Plants & Gardening

Plants & Gardening

Garden Stories

Plants and Gardening

Busting Myths About Roses

As far back as ancient Greece, roses were considered the “queen of flowers.” Maybe that’s why they’ve acquired a certain, shall we say, diva persona.

No question, roses possess star power. And yet, like any garden-variety diva, they’ve attracted bad press—too temperamental, not playing nicely with others, demanding way too much attention.

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Winter color outside? Yes, please

Evergreen perennials brighten up the season 

When you consider the possibilities of seasonal polar vortexes, burying blizzards, and Antarctica-like temps, you might wonder how any plants can survive a Chicago winter—and even hold on to a welcome splash of color.

As curator of plant collections at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I’ve got some ideas on evergreen perennials you can plant to brighten up the winter with bits of green, silver, mahogany, and more.

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A Hibiscus Story

Despite being almost thrown away, a strong-willed hibiscus refused to give up, as did its owner.

 

One fall, I saw our neighbors bring in their outdoor furniture. Hey, one of them said over the fence, we’re going to toss the tropical hibiscus plant that you admired on our patio. Do you want it?

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My Juneteenth Garden

To commemorate Juneteenth, we invited Chicago writer Tequia Burt to write about the importance of African American heirloom seeds.

Every year in my garden, I grow at least one African American heirloom crop, partly to commemorate Juneteenth.

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Mshkeke

Mshkeke

Good Earth

An elder taught me that mshkeke is the Potawatomi word we use for medicine, but the literal translation is good Earth.

There is a family story about how my father and great-grandmother healed me with mshkeke when Western medicine failed. It involved a bad case of pneumonia, an ill-tempered toddler, an escape from the hospital, and my great-grandmother’s plant medicine. I don’t remember the experience much. I remember Native American songs, prayers, and healing plants.

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Keep the summer vibes flowing

summer

Looking for a meditative moment? Check out some of our favorite footage of summer at the Garden, featuring bright blooms swaying in the breeze, lush vistas, and unique perspectives of the green world around us.

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Heirloom Collard Greens: Connecting with My Roots

Connecting to my Roots

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother setting big pots of collard greens on the stove to stew—and then taking in their earthy, vinegary, peppery fragrance. A nutritional powerhouse, collard greens are a staple in many African American households, including mine.

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So You Want to Buy Your First Houseplant

Houseplants 101

Soil has spilled all over my kitchen floor. It happened while I was dumping another withered plant—this time, a sad collard green—from its pot into the trash. The mess, and the funeral, is for a good cause though.

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10 Cool Plants in the Nature Play Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Regenstein Learning Campus is home to an incredible variety of experiences. The Nature Play Garden gives kids and kids-at-heart opportunities to explore: splashing in the runnel or running up and down the rolling hills.

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Cool Crops for Fall

Garlic for cool crops

Now that the leaves are turning and the days are growing shorter, if you’re tempted to pack away your gardening gloves…don’t!

At the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, we’re as busy ever. Our cool-weather crops include brussels sprouts, spinach, and toscano kale. Fall is a great time to grow vegetables—insects die off, weeds wither, moisture plentiful. If you don’t have much space, remember that can vegetables in containers, window boxes, hanging baskets.

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Summer Bulbs

Spring is done and we’ve finally moved into summer bulb season! The annual beds have been replanted with sweeps of dahlias, cannas, caladium, and begonias to showcase these nonstop workhorses of the summer garden.

Caladium bicolor ‘Raspberry Moon’, Begonia ‘Million Kisses Honeymoon’ and Cretan brake fern (Pteris cretica) light up the shade under the Selkirk crabapples.

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Hardy—yes, we said hardy—gladioli

Each fall, we sing the praises of fall allium and autumn crocus blooms. This year, however, a special mention must be made for the glorious gladiolus! Especially the delicate, 4-inch, salmon pink flowers of the salmon gladiolus (Gladiolus oppositiflorus spp. salmoneus).

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What is happening in the evaluation garden

Liatris ligulistylis

Reflections on a season of blooms in plant evaluation garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden dedicates an entire garden to plant evaluation. But have you ever wondered how it works?

As we move into early fall, the Hibiscus will rebloom sporadically at the Garden’s Bernice E. Lavin Plant Evaluation Garden, but their big show is at an end. This applies more broadly to the other plants in the evaluation garden too.

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Dreaming of spring color

bulb garden

Even as the leaves start to turn in shades of scarlet and gold, we are thinking ahead to nature’s other big show—spring color.

This year, the annual Woman’s Board Fall Bulb Sale is online only. You’ll be able to shop at your leisure for hundreds of varieties of bulbs imported directly from growers in Holland. The members’ presale, with discounted prices, starts September 1; the public sale is September 9 to 25. Order pick-ups are October 9 to 10 at the Chicago Botanic Garden, where you can take in the fall color.

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Sunshine and titan arum relatives at the Garden

Sunshine is the latest corpse flower at the Chicago Botanic Garden to bloom.

A member of the Aroid plant family (Araceae) from Sumatra, it has a number of titan arum relatives at the Garden from around the world.

Sunshine the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in the Sensory Garden

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Use Fragrant Plants for a Breathtaking Garden

Fragrance is one of the benefits of a garden that is often overlooked.

Lots of thought is given to plants’ textures, colors, seasonality, sizes—all important visual characteristics without a doubt—but a garden with scents provides a deeper, richer experience by supplementing visual stimuli with olfactory. 

Fragrances, like music, often elicit memories, and so this short list of favorite fragrant plants includes a number that I experienced when I was younger. People, places, time—all are recalled with great fondness in a single whiff. 

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Summer Comes to the Dwarf Conifer Garden

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!  

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

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Fall Container Change-outs

Are your summer or early fall container gardens looking tired? Change out your container gardens to extend your displays well into the fall.

Gardening in containers can offer us year-round seasonal interest, and we can extend the garden seasons to create vibrant container gardens. I’m a huge fan of fall container gardens with a rich variety of color, texture, and hardiness that carry their beauty well beyond the first frost. 

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Food for Thought: Celebrating the Vegetables of the 1890s

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.

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Meet Naranjilla

We get a lot of questions about one particular plant in the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden: Naranjilla (pronounced nahr-ahn-HEE-yah). It’s easy to see why.

You can find this naranjilla (Solanum quitoense) in Bed #10 in the Growing Garden.

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Planting this weekend? Remember these tips

We’ve officially reached planting season, and it is now safe to put in warm-season flowering annuals, vines, herbs, and vegetables. Horticulturists at the Chicago Botanic Garden do recommend waiting until Memorial Day for cold-sensitive plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squash. Happy planting!

Summer plantings await in the production greenhouses.

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Autumn Blooms in the Bulb Garden

It’s now early fall and that means it’s time for ColchicumColchicum is a group of flowers also known as autumn crocuses, though they’re not related to the true crocus. Seventeen species and varieties of Colchicum grow in the Graham Bulb Garden. Flower colors range from white to magenta-violet, and include doubles and bicolors.

Colchicum cilicum

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Veterans Grow at the Chicago Botanic Garden

It was on a seasonably pleasant day this past May that 15 veterans from the Thresholds Veterans Project began a journey to be well in the Buehler Enabling Garden.

Inspirations: “Keep Going” planter, with a side of coffee.

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Mulch Ado about Everything

What’s the right kind of mulch? How much do I put down? When’s the best time to mulch? How often do I need to amend the mulch? Is mulch the best weed barrier?

Great questions about a basic garden element.

Fall is the best time to give your trees a good layer of mulch.

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The Plant Doctor Is in the House

A couple years ago, in early spring, I got the kind of call that puts a “plant doctor” like me on edge. “Come look at the roses right away,” someone said. In my 25 years at the Chicago Botanic Garden, no one has ever called me to say, “Hey, Tom, come look at the roses; they look great today!” I’m in charge of plant healthcare at the Garden, so when I pick up the phone, there’s usually a problem.

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Workin’ the Berm: Aster Management

Selecting perennials to look good year-round and weather the seasons outside our wall (and next to the freeway) has been a challenge! With its own group of microclimates and an often-harsh growing climate—including high winds and both flooding and drought conditions—cultivating the garden along the Garden Wall and Berm has been a learning experience.

The Garden section in question, located by the big Edens Expressway (northbound lanes) sign.

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How a Heat Wave Can Affect Fall Color

When early fall feels like summer, that will change how long trees will show off their seasonal colors.

Deciduous trees, explains Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, respond to environmental conditions when preparing to go dormant for the winter. Just like animals that hibernate, trees slow their processes down in order to conserve energy. What we can see of this process can be beautiful: leaves change from green to vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. Then trees drop their leaves and wait out the winter.

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5 Perennials for Spectacular Fall Color

As fall approaches and the leaves begin to change, the Chicago Botanic Garden bids adieu to our beautiful summer blooms until next year. The air starts to get crisper (and your summer plants will too), but September isn’t the expiration date for color and excitement at the Chicago Botanic Garden—and it shouldn’t be in your garden either.

We asked Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist, and Cindy Baker, manager of horticultural services, for their favorite fall-blooming perennials that will make your landscape pop this season.

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So many basils, so little time…

The Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden is the place to explore small-space gardening.

Seven types of basil (listed below) were planted in the basil bed at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

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Desert Island Herbs

In case you missed it, the International Herb Association has named tarragon the herb of the year. “What?” you might be thinking. “What about basil?” 

Discover a world of uses for your herb harvest—essential and flavored oils, vinegars, jams and jellies—at Herb Garden Weekend.

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What is it about dahlias?

When it comes to showstoppers, Shakespeare may have elevated the rose to star status with his line, “Of all the flowers, methinks a rose is best.”

But what is it about dahlias that has attracted so many fans and admirers? In our effort to describe the joys of dahlia gardening, members of the Central States Dahlia Society were recently asked why they are so enthusiastic about these dramatic floral divas. Here’s what we found.

Dahlia ‘Hollywood Spiderwoman’

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Sex, scandals, and, oh, that wisteria

Oh, we love Netflix’s blockbuster series, the steamy period romance Bridgerton. But we’ve barely noticed all the sex and scandals in the show’s depiction of early nineteenth-century London high society. Nope, we’re too busy looking at the wisteria.

Bridgerton

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Celebrating Oaks on Arbor Day

On the virtually treeless plains of Nebraska almost 150 years, ago a day was set aside to celebrate and appreciate trees—Arbor Day.

This year we have selected the genus Quercus, the oaks, as an exemplar of why trees are important to us and our environment.

Quercus rubra standing tall at the Garden

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A Beatrix Potter-ish Spring Garden

It might be the coconut scent of Nemesia ‘Sunsatia Lemon’ that turns your head. Or the hot magenta blooms of Linaria ‘Enchantment’, which looks like a mini-snapdragon. Whatever it takes to get you to stop and feel spring in the Buehler Enabling Garden.

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Bonsai pots hold more than plants

When looking at different bonsai trees, you might notice the stylized beauty of their shapes and textures. A lot of thought and work are put into raising bonsai trees and pruning them just so, but for many bonsai artists, their containers are just as important as the plant itself.

“The pot and the soil have a relationship just as much as the tree and the pot have a relationship. The tree-to-pot relationship is aesthetic and functional too,” said Chris Baker, curator of bonsai at the Chicago Botanic Garden. 

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Meet Some of Spring’s Superstars

Even when the Chicago Botanic Garden was buried in snow, our horticulturists would look for signs of spring and trade tips—did you see that winter aconite blooming underneath the crabapples? Spirits are high as early blooms emerge, well ahead of the first day of spring.

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Crop Planning

Even when snow is falling and temperatures plummet, I’m working on my backyard vegetable garden. I might not be harvesting tomatoes and zucchini yet, but I am still strategizing and prioritizing so I can squeeze the most out of the upcoming growing season.

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Roses That Say Love

The Krasberg Rose Garden is naturally romantic. As with fine wines, the descriptive words for roses are rich and varied. Among the 5,000-plus rose bushes planted are some that speak the language of love through their names.

‘Love’—Big. Scarlet. Fragrant. The very definition of a romantic rose.

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Roses Are Red

Odonttocidum Catatante

A dozen red roses say, “I love you,” but horticulturists at the Chicago Botanic Garden transcend tradition on Valentine’s Day. Read on for thoughtful, unusual, and homemade floral gift ideas.

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The Love Lives of Orchids

Orchid in a pot

Valentine’s Day has special meaning for us at the Chicago Botanic Garden. With that in mind, we’ve gathered a few stories about how orchids will do just about anything to attract a pollinator…along with a few soundtrack suggestions.


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How to Select a Good Orchid

For the new orchid grower, selecting an orchid may seem overwhelming. Here are a few tips to get you started. 

 

1. Know yourself, your growing environment, and what you’re buying.

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Test your orchid IQ—how do orchid roots work?

What are those big white things dangling by the orchids in the air, you wonder, and how do they work?

Let’s look at those roots from a different angle

Most orchids are epiphytes. An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant (not in soil), but is not parasitic.

They’re Called Aerial Roots

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‘Ugliest’ orchid and other wild orchid stories

My top pick for cool new plant species? The media has called it grotesque and compared to an eyeless worm. And our friends at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London described it as “the ugliest orchid in the world.”

The not-so-pretty Gastrodia agnicellus orchid is just one of the new discoveries and developments I’ve tracked recently, as curator of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Mildred Plant Orchidarium. As a long-time aficionado and collector of orchids, I still geek out when researchers stumble on a species unknown to science.

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Unexpected Signs of Spring

Sometimes spring just doesn’t want to arrive. Sometimes it can’t wait to burst forth with flowers and foliage and make everything look fresh and new. A delayed spring, while frustrating to some, can give us time to appreciate some things that might otherwise be overlooked by the flashier signs of spring.

Red Charm peony buds (Paeonia ‘Red Charm’) look like alien asparagus pushing their way out of the ground in the Farwell Landscape Garden.

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Karl Foerster: the Plant, the Myth, the Legend

You’ve undoubtedly noticed a tall, vertical grass, planted en masse, swaying in the wind at the entrance to the mall, in your neighbor’s yard, or most likely, at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) has, for good reason, become a staple in perennial gardens.

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Spring Weather and Your Garden

Mild, late-February weather in Chicago can offer a surprisingly glorious time to be outside and work in the garden. But unseasonably warm weather also raises questions about long-term effects on plants and what garden tasks are appropriate.

Hold off on doing any detailed cleanup of garden beds as the mulch and leaves in the beds will provide some protection to any early growing perennials when the weather eventually turns cold again. Raking leaves off the lawn and cutting back perennials are all fine to do now providing your garden soil is not too wet.

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What Are the Best Plants for Your Midwestern Garden?

I put together my top five picks for all-around best Midwest plants after being contacted by editors at Midwest Living magazine.

Polling a number of experts in the Midwest, the editors asked for recommendations of award-worthy plants and then came up with a list of great plants that gardeners can count on. (I was happy to note some of the winners are proven perennials from the Chicago Botanic Garden’s trials, as well as plants I’ve grown and loved for a long time.)

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A Scientist with Orchid Fever

We all have a touch of orchid fever here at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Naturally, we wondered who among us might have the worst case (or best, depending on how you look at it). So we sent out a simple query: do you grow orchids at home? Here follows the best answer ever, from Jim Ault, Ph.D. (He’s our director of ornamental plant research and manager of the Chicagoland Grows plant introduction program.)

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A Winter Tour of The Greenhouses

We recently toured the Greenhouses with Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, to see what’s in bloom and take in the different climates visitors can enjoy.

In the Arid Greenhouse, we saw a number of species of aloe from South Africa just coming into bloom as well as cacti and succulents.

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Time to Uncover the Rose Garden

Who doesn’t love a warm winter blanket? When unseasonably cold temperatures continue into early April, that blanket can be especially welcome. If you are like me, though, you just can’t wait for that first day when you lose the covers and open the windows. It is that breath of fresh air that tells us summer is just around the corner.

Roses under a warm winter blanket of mulch.

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Reshape the way you think about winter

Are you feeling winter blue? Do you feel trapped in cold and ice? Has your mood gone south, leaving you wishing that you could, too? What, with the world’s best antidepressant right out your front door?

The magic elixir is a winter walk. And the Chicago Botanic Garden awaits with a prescription-strength dose—miles of trails through the Garden, almost all of them kept clear of snow and ice, with a number of mapped-out walks ranging from 1 to 2.3 miles.

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Gardening in Winter: Dos and Don’ts

Welcome to winter, one of the best seasons for gardeners. You have time to plan, prune, and enjoy those houseplants that don’t get much love during the outdoor growing season. Make the most of your winter gardening with these dos and don’ts from Chicago Botanic Garden experts.

DO prune your deciduous trees. From mid-November to mid-March, it’s much easier to prune because you’ll be able to better see a tree’s branching structure and there is less chance of transmitting diseases from one plant to another.

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Conifers to Light Up the Winter Garden

It may be 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now, but that’s not stopping the Dwarf Conifer Garden from shining.

In fact, many of the conifers are at their peak during the coldest weather.  While other plants have gone dormant for the winter, various conifers are lighting up the landscape in shades of blue, yellow, bronze, plum, and more.

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The Joy of Winter Green

In other seasons, people tend to breeze right by conifers in favor of, say, roses that scent summer evenings or crabapple trees that flower in the spring. But in winter—especially after a dusting of snow—pines and other conifers are the plants that shine.

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Christmas Tree Taxonomy

Every winter, as a public garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden turns its educational programming attention—as well as its decorations—to the only plants that stay green through the season: the evergreens. We teach class after class of school children how to identify different kinds of evergreens by their needles and cones.

It’s a lesson in sorting and classifying plants—in other words: taxonomy. 

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Finding Awe

Sometimes, it’s bright red holly berries that turn my head on a winter walk. Or, on a quiet day, it’s the sound of pine cones popping open to spread their seeds.

Winter Awe

Winter - Finding Awe

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The Gift of Bonsai

Thirteen years ago, when I was working as an exotic animal veterinary technician, I bought my friend a gift—a juniper bonsai—that would set me on a course that I never could have imagined.

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The Gift of Bonsai

Bonsai are often given as gifts around the holidays. Unfortunately, many of these trees don’t survive very long. In this blog, I will cover some of the dos and don’ts about purchasing a bonsai as a gift, tell you where you can get quality trees, and give a little information on what to do if you receive one of these wonderful trees as a gift yourself.

Juniper bonsai for sale at a large garden center

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Bulbs for the Holidays

A number of tropical and semitropical bulbs can be used indoors to brighten up the winter months. Long-lasting blooms of amaryllis, Star-of-Bethlehem, and cyclamen are welcome additions to winter white.

Amaryllis

Hippeastrum ‘Amalfi’ in the Semitropical Greenhouse

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Bulbs for Fall and Winter Interest

Just when the hostas, lilies, and other garden perennials are going to bed for the season, these bulbs are waking up. 

Arum

Arum italicum ‘Jet Black Wonder’ has unique black spots and pink- tinged flowers.

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Overwintering Your Bonsai

Like so many things in tending bonsai, how you overwinter your trees is specific to the tree species and the region in which you live.

Bonsai in fall color, before being prepped for storage.

The same bonsai prepped for winter storage; tags indicate tasks to do in spring on this tree.

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So You Want To Buy A Christmas Tree

Christmas tree lots carry a dazzling array of trees ranging from fragrant balsam firs (Abies balsamea) to shimmering Colorado blue spruces (Picea pungens). With so many choices, how does one choose?

The three most commonly encountered groups of Christmas trees are firs, pines, and spruces.

Siberian fir (Abies sibirica)

Fir (Abies sp.)

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Keep holiday plants beautiful beyond the season

Holiday plants and flowers make great gifts for everyone on your shopping lists. They are perfect gifts for family members, the host and hostess of the holiday parties you attend, and of course, are beautiful for decorating your own home. Plus, they can be enjoyed long after the holiday season is over, adding color and life to your home on chilly winter days.

But getting your plants to last longer will require a little special care. Here’s how to take care of the most popular gift plants, both during the holiday season and long after.

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Fall in love with dahlias—again and again

The gorgeous colors and geometry of dahlias always turn my head when they’re in bloom in my home garden from June through October. Recently, I decided to revisit an old goal and bugaboo of mine—learning to overwinter the tubers so I can plant them again and enjoy the blooms next year.

Preparing Dahlias for Storage at the Garden

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Why you need a stinky, hairy, spineless plant now

As a long winter approaches, I’m thinking ahead about comfort plants—ones that lift your spirits. As senior horticulturist for the Regenstein Center Greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I talk to a lot of people about indoor plants. I get that you want potted plants that are easy to take care of (hello, spider plant).

But there are other reliable ones with a bit more charm to help brighten the days ahead. Here are my recommendations:

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Overcoming Winter Scorch

After severe winter weather, gardeners will face bigger challenges than usual in the spring, due to a “perfect storm” of weather conditions that could scorch evergreens, protect plant predators, elicit heavy use of road salts, and encourage snow molds. A  scorch or burn could leave patches of brown on arborvitae (Thuja), yews (Taxus), boxwoods (Buxus), and other evergreens. Branch damage from voles and rabbits can also be bad, and heavy and prolonged snow cover can promote snow molds, creating bleached-out patches of lawn.

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Garden trials biochar to improve challenging soils

As we all know, good soils are the key to growing any type of plant well: annuals, perennials, turf, shrubs, and trees. The Chicago region's soils are twofold, having positive and negative virtues. On a positive note, our soils tend to be rich in nutrients. But on a negative note, our soils are heavy and do not drain well.

The soils at the Chicago Botanic Garden are very typical urban soils, and we have the same challenges. Over the years, we have tried many types of amendments to improve our soils and are about to embark on another trial…biochar.

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Moving Houseplants Back Indoors

Houseplants

When September comes to the Chicago area, even if it's been warm outside, it’s time to start thinking about moving your houseplants inside.

The best time to do this is when temperatures outside are relatively close to the temperatures indoors, meaning mid- to late September. Before you move everything in, however, there are four quick steps you’ll want to take to help ensure a successful winter of windowsill gardening.

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Underutilized Native Shrubs

Sometime around midsummer, we all look at our yards, filled in and blooming, and think about designing something new, dividing plants, or perhaps creating a new hedge. 

Attractive native shrubs are often overlooked—and occasionally hard to come by in local nurseries and garden centers—but they are well worth the effort to find. Already adapted to our particular climate and ecosystems, natives simply do well here—and look spectacular. 

Here are five options to consider.

Chokeberry (Aronia sp.)

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Keep Calm and Get Your Lavender On

Summer-blooming lavender is everywhere these days—in botanical cocktails, in aromatherapy mists, on fruit salads. The National Garden Bureau, in fact, has named 2020 “Year of the Lavender,” based on the plant’s texture, scent, beauty, and versatility.

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Why Do Trees Turn Colors?

Most of us remember chlorophyll from science class, as the chemical that makes leaves green. But ask why leaves turn color in the fall, and we get vague quickly. Colder temperatures? Shorter days? True, but there’s more to the story.

American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) turns a brilliant yellow late in the season—after it has gone through burgundy and bright red.

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Make the Farm-to-Table Connection

The garden and the kitchen are “dancing partners,” according to a cookbook from the team behind Blackberry Farm, the luxurious farm and inn in Tennessee. Jeff Ross, farmstead educator and artisan chef at Blackberry Farm, brought that farm-to-table spirit to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Jeff Ross at Blackberry Farm

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Fireworks for the Grill: Herb Brushes

It’s the season for grilling—time to share a simple, herb-related trick with the grill master at your house.

Fashion an herb brush out of a wooden spoon, a bit of kitchen twine, and freshly-snipped twigs of rosemary. Use the aromatic brush to flavor roasting meats like lamb, chicken, or pork—just dip it into marinade or olive oil and apply liberally.

Another rosemary trick: Try threading chunks of meat onto rosemary skewers for a delicious infused kabob. Genius!

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Celebrating George Washington Carver

How one humble scientist used his botanical superpowers to solve a real-world problem, successfully tackling agricultural sustainability and economic stability at the same time.

Think you couldn't name a single botanist? You probably know this one—George Washington Carver (c. 1861-1943). Born into slavery, Carver was an extraordinary American. He was a gardener, a soil scientist, an inventor, and a genius.

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How to Grow More Amazing Dahlias Than Your Neighbors

Dahlias are indigenous to Mexico, where they were grown by the Aztecs, who used the tubers as one of their staple foods. The plants were brought to Spain and eventually spread throughout Europe, as people appreciated the beauty of the flowers themselves. Through hybridization, there now are more than 70,000 varieties of dahlia, about 1,500 of which are popularly grown.

Here are some tips for growing these beautiful plants in the garden. 

Selecting a site

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Patriotic (and rare) true blue blooms you'll want in your yard

The fourth of July is upon us, and while many beautiful flowers can be found in patriotic shades of red and white, the color blue is very difficult to find at the Garden.

In fact, blue is a rare sight in the entire natural world. Less than ten percent of the plant kingdom features blue flowers, which is extraordinary, since pollinators don’t seem to have a problem with them. Scientists have been investigating the origins of blue flowers for a long time, and it was not until recently that they came up with a result.

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Eating weeds

If you ever find yourself grumbling over the dandelions that make their home in your lawn, or staring angrily at the purslane popping up in your vegetable garden, I have a suggestion for you: make a salad.

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Are You Really Going to Eat Those Mushrooms?

I don’t have to look outside to know that it has been raining lately. My phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from the Illinois Poison Center requesting help with potential mushroom poisoning cases. I helped with four different cases today! Three of them involved children; the other was a case of an adult eating something that “looked good to eat.”

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A Taste of the Garden

On an early spring day in the offices of the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, Lisa Hilgenberg, Garden horticulturist, is seated at a rustic conference table sorting through pencil drawings of garden beds and photos of vegetable plants. Across the Garden, in the Garden View Café kitchen, chef Peter Pettorossi is considering a cabbage slaw recipe inspired by those same plants.

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Parsnips: Patience Pays Off

Some vegetables are more satisfying than others when it comes to harvest. Parsnips are in that category.

The sun was out, the air was crisp, and the nights were frosty: parsnip weather. Cold weather is actually a good thing for parsnips—in fact, they need it to convert the starch in their roots to sugar, transforming them from lowly, nose-turned-up roots to gourmet, thumbs-up side dishes. We used a pitchfork to loosen the dirt deeply around each parsnip top—a gentle harvest is required, as parsnips are brittle and can snap if eager hands try to pull the roots by their leaves.

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Strawberries

When I was 8 years old, I traveled with my family to Przysietnica, Poland, to spend the summer with relatives. My grandparents’ farm was the home base for my adventures with cousins and siblings. We spent hours in the breezy northern hills, picking the sweetest strawberries I ever had. They grew wild and tasted like candy. We often brought some back to share with the family, but there is nothing quite like a strawberry fresh off the plant.

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Homegrown Fruit: Tips for Strawberries and Raspberries

Historically, fruit trees, shrubs, and berries were grown at home out of necessity. Native Americans were entirely dependent on what they could produce themselves, as were the early American settlers. In time, a fruitful garden became a common symbol of independence from foreign imports—highlighting a new American pride in agriculture.

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Gravel Gardening

What comes to mind when conceptualizing a new garden design? Color? Absolutely. Soil and sun conditions? That’s a given. Texture? Sure thing. Two other components of plant selection that are of utmost importance are adding biodiversity and sustainability. Both of these elements are omnipresent in gravel gardens.

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Navigating the Wet Spring in Your Garden

Like you, the staff at the Chicago Botanic Garden has been tracking the recent rains. We know many of you are anxious to get planting done—it is spring, right? But we encourage caution and patience.

If it squishes, wait. Working with wet soil and turf damages it.

Here are tips to help gardeners navigate Chicago’s spring:

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Epic Echium

An exotic, tall-dark-and-handsome visitor has returned to the Chicago Botanic Garden this spring. Its bold blooms draw pollinators in as well as Garden visitors. What is it, you ask?

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Soothing Plants

Take a break from the news and ease your stress with soothing plants that bring calm, comfort, and peace of mind. These plants are said to have many benefits beyond their beauty.

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Steal This Plant Bucket List

How to relax in nature, even when you can’t get away? Daydream, according to the American Heart Association. Start a bucket list. Even just the thought of escaping into the natural world can be rejuvenating and take you away from the stresses of everyday life.

We started a bucket list for you, focusing on some of the natural wonders in the plant world. We know, oh, just a few plant geeks here at the Chicago Botanic Garden. So we asked some of them: What plant would you most like to see in the wild?

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Cold April delays some blooms, but now the spring show is on

April definitely does not always go out like a lamb. Some years, we in Chicago don't put away our sweaters until the end of the month.

Here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, we recorded our coldest April in 2018, ever since we started recording temperatures in 1982. Our average high temperature in April that year was 48.1 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 8.7 degrees below normal.

What did the cold weather mean for our plants?

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Time to Prune the Apple Orchard

It happens every year—like Groundhog Day—and I have the same déjà vu annually!

Each winter for the past more than 20 years, I have supervised and worked on the pruning of the apple orchard at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. Since pruning has such a great effect on an apple tree’s health, it became an annual duty of the Plant Health Care Department (that I manage) many years ago.

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Skunk Cabbage: Gross and Cool Herald of Spring in Chicago

Do you see something pushing up from the ground that looks like the claws of some creature in a zombie movie? Does it smell bad too?

Happy spring! This charmer is the first native wildflower of a Chicago spring: the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

A skunk cabbage blooms in early March in the McDonald Woods.

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Roll Out the Green Carpet: A Star Is Born in the Greenhouse

What is old is new again.

The dinosaur of the plant kingdom, a Wollemia pine tree (Wollemia nobilis), surprised horticulturists at the Chicago Botanic Garden with a burst of promising male and female cones in 2017.

In Glencoe, the sole tree spends its winters in the carefully controlled environment of the production greenhouse. In the wild, its relatives are clinging to life on remote sandstone gorges in the Blue Mountains of Australia.

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Celebrating Brazilian Orchids: Cattleya coccinea and relatives

During the exquisite Orchid Show, when the Garden was planning a summer of Brazil in the Garden, highlighting the influence of Brazil on gardens, arts and culture, and conservation, I took advantage of the great opportunity to publicize some Brazilian orchids that have been among my favorites all the years I have grown orchids at home.

Cattleya orchid (Cattleya coccinea) and hybrids from the Wisconsin Orchid Society Show in 2017—my plants!

First, a few facts.

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Go for these gardening goals

There’s nothing quite like a fresh start to the new year. For gardeners, this is a great time to set goals and to think through plans for the year. We asked our dedicated team of horticulturists at the Chicago Botanic Garden to share their goals and advice for gardeners everywhere.

Chester Jankowski, Jr., senior horticulturist

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Reflections on the Island Beyond Your Reach

If you’ve visited Lightscape, you probably noticed some striking transformations at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Following the illuminated trail, perhaps you stood to admire the distant and beautiful Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. You likely saw a lit-up island floating in the lake, and if you looked closely, you might have noticed that there’s actually no way to get to that island.

Did you wonder why that is?

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How to Create a Winter Container

I love my container gardens in the growing season, but what’s the best way to brighten your doorstep for the longest season of all: winter? The answer is the easiest kind of container gardening, even for the black thumbs among us. The key is knowing how to create a harmonious design that doesn’t blow over in winter’s first blizzard. I attended a winter containers class at the Garden and this is what I learned:

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Which Native Milkweeds Should You Plant for Monarch Butterflies?

Want to help monarch butterflies? Be careful when selecting your milkweed. Not all plants that go by the common name of "milkweed" are the food that these butterflies need. Milkweed is both a food source and a host plant on which the monarch butterflies lay their eggs. Monarchs lay their eggs on the underside of the milkweed foliage.

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Fruit Pursuit Game

Why Pumpkins Are Fruits and Other Cool Botany
Think you know what a fruit is?

Most people think of fruit as being sweet or tart, juicy or crunchy, or peel-able like a banana—but none of that matters, botanically speaking (and that’s what we speak here at the Chicago Botanic Garden). The way botanists see it, fruits are made by flowering plants and contain seeds. So pumpkins are fruits. What about tomatoes? Yep.

Feeling groovy on the fruit-or-not question now? Take the Fruit Pursuit quiz below.

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When Plant Babies Meet Fur Babies

We have a problem. My cat is eating my plant.

Despite the fact that my prayer plant has inhabited my apartment for over a year as part of my Plant Parenthood journey at the Chicago Botanic Garden, my cat’s small, albeit mischievous brain has only just now discovered that she can, in fact, eat it. The leaves turned all ratty and shriveled, and now the plant is dead.

Rita, plant eating cat

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An All-American Salute to Our "Founding Gardeners"

Our “founding gardeners”— author Andrea Wulf's depiction of early U.S. presidents who passionately promoted farming as a means to independence — would be tickled to see the American Seed Saver bed in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. There, visitors will find varieties of heirloom fruits and vegetables grown by our third president, Thomas Jefferson, in his country estate at Monticello, just outside Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Gardening Lessons in a Polar Vortex

Extreme subzero temperatures, such as a polar vortex, aren't just hard on humans; they're also hard on some plants. Tom Tiddens, supervisor of plant health care, said an insulating blanket of snow on the ground helps. Snow is a good insulator for plants that are exposed to extreme cold temperatures, so any plants that are covered should not have damage to their root zone or plant parts covered by the snow.

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Fruit Trees Chill Factor

Looking for a reason to be glad for the cold weather in winter’s stretch? Consider the needs of fruit trees. Fruit trees need to spend a certain amount of time during their dormant winter period at cool temperatures in order to satisfy their chill requirement.

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Test your Orchid IQ—how do orchid roots work?

The first time you walk under a big, lush tangle of orchid roots at the Orchid Show can be quite disconcerting—what are those big white things dangling in the air, you wonder, and how do they work?

Let’s look at those roots from a different angle, so that the next time you walk under them, you’ll know more about what you’re seeing.

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Time to Take Your Urban Houseplants Outside

Hey, Chicago. It finally feels better outside. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief with me. Sigh. We made it.

Now that it’s officially patio season, it’s time to get out and enjoy the sun. Which has me wondering…should my houseplants join me outside? Can they?

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Six Reasons Why Orchids Are Cool

Think you can tell the difference between an orchid and a praying mantis? Or an orchid and a sugar flower? Here are six fun facts on Orchidaceae—one of the largest, most diverse, and most beloved of all plant families.

 


Orchids are Cool

An edible orchid in an ice sphere adorns a cocktail from chef Daniel Boulud, marthastewart.com

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Discovery of the Red Fernleaf Peony

As plant collectors, we spend a lot of time and energy researching the flora of the areas we are going to visit. We search out areas of the world where the climate is similar to that of the midwestern United States, and we make lists. Lots of lists.

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Propagation: Multiplying Your New Plant Family

There comes a time in every plant parent’s life when you begin to think about expanding your family. Are you ready for more plant children? Should you reassemble the crib? How will your houseplants feel about having siblings… er, clones?

Aside from the internal struggles, enlarging your plant collection by propagation is a relatively easy—and inexpensive—undertaking. It also makes a thoughtful gift over the holidays or as a homegrown housewarming present.

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Planting a Fire Escape Herb Container

I love coming home to my quiet, tree-lined Chicago neighborhood, but one thing I miss about urban living is ample outdoor space.

The back door of my apartment leads to a wooden fire escape—built after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 as a second means of exit from the building. The landing is wide enough to finagle furniture during moves, but doesn’t invite much summertime lounging or late-night stargazing. Still, I find myself dreaming of an herb garden growing in the little patch of morning sun that filters through the stairs.

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Brushing Up on Broomcorn

Take a peek in your closet, and you might find a long wooden broom for sweeping up dust or offering rides to witches and wizards. For broom maker John Spannagel of Hidalgo, Illinois, brooms are more than just a pantry item. They’re a labor of love, made with a special ingredient: broomcorn.

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The Gift That Keeps on Giving: Holiday Plants

Looking for a feel-good, beautiful, reasonably priced gift? Plants are all that and more. Here's a quick guide on which plants to buy—as a gift or for yourself. If you buy them at a store, wrap them up completely and get them back indoors as soon as you can.

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