Learning

Cozying up with five cool, rare books

Rare Books

Winter is a great season for bookworms—there’s nothing like a good book to keep you company during the colder months. And as far as stories go, the Rare Book Collection at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library is a true treat.

The Lenhardt Library acquired its Rare Book Collection from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 2002. These approximately 2,500 volumes represent primary sources in the world of botany and horticulture and give us a glimpse into the history of plants all the way back to ancient Greece.

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Create your own solstice tradition

When our daughter was growing up, we wanted to teach her about the cycles of nature and, in the process, maybe sneak some science in there. This naturally led to the reasons the seasons occur in terms of planetary motions, and this led to discussions of the solstice and equinox.

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How the world celebrates the Winter Solstice

Winter

On December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, Earth’s tilt positions the North Pole as far away from the sun as it will be all year, and we experience our shortest day. For the natural world, the Winter Solstice represents a moment of quiet and dormancy. After the first day of winter, the days begin to lengthen again, and with the returning sun comes the promise of new life.

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Fall Harvest Activities for Horticultural Therapy

Fall flowers

I make no secret about the fact that fall is my absolute favorite season. Between the pumpkin-spiced treats, falling leaves, warm-toned landscape, and endless fall activities, I simply can’t get enough of the many opportunities that fall brings. 

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Helping the “Blind” to See

Guest blogger and Bucknell University professor Chris Martine, Ph.D., talks about guiding students away from their electronic devices and into the plant world.

It is a pretty spring day. The sun shines through my office window, illuminating the old and worn photo on my desk. With the image is a handwritten note: “1912 photo of Bucknell botany class field trip.” Twenty-nine formally dressed students are shown sitting near a river, a specimen and an open floristic manual in each of their laps.

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Mushroom Magic

Have you noticed all the mushrooms popping up in lawns, mulch, and next to trees? We asked Greg Mueller, Ph.D., chief scientist and Negaunee vice president of science at the Garden for answers.

Yard mushrooms

Why do mushrooms pop up out of nowhere?

Mushrooms can appear magical—seeming to pop up overnight. This is part of their mystique.

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The Benefits of Outdoor Spaces for the Elderly

A well-designed outdoor space can do wonders for seniors and those with Alzheimer’s disease. But how do these gardens differ from other outdoor spaces and why are they so important?

Housing for the elderly has been provided in many western cities since the Middle Ages. Facilities such as independent living centers, skilled nursing homes, dementia or memory care units, and hospice facilities have traditionally included some form of outdoor space.

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Top Five Reasons to Choose Nature Preschool

Anyone who reads the volumes of research can easily see all the reasons why a nature preschool is not just a real preschool, but should be a standard for all preschool environments to aspire to attain.

Here are my top five reasons why a nature preschool should be the choice of all parents when deciding on their child’s first preschool experience.

No. 1: Children in nature preschools learn by doing and with hands-on activities.

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How Gardens Reflect the Plants and People of Asia

Acknowledging Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

If you removed Asian plants from the living collection of the Chicago Botanic Garden, the experiences and beauty we offer would be greatly diminished. Of all the different type of plants we grow here, half trace their origin to Asia, and more than one-third of all plant cultivars in our collection emanate from the same source.

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Where in the Garden are you?

How well do you know the Chicago Botanic Garden? Find out with our mystery photo challenge! Guess these objects and where to find them with our close-up snapshots.

Click on the picture to reveal the answer to each clue below.

Mystery Photo Challenge

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Gifts That Gardeners Give

What do gardeners give as gifts?

Staff around the Chicago Botanic Garden get creative this time of year, sharing harvests of fruit, nuts, herbs, and more in creative—and delicious—style. We asked our staff to share their handmade gift ideas, and their responses were so creative that we knew you’d say, “Share.”

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Give thanks for pollinators on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is here again, and we at the Chicago Botanic Garden are thankful for all the pollinators who make our food possible, every day, around the world. Bats, bees, butterflies, birds, and more pollinate plants that create one-third of the food we eat.

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Caring for your live Christmas tree

Over the river and through the woods you trekked to find the perfect, most lush Christmas tree (okay, maybe you drove to the nearest retail lot and pointed at that one). Now that you picked your evergreen, how do you make it last through the holidays (and possibly even longer)?

Keeping your tree fresh isn’t hard—most can live up to a month—as long as you follow some simple rules of evergreen thumb. Get it? Here's how to get the most life out of your tree in a few easy steps.

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Gardening and Autism

Horticultural therapy has proven benefits for individuals with autism.

The integration of horticultural therapy and therapy gardens within health and human service agencies has grown exponentially in recent years. In senior centers, gardening and garden spaces are used to help with fine motor skills, socialization, and ambulatory movement. In veteran’s hospitals, gardening is used for exercise, vocational training, and education.

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Kids become ecologists on Ms. Frizzle-worthy Garden field trips

Tiny hands, belonging to a class of third graders, carefully fold rulers into squares and rest them on a grassy meadow near the Dixon Prairie. Inside these 2- by-2-foot quadrants is a fantastical world to discover: the height of different species of plants, the temperature of the soil, the wind and the sun, and the climate of the lawn.

The children have a mission on this blustery October morning, an adventure in the far reaches of the Chicago Botanic Garden, where a yellow school bus opens its doors to a field trip inside the life of a Garden scientist.

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The beauty of street botanists

Ever see a tree or even a weed and wonder what kind of plant it is? We’d love for you to stumble across the answer—right in front of you.

Inspired by a movement by French botanists, my 5-year-old daughter and I decided to become street botanists for the day. We would identify plants in the neighborhood and write their names in chalk on the sidewalk.

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The Singular Pleasure of Reading Outside

People don’t always think of the Garden as a place to read, but we have the perfect backdrop for your escape into another world. Don’t wait until after the weather turns; grab a book and pick your sweet spot soon—we’ve got plenty of benches throughout our 385-acre grounds, some of them tucked away in secluded areas and others more public.

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The Gift of Gardening

Teaching Children and Grandchildren Valuable Lessons, One Seed at a Time

Parents and grandparents are often children’s first and most important teachers. For 15 years, I have had the pleasure of teaching families with young children at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It is a gift to work in a garden with children because there is so much about gardening that we can use to help them grow.

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Gardening As We Age

If you’re reading this article, you may be familiar with some of the challenges that sometimes face older folks: muscles may get weaker and ache more readily. Falls can do more damage. Your energy and endurance may wane, and your skin may get thinner. Your eyesight and memory many not be as sharp, and your fine motor skills may become less coordinated.

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Go Outside: It's Good for You

Interested in a healthier, happier life? Try connecting with the natural world. A new, technologically advanced body of research shows that spending time in nature can provide protection against cancer, high blood pressure, depression, stress, and more.

Nature WalksTake a walk in nature to improve your mood and your health.

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Veggies Go Vertical

Quite often, it’s the vining vegetables that cause the unruliness: never-ending indeterminate tomatoes, crazy-prolific cucumbers, and winding-everywhere pole beans can make a mockery of a gardener’s carefully measured beds and neat rows unless they get the support they need.

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Find a Sit-Spot in Nature

Sit-spots are pretty much what they sound like—a place outside where you can sit and reflect. We use them often with little ones in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Nature Preschool.

The dedicated places are a mindful way for people of any age to check in with and be present in the natural world.

Choosing a Spot

Find a Sit-Spot in Nature

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How to tell someone: You rock

Here’s a quick, creative way to let mom or a special someone know that you care—make a kindness stone, just because.

You may have seen kindness stones around your neighborhood. After my daughter and I recently painted some rocks, I was putting them around a flower bed in our front yard when a woman walked by. She said, “I love those—every time I see one on my walk, I take a picture and post it. Do you mind?”

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The Language of Flowers

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

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

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Nature Play Never Stops

Even when the kids have schoolwork, it’s still important for them to play outside. Outdoor activities encourage creativity and independent thinking.

The good news is that outdoor play time has many benefits; a growing body of research shows that nature play encourages creativity and problem solving, boosts academic performance, helps people focus, reduces stress, and promotes positive social relationships.

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Welcome, Daffodils

Is there any more welcome sight than daffodils blooming in the spring? Not to me! I’m thrilled by the sight of these flowers, their colors ranging from the most vivid yellows and oranges to muted pastels to pure white.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, daffodils so captivated the poet William Wordsworth that he wrote “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” a poem celebrating their ability to lift the spirit.

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Happy Earth Day

For Earth Day this year, take some time to appreciate the rich soil that covers our planet and supports plant life. Try this soil seed-bank test to discover the magic of topsoil.

Earth Day Terrarrium - Beginning Growth

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Daffy for Daffodils

More than 200 years ago, English poet William Wordsworth came upon the happy sight of daffodils in spring—and was inspired to write one of the most beloved nature poems in the English language.

The poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” is a reminder of the ability of the natural world to lift spirits. Wordsworth wrote the poem on April 15, 1802, after a walk in the Lake District of rural northwest England.

On the walk, along the water’s edge, he spotted golden daffodils swaying in the breeze.

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Kids Get Crafty

My 3-year-old son and I have enjoyed many seasons of Little Diggers. We have learned new things together and have had a lot of fun with the projects. One of our favorite projects was with insects. We got up close and personal with ants, butterflies, grasshoppers, and ladybugs. The instructor set up habitats in mesh containers where we could look at each group of insects with magnifying glasses and two-way viewers—the same tools real scientists use every day.

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Candling in the Japanese Garden

Have you been to the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden lately? If you have, you probably saw some of the garden staff perching in the branches of the niwaki. We’re not building nests or hiding out; we’re candling.

In early spring, a niwaki near the bridge stands in need of candling.

Niwaki

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Start seeds while you stay inside

Looking for fun projects to do indoors? Here’s one with a great return: start seeds. It’s easy to do, whether you want to start seeds on a sunny windowsill or in a more formal arrangement. The great thing about starting seeds indoors is that it is relatively inexpensive—and who can resist the satisfaction of watching those first sprouts spring to life?

seedlings in a flat

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The Healing Power of Nature

A cold spring—or, as some of us in the Second City affectionately call it: Second Winter—can test our ability to feel connected to anything living, including each other and ourselves. When we are stuck inside, our mental images of cherry blossoms, tulips, and forsythia, are hit with the reality of the snow outside our windows, causing a short circuitry in our minds and a yearly re-questioning of “Why do we even live here?” 

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It’s Easy to be Green for the Holidays

Winter is no stranger to Chicago and can sometimes feel like a less-than-pleasant guest. But as the days get shorter and colder, we set our sights on the gifts of winter and look forward to holidays, friends, and food.

Put planet Earth on your gift list and consider these ideas for how to have a more environmentally friendly holiday season:

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Eleven Experiments with Radish Seeds

Many students I know struggle to find a good idea for science fair projects and sometimes wait until the last minute to do their experiments. We in the Education Department of the Chicago Botanic Garden are committed to helping make science fair a painless and even fun learning experience for students, parents, and teachers by offering some simple ideas for studying plants.

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Inside the Minds of Future Scientists

When Science First student Divine isn’t at the Chicago Botanic Garden, she’s in her backyard, trying to use her iffy, only-works-when-it-wants-to telescope and peering into the future. Someday, she wants to be an astrophysicist and help put people into space.

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