Buy Parking  |  Tickets  |  Join

Garden Blog

Subscribe to Garden Blog feed
A blog for visitors to the Garden.
Updated: 7 min 22 sec ago

Care and Feeding for a Giant Bloom

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 2:57pm

One of the top questions we have been getting about Spike the titan arum is “How do you know how much water to give him?” 

 Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) a mere few days from bloom.

It’s nearly showtime! The outer bracts have fallen away, and the spathe is now showing a slight purple cast.

The care and feeding that we have given Spike and his fellow titan arums—our collection of nine Amorphophallus titanum growing in our production greenhouses—is very specific!

Yes, the cultivation requirements for these plants are strict. Titan arums require well-maintained conditions of high humidity and high temperature—similar to their natural conditions in the tropical rainforests of Sumatra. Therefore, the cultivation is not particularly suitable for most beginners or homeowners with minimal greenhouse facilities.

Watering the bloom

During Spike’s flowering stage, we make sure the soil is evenly moist at all times. This is important to continue flower development and prevent the spathe (the frilly modified leaf) from drying out or not opening. We also pay special attention to air humidity—we try to keep the humidity between 75 to 90 percent saturation at all times. How? We keep the floors wet and prevent excessive venting in the greenhouse.

 A hygrometer in Spike's planter measures relative humidity in the greenhouse.

A hygrometer in Spike’s planter measures relative humidity in the greenhouse.

Watering for leaf growth

Spike and the rest of the collection have grown through many leaf and dormancy cycles into larger corms (a type of underground tuber or bulb). It would seem that tending the growing corms would be about as complicated as a typical bulb, but a close eye must be kept on how the corms are watered to prevent them from drying out or rotting. As the leaves grow larger each growth period (12 to 18 months), their increasingly larger corms may prevent the soil beneath them from becoming wet. Increasing watering to make sure the soil is kept moist at the bottom of the tuber could cause the corm to rot, as most of its roots develop on the upper surface. The growing medium must be evenly moist at all times, but not wet, and the soil should never dry out completely, especially at the start of leaf development. Using a loose medium and a layer of gravel drainage in the planters ensures that water reaches all parts of the corm without flooding it. Finally, we repot the corms—a lot—to make sure the soil stays evenly moist, and to give them room to grow! 

Yes, we went through a lot of pots…

 An Amorphophallus titanum corm.

When repotting very large corms, it is important not to lay them directly on a hard surface. Their own weight can cause damage to the bottom of the corm and cause rotting. Photo by Georgialh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Spike was repotted many times as the corm continued to grow larger each season. In fact, several times the pots or containers that the plant was growing in would crack or break as the swelling corm beneath the soil surface would “push” outward and damage its container. Last fall, we finally had our carpenters here at the Chicago Botanic Garden make big 42″-by- 42″ wooden crates as a more permanent home to grow Spike and several others in our collection. At the end of each dormancy cycle, we carefully lift the corms, inspect them for pests or rot, and remove any unwanted new bulbils that may have formed. When moving these corms to their new homes, we provided extra drainage at the bottom of the crates by amending the soil with more perlite at the bottom and a layer of gravel.

How hot is it in here, exactly?

Not surprisingly for a Sumatran plant, Amorphophallus titanum prefer to be grown at temperatures between 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 68 to 80 degrees at night—pretty warm, and without a lot of temperature fluctuation. Temperatures above 90 degrees or extreme cool temperatures may damage the foliage or flower, so we are keeping a close eye on Spike as visitors come to check on his progress.

The future’s so bright…

Spike also needs a lot of sunlight—both in leaf and flower form. We provide minimal shading to our collection (enough to prevent foliar damage), and only during the hottest summer months. Does that mean we need additional lighting to compensate for Chicago being so far north of the equator? Actually, no. No additional lighting or day length control have been necessary. The lights currently surrounding Spike in the greenhouse are for our time-lapse cameras, to make sure our star is lit evenly on his performance night!

Does Spike need a lot of fertilizer?

Definitely! Titan arums require high levels of fertilizer to be applied on a regular basis while in the leaf stage. We fertilized at every other watering, especially during the summer months, and reduced fertilization during the colder winter months. When we determined the emerging shoot of Spike was indeed a flower, however, fertilization ceased.

Are you sure you don’t know exactly when Spike will open?

We’re sure we don’t know for certain. We have key factors we look for, like the bracts (outer leaves) shriveling up and falling away 48 hours before a bloom. But this is not always the rule—in some cases, blooming is what makes the bracts finally fall away from the flower! In the end, only Spike knows when he’ll bloom.

 Spike the titan arum on display at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Spike’s fans check in in his progress—it won’t be long, now!

As you can see, the cultivation of our Amorphophallus titanum collection can be somewhat challenging! Providing them with the unique cultural requirements to get them to live long enough and to eventually bloom is a mighty task. However, all the extra “TLC” given by our greenhouse staff will be well worth the long wait to see Spike bloom in just a few days.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

About That Smell…

Sat, 08/15/2015 - 9:20am

The night Spike blooms will thrill us all in the semi-tropical greenhouse, with its breathtaking flower…accompanied by a titanically rotten smell. 

“Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch. The three words that best describe you are as follows— and I quote: stink, stank, stunk!”
—Dr. Seuss

“Titan Tim” Pollak here once again, with an update on Spike, our still-growing titan arum. Spike continues to get bigger, not only in height, but also in girth! What we’re really curious about, however, is the aroma.

The stench is one of the cool reasons to stay up late and come to the Garden that night—we’ll be open from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Here’s what to expect in terms of scent:

What an "arum-atic" combination of scents!

What an “arum-atic” combination of scents!

  • As the spathe gradually unfurls, the spadix releases powerful odors meant to attract pollinators. The potency of the aroma gradually increases from late evening until the middle of the night and then tapers off as morning arrives.
  • Analyses of chemicals released by the spadix show the “stench” includes dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), dimethyl disulfide, trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid (sweaty socks), benzyl alcohol (sweet floral scent), phenol (like Chloraseptic), and indole (like mothballs).
  • The titan arum’s odor has been described in many other terms as well: rotting flesh, rancid meat, rotting animal carcass, old dirty socks, and even the smell of death itself, which accounts for the plant’s common name, the corpse flower.
  • In its natural habitat on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, the “fragrance” is used to attract the carrion-eating beetles, dung beetles, and flesh flies that pollinate the titan arum. The inflorescence’s deep red color and texture contribute to the illusion that the spathe is a piece of meat.
  • During bloom, the tip of the spadix is approximately human body temperature, which helps the fragrance volatilize (turn to vapor) and travel long distances; the heat may also advertise that there’s a fresh carcass for insects to check out. 
 Dung beetle (Catharsius sp.)

Carrion flies and dung beetles like this one (Catharsius sp.) think that stink smells great. Photo ©2012 via potokito-myshot.blogspot.com

A different view of ewwww!

Carrion beetles, dung flies, and flesh flies aren’t responding to the call of the titan arum’s scent because they want to be pollinators—they’re responding because they want a good environment in which to lay their eggs. 

In the wild, mama beetles and flies lay eggs on dead animals or animal feces knowing that the larvae that hatch will have an immediately-available, rich source of food.

In its natural rainforest habitat, the titan arum has adapted to that fact. Over evolutionary time, it has developed the right scent to attract those insects—and, like many scented flowers, to deceive them with scent into acting as the unwitting spreaders of their pollen. 

Keep checking back for more on Spike’s progress!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Spike’s Wild World

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 5:23pm

“Where does a titan arum come from?” That’s a question we heard a lot from Spike’s visitors this past weekend. 

 Sumatra, highlighting the western mountain range of the island.

Titan arum occurs throughout the Barisan mountain range in West Sumatra, Indonesia.

The titan arum, native to the rainforests of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, was first “discovered” by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in 1878. On August 6, 1878, he first observed the leaves and fruits of a plant (interestingly, August 6 is the date we put Spike on public view!). Several weeks later, Beccari saw a flowering plant for the first time. He sent a few tubers and seeds to Florence, Italy, but the tubers all perished; a few seeds, however, eventually germinated. One of those seedlings was sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in England. There, in 1889, 11 years after its discovery, a titan arum plant flowered for the first time outside its tropical home.

No one knows how common the titan arum is in the wild. Many suspect it is endangered. Its only known habitat is the rainforest of Sumatra, which is being steadily eroded by deforestation for palm oil production, by pollution, and by human encroachment. The corms are also being dug up for food—and by collectors or poachers.

 Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Luke Mackin.

Kerinci Seblat National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia, features dense rainforest. Photo by Luke Mackin

Also contributing to their demise is the fact that many species in the genus Amorphophallus, including the titan arum, are highly endemic. This means that they are only found in relatively small, restricted geographical areas. If the rainforest home of these species is destroyed, we will continue to see their numbers decrease.

 Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in bloom in its native habitat in Sumatra. Photo © Luke Mackin/Wild Sumatra

Finding a titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in bloom in its native habitat is a thrilling experience. Photo © Luke Mackin

What can we do to help conserve the titan arum and similar plants? Start by learning more about tropical rainforests, and the impact of deforestation in these areas. Support your local botanic gardens, arboreta, and universities where scientists are studying endangered plant species and promoting the importance of plant conservation.

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is one of the plant kingdom’s most spectacular phenomena—and spectacular plants help us all to realize the incredible complexity and diversity of the natural world.

"See Spike" button corpse flower
Become a Garden member and support the world’s spectacular plants, like Spike, at the Chicago Botanic Garden: We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.

We are getting closer to bloom time! Check our website, and #CBGSpike on social media to stay on top of bloom updates! When Spike blooms, we’ll stay open until 2 a.m.!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Titan Leaf or a Titan Bloom?

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 11:19am

“Titan Tim” Pollak here, with today’s update on Spike, our first-ever corpse flower.

 after a dozen or so years, it's large enough to produce a bloom!

The corm of an Amorphophallus titanum: after a dozen or so years, it’s large enough to produce a bloom!

Spike just keeps on growing at the Semitropical Greenhouse, and visitors are loving it. As they learn more about the coming bloom from the docents posted there, one of the most frequently ask questions is, “How could you tell this time that Spike was a flower?”

How could we tell that Spike was going to be a flower? It’s tricky. Even the most experienced botanists have a hard time determining whether a titan arum shoot is a flower or a leaf at first. But soon enough, the clues start to add up.

 An Amorphophallus titanum shoot to the right of a leaf stalk provides comparison for determining the slight bulge which could mean a flower bud.

An Amorphophallus titanum shoot to the right of a leaf stalk provides comparison for determining the slight bulge, which could mean a flower bud.

 The emerging Amorphophallus titanum plant looks leafy, unlike the smooth spadix which emerges from a flower bud.

The emerging Amorphophallus titanum plant looks leafy, unlike the smooth spadix that emerges from a flower bud.

  1. Spike is 12 years old. We know from other botanic gardens and conservatories that titan arums take a decade or more to send up their first flower shoot. We’ve been tending to this corm for about 12 years, so the timing was right.
  2. Is the corm big enough? The smaller the corm, the less power it has stored to send up the titan’s huge flower. This corm is about the size of a beach ball—definitely an appropriate size for flowering.
  3. A bulge at the base. It’s subtle, but a slight swelling at the base of the newly emerged shoot signaled something different than a leaf.
  4. A little off center. At 18 to 20 inches tall, we noticed a telltale sign: the tip of the shoot was off-center. While leaf shoots are true to center, we knew that a flower shoot powers up in a slightly different way. Again: it’s subtle but telling!
  5. Horticultural intuition. Both Deb Moore—our indoor floriculturist who tends to our nine titan arums—and I felt that the overall look of the shoot was different than what we’d experienced before with shoots that become a leaf. (While the titan’s non-bloom form may look like a stalk with multiple leaves, it is actually a single, giant leaf!) Like every gardener, you develop a sense for what’s “normal” and what’s not when it comes to your plants. We both thought that this shoot was somehow different, and it was!

 While these may look like branches and leaves, each of these Amorphophallus titanum are actually single-leaf plants.

While these may look like branches and leaves, each of these Amorphophallus titanum are actually single-leaf plants.

Our final “sign” was to ask the experienced titan growers from other institutions. We called upon the folks at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California; Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, D.C.; Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri, for their opinions and expertise. Their final confirmations gave us the thumbs up to go public with the big news that Spike would soon blast into bloom!

Like first-time parents, we are learning as we go. I can’t tell you how excited we all are in the production greenhouses—it’s a thrill to watch a plant that you’ve tended for so long finally get ready to flower! Visitors’ anticipation is rubbing off on us, too—we’ll be standing right next to you as the titan arum heads into its big night of bloom!

I’ll keep you posted…

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Is Spike Blooming Yet?

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 10:14am

Spike is about halfway up the expected height chart (we’re thinking 6 to 7 feet, ultimately), so the big question now is, “How do you know when it’s going to bloom?”

 Taken yesterday (August 11, 2015), our titan arum reaches the "halfway" point in its growth chart.

Taken yesterday (August 11, 2015), our titan arum reaches the “halfway” point in its growth chart.

Titan arums don’t give up their secrets easily. Just as it’s difficult to distinguish a leaf bud from a flower bud (we talked about that in our last blog post), it’s hard to know when the bloom cycle has actually begun.

Once again, our titan-experienced friends at other botanic gardens and conservatories have offered up a few helpful hints.

 Closeup of spathe loosening from spadix of Amorphophallus titanum at the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens 2 days before opening (in 2008).

A close-up shows the spathe loosening from spadix of Amorphophallus titanum at the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden two days before opening (in 2008).

  1. Growth slows. Spike is powering up 4 to 6 inches per day. As a titan gets ready to open, that growth rate slows noticeably. It’s a rather obvious clue, but by the time the plant is 6 or 7 feet tall, you start to marvel at the overall size and forget about incremental daily growth. We’re posting our measurements daily here, so heads up when you notice the numbers getting smaller.
  2. Bracts fall. What? Look down at the base of the spathe. Two modified leaves called bracts encircle the spathe. As Spike gets taller, these protective bracts shrivel and dry up. About a day before full bloom, they fall off—first one, then the other. That’s a sure sign that bloom is about to happen.
  3. The spathe loosens. Tightly wound around the towering spadix as it shoots up, the frilly leaf called a spathe starts to loosen its grip as bloom time nears, revealing the crazy-beautiful maroon color inside.

So those are the clues we’re watching for—now you can watch for them, too! How long will it be before the big night? I’ll keep you posted…

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Prepare for “Wow!”

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 4:33pm

Yesterday we moved our first titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), “Spike,” to the Semitropical Greenhouse. Now we are all watching and waiting for Spike to bloom—a dream of the Chicago Botanic Garden for 12 years! Finally, in the next ten days or so, we’ll see the fruit of our labor in all of its stinky glory.

 Meet Spike, our titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum).

Meet Spike, our titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum). We expect great things from this magnificent plant.

What’s next, and when?

Over the next several days, Spike will grow taller—some days, a barely noticeable inch, and other days, a remarkable 4 or 5 inches. Below the soil is a giant corm, which is a type of underground tuber or bulb (some can weight up to 200 pounds). The titan arum bloom has previously gone through three to ten annual cycles of emerging as a leafy stalk, dying back, and sending that energy back into the corm, which began as a germinated seed about the size of a quarter. 

Big bloom!

While it will look like Spike is a 6- to 8-foot-tall flower, what you will see is actually a tall spadix (flower structure) wrapped by a spathe (a frilly modified leaf). Over the next week, the spadix will emerge out of the top of the bud and continue to grow taller, until it’s time for the bloom. For a single day, the spathe will unwrap and open to a dark, velvety red “bloom,” closing again roughly 24 hours later. 

Big stench. No, really.

Inside the tightly wrapped spathe, the plant uses stored energy from the corm to heat up internally to 90+ degrees Fahrenheit. As the spathe opens, the 750 small female flowers ringing the bottom of the spadix release scent molecules that are volatilized (vaporized) by the heat, creating a blast of scent so powerful that it can travel an acre (or the distance between individual plants in their native Sumatran rain forests). The scent is a calling card for pollinators. 

 The spathe of the Amorphophallus titanum unwraps from the spadix at bloom time.

The spathe unwraps from the spadix at bloom time. Photo by Elke Wetzig (elya) (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What does Spike smell like? Chemically, the scent is a combination of dimethyl trisulfide, isovaleric acid, dimethyl disulfide, and trimethylamine—or, as our friends at Huntington Botanic Gardens described it, “a combination of limburger cheese, garlic, rotting fish, and smelly feet.”

The titan arum will be worth the wait! (Follow our #CBGSpike)

This is yet another “Wow!” produced by our production greenhouse staff for our visitors to rave about. 

Other Chicago Botanic Garden “Wows”:

  • More than 180,000 colorful and bountiful annuals and vegetables produced for displays throughout the Garden
  • The stunning and dramatic cascading chrysanthemums seen atop the bridge at the Visitor Center each fall, and the nearly 100 or so chrysanthemum “balls” we create every year for display in the Esplanade
  • The 10-foot-tall floral pyramids and blooming obelisks created to enhance seasonal displays

But Spike is the most distinguished of them all.

When Spike is ready to bloom, the Chicago Botanic Garden will stay open until 2 a.m., so everyone will have a chance to take in the odor and the remarkable color of the world’s largest unbranched inflorescence—a “Wow!” indeed. Blooming corpse flower.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

What’s that smell?

Thu, 08/06/2015 - 4:40pm

In gardening, as in life, patience is a virtue. Twelve years ago, the Garden embarked on a mission to bring a rock star of the plant world to the Chicago Botanic Garden. The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the corpse flower, is the largest flowering structure in the world. When it blooms, it puts on a show like no other. 

Huge. Rotten. Rare. Watch our video on YouTube of Spike moving to his display location.

Why the big stink? During the peak of its bloom, which could happen in the next two weeks, the titan arum will emit a foul odor that pollinators can detect from about an acre away. Who would want to miss that?

 Checking in on the progress of the titan arum, or corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum).

Checking in on the progress of the titan arum, or corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

Native to the rainforests of western Sumatra, Indonesia, the titan arum is distinguished by its large size, odd shape, and terrible stench (hence its common name, corpse flower). Plants bloom for a single day every seven to ten years, and it is nearly impossible to predict the day it will be at the peak of bloom. When those magical hours finally occur, the bloom unfurls into a dramatic, blood red “flower” with a nauseating stench that can be detected up to an acre away. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

We have been cultivating nine of these mysterious plants behind the scenes in the production greenhouses, watching them grow foliage each year, and guessing what a flower might look like as it emerges.

Today we are so excited to be moving Spike to the Semitropical Greenhouse in the Regenstein Center. (We have named our titan arum Spike because when you grow a plant for 12 years, you start to think of it as a child.) Spike is growing several inches every day. We are so proud of Spike and are also thrilled he is the first titan arum to bloom in the Chicago area.

Come welcome Spike, and join the countdown to the big bloom! If you do, let us know what you think in comments here, via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Tumblr. Use the hashtag #CBGSpike and our handle @chicagobotanic

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

African emperor moths hatch at the Garden!

Wed, 08/05/2015 - 9:51pm

July 29, exactly one week ago, was definitely the most exciting day for me at the Butterflies & Blooms exhibit this year! 

 Dorsal view of the enormous African emperor moth (Gonimbrasia zambesina).

Dorsal view of the enormous African emperor moth (Gonimbrasia zambesina)
Photo by Judy Kohn.

On July 3, we received what looked like “naked” pupae. These were the pupae of the bull’s eye silk moth, or African emperor moth (Gonimbrasia zambesina). Aside from a very slight wiggling the first day or two, the pupae just sat there in their box. Then, on Wednesday morning, I checked on them and noticed one of the pupae looked like it was broken open like an empty eggshell…but I couldn’t find a moth or anything else—until I looked up and saw it hanging in the top corner of the display! It was fabulous. I literally ran out to the volunteers to tell them the good news! (They ask, “Are there any new moths?” on a daily basis, and I usually have to say no.) I brought it out and placed it in the safest place I could think of, while still being easily visible to guests. I personally didn’t take a photo, but all the volunteers did—so that’s what you see here. It’s been a dramatic week!

 Ventral view of the Gonimbrasia zambesina.

Ventral view of the Gonimbrasia zambesina
Photo by Judy Kohn.

As far as the native butterflies and moths in our exhibition right now, we received 30 white peacocks, 12 buckeyes, and 8 gulf frits. I’ve never seen a gulf frit, so I’m looking forward to those pupae hatching. They came in on July 28, so I expect them to emerge any time now. (The smaller butterflies seem to emerge the fastest.)

 Patrick Sbordone talks butterflies with a group of younger visitors.

Come on by and ask me questions!
Photo by Judy Kohn.

Hope you can visit often—we have new species of butterflies hatching all the time! Check out our species list.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Beer From Here

Fri, 07/31/2015 - 10:37am

Begyle Brewing, Chef Cleetus Friedman and the Garden are launching a series of seasonal, small-batch saisons—Change of Saisons. The beer captures the best flavors of the season.

Chef Cleetus Friedman has had a long relationship with the Chicago Botanic Garden. You may know him as the executive chef of Fountainhead, the Bar on Buena, and the Northman, soon to open in Chicago. Perhaps you have enjoyed his appearances at the Garden Chef Series, where he teaches visitors to prepare local, seasonal recipes at the open-air amphitheater of the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. If you are lucky, you have experienced one of our Farm Dinners over the past six years, where Chef Friedman dreams up memorable meals with local food and drink for guests to enjoy in a garden setting. 

And now, that relationship has grown into something even more mouth-watering… 

 Cleetus Friedman of Fountainhead / The Bar on Buena.

Chef Cleetus Friedman of Fountainhead and the Bar on Buena!

Together with Begyle Brewing, a community-supported brewery in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago, Chef Friedman and the Garden are launching a series of seasonal, small-batch saisons—Change of Saisons. The beer will capture the best flavors of the season at the Garden, beginning with a strawberry rhubarb saison, sourced this spring. The team worked fast to bring this brew right back to the Garden for visitors to enjoy. The small batch of strawberry rhubarb saison will be followed by a berry-based saison and each will be available for only a limited time. 

“It’s a versatile beer for everyone coming to the Garden,” said Chef Friedman. 

Beer Rhubarb and Laura

On May 21, Laura Erickson, market manager of Windy City Harvest, harvested rhubarb from the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. Chef Friedman cooked it down to make a puree to use in the brew.

“Change of Saisons furthers our commitment to serve food and beverages that are sourced locally,” said Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development, “and you can’t get more local than our own backyard.”

What is a Saison?—The Garden’s new beer is a saison, a lighter type of ale originating from a French-speaking region of Belgium. It typically contains fruit and spice notes. Farmers brewed this ale during the cooler months and stored it until the following summer, where it was given to seasonal workers, or “saisonniers.”

Change of Saisons is available on tap (while supplies last) at the Garden Grille on the Garden View Café deck. You may also sip saison at Autumn Brews on Thursday, October 8, 2015. 

 

 

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

 

A Swede in Glencoe

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 9:44am

My name is Duana Pearson, and I work as a full-time horticulturist at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England. But this summer I’ve had the opportunity to travel and work at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

 Visiting horticulturist Duana Pearson visits and lends a hand in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden.

Visiting horticulturist Duana Pearson visits and lends a hand in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

When I first joined the Eden Project four and a half years ago, my role was to focus on outdoor crops. These days, that’s expanded, and I get to do a wide variety of tasks: I’m one of nine horticulturists in the outdoor garden, and my areas of responsibility include the Spiral Garden (our children’s garden), Myth & Folk—a woodland glen-type area, and a soft fruit garden. My most demanding and favorite area is Plants for Taste—an ornamental vegetable garden where I demonstrate beautiful vegetable varieties, edible flowers, and companion planting. This was the first area I was given when I joined the Eden Project, even though I didn’t have a lot of vegetable-growing experience. It’s a high profile part of the garden too, so I’ve had a very steep learning curve!

This is why I chose to spend most of my time at Chicago Botanic Garden in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. I’ve wanted to experience working in other botanic gardens for some time now. When I started looking at options last year, the Garden’s Fruit & Vegetable Garden really attracted me. Thankfully, I was able to put together a project—two weeks volunteering at the Chicago Botanic Garden, plus attending the American Public Gardens Association conference in Minneapolis—that successfully received support and funding from my employer, the Royal Horticultural Society, and the Merlin Trust.

But rather than just share a diary of my time in the Garden, I want to talk about food. 

While working here and talking to other horticulturists in the Garden, we discovered some culinary differences—my favorite was rutabaga. Firstly, in the UK, we call it swede. From what I understand, people in the United States don’t mind eating it in autumn, but few really like it; and mostly it’s fed to animals.

 A cartful of Laurentian rutabaga, plus carrot cultivars ‘St. Valery’ and ‘Danvers’ just harvested July 8—all from 1890s vegetable beds!

A cartful of Laurentian rutabaga, plus carrot cultivars ‘St. Valery’ and ‘Danvers’ just harvested July 8—all from 1890s vegetable beds!

Well! You can be forgiven for not knowing this, but swedes are an essential ingredient in one of our national dishes, the cornish pasty. Steeped in history and beef, cornish pasty is considered Cornwall’s national dish. You will find versions of the traditional pasty—claimed to have originated as a meal for Cornish miners—wherever those miners moved, and I would love to pass this delicious dish on to you. Swedes are a home garden staple, and I hope you will make them a part of your garden, too.

Disclaimer: I am not Cornish!—though this recipe has come from a real Cornish lady. In 2011, the cornish pasty was awarded a Protected Geographic Indication. This means that only pasties made in Cornwall, following the traditional recipe, can legally be called (and sold as) a “Cornish Pasty.” You can call them steak pasties instead! Enjoy!

 Cornish pasty.Pasty Recipe from J. Kendall
(Proper Cornish maid, and my supervisor)

Short Crust Pastry
You can make this a day ahead and refrigerate. (Making extra to freeze, too, saves work next time.)

1 pound all-purpose flour
4 ounces cold butter 
4 ounces cold lard*
Up to 1/3 pint water (1/3–2/3 cup)
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit (220 Celsius).

Mix the dry ingredients together, and cut in very cold fats with a knife. Add water a bit at a time until dough just comes together. Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Knead, but don’t over-knead, or dough will go tough. Roll out the dough, and place a dinner plate over the dough to cut out a circle. 

Filling
(I’ve never weighed this.)

A good handful of chipped potato (1-2 potatoes), heaped in the centre of the pastry disc. (Don’t dice or slice! Hold the potato in one hand, and chip off wedges with a knife in your other hand.)
One coarsely chopped onion
Peeled, diced swede—the amount to match the amount of onion
A handfull of diced beef skirt (belly area)
A generous pinch each of salt and pepper
Add a knob of butter (or clotted cream, to be properly Cornish) if the beef looks a bit lean

Fold the pastry edge up over the innards. It won’t look like it will fit, but be gentle and it will go. Crimp the edges shut using your fingers—we don’t approve the use of forks to do this! Make a slit on the top of the pasty to let out steam as it cooks. For a golden-brown finish, whisk an egg and apply egg wash to the pasty before putting in the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes until done. For presentation: Cornish men think a pasty should at least meet the edge of the plate you are serving it on. If not, hang the pasty over the edge.

*Note for Americans: shortening can be used in place of lard. We at the Garden have attempted to Americanize the measurements in our translation of this recipe—at least for the pasty crust.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org