Garden Stories


From Grower to Giver

At dawn, the harvest begins at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden where pounds of fruit and vegetables are picked and nudged from the soil, then loaded into volunteers’ cars. Soon after, the boxes arrive at the Roberti Community House in nearby Waukegan.

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The Garden’s nightlife

The night was warm and still when the bats flew over the lake.

On the Serpentine Bridge, 16 people—the only visitors at the 385-acre Chicago Botanic Garden—watched the bats hunt on Evening Island for night-flying insects and a little honeysuckle nectar to wash them down.

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Barbie’s Garden Party

Come on Barbie, let’s go Garden!

hi, Barbie!

With her super-busy schedule—plant conservation scientist, florist, farmer—Barbie had the best day ever at the real-world Chicago Botanic Garden recently. 

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Loving mistletoe—but not for the reason you think

What happens when you try to tell a science story with wild mistletoe? The backstory involves a 6½ hour drive to the Kentucky border and tricky hand-paddling on an overloaded kayak.

We thought that mistletoe would be the perfect plant to explain plant relationships as part of a science display for Love in Bloom, this summer’s theme at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Mistletoe—a plant that typically inspires romance—is actually a parasite. The plant’s roots penetrate the bark of a host plant and steal its nutrients.

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To Mow or Not to Mow…

Have you noticed some of the neighbors’ lawns are a bit taller this month? They may be taking part in No Mow May—a movement that began in Great Britain in 2019 and has spread to North America and beyond. The goal is to leave the “weeds”—clover, dandelions, violets—even creeping Charlie (gasp!) so that bees can feed on their spring flowers.

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The Garden Embraces Artificial Intelligence

The new entrance, picnic pavilion, and shade garden were not the only innovations the Garden has been working on this past year. Over the last few years, our horticulturists have been working with Cognitive Gardens, Inc., to install a state-of-the-art “smart garden” network. Cognitive Gardens specializes in applying artificial intelligence technology to improve performance in living systems.

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Welcome, gardeners, to the Year of the Rabbit

Lunar New Year - Year of the Rabbit

Each Lunar New Year brings new fortunes, each lunar year is associated with a zodiac animal, and this year is the Year of the Rabbit. The Rabbit is associated with the Earthly Branch, and the hours 5 to 7 in the morning. In Asian cultures, rabbits represent the moon. Some believe it is because the shadows of the moon resemble a rabbit; others believe it is due to the rabbit’s pure characteristics.

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Reflecting on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy

Windy City Harvest

At the Chicago Botanic Garden, our staff community is working on being intentional in the way we do our work. In September 2022, we introduced a new set of values: growth, understanding, resilience, and trust and transparency. These values guide the work of our community and are our day-to-day actions that tie together everything we do.

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Golden Memories

50 Year Members

For 50-year members, the Garden has meant inspiration, refuge, and more

Gold Waterlily

The Chicago Botanic Garden has been celebrating its 50th birthday throughout 2022, and it wouldn’t be a party without the people who have been with us since the beginning: our members of 50 years.

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Plant stories we love

Orchid show

You talk to your plants, right?

You’re not the only one—48% of Americans do, according to a recent survey. We might have said a word or three to our stinky "three-headed" corpse flower when it bloomed in 2020…

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Our Commitment to Indigenous Communities


The Chicago Botanic Garden sits on what used to be the Skokie Marsh, part of the ancestral homelands of the Council of Three Fires—the Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi Tribes—and a place of trade with many other Tribes, including the Ho-Chunk, Miami, Menominee, Sauk, and Meskwaki. The marsh once served as a portage for Native Americans crossing between Lake Michigan and the upper Des Plaines River. However, it caused problems for white settlers with peat and clay soils poor for European-style farming, which flooded regularly.

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Where Love is in the Air

Japanese Bridge

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.

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Single-handedly Teaching About Titans

When Ross Gerbasi and his coworkers at Threaded Films heard that the Chicago Botanic Garden’s first titan arum, Spike, might bloom in August, they immediately thought, “puppet.”

An unusual thought, unless you happen to be Ross…or his mom, Debi Gerbasi…or artist Jessica Plummer. These three started making puppets together for fun about a year ago. Naturally, the group began with puppets of themselves…then of all the guys at Threaded Films (a video/production company with a penchant for film gear). 

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Checking the Weather? So Are We

It’s the humblest patch of green at the Chicago Botanic Garden, yet the information gathered there has national implications—and, though you may not realize it, it’s part of your daily prep for work, school, and play.

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Making the trains run at the Model Railroad Garden

At the Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America, you see model trains chugging charmingly through the trees, mountains, and cityscapes, and clacking across bridges as they merrily toot their horns.

You don’t see the workshop crammed with test tracks, a lathe, a drill press, soldering irons, a drawer filled with spare train motors, dozens of bins of spare parts, and rows of small jars of paint labeled “CNW yellow” and “Wisconsin Central maroon.”

But that’s what keeps the trains rolling at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

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The Team Behind the GardenGuide App

The secret is out; visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden have unprecedented access to plant information, guides, and tours through a groundbreaking smartphone app, called GardenGuide. Garden staff and volunteers used their skills and savvy to squeeze interactive maps, audio guides, points of interest, and botanic details on more than 10,000 plants into an application that sits in the palm of your hand. How did they do it, and what keeps the wheels turning?

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Atlas Moths & African Moon Moths Are Here

It’s been another fantastic season at Butterflies & Blooms at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This is my second year working at Butterflies & Blooms, and I think it’s looking better than ever. 

The biggest surprise this year happened this week.

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For the Love of Trains

Once there was a boy who loved model trains. When the boy grew up, he became the chief engineer of train exhibitions at the Chicago Botanic Garden—and he still plays with trains. “I hardly get to play with my railroad at home because I get to play with this one,” said Dave Rodelius, in the tone of a man who can’t believe his good fortune.

Dave Rodelius shows off one of the stars of the Model Railroad Garden this spring: a steam engine!

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Butterflies in Print

The Lenhardt Library hosts remarkable exhibitions throughout the year. These exhibitions highlight parts of the collection that visitors might not otherwise see, and the exhibitions are among the Garden’s best-loved secrets! Stacy Stoldt, public services manager of the Lenhardt Library, curated the exhibition, Butterflies in Print: Lepidoptera Defined.

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Extreme Pumpkins

Riley Obenchain conjures a feeling of mischief and magic.

He wears a tattered straw hat, trimmed with a red poppy, that looks like something a scarecrow might wear. His bushy black eyebrows dance when he talks, bringing to mind the woolly bear caterpillars abundant in the fall. A playfulness—tinged with the macabre—also shows in the jack-o-lantern characters Obenchain created for HallowFest, the Garden’s former celebration of Halloween.

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Celebrate with Us

This year, the Chicago Botanic Garden commemorates the 125th anniversary of the Chicago Horticultural Society, which created the Garden and manages it today.

The roots of the Chicago Botanic Garden run deep. Ground was broken in 1965 and the Garden opened in 1972, but its underpinnings can be traced to 1890, when the Chicago Horticultural Society was founded.

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Now Blooming: Vanilla

Attention orchid fans: our vanilla orchid is blooming in the Tropical Greenhouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It’s a rare occurrence in the wild—and in a greenhouse. Wade Wheatley, assistant horticulturist, seized the moment to hand-pollinate the flower. 

Why hand pollinate? In hopes of producing a vanilla bean. Yes, the fruit of a vanilla orchid is used to make pure vanilla extract, which flavors many foods we enjoy.

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Let Nature Be Your Eclipse Viewing Guide

We love nature here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, so we looked to the natural world for inspiration on how to enjoy the eclipse—here at the Garden, or in your own backyard.

On Monday, August 21, 2017, people across the United States witnessed a rare event: the first total solar eclipse to cross over the country from coast to coast in nearly a century.

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For the Ages: the Helen and Richard Thomas English Walled Garden

Step past the sleepy stone lion, breathe in the cowslip primrose, and listen to the water trickle into an eighteenth-century lead cistern—the feeling is as timeless as the tiny thyme plants growing between the hand-pressed bricks. So how do we preserve that timeless feeling while making sure the Helen and Richard Thomas English Walled Garden withstands the rigors of time?

Work is underway to enhance the English Walled Garden’s magestical tapestry.

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Dedicated to the one I love

Early last summer I noticed a small row of books, bracketed by nice-looking bookends, on a shelf behind the front desk at the Lenhardt Library. “Those are our dedication books,” explained Leora Siegel, library director. “If visitors or members would like to pay tribute to someone special or mark a special occasion, they can dedicate a book in the library in the same way that they might dedicate a tree or a bench in other Garden areas.”

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A Sip of Salep

We gathered around a table at the Garden View Café the other day to taste something that only one of us had ever tasted before: powdered orchid roots.

A traditional winter drink in the cafés and restaurants of Turkey, salep is made from the tuberous roots of orchids—specifically, terrestrial orchids in the genus Orchis. Dried and powdered, the resulting flour is combined in a drink mix with other ingredients, much as hot chocolate or chai spices would be: sugar, cornstarch, powdered milk, cinnamon, and vanillin (the main flavor component in vanilla) are added.

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A Flower-Powered Picnic

What does your mental checklist look like when you think “romantic evening”? Does it include picnicking? Flowers? Music? Dancing? Sunsets? Selfies? Walking hand in hand?

A romantic picnic need not be formal or fancy. The secret to making it romantic is a personal touch—something that both reflects your personality and makes the evening more fun. It could be a picnic blanket with a story. It could be real plates/glasses/flatware instead of plastic. It could be a home-cooked meal or an out-of-the-ordinary beverage.

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Hand to Hand

Long-ago legend says that cranes can live for 1,000 years…and that folding 1,000 paper cranes, one for each year, can make a wish come true. 

So it is that the crane is the symbol of longevity and good fortune.

Fast forward to the turn of the twenty-first century, when Ray Wilke, a devoted volunteer in the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden, decided to make origami cranes as a take-away gift for children who visited the garden’s Shoin House. Each winter, Ray and wife Ginny folded cranes…and each spring/summer Ray handed them out, one by one, to the curious children.

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A Long Row to Hoe: How Gardening Offers a Primer for Life

The January issue of National Geographic features articles on two topics dear to me: American’s national parks (I just planned a Grand Canyon/Arches trip for June!), and the power of nature to improve mental health. The latter article cites scientific evidence that nature makes us happier, more productive, nicer to each other, and—critically—more forgiving of ourselves.

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True Garden Love Stories

Of all the summer evening sights at the Chicago Botanic Garden, only one can compete with the flowers: the brides.

Beautiful in their gowns, stepping delicately into the Krasberg Rose Garden or walking down toward the Smith Fountain at the Esplanade, they trail bridesmaids and tuxedoed men and happy families. As they pass, we onlookers stop in our tracks, smile goofily, gawk unabashedly…and let our thoughts turn to romance.

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Can Spike’s “Perfume” Be Captured in a Jar?

Of the many Spike-related questions asked by visitors this week, our favorite came from 8-year-old Prairie! In the video below, Prairie wants to know, in essence, if she can transport Spike’s malodorous odor from the Chicago Botanic Garden to her classroom.

Good question, Prairie!

Conservation scientist Dr. Shannon Still has a fascinating response. Dr. Still will attempt to pollinate Spike’s flowers during bloom with pollen shared by our friends from The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, and Denver Botanic Gardens.

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What’s that smell?

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. 

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Catch Summer and Pokémon at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Pokémon hunting in the Garden can be a great way to stop and take a closer look at some of the gardens while connecting with other visitors. Ordinarily, we love our visitors to enjoy our gardens with their senses, not their phones, but with the new Pokémon GO app, you can do both.

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10 Romantic Getaways at the Garden

It’s a warm summer evening, and you’re at the Chicago Botanic Garden with someone special. The food’s been great, and the music sounds terrific…time to grab his/her hand and head out for a romantic stroll.

Find the places where the two of you can hear the music across the water, take in a different view, and have a bench all to yourselves. Our top ten hideaways at the Garden:

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Your garden in summer's ups and downs

No rain, then too much rain, then...2021 is a challenging year for gardening. For those who garden in northeastern Illinois, June ushered in one of the driest months in recorded weather history. Moderate-to-severe drought conditions were present in Cook, Lake, McHenry, DuPage, and Kane Counties. Then the rains came, with flash flooding in some areas and sopping wet soils in most gardens. Here are some tips to keep your garden in shape this summer:

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We loved fungi first

Finally the world of fashion has stumbled on one of our great loves—fungi.

Lately, Vogue magazine and other media have picked on the trend of fungi-inspired fashion and design. Since the global pandemic began, designers have been turning to the earthy aesthetics and healing powers of mushrooms and other kinds of fungi.

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Moon walk? Yes, please

April's only full moon is lovely enough, but the upcoming one is a gift from nature—and the perfect time to take a night walk. On Monday, April 26, head outside to see the "pink" supermoon. Whether you prefer to walk in solitude or with family members, don’t miss peak illumination at about 10:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time.

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New Year’s gardening resolutions from our horticulturists

Many of the gardens at the Chicago Botanic Garden may be sleeping this time of year, but our horticulturists definitely are not. They’re hard at work during snowy winters, thinking about all the new plants and planning for the New Year.

We asked a few horticulturists for their gardening resolutions—whether at the Chicago Botanic Garden, or in their own backyard. Feel free to snag one of their ideas for yourself.


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What Inspires Lightscape Artists?

Chicago artists have been busy in their studios creating installations with uplifting messages to welcome visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lightscape.

Matthew Hoffman’s 12-foot-tall sculpture celebrates the word JOY: “the expression of love, comfort, and happiness when we're with the ones we love.”

Tanner Woodford’s Pride & Promise—2020 Heritage Christmas Tree boasts hundreds of six-point stars, like those on the Chicago flag, that “represent the pride and promise we feel in our community and home.”

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Acknowledging Indigenous Peoples Day

It has been five months since the Black Lives Matter movement ignited a new civil rights movement and caused the Chicago Botanic Garden to reflect and recommit to equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility for our staff, our visitors, our volunteers, and our boards. Part of that process is to take a hard look at the stories the Garden tells about gardens, plants, and people.

Monarch in the Prairie

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A Garden Fit for Emperors (and You)

An ancient glacier. A swampy marsh. A renowned landscape architect. The Chinese Garden of Perfect Brightness. Tie them together and the result is part of the intriguing back story of the Chicago Botanic Garden—which starts long before the Garden’s groundbreaking in 1965. Next time you visit the Garden, take a closer look at the topography and you can still make out the origins of all that beauty.

“One designs not places, or spaces or things—one designs experiences.”
John O. Simonds, Landscape Architect

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Haunted Island

A tale of tree spirits based on Japanese folklore 

As you step upon the second Japanese island of Seifuto, within the Chicago Botanic Garden, an unsettling hush blankets the surroundings. The air is crisp, and the vibrant colors of the foliage at first creates a tranquil atmosphere. But as you wander along the paths, you begin to sense something otherworldly below the surface, a subtle shift in the air that sends a shiver down your spine.

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Tram Trivia

Dinosaur snacks and other Garden trivia you should know

We love our Grand Tram Tour drivers—they’ll tell you things that most people (and even Google) don’t know about the Chicago Botanic Garden. Take this quick quiz on just a few of the factoids that the drivers share. We know you’ll ace this (except for maybe the "Making waves..." question; there’s something a bit fishy about it). Need a refresher? Grand Tram Tours are scheduled to run daily through October 11.

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Romantic Spots to Pop the Question

Love is in the air...we ❤️ the date nights, meet-cutes, and anniversaries at the Garden—and watching the 50 or so couples who got engaged last year at our holiday event Lightscape. So we got to thinking about romantic spots on our 385 acres and heart-fluttering engagement moments.

Romance at the Garden

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Studying in an amazing, open-air encyclopedia

I am an enthusiast of space design.

After a two-year technical degree at École Boulle (a school of fine arts and crafts and applied arts in Paris, France), I decided to study for my master’s degree at the National School of Landscape Architecture of Versailles.

For me, work in landscape architecture is the best way to unite many different and interesting fields, such as art, sociology, and ecology. Designing spaces where people will live and have an emotional connection to their surroundings is my way of creating happiness.

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Seeing Nature Through a New Lens

How does the natural world affect a community’s health and well-being? Over the course of one year, 16 Chicago high school students from the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy (IHSCA) sought to find the answer.

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Documenting—and Digitizing—Biodiversity

In 2017, I spent a lot of time in the Regenstein Center, around the Lenhardt Library's librarian’s suite, Skyping in the Library’s rare book room, training at the circulation desk, and maybe even having lunch in the break room. I’m Alicia Esquivel, and I worked at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library as a resident on a collaborative project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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Building a 21st Century Victory Garden

The Victory Garden movement in World War II encouraged a nation of gardens. The results were impressive: 20 million gardens were established, and 40 percent of fruits and vegetables were homegrown.

In Chicago, the Chicago Horticultural Society, the parent organization of the Chicago Botanic Garden, had a leading role, helping to create the largest acreage of urban land under cultivation in the country.

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A Garden spring none of us imagined

Gardening is all about embracing change. You plant seeds and wait to see which ones will sprout. You monitor emerging spring buds to mark the time until leaf-out and see which ones were affected by Chicago’s harsh winter. And you watch as the bulbs you planted last fall emerge strongly but are not quite the color you were expecting.

This year, spring at the Chicago Botanic Garden has been all about change, and acceptance of how the COVID-19 health crisis affects how we care for the Garden—and how the Garden will look when we are able to reopen. 

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Celebrate National Poetry Month with Garden Haiku

We all remember first learning about haiku in grade school with the familiar pattern of three phrases written in five, seven, and five syllables. As I developed this year’s Words in Bloom: A Year of Haiku program, I learned that the world of haiku is an expansive one with many forms. Designed to be “one breath” poems with a focus on nature, haiku has the power to strike an emotional chord.

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Ten Romantic Spots to Pop the Question

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…

It’s official! Chicago Botanic Garden is voted Best Wedding Venue 2015 by Make it Better magazine! #MIBBestof2015

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About that name: behind Alice the Amorphophallus

From the 2015 archives:

It is our pleasure to introduce another titan arum (in bloom!), which we have joyfully named Alice the Amorphophallus. Given the history below, it’s a name to remember!

Alice the Amorphophallus is caught blooming on webcam at 12:22:39 a.m. today—the Semitropical Greenhouse may smell a bit funky this morning.

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Water, Water Everywhere: The Garden as Floodplain

In 2017, torrential rains fell over much of our region, particularly in Lake and McHenry counties, as well as southeastern Wisconsin. Here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, high water levels in the Skokie River forced us to close on July 13 and 14—the first time in the Garden’s history that we closed to visitors for two consecutive days. 

So what exactly happened that required us to close? And how did the flooding affect our plants? 

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Spring Containers Are Here

Show of hands: Who’s ready for spring?

We are, too.

Thankfully, the bright, blooming containers in the Heritage Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden were planted this week, welcoming spring and warm fuzzies along with them. Just standing near these spring annuals makes us happy, and for horticulturist Tom Soulsby—who’s been planting these signature troughs for the past 15 years—it’s one of his favorite things to do each spring.

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The Beauty of Orchids in Ikebana

Meditative, artful, and transporting. In a way, the experience of seeing Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show is much like ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging. On display now through March 25, this new feature of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Orchid Show invites you to pause and reflect on this historic art form.

Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging.

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The Plant Hunters

Garden Gems from Faraway Places

Do you have hostas, daylilies, a Japanese maple, or a star magnolia in your garden?  How about marigolds, coleus, a gingko, or a panicle hydrangea? If so, this is a testimony to the many plant explorers who, in the past four centuries, traveled far and wide, for years at a time, in search of new plants.

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Behind-the-scenes at Lightscape

For the past week, the big forklifts and trucks with their whimsical cargo have been rolling in to set up for the U.S. debut of Lightscape on November 22. Popular time slots are selling fast for the new holiday event at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

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How a Veteran Transformed Her Life

U.S. Navy veteran Anna Andersen is quick to tell you how the Chicago Botanic Garden’s impact on her life goes beyond the beauty of the plants to the nurturing she found in its Veteran Internship Program (VIP).

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Ties to America’s First Botanist

The handmade boxes hint at the spirit of America’s first botanist and the oldest surviving botanic garden in the country. Nestled inside each box are thought-provoking items, including pieces of a tulip poplar and honey locust trees from the beloved garden of eighteenth-century explorer and botanist John Bartram (1699-1777).

Bartrams Boxes

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Dreaming Up In the Tropics: The Orchid Show

When we decided on the theme for this year’s Orchid Show, In the Tropics, what popped into the designer’s head was this: (wait for it; we’ll show you): Tiny islands. Tall palm trees. Splashes of color.

Designer Brian Barker, a horticulturist with the Chicago Botanic Garden, sketched his vision early last year, and Garden photographer/designer Robin Carlson added the color inside Brian’s head.
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Conservation Corps Teens Dig Into Summer

You might have noticed a group of hard-working high-schoolers wearing hard hats and toting shovels at the Chicago Botanic Garden this summer. The aspiring conservationists—part of the Conservation Corps—are doing important restoration work throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County, including a stint at the Garden.

Conservation Corps Teens Working

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Corpse Flowers Go on an Excellent Adventure

This is the story of a road trip I took with some corpse flowers, the rock stars of the plant world. One of the hallmarks of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s plant collection is the more than 70 species of Amorphophallus. In particular, Amorphophallus titanum, also called the titan arum or corpse flower, has gained attention because of its very large flower and pungent fragrance at bloom time—a hybrid of week-old gym socks and a rotting mouse that you just can’t seem to find in your kitchen.

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