 9:37am

Something is growing in a food desert on Chicago’s West Side. A farm designed, built, and managed by Windy City Harvest for the PCC Austin Family Health Center began operation in the spring to help provide more of what the challenged Austin neighborhood lacks—ready access to produce that is fresh, affordable, and nearby—and enable the center’s patients to more easily fill the prescription for healthy living they receive in the examination room: eat more fresh vegetables. Spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, and other produce grown at the farm will be sold on-site.

 Creating the raised beds at PCC Austin Farm last fall.

Creating the raised beds at PCC Austin Farm last fall

The project finds Windy City Harvest, the Chicago Botanic Garden urban agriculture and jobs-training program, partnered with an urban health provider, PCC Community Wellness Center, in paired missions of feeding communities and improving the health of those living in them. The Austin location is one of the PCC system’s 11 Chicago-area centers.

“We needed to come out of the four walls of our medical center and look at ways to give back to the community, get the community involved, explore ways to change the environment, and let people learn about gardening,” said Bob Urso, PCC president and CEO, explaining the project’s genesis. Funding comes from a $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grant awarded to PCC Wellness Community Center by the Humana Foundation.

The farm’s groundbreaking took place in October on a grassy vacant lot a few steps from PCC’s modern LEED Gold-certified building at Lake Street and Lotus Avenue. Called the PCC Austin Community Farm until neighborhood residents choose a permanent name, the 8,000-square-foot site comprises more than 20 raised beds that include plots where eight families each year can grow food for their own use, a hoophouse (similar to a greenhouse), and a small outdoor seating area surrounded by fruit trees for gatherings and relaxation. Housing flanks the 50-foot-wide, fenced-in farm on two sides, with a parking lot on the third and more homes across the street. Trains rumble by on the Chicago Transit Authority elevated tracks a half block away.

 Harvesting carrots.

Carrots: a late spring crop, and one of the first to come out of the PCC Austin Community Farm.

The farm’s seasonal coordinator is Windy City Harvest’s Brittany Calendo, whose role dovetails with her background in public health and social work. “It’s exciting to look at the farm as a away of promoting health and preventing disease rather than just treating symptoms,” she said. Plans include monthly workshops on nutrition and gardening for neighbors and patients led by Windy City Harvest and PCC. “Preventive medicine is some of the best medicine,” agreed Humana spokesperson Cathryn Donaldson. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with PCC on this important initiative.” Looking ahead, Urso said he will know the farm has achieved success when he meets patients who say they feel healthier and whose chronic conditions are under control after learning to eat better.

While it is among Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, “Austin is beautiful,” Tyrise Brinson said of the people in the place where she grew up and lives now. Although no one believes the project can by itself meet the area’s produce needs or change lifelong eating habits overnight, “It breaks cycles within the community,” Brinson said. “It’s the beginning of a chain of beautiful events to come.”

This post by Helen K. Marshall appeared in the summer 2015 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden. ©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Ten Romantic Spots to Pop the Question

Thu, 06/11/2015 - 1:14pm

Gardens are romantic by nature. That’s why one of our most frequently asked questions is, “What’s the most romantic spot at the Garden?”

So we scoped it out, asked around, and compiled a list of our top ten most romantic spots. Now it’s up to you to…
Pop the Question.

Daisy Chain

 Rose Garden arbor.

The Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor is the perfect place to pause on a romantic stroll.

1. “Doesn’t it smell wonderful?”

Claim a bench under the Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor and take a deep breath. Then another. Soon you’ll be discussing the bouquet of roses—one smells of musk, another of tea, a third of myrrh—just as you do a fine wine. (Which, by the way, is available at the Garden View Café.)

 The blue bench in the niche at the English Walled Garden.

“Something borrowed, something blue…” sets the tone in the English Walled Garden.

2. “Would you like to sit here?”

With climbing hydrangeas overhead, a pergola of white wisteria just ahead, and a romantic morning glory tile inset behind you (are those leaves or hearts?), the vividly blue bench tucked into the niche at the English Walled Garden is the prettiest seat at the Garden.

3. “Shall we cross that bridge?”

On summer evenings, the bridges to Evening Island—the Arch Bridge and the Serpentine Bridge—are lit at night. A bridge is such a splendid place for a private conversation and…reflection.

 The Serpentine Bridge at night.

The dramatically lit Serpentine Bridge is the path to summer evening romance.

4. “Can you top this?”

The top of the Waterfall Garden has it all: rushing water, a sweet arbor, birds chirping in shady trees. It’s one of the best spots at the Garden to sit…very…close.

 Arbor at the top of the Waterfall Garden.

The peaceful hideaway atop the Waterfall Garden is a romantic destination in any season.

5. “Pics or it didn’t happen?”

Romantic memories need a great background. At the top of the Sensory Garden is the photo-worthy frame you’re looking for.

 The view from the top of the Sensory Garden.

Tucked away in the Sensory Garden is this shady arbor, ready for a romantic moment.

6. “Want to try a new place?”

One of the newest—and therefore least-discovered—spots in the Garden is Kleinman Family Cove. (Yes, it’s open during construction on the Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus across the road.) Take advantage of the quiet, the deck that hovers over the water, and the natural chorus of frogs…

 The Cove at dusk.

A shoreline chorus is the perfect accompaniment to your proposal at the Cove.

7. “Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

On Monday nights, carillonneurs from around the globe transform Evening Island into an outdoor concert hall. Not coincidentally, it’s also picnic night. Got the picture? A romantic picnic, the music of bells, and a secluded spot on Evening Island, where two perfectly placed rocks make a perfect seat for a perfect couple.

 Sitting boulders at Evening Island.

Enjoy a concert for two on Monday nights from this secret spot on Evening Island.

8. “Which path do you want to take?”

A summer walk through the Dixon Prairie is inherently romantic, with grasses and prairie flowers taller than your head, and late-day light filtering through the foliage. Take the boardwalk bridge across the water to tiny Marsh Island for a memorable sunset moment.

 The boardwalk to Marsh Island.

Prairie plants grow tall enough to hide stolen kisses off the beaten path on Marsh Island.

9. “Do you feel like a beer?”

There’s something different about this arch: it’s made from hops—which, of course, are the key ingredients in beer. Take photos under the archway, sit for a while in the Circle Garden’s very romantic “secret” side gardens, then ask the beer question. The answer will be “Yes.”

 Arch at Circle Garden side garden.

Pop the question in one of the side gardens of the Circle Garden for a “hoppy” answer!

 A sunset samba on the Esplanade.

Pop the question after a sunset samba on the dance floor with the best view in town: the Esplanade.

10. “May I have this dance?”

Dancing is romantic. Outdoor dancing is super romantic. Outdoor dancing at the Garden is meta romantic. And it happens every weeknight during the summer. Salsa, swing, big band, bluegrass, and jazz rock the most beautiful “dance floor” in town.

After you pop the other question…

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden. Find out more from Connie or Kristina at events@chicagobotanic.org.

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden.
Daisy Chain

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

What I learned at World Environment Day

Tue, 06/09/2015 - 11:34am

World Environment Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden was a success! Visitors all over the Chicagoland area came to learn environmental and sustainable tips and tricks, and enjoyed educational displays and family activities throughout the day.

[View the story “Highlights of World Environment Day” on Storify]

Glorious Mysteries in the World of Plants

Sun, 06/07/2015 - 8:55am

Popular culture moves in strange ways. Since the release of the eponymous movie, the idea of a “bucket list” has quickly become part of our modern vernacular.

My botanical bucket list includes plants like the ancient bristlecone pines of Nevada and the cobra-lilies of Northern California. Recently, in the Peruvian Amazon, I checked off my list the giant Amazonian waterlily. I’ve seen it many times before; it is grown all over the world. But coming across it in an Amazonian backwater, untended by people, is quite a different experience. 

 Victoria amazonica, the giant Amazonian waterlily.

The giant Amazonian waterlily (Victoria amazonica), with its magnificent leaves beautifully arrayed like giant solar panels in the tropical sun

Plants like Amazonian waterlilies, bristlecone pines, and cobra-lilies have a presence. Even brief contemplation invokes a sense of wonder, and sometimes an emotional, even spiritual, connection. These charismatic plants are tangible expressions of the glory and mystery of nature. And paradoxically, that sense of mystery is undiminished by scientific understanding. As Einstein once said, “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of ‘humility’.” 

The Amazonian waterlily is one of the botanical wonders of the world, but look closely and every plant has its own mysterious life story full of evolutionary twists and turns. Whether in the garden, in the forest preserve, or along the roadside, even the most inconspicuous weed is a twig atop the gnarled and much-ramified tree of life. Every plant is a living expression of the vicissitudes of thousands, often millions, of years of history. 

 Guest columnist and Garden board member Peter Crane, Ph.D.

Guest columnist and Garden board member Peter Crane, Ph.D.

Over the past three decades the evolutionary tree of plant life has come into clearer focus, as we have learned more about living plants, including about their genomes. We have also learned more about plants of the past by exploring their fossil record. There is still much that remains beyond our grasp, but scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden are at the forefront of current research, including efforts to integrate information from fossils and living plants toward a more complete understanding of plant evolution. And viewing the world’s plants through an evolutionary lens only accentuates our sense of wonder. The leaves and the flowers of the Amazonian waterlily are massively increased in size and complexity compared to those of its diminutive precursors, which begs further questions about why and how such dramatic changes occurred. 

To borrow a phrase from Darwin, “There is grandeur in this view of life.” Such perspectives, rooted in deep history, emphasize the power and glory of evolution over vast spans of geologic time, as well as its remaining mysteries. In the face of rapid contemporary environmental change, they also underline the need for enlightened environmental management. Looking to the past to help us understand the present sharpens our view of the glories of nature. It also reminds us of our place in the world, and the value of humility as we together influence the future of our planet. 

Renowned botanist Sir Peter Crane is the Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean, Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Dr. Crane is also a life director of the board of the Chicago Botanic Garden. In 2014 Dr. Crane received the International Prize for Biology, administered by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, for his work on the evolutionary history of plants. The award, created in 1985, is one of the most prestigious in the field of biology.

This post is a reprint of an article by Sir Peter Crane, Ph.D. for the summer 2015 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden. ©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org