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
Goals: My goal is to travel to another growing zone to familiarize myself with the plants growing there as much as possible. When I travel, I always try to pick up a book on the local plants that grow well in the area.
Advice: Do not be afraid to kill plants. I actually encourage new gardeners to not be afraid to kill plants by telling them I have killed many more in a much more public setting. Once I killed a plant, it made me reflect on what I needed to do differently and made me a better gardener.
Salina Wunderle, senior horticulturist
Goals: My goals are to find great plant pairings for the beautiful kusamono pots I recently purchased and to graft two new varieties of apples for my garden. I also fancy the world of fungi and will be helping friends inoculate their properties with oyster, reishi, and morel mushrooms.
Advice: Stay curious, try something new, and have fun!
Chris Baker, curator of bonsai
Goals: My goal at the Garden every year is to produce and maintain the highest quality bonsai for our visitors to enjoy all season long.
Advice: As in life, success in gardening and bonsai is in the process. Gardening success is not achieved in one day or even one season, it’s a culmination of seasons of preparation and hard work that is an ever evolving process of maturation and rejuvenation.
Ayse Pogue, senior horticulturist
Goals: I want to grow more vegetables, plant more natives or native cultivars, make my garden more hospitable to beneficial animals and insects, and watch my two newly planted baby swamp white oaks grow.
Advice: If you’re new to gardening, start small. You’ll figure out what you enjoy most on the way and can concentrate on that when planning your bigger garden.
Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist
Goals: My goals are simply to cultivate, contemplate, and consume as many plants as possible.
Advice: Diversify—grow a plant you’ve never grown before or learn a new technique. Resolve to become a more thoughtful gardener by working with the cycles of Mother Nature and trusting your instincts. Lastly, eat something from your garden every day, like the French do.
Liz Rex, horticulturist
Goals: I definitely want to appreciate the cool and wondrous plants at the Garden. I will be planting a crevice garden in Farwell Landscape Garden this spring, and it will include some cool new things. At home, my goal is to have more butterflies and birds. This past year, we had a lot of both and I would love to see more.
Thomas Soulsby, senior horticulturist
Goals: I plan to keep experimenting with specialty pruning techniques like coppicing in my home garden so that I can integrate more trees and shrubs. Also, to increase the plant palette, I am reducing the amount of lawn space, increasing the amount of planting space, and experimenting more with plants that are typically marginally hardy to our area. I’m taking risks beyond the textbook “rules” of gardening, but it can have rewarding results.
Advice: I encourage all gardeners to take some calculated risks in their gardens too.
Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist
Goals: A broad goal for me is to implement regenerative gardening in my home garden. I think of regenerative gardening as eliminating synthetics like chemicals and plastics, reducing tilling or turning soil, adding a cover crop or mulch, building the soil by adding compost, compost tea, and mycorrhiza, building biodiversity for both plants and insects, growing food, and thinking about any garden as a system, not as individual parts.
Advice: Join lots of groups! If you wanted to try something new, join a group that is already doing it. For example, if you want to know more about perennials, join the perennial plant association. Almost all groups are online and have chat groups where they want to share their knowledge.
Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist
Goals: One of my biggest goals this year is to revitalize my home vegetable garden back to its original glory and high output. To accomplish this, I need to amend the soil with new nutrients and organic matter, plant on time, plan succession plantings, and give the plants what they need during the growing season to produce bountiful crops.
Advice: My advice to gardeners is to plant to attract more butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and birds to your garden. Be environmentally smart, and learn what types of plants best attract these amazing creatures—and get outside to enjoy them.
Tim Johnson, director of horticulture
Goals: My goal is to catch up on pruning in my garden to get plants back in scale. I also want to fill holes in beds with reliable performers to improve how things look and help control weeds. Last, but not least, I plan to fix all broken tools and give away ones I no longer use.
Advice: Focus on choosing the right plant for your garden. Select plants that work best with your garden’s growing conditions, including the type of soil, amount of sun, and level of moisture. Then, choose ones that fulfill your design objectives. Try a dwarf fragrant viburnum instead of a full size one for a small fragrant shrub by a patio door. These steps will also reduce the need for maintenance of your garden over time.
Feeling inspired? Get started with our Super Seed Weekend full of classes, workshops, and a chance to swap seeds with other gardeners.