An old friend is back in front of the Visitor Center. The Bloom Cart shows you a curated selection of what’s in bloom across the Chicago Botanic Garden—and more.
At first glance, it looks like the Bloom Cart features little teasers of the beauty that lies ahead, with a map of where to find the five featured bouquets. But there’s more to it than that. The Bloom Cart is meant to introduce you to the Garden–to start conversations, to steer you to unexpected places, to introduce you to new plants (or reintroduce you to old ones). It is an old-school signpost of sorts, made of pine by the Garden’s carpenters, with handwritten labels and a touch of whimsy (on the Fourth of July, the selections are red, white, and blue).
Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, once overheard a conservation at the Cart between a grandmother and granddaughter. The grandmother pointed out a vial of blooms in the Cart and recalled that the child’s great-great grandmother had grown the same flowers in her garden.
The Cart started in 2002 as a way to encourage visitors to explore different parts of the Garden, said Tankersley, who manages the Cart. Along with then-volunteers Penny Kohlmeyer and Barb Savitt, Tankersley came up a plan to put volunteers in charge of the program.
Volunteer, Marian Hofherr
Volunteers “fluff” the Cart daily—they replace any missing blooms and make sure the displays look fresh throughout the season, from April to about the end of October. They work through all kinds of weather, including sleet, snow, and pouring rain. Twice a week, starting at 7:30 a.m., volunteer leader Marian Hofherr or other volunteers begin to walk the display gardens, looking for the perfect mix of plants to fill the Cart.
“They put their hearts and souls into selecting the right gardens to feature with the best selection of colors and textures available,” said Tankersley, who has a photo archive of all Cart selections since 2003.
Hofherr keeps a spreadsheet of the season’s selections so the volunteers don’t repeat their choices. The best part of the job, she said, is seeing so many people stop in their tracks in front of the Visitor Center. “When you’re fluffing the cart, everyone who comes into the Garden always stops. It means so much to all of us when people come up and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, the Cart is beautiful.’ Just promoting the beauty of the Garden and keeping visitors interested is a wonderful thing.”