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Students Learn that Science Can Be Beautiful

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 9:10am

The Garden has a bright and cheery answer for overcoming classroom winter doldrums: take a field trip to see the Orchid Show! 

 Students observe how orchids are adapted to the wet environment -- they grow aerial roots that can absorb water from the humid air.

Students observe how orchids are adapted to the wet environment—they grow aerial roots that can absorb water from the humid air.

At a time when schools are tightening budgets and limiting field trips, you might think that an Outrageous Orchids experience is a frivolous excursion—but, in fact, this is a luxurious way to learn life science principles. Our programs are grounded in fundamental science concepts outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards. From Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day, students get meaningful science lessons as they enjoy the sensational display of colors and aromas in our Greenhouses. 

Field trips are tailored to suit different grade levels. Younger students study the variety of color and shapes found in the exhibition to identify patterns. Early elementary level students examine the structures of orchids to understand their functions. Upper elementary students recognize how tropical orchids have adaptations for survival in a rainforest. These core ideas about orchids apply to all plants and are essential for understanding ecosystems. There isn’t a more beautiful way to study plant science anywhere else in the Chicago region.

 It is easy for students to see how this flashy orchid attracts pollinators as well as people.

It is easy for students to see how this flashy orchid attracts pollinators as well as people.

As if being surrounded by gorgeous flowers in the dead of winter weren’t enough to engage a person’s brain, each student also gets to transplant and take a tropical plant to continue the learning after the visit. 

The Baggie Terrarium is a mini-ecosystem that reminds students of the water cycle and enables them to observe plant growth. 

Make a Baggie Terrarium

 Baggie terrarium.

We call this a “baggie terrarium.”

Supplies:

  • 1 zip-top bag (quart-size or larger)
  • Potting soil, moistened
  • A small plant or plant cutting (during Outrageous Orchids classes, we let students take a spider plant “pup” from a very large spider plant)
  1. Pour soil into the bag to fill about 2-3 inches deep. Use a finger to create a hole in the soil for the plant.
  2. Bury the roots of the plant in the hole and gently tap the soil around the base of the plant. If you are planting a stem cutting, place the stem in the soil and tamp around the base. If you have a larger bag, you can add more than one plant. Three different plants in a gallon size bag can make an attractive terrarium.
  3. Seal the bag, leaving about a 1-inch opening. Blow into the bag to inflate it and quickly seal the last inch tight so the air doesn’t all escape. The carbon dioxide in your breath is good for the plant, and will give the bag enough substance to stand up.
  4. Place the terrarium in a bright location, but not in direct sunlight. Remember that most tropical plants grow under the canopy of taller trees and do not need full sun. In fact, too much direct sun makes their leaves fade!
  5. Watch for tiny water droplets forming on the sides of the bag. These will gradually roll down the sides of the bag and re-water the soil. As long as the bag is completely sealed, it will stay moist and you will never have to open the bag or add more water. But if it dries out, you will need to water the plants.

You can leave your terrarium alone for a long time and not do anything but watch the plants grow. Eventually, they will outgrow the bag. Then you can transplant them to a pot if you like, or take cuttings and start another baggie terrarium.

Like all of our programs, Orchid Show field trips inspire young people to learn more about plants! Visit our website at chicagobotanic.org/fieldtrips for more information about these programs. 

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Helping the “Blind” to See

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 9:00am
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.

Inspired, I stand up to look out my window at the plants in bloom in my campus view. I wonder if the present-day students walking past have seen them, too, and are just as impressed as I am by the chromatic exhibition.

But then I notice something: nearly every one of them—instead of looking up—is looking down. Their attention is on the smartphones in their hands; they appear to be unaware that there is anything around them at all. This reminds me, once again, of the mission I have defined for myself as a professor of botany:

In order to help them understand and appreciate the nature of life on Earth, today’s students must first be taught how to see.

 Dr. Martine's class poses for a group shot on a hike.

Chris Martine, Ph.D., brings his college students into the forest to learn to identify plants. They are learning to see plants a new way, through methods Martine encourages everyone to adapt: putting down electronic devices and experiencing nature firsthand.

“Plant blindness” (an incapacity for many people to recognize the green world around them) has been bemoaned by modern botanists for some time. The students beyond my windowpane, however, are suffering from an ailment of a different nature, something I have begun to refer to as the “Mantid Syndrome.” 

The Mantid Syndrome describes the positioning of one’s hands and forelimbs when staring at and thumb-typing on a smartphone: hands in front of face, elbows bent in a posture not unlike a praying mantid as it prowls along a stem.

Unlike the mantid, students exhibiting this syndrome are not scanning the world around them. Rather, they see nothing beyond the reach of the bouncing thumbs and swiping forefingers working their small glass touchscreens. The issue is not an unwillingness to discern the details of the nature in their world—it’s a fundamental inability to tear their eyes from their screens long enough to know that nature is even there.

 Chris Martine, Ph.D.

Guest blogger Chris Martine, Ph.D., brings botany to his students’ screens, but prefers bringing students to botany.

This is dangerous, of course, and not just because “smartphone mantids” often walk in front of cars or into stationary objects. These tech portals may take a user almost anywhere and show them almost anything. Yet, at the same time, one also becomes all the more disconnected from a real experience in this world—especially an experience that includes a sense of connection to nature itself.

Thankfully, there are potential treatments. One is to develop electronic education and outreach tools that meet people where they are—in virtual spaces. I have personally taken the plunge and joined this effort in a number of ways, including developing and hosting the YouTube series “Plants are Cool, Too!”, blogging for the Huffington Post, and peppering social media outlets with posts/shares/tweets about plants and biodiversity.

Efforts like these can engender greater awareness, I think, but they are not enough. Unsurprisingly, the best way to connect people with the real world is still to get them outside, unplugged and in position to see real things in real places—just like my predecessor had done with his botany class a century before me. Plants, with their ubiquity, stationary habits, and approachable demeanors, are ideal subjects for teaching students to see. Experience has shown me that if you can see the plants in your world, all the rest starts to come unblurred.

On a recent morning with my field botany class, I asked the students to look around the forest we were standing in. Six weeks into the course, I knew they would have a hard time finding a species in this spot that they couldn’t recognize and assign a name to. A short time ago this was not the case for any of them—and yet here they were, having learned to see in a new way, feeling perhaps more at home in a forest than they had in their entire lives.

 Martine's field botany class on a research trip in the woods.

Not a “mantid” in the group—Martine’s field botany class gets a feel for the forest around them.

These students are lucky to have access to that forest—and lots of other wild places in our region—where they can develop and realize their new vision. But many young people are not as fortunate. For the more than 50 percent of the global human population in cities, finding places to become acquainted with plant diversity might be perceived as a challenge.

Luckily for all of us, there are institutions like the Chicago Botanic Garden in cities around the world where people can visit, learn about, and come to love real plants. Botanic gardens are thus critical players in helping so many more of us learn to see. Even one special encounter with a plant can be enough to open a person’s eyes for good.

With that last point in mind, I turn away from my office window and walk out of my building. In a moment I recognize a student coming my way, her face buried in her phone. I decide to intervene, and I keep it simple.

“Hey, come have a look at these plants over here.”

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Orchid mania. Orchid fever. Orchidelirium!

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 3:08pm

The Victorians had it, and so do we, right here at the Lenhardt Library! Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae, the latest rare book library exhibition, has just opened as part of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s 2015 Orchid Show.

 Oncidium papilio

Oncidium papilio from A Century of Orchidaceous Plants Selected from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Consisting of a Hundred of the Most Worthy of Cultivations by William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865). London: Reeve and Benthem, 1851

No matter what you call it, the Victorians were mad for the sensational new plants arriving in England from every exotic location on Earth. The race was on, as botanical explorations took orchid collectors from one end of the globe to another in search of the most beautiful, rare, vibrantly colored, sensuously shaped orchids to be found. Orchid fever flared again and again, from the first time the Victorians saw a Cattleya labiata from South America (it bloomed after arriving as packing material in 1818), to the orchid display of the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, designed by gardener, architect, and member of Parliament Sir Joseph Paxton (1803–65).

And if that wasn’t enough, books, articles, and botanical journals were also devoted to the orchid.

No photography? No Internet? No matter! Botanical illustrators captured orchids in all their thought-provoking beauty, one engraving and lithograph at a time. These trained illustrators caught the clinical and technical aspects of the plants with sheer precision. After Cattleya labiata, the next Victorian orchid-on-demand was Oncidium papilio, the butterfly orchid, which is one of the most dazzling illustrations in Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae.

 Vanilla planifolia.

Vanilla planifolia from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Comprising the Plants of the Royal Gardens of Kew by Joseph Dalton Hooker (1785–1865). London: L. Reeve & Co., 1891

This year we celebrate Vanilla planifolia, an edible orchid that produces the second most expensive spice in the world, next to saffron. An entire case is devoted to the vanilla orchid—look for Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker’s Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Comprising the Plants of the Royal Gardens of Kew, London: L. Reeve & Co., 1891.

Chocolate and vanilla lovers: don’t miss the rare plate from Zippel and Bollmann’s Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Bunten Wand-Tafeln  (Foreign Cultivated Plants in Colored Wall Panels with Explanatory Text) that was used as a tool for teaching plant anatomy. Like many of our rare orchid books and journals, this fragile plate was in much need of conservation. It was conserved through a grant by the National Endowment for Humanities; the digitized plate can be accessed online at the Illinois Digitized Archives.

 A match made in Heaven—vanilla and chocolate together!

A match made in Heaven! Vanilla and chocolate illustrated together in this plate from Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Bunten Wand-Tafeln by Hermann Zippel and Karl Bollmann. Braunschweig: Druck und Verlag von Fredrich und Sohn, 1880–81

Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae is open daily until April 19, 2015, with extended weekend hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) during The Orchid ShowJoin us for free library talks on Tuesday, February 24, or Sunday, March 1, at 2 p.m.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Legacy of Johnny Appleseed

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 11:35am
Guest blogger Dan Bussey is Orchard Manager at Seed Savers Exchange’s Heritage Farm, where he maintains the nearly 900 different varieties of apple trees in their Historic Orchard.

 

John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed—the legendary character of somewhat skewed Disney lore—was a real figure whose story has captivated generations.

Learn more about apple varieties from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday at our Seed Swap lecture, “Forgotten Tastes: Our Apple Heritage.” The seed swap follows from 3 to 5 p.m.

 Illustrations by Alois Lunzer depict apple cultivars Baxter and Stark (1909).

Illustrations of apple cultivars. Photo by Alois Lunzer (Brown Brothers Continental Nurseries Catalog 1909) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Chapman was a complicated man who was driven to be at the edge of the frontier as settlers moved westward. His passion was a deep appreciation of nature, which prompted him to raise apple trees for settlers to buy in order to stake their homestead claims. He collected apple seeds from cider mills back east, then spread these seeds in nursery plots up and down the land along the Ohio River. Chapman was not concerned about what varieties these seedlings became, as they always had a use—whether for eating, cooking, or making hard cider if the apples  were unpalatable. But his methods of propagation were important for those who ended up with his trees. 

Grafting keeps apples true to the original plant.

While Chapman may not have been concerned with flavor, it is a concern for orchardists growing apples for public consumption. Seedling apples are the product of the hybridization of the parent tree and whatever apple variety pollinated it. The old adage “every apple plants an orchard” is quite true. Take the seeds of any apple you find today and plant them; when they grow and finally bear fruit, you will occasionally find apples similar to the apple you took seeds from, but more than likely, you’ll find very different fruit, with different colors, different flavors, and smaller or larger sizes. Most will be of poorer quality than the parent, but for the thousands of seedlings grown, every once in a while, a really special apple tree comes along. In order to keep this variety true and to produce more trees of it, the tree has to be vegatatively propagated—in other words, grafted.

 Apple tree trunk, showing long-healed graft of cultivar on to rootstock.

Alkemene apple tree grafted on to rootstock. Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Grafting has been known for centuries, and was a common skill for farmers and orchardists until modern times. Today, many fruit growers have never grafted a single tree and instead buy them from nurseries. However, grafting is making a comeback, and it is satisfying for home orchardists to know they have a choice of what fruit they can grow for their family using this traditional method of propagation.

Cider apples have a diverse heritage.

Cider (and what we’re talking about here is hard cider or cyder) has made an epic comeback in the past ten years in the beverage industry. Cideries (as opposed to breweries) are springing up in nearly every state and are all the rage. What has happened to bring this quaint, nearly forgotten beverage of colonial America to a point where conventions across the country celebrate the amazing diversity of cider styles? In truth, cider has never disappeared from our culture completely, and the rebirth of its popularity was long overdue.

In colonial America, the tradition of cidermaking arrived from Europe, as did the apple that could make cider. Cider was popular in early America as it could be made by almost anyone—it didn’t require lots of land to grow grain, as beer did. Find a tree to harvest apples from and you could make your own cider. Any apple variety would work—including those homesteaded, seedling-grown apples that weren’t good for eating. (Thank you, Johnny Appleseed!)

 An old-fashioned hammer mill chopped apples for cidermaking in home presses.

An old-fashioned hammer mill chopped apples for cidermaking in home presses. By Red58bill (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Do you need special apples to make hard cider? Yes and no. Traditional cider varieties from Europe are those that have good flavor, but more importantly, have tannins that give cider character and body when fermented. Tannins, part of the chemical group known as phenolics, are commonly found in red wines, and cause that feeling of dryness in the mouth, a pleasant sensation to many. Tannins can be added to the juice of fresh cider when fermented, and improve the flavor.

Cider styles vary greatly from sweet to dry and sparkling to still, and many now have added flavors such as oak, hops, maple sugar, fruit of all kinds, yeasts of all kinds, and a wide variety of fermentation styles—each distinctly different. Whatever your preference, true artisanal cider is a natural product made from only apple juice and natural or added yeast to ferment it. Mass-marketed cider is generally made from juice concentrates, added sweeteners, and forced carbonation (to make it sparkle). Both forms of cider have fewer carbohydrates (and calories) than beer and lower alcohol content than wine. Cider was a refreshing drink for colonial settlers and remains so for today’s connoisseurs.

Regardless of your preferred apple tastes, Johnny Appleseed’s 200-year-old legacy is alive and well, from Albemarle Pippin to Zill. You can even find some heritage varieties at Seed Savers Exchange.

Join us this Sunday for more on “Our Apple Heritage.” Want to learn more about grafting? Come back March 29 from 1 to 4 p.m. for the Midwest Fruit Explorers grafting workshop

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Photographing Orchids

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 9:13am

Compared to photographing flowers outside, photographing in the Greenhouses will be much more challenging and darker than you think.

Photograph the Orchid Show through March 15.
 
Tripods and monopods are allowed in the Orchid Show on Wednesdays during public exhibition hours.

It may be bright outside, but the light in the greenhouses is being filtered through glass and other plant material; be aware that it will be even darker on overcast days. Most people will be hand-holding cameras, so getting shots that are sharp will take some adjustments. Here are a few things you can try:

Use a shorter lens.

This will be a bit of a compromise, as many of the orchids are up high or hard to reach. It would be nice to use a longer lens to get photographic access to more of the flowers in the Greenhouses. However, a shorter lens—100mm or less—is easier to hand-hold, and has a better chance of capturing sharp images at a slower shutter speed. (Typically, you want to have at least 1/400th of a second for a 400mm lens, or 1/100th of a second for a 100mm lens, etc., so the shorter lens will gain you two stops in this example—a significant benefit when taking hand-held shots.)

 Orchid.

With a limited depth of field, I chose to focus on the “face” I saw in this orchid. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Watch for what is in the background.

It is easy to be distracted by the beauty of the orchids and then get home and realize there are many unwanted elements in your photos. One easy option is to move in closer. When you get closer to the flower, you will get less background around the flower. Find flowers that are near the edge of an aisle—you will then be able to move your camera slightly up or down, or left to right, to get a pleasing background. Sometimes just an inch of movement can make all the difference.

 Orchid.

Note the distracting window in the background. Photo ©Carol Freeman

 Orchid.

By moving just a few inches to my left, I was able to get a more pleasing background for this orchid. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Increase your ISO.

Many of the newer cameras have improved sensors that let you increase the ISO and still get clean images with little noise. I like to do an ISO test before going out to shoot to see just how far I can push the ISO and still get images I find pleasing. It’s best to do this before you are on site so you will be able to review the images on a large screen and know what will be acceptable to you on the day of your visit. Every camera is different, and what may work for me may be too grainy for you. Most cameras will provide nice images in the 400 to 800 ISO range, and some can go much higher.

 Orchids.

I was able to get a nice shot of these orchids—in a dark area—by upping my ISO to 1000. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Use your flash.

I much prefer natural lighting, but in the Greenhouses on a cloudy day, there may be no other option for getting that shot of “the most beautiful orchid you have ever seen” that is hiding in the shadows.

 Orchids.

When using my flash, I can add some extra depth of field. Here I was able to get most of the flower sharp. Photo ©Carol Freeman

 Orchids.

Sometimes using a flash is the only way to get a shot. Here I found orchids that were away from other elements, limiting the distracting effects of the flash. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Increase your depth of field.

Orchids are tricky to photograph, even in ideal conditions. Many of them are deep flowers and require a large depth of field to get a pleasing amount of the flower in focus. Increasing the depth of field, however, comes with a price, as the increased depth will often allow much of the background to be in focus as well. And in the Greenhouses, you may not want what is in the background to be in focus, especially windows, people, or other parts of the building. Hand-in-hand with depth of field is plane of focus. Many orchids have very interesting centers, almost like faces. Be sure to get those features in focus to make the whole photo look sharper.

 Orchids.

By moving closer, you can eliminate the distracting elements from your shot. Photo ©Carol Freeman

 Orchids.

Here I moved in even closer. I love capturing the intricate details of the orchids. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Have fun, experiment with different apertures, and get creative with composition! There is no right or wrong way to photograph these amazing flowers. They are here for your enjoyment and all that is needed is your appreciation.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Vanilla infographic

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 10:00am

One of the 110 species in the orchid genus Vanilla, Vanilla planifolia is famous in kitchens worldwide, and anything but bland!

 Vanilla infographic.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Behind the Scenes at the Orchid Show

Wed, 02/11/2015 - 11:31am

It’s a sneak peek behind the scenes of our second annual Orchid Show, which opens at the Chicago Botanic Garden this weekend! (Purchase tickets here.)

And the winner is?
Could be you!
 
Finally got that gorgeous shot? Enter it in our Digital Photography Contest! Send the best of what you’ve photographed at the Orchid Show. Click here for details.

All hands are on deck as the last orchid shipments have been delivered, the ladders are lowered, the final moss gets tucked in, the lights get positioned, and the delicate task of watering and caring for 10,000 orchids begins.

Behind the scenes, it’s been quite a production, and staff have been documenting it all. Their “befores” and “afters” give you an idea of the complex and wildly creative infrastructure that supports all those gorgeous orchids. 

Looking forward to seeing you there—and don’t forget your camera!

 Boxes of orchids lined up for unpacking.

Organized orchids: as boxes and boxes of orchids from warm-weather nurseries arrived, they were staged in Joutras Gallery…

 Unpacked orchids await final placement on rows of tables in Nichols Hall.

Unpacked orchids line tables as they await placement in the exhibition.

 Horticulturist Liz Rex unravels Vanda roots.

Patience and a horticulturist’s touch: root-bound Vanda orchids had to be teased out of not one, but two pots each, root by root.

 Vanda orchids in the greenhouse.

Each Vanda is then tucked into the displays in the Tropical Greenhouse.

 Horticulturist Heather Sherwood creating orchid chain.

Upcycling at its best: horticulturist Heather Sherwood trimmed ten years of wisteria vine growth from the English Walled Garden…

 Finished orchid chain.

…then hung it inside the skylight as a backdrop for these “waterfall” chains of mini Phalaenopses.

 Notched bamboo supports await orchid plantings.

What a difference a week makes! Last Friday, bamboo supports in the Bridge Gallery looked like this.

 Dendrobium orchids fill bamboo supports.

This week, Dendrobium orchids are being layered in, transforming the entrance to the Orchid Show.

 Staff plant up the bamboo trees and wire baskets to create orchid trees.

Building orchid nests: the size of a small tree, each orchid “nest” holds 175 to 200 brightly colored orchids.

 A blooming Phalaenopsis orchid tree in the exhibition.

Finished “trees” in both bud and bloom ensure peak blooms throughout the show.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

How to Repot Your Orchid

Fri, 02/06/2015 - 9:36am

The most frequently asked question at our Orchid Show last year: “How do I repot my orchid?” The answer is with tender loving care, of course…and these easy-to-follow tips found on our website.

 Repotting an orchid.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Student…Teacher

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 1:00pm

Some orchid stories are epic—like the ancient Central American myth of a goddess who rooted herself into the Earth as a vanilla vine in order to be near the mortal man she loved.

Some orchid stories are swashbucklers—tales of the high seas and the plant explorers (and pirates) who braved them in search of orchids from exotic lands.

And some orchid stories are mysteries—like the early struggle to understand how orchids reproduce (scientists could not see the microscopic seeds).

While gathering orchid stories for this year’s Orchid Show (opening February 14, 2015), I came across a story that isn’t quite epic or swashbuckling, but is, in its lovely way, a bit mysterious.

Here at the Garden, graphic designer Nancy Snyder has contributed her graphic and artistic talents in one capacity or another for 30 years. Print, banners, signage, exhibition design (her latest project is the Orchid Show)—Nancy has done it all, including teaching classes in drawing and painting at the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Nancy got her start at the University of Illinois, where she majored first in horticulture and later in medical illustration. The two subjects merged one day when she heard that one of her teachers, Dr. Michael Dirr, was working on an updated edition of his now-legendary Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

 Manual of Woody Landscape Plants title page.

Our own Nancy Snyder’s illustrations grace Dr. Michael Dirr’s classic Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

“I asked if he needed any illustrations,” Nancy recalls now, “and he handed me a star magnolia twig to draw. I took it home, worked all night, and slipped the finished drawings under his office door the next morning.

“The next day, in the middle of Dr. Dirr’s lecture, he looked my way and announced, ‘By the way, Nancy, I got your illustrations, and they’re good. You’re hired.'”

And a botanical illustrator was born.

Fast forward to 2007.

Artist Heeyoung Kim moved to the Chicago area after studying education/psychology and teaching English in her native Korea and, later, in Germany.

“I had always drawn, and painted in oils as well, but at age 43, I wanted to do something more serious with art. One day I lined up all my drawings and realized that they were all of flowers.” Shortly thereafter, the Chicago Botanic Garden magazine (now Keep Growing) arrived in her mailbox, and she went in search of the Garden.

The first class that she signed up for was Botanical Illustration with Derek Norman. Heeyoung’s natural drawing talent was quickly recognized: eventually, Derek introduced Heeyoung to the native plants of Illinois, a subject that has become a personal passion in her art.

 The hand of Nancy Snyder as she paints a leaf for a botanical watercolor illustration.

The technique of layering thin watercolor washes over and over again produces unexpectedly rich color “that still captures the transparent quality of living plant tissue,” says Nancy Snyder.

And then she signed up for her first watercolor painting class. Ever. The teacher: Nancy Snyder.

“I saw how Nancy layered the color washes over and over again,” Heeyoung says, “and after her demonstrations in class, I just sat down and started to paint.” Below is Heeyoung’s finished watercolor of a lady slipper orchid from the class.

“I’d use orchids as our models,” Nancy explains, “because they’re long-lasting. You can set up your little studio and paint for two weeks before the flowers change much—day after day it still looks the same. Speaking as a teacher,” Nancy adds, “some students come in with all the right raw ingredients, and just need guidance about materials or techniques or to see how it’s done. Then they take that information and synthesize it into their own style. That’s what happened with Heeyoung.”

 Lady's slipper orchid by Nancy Snyder.

A Phragmipedium orchid watercolor by artist/graphic designer/teacher Nancy Snyder.

 Phragmipedium 'Jason Fischer' watercolor on paper, by Heeyoung Kim, 2008.

Phragmipedium ‘Jason Fischer’, watercolor on paper, Heeyoung Kim, 2008

Works in Progress

“I’ve worked hard, and things are happening fast,” Heeyoung Kim says of two exciting upcoming events.

  • Heeyoung Kim has a solo show opening March 27, 2015, at Joel Oppenheimer Gallery in Chicago. She is the first living artist to be represented by that gallery.
  • Three of her drawings have been accepted for inclusion in the Transylvania Florilegium, presently being created under the aegis of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, founded by HRH The Prince of Wales.

Fast forward to 2015.

Last November I ran into Heeyoung Kim at the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center and asked her what she’d been working on lately. “An orchid,” she replied, as she pulled out an extraordinary illustration of Cypripedium candidum, one of Illinois’s 45 native orchids. In classic botanical illustration style, each plant part is documented, so that the plant may be identified in every stage of growth.

Now, in a delicious twist of fate, Heeyoung’s intricate and delicate drawing is one of the illustrations that Nancy has chosen for the Orchid Show. And that bit of mystery I mentioned at the outset? Heeyoung started teaching classes at the Regenstein School in July 2012.

Student…teacher. It’s a good story. At the Orchid Show you’ll not only see 10,000 orchids, but also the talents of two students who became two Garden teachers.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Top Gardening Trends for 2015

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 10:02am

The start of a new year prompted us to ask experts here at the Chicago Botanic Garden what they expect to see in 2015. Their predictions might help you anticipate problems, promote pollinators, and add interest to your own patch of green.

What’s likely to trend? Rainwater management, cumulative stress problems, corresponding color schemes, new compact hybrids, and heightened concern for butterflies, birds, and bees.

“Two fundamental issues will drive gardening trends in 2015—erratic weather patterns and a growing concern for the environment,” said Tom Tiddens, supervisor of plant health care. Additionally, gardeners will move away from contrasting color schemes and increase their use of outdoor spaces for entertaining and relaxing. Here’s a closer at what our experts anticipate for the coming season:

Cumulative Stress

Several years of erratic weather—drought followed by prolonged, record-breaking cold—have had a cumulative stress effect on many plants, especially evergreens. “I think we will be seeing more stress-related problems in 2015,” Tiddens said. Stress causes a lack of plant vigor, increasing plants’ susceptibility to pests and diseases.

 Brown marmorated stink bug.

Be on the lookout for brown marmorated stink bug ( Halyomorpha halys ). Photo by David R. Lance, USDA APHIS PPQ

Give your plants extra TLC and be on the lookout for viburnum leaf beetle, expected to hit the Chicago region soon. Other high-consequence plant pests and pathogens to watch for include brown marmorated stink bug, lantern fly, and thousand cankers disease. Emerald ash borer and Asian longhorn beetle remain threats.

Rainwater Management

More home gardeners will take steps to either improve or prevent the lake that seems to form in their yard every time it rains, said Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist. Rain barrels and rain gardens will be two increasingly popular solutions. Rain gardens temporarily hold rainwater and rely on specialized native plants to wick water into the soil. Rain gardens offer many environmental benefits, soaking up 30 percent more water than a typical lawn, and minimizing the pollutants that flow into storm drains. The native plants used in rain gardens provide habitat for birds, bees, and beneficial insects. To learn more, go to: chicagobotanic.org/conservation/rain_garden or chicagobotanic.org/library/spotlight/raingardens.

Corresponding Color Schemes

 Dahlia 'Gitt's Crazy'.

Monochromatic color schemes are in! Experiment with the 2015 Pantone Color of the Year: “Marsala.” (Shown: Dahlia ‘Gitt’s Crazy’)

Gardeners will move toward more monochromatic displays, such as using shades of oranges alone, or shades of purples and blues together in the same design, according to Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist. Increased use of leaf interest will provide texture and shades of green. Sherwood sees red: from the earliest tulips to azaleas, dahlias, Japanese maples, large maples in the fall, and lastly, the red twigs of dogwood for seasonal interest.

Pollak also predicts home gardeners will use their outdoor spaces more and more for relaxing and entertaining, increasing the demand for outdoor décor. The Antiques, Garden & Design Show, April 17–19, 2015, will offer ideas and one-of-a-kind garden elements.

Less Is More

Jacob Burns, curator of herbaceous perennials, is excited to see new compact hybrids to make their way into the U.S. market next year, and expects them to catch on with home gardeners. New breeding efforts have produced dwarf versions of Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida) that are perfect for containers, or the front of the border. Rare among these fall-blooming windflowers is Anemone ‘Wild Swan’, which produces white blooms with a beautiful blue backing. Burns also welcomes new compact cultivars of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) available in 2015. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ reaches a height of just 28 inches, and transitions to red-purple foliage by late summer. Also on his list are cultivars ‘Twilight Zone’ and ‘Smoke Signal’.

Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

 A honeybee from the Fruit & Vegetable Garden hives pollinates some Echinacea purpurea

A honeybee from the Fruit & Vegetable Garden hives pollinates some Echinacea purpurea.

The increased availability of equipment and support—both online, and at better garden centers and the Chicago Botanic Garden—will help boost the number of backyard beekeepers, said Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist, Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. Hand in hand with the hives will be the continued rise of bird- and pollinator-friendly gardens filled with nectar-rich and native host plants. Pollak predicts a continued upward trend in demand for organic, pesticide-free and non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) plants and products. Gardeners looking for more information may be interested in attending a Beginning Beekeeping Workshop on February 7, 2015.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Vanilla inhabitants: The search for associated bacteria and fungi

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 2:26pm

Last April, I ventured to Mexico as part of an international team investigating how cultivation practices influence the growth and health of the orchid Vanilla planifolia.

Vanilla planifolia produces the seed pods used to make vanilla, the spice used for flavoring desserts and beverages, and for providing wonderful aromas in candles, perfumes, and many other things. This collection trip would take me to vanilla’s native habitat of Mexico. All varieties of vanilla originated in Mexico, including those of Madagascar and Tahiti.

Vanilla cultivation

 Vanilla planifolia bloom.

Tahitian vanilla is a hybrid of V. planifolia (shown) and V. odorata. Photo by H. Zell CC-BY-SA-3.0

While in Mexico, I visited three farms in the state of Veracruz and one in the state of Puebla. It was fascinating driving to these vanilla farms with my Mexican collaborators. It took us three days of traveling to complete our field collections. Each of the four farms had very different methods of growing V. planifolia. For instance, one of the farmers said he knew what his plants needed and thought growing his vanilla on concrete blocks was the best method. At another farm, the farmer brought decaying wood from a neighboring forest and used it as mulch for his vanilla plants that grew on living posts known as “tuteurs.” This was different from the other farmers who grew their vanilla on trees in the forest and wooden dead “tuteurs.”

Each of the plantations had different soil textures. At the last organic farm, the soil was compact and hard. At the farms that were in the forest, the soil appeared rich and softer. There is no way to quantify the terrestrial root growth, but I did note that the roots in the organic farms were longer and healthier, with some growing up to 4 or 5 feet when we dug the roots up from the soil.

 A view of the Pantapec vanilla farm.

At the Pantapec farm in the state of Puebla, Mexico, vanilla is cultivated in a highly managed environment.

 A view of the 1 de Mayo vanilla farm

By contrast, the vanilla grown at 1 de Mayo farm in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, is cultivated in a completely natural environment.

The benefits of fungi

 Orchid tissue microscopy at 100x.

Research on rare and endangered orchids usually focuses on finding fungi to help in the germination of orchids. We know that orchids will only germinate in nature using fungi. In addition, fungi living inside of plant leaves can benefit the plants’ health by preventing pathogens from growing. Also, bacteria living within the plants and fungi can be beneficial in the same way as the endophytic fungi. (Photo: V. planifolia tissue microscopy at 100x)

My part of the research project is to collect root samples from V. planifolia from each of these different farms to study the fungi and bacteria inhabiting this orchid. Currently, not much is known about the microbes (fungi and bacteria) that reside in orchid roots. Some fungi and bacteria can cause diseases. For example, with the appearance of a fungal pathogen such as Fusarium oxysporum, Mexican farmers can lose 67 percent of their crops when the Fusarium causes the rotting of the Vanilla’s stem and roots. On the other hand, there are beneficial fungi that inhabit roots, known as mycorrhizal fungi. These beneficial symbiotic fungi acquire mineral nutrients for the Vanilla, and sometimes receive carbon from the orchid in exchange. Although 90 percent of plant species have mycorrhizal fungi, and while we have a good understanding of mycorrhizal fungi of some of these relationships, relatively little is known about the mycorrhizal fungi of orchids, including V. planifolia. The reason for this is that isolating and growing the fungi and bacteria associated with orchid roots can be difficult, and some have never been grown outside of their host.

At each farm, I wanted to sample five individual plants of V. planifolia. Additionally, because of the lifestyle of this orchid, I also wanted to sample the above-ground roots (epiphytic) and the below-ground (terrestrial) roots in the soil. Using either a scissors or a scalpel, I cut small root samples and placed them into Ziploc bags. The vanilla plants are very precious to the farmers, and so a few were initially uncomfortable with our cutting off pieces, but ultimately they were very accommodating.

Epiphytic or terrestrial?

 The Vanilla orchid's epiphytic roots.

Typically, vanilla grows as a vine, with two types of roots: epiphytic roots (those which wrap around trees or other structures) and terrestrial (soil) roots. This is referred to as hemiepiphytic, because it starts within the ground and grows upward onto the tree’s bark. Many research papers suggest that epiphytic roots do not harbor many fungi, because these roots can photosynthesize, and do not need mutualistic fungus partners.

Back here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I am in the process of evaluating the microbial community that lives in the root samples I collected. We are using a new technique called high-throughput sequencing that will enable me to evaluate the entire fungal and bacterial community within the orchid’s roots by using their DNA as a way to fingerprint the individual species of microbes. We are not certain how many species of fungi and bacteria we will find, but we predict that this method will give us a good picture of the fungal and bacterial community in these roots and if these communities differ among the different farming techniques. These data will be used to better understand how epiphytic orchids utilize mycorrhizal fungi and refine the best conditions to grow vanilla and prevent diseases in the plants.

This research trip was a delight, not only because of the samples that I collected, but also because I could learn more about how vanilla is grown and used. The farmers showed us how they “cure” and prepare the vanilla by fermenting it in the sun and before drying it thoroughly. I also tasted homemade “vanilla moonshine,” generously offered by the farmer’s wife. When visiting Papantla, I learned about the Aztec myth that explained how forbidden love created the sacred vanilla orchid. And of course, I was elated because I usually spend the majority of my research time in the lab. And here I was in the tropics, after spending the previous months facing the bitter Chicago 2014 winter.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Winter Infographic

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 9:25am

Think plants look brown and dead in winter? There’s plenty of life still going on beneath the surface!

 An infographic about winter.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Scientist with Orchid Fever

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 9:12am

With our second Orchid Show set to open on February 14 and the first shipment of flowers due to arrive any day, 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.)

 Orchids in kitchen window at Ault house.

A view of the kitchen window at the Ault house.

Yes, I do indeed grow orchids at home. I haven’t counted them recently, but I’d admit to 50-plus plants. 

I simply find orchids to be fascinating for their seemingly infinite variations of flower sizes, shapes, colors, fragrance (very important to me!), and for their diverse ecological adaptations (epiphytes, terrestrials, lithophytes) and the resulting puzzle of how best to cultivate them. I first got interested in orchids in the 1970s, both from seeing some in the greenhouses at the University of Michigan, and also from visiting my grandmother in Miami. She was very active in the Florida fern society of the time, and had a backyard of ferns she grew from spores, with a smaller collection of orchids. She would send me home with plants on every visit, all of which I eventually lost, as I didn’t really have a clue as to how to grow them! But I was hooked, I think safe to say now, for life.

 Rhynchostylis gigantea.

Rhynchostylis gigantea

As a graduate student in the 1980s, I had a fairly extensive collection of orchids, and was in fact breeding them and germinating their seed in tissue culture; my first breeding projects ever. This hobby actually led me to my career as a plant breeder (of perennial plants) today. I was a member of the Baton Rouge Orchid Society for five or six years, attended quite a few orchid shows and meetings, gave lectures on orchids, and had the chance to visit some of the venerable orchid businesses like Stewart Orchids in California, Fennell’s Orchid Jungle, and Jones and Scully in Florida at perhaps their peak heydays. But my orchid collection had to be abandoned in the late ’80s when I moved to Pennsylvania. Most were sold to a nursery in North Carolina, and some were donated to Longwood Gardens, where I worked from 1988 to 1995.

My orchid hobby came and went multiple times over the intervening years (decades), mostly from a lack of appropriate space to grow them, time, etc. But starting about three years ago, I began seriously accumulating plants again. There was a bit of a learning curve, as many of the hybrids I knew were no longer available; there has been an explosion of breeding new orchid hybrids, many of which were unknown to me; and also orchid names are changing rapidly due to modern DNA technology being used to revise their nomenclature. Just figuring out where to buy plants was an adventure, as most of the orchid nurseries I knew were long gone.  

 Slc. Little Toshie 'Gold Country' (upper) and Sc. Seagull's Beaulu Queen (lower).

Slc. Little Toshie ‘Gold Country’ (upper) and Sc. Seagull’s Beaulu Queen (lower)

Currently I grow mostly Cattleya alliance species and hybrids, with an emphasis on the “mini-catts” or miniature Cattleyas, and also a smattering of the larger Cattleyas. Among my favorites of this group are Cattleya walkeriana selections with their heady mix of cinnamon and citrus fragrance (to my nose) and their hybrids like Cattleya Mini Purple; various species formerly in the genus Laelia such as Laelia pumila, (= Cattleya pumila), Laelia dayana (= Cattleya bicalhoi), Laelia sincorana (= Cattleya sincorana), and other closely related jewels of the orchid world.

I’m excited to have in bloom right now the diminutive Sophronitis coccinea (= Cattleya coccinea) with oversized, 2-inch wide flowers of an intense orange-red on a plant no larger than 3 inches tall. S. coccinea is a challenge to grow at all, let alone grow well, but its hybrids are much easier to cultivate, and strut their stuff with flamboyant flowers in deep red, orange, purple, and violet, often produced two and even three times a year.

I also grow a modest number of other species and their hybrids, mostly Neofinetia falcata, Rhynchostylis gigantea, and related hybrids.

 Laelia pumila 'Hawaii'

Laelia pumila ‘Hawaii’

I grow most of my orchids in bark mixes, some in New Zealand sphagnum. I use both plastic and clay pots as well as plastic or wood baskets. I prefer the latter as the plants respond best to the excellent aeration around their roots that the open wood baskets provide. Unfortunately this also poses a challenge, figuring out how to hang baskets close enough to windows to provide the necessary high light needed, as well as providing sufficient humidity in the dry winter months. 

My plants spend the summer outdoors on a nursery bench under a piece of shade cloth, and overwinter indoors under lights in the basement, and in nearly every south-facing window in the house! My family is to be commended for their suffering—and patience—after finding sinks and bathtubs filled with plants freshly watered, or obstructed views out windows crowded with plants. Such is life with an orchid addict.

The 2015 Orchid Show opens on February 14—a lovely way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Order your tickets now!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Between a Rock and a Future

Sat, 01/10/2015 - 9:30am

A pretty little iris growing in the mountainous rocky outcrops of Jerusalem is the focus of a research collaboration stretching over 6,000 miles.

Scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Jerusalem Botanical Gardens have combined their strengths to study the natural population structure, or remaining genetic diversity, of the rare Iris vartanii. What they have discovered may save the species, and others like it, into the future.

The finicky wildflower exists in just 66 locations in Israel’s Mediterranean ecosystem—a dangerously low number. New road construction, urban expansion, and even afforestation in the area have reduced the availability of its natural habitat, fueling the crisis. For a plant that is endemic to, or only lives in, one narrow region, that spells trouble.

 Iris vartanii ©Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir

Iris vartanii Photo ©Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir

“Whenever you have a rare plant, you always have concern that as diversity starts to go down, the plant becomes more and more endangered,” explained Garden volunteer and molecular biologist Eileen Sirkin, Ph.D. “The idea of diversity is that maybe one plant is more drought tolerant, another is more flood tolerant, and another is more wind tolerant, for example, so no matter what the conditions, there will be some survivors. As you narrow that, you are more and more in danger of losing that species.”

Do the existing plants contain adequate genetic diversity? And to sustain the species, how many plants are enough? These are the central questions.

Gaining a Foothold

The scientific partnership between the two gardens was forged when Jerusalem Botanical Gardens’ Head Scientist Ori Fragman-Sapir, Ph.D., who has monitored the species and studied its demography in the field, visited the Chicago Botanic Garden and met with Chief Scientist Greg Mueller, Ph.D. The two quickly saw an opportunity to combine Dr. Fragman-Sapir’s research with the genetic capabilities of the Garden to answer those critical questions.

“Conservation genetics is one of the core strengths of our science program,” said Dr. Mueller.  “There are few other botanical institutions that have this expertise, especially internationally, so we are happy to collaborate on interesting and important plant conservation projects like this one.”

“Conservation genetics is one of the core strengths of our science program,” said Dr. Mueller. “There are few other botanical institutions that have this expertise, especially internationally, so we are happy to collaborate on interesting and important plant conservation projects like this one.”

It wasn’t long before Fragman-Sapir began shipping leaf samples to the Garden’s molecular ecologist, Jeremie Fant, Ph.D. Together with his dedicated volunteer Dr. Sirkin, Dr. Fant set to work extracting data from the samples and documenting DNA fingerprints for each plant. Once they had a large enough data set, they compared and contrasted the findings—looking for similarities and differences among the plants’ genetic compositions.

Gaining Altitude

To give scientists a point of comparison, Fragman-Sapir shared tissue samples from five populations (geographically separated clusters of plants) of a more commonly occurring related species, Iris histrio. By also documenting the DNA fingerprints of those plants, which grow in the surrounding area, but unlike Iris vartanii are not rare, Fant was able to determine how much diversity is needed to sustain the species.

 Volunteer Dr. Eileen Sirkin

Dr. Eileen Sirkin volunteers in the laboratory.

Although the study subject is far away from the Garden, its challenges hit close to home. In 2013, Fant and Sirkin published findings from a similar study on a rare plant found at Illinois State Beach Park, Cirsium pitcheri. For that initiative, they examined the DNA of plants from a restored site at the beach and compared them to the DNA of naturally occurring plants across the range, measuring diversity.

“We’re always working with rare and endangered species, and we collaborate with different people around the world to answer those questions,” explained Sirkin.

The Summit

After completing a statistical analysis of Iris vartanii’s DNA fingerprints, Fant made several encouraging conclusions but also issued an alert for continued attention.

The rare species’ genetic diversity was similar to that of Iris histrio. “This does tell us that genetic diversity in Iris vartanii is not likely an issue,” said Fant, who was not surprised by the conclusion. “Genetic diversity of any population is determined by the origins of the species, the age of the population, and proximity to the site of origin,” he explained. “As both species likely arose locally [from Jerusalem northward to the Galilee and further on] and have been around for a very long time, they possess similar levels of genetic diversity.”

 Dr. Jeremie Fant.

Conservation scientist Dr. Jeremie Fant

Especially encouraging was that each Iris vartanii population had significant differences in their genes, likely a result of their longtime separation. The findings highlight that it is all the more valuable to conserve each population for their potential to contribute unique genes to future plants, according to Fant.

Although many populations showed high diversity and low inbreeding, which is preferred, others showed the reverse, increasing their potential risk of extinction. The latter group, explained Fant, may benefit from extra special monitoring and care.

To conserve the existing populations, attention will need to be given to their surrounding natural areas, explained Sirkin. “If you find a species that people like and you study it and say we need to do all these things to save it, you are not just saving one plant, you are saving an ecosystem, including all the other plants, insects, other invertebrates, lizards, birds, and whatever else is involved in that ecosystem,” she said.

The findings and recommendations give land managers a clear direction for their conservation efforts, all because of one eye-catching plant that told the story of many.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Armchair Gardening

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 3:18pm

January is such a satisfying month for gardening…especially of the armchair variety.

 Kris Jarantoski with his favorite library reads.

Kris Jarantoski, the Garden’s executive vice president and director, among stacks of his favorite books

Just think: no digging, no hauling, no sweating. Instead, you have the opportunity to sit in the slowly increasing sunlight, with an inbox or mailbox full of gardening PDFs and catalogs and books. It’s a time to dream and learn and plan.

In short, January’s a fine month for reading about gardening.

Every gardener has his or her favorite books and resources that they turn to in winter. This got us wondering: what does our head horticulturist Kris Jarantoski pull off the shelf when he’s thinking about his next gardening endeavor?

His answers reflect his 30 years of garden experience here—indeed, Kris was the Garden’s very first horticulturist—and a lifetime love of the natural world.

Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage

Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage

Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage

Its full title, Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on Their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes, gives you the sense that this is an authoritative resource, and this gardening classic doesn’t disappoint. Armitage is that rare garden writer who is informative, interesting, and witty all at once. “If my mother had known that the spores overwintered on the blistered, ignored leaves by the garage, she would have removed them. Actually, she would have told her sons to do it, and we would have probably taken the Lawn Boy to them,” Armitage writes of hollyhocks—and his youth.

“This is my most-used reference book,” Kris admits. “We have lots of herbaceous perennials here at the Garden, and I do at my home, too. Armitage’s book is easy to use, up to date (it’s on its third edition), and if you want one place to go for reference, this is it.”

Garden Masterclass by John Brookes

Garden Masterclass by John Brookes

Garden Masterclass and The Essentials of Garden Design by John Brookes

Walk through the blue gates of our English Walled Garden and you’ve entered the world of John Brookes. A visitor favorite since its 1991 opening, the garden’s six “rooms” feature all that Brookes is known for: impeccable thought process, original design, and a masterfully creative use of plants.

Kris was there during every step of that Garden’s implementation. “John Brookes is brilliant,” he shares. “The way he sizes up a landscape, his sense of proportion, and his ability to know how things will work together is amazing. I’ve used his grid pattern on page 83 of Garden Masterclass at my own home—gardeners of any skill level can benefit from it.”

The Gardener's Practical Botany by John Tampion

The Gardener’s Practical Botany by John Tampion

The Gardener’s Practical Botany by John Tampion

An older (1973) but beloved resource, Tampion’s book is important “because anybody who gardens should know how plants work—how they breathe and take up water and have a vascular system,” Kris explains. “If you know how and why plants work—basic, practical botany—then you understand what’s happening when a rodent girdles your fruit trees.” Can’t find Tampion’s book? Try Biology of Plants by Peter Raven/Ray Evert/Susan Eichhorn—just one of the great botany books on the shelf at the Lenhardt Library.

The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

Less a reference book than a work of art about the art of gardening, 2011’s The Artful Garden became the final book by the late landscape architect James van Sweden (who died in 2013). By relating gardening to the arts—music, painting, dance—van Sweden “opened my mind as to how things work together in a landscape,” Kris says. “He was the visionary behind Evening Island, and the great photographs in this book remind me of how we thought about every aspect of the design as we worked on it.” A fine book for daydreaming about gardens large and small.

Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

A true lesson in design by a grande dame of British landscape architecture, this book teaches on the grand and historic scale. Sylvia Crowe created cityscapes, public properties, and institutional landscapes, but she also understood the importance of the land and was one of the first to act on the idea of sustainability. “This is one of the books I return to again and again,” Kris notes. “Sylvia Crowe was ahead of her time, and her thoughts on design continue to resonate today.”

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voight and J.S. Vandermark

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voight and J.S. Vandermark

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voight and J.S. Vandermark

The secret to many an Illinois gardener’s success, this University of Illinois publication is a favorite of the state’s many master gardeners. “It’s well laid out,” Kris explains, “and the illustrations are very good. The focus is on vegetables that thrive in the Midwest, so it’s a must-read for gardeners in our area. My copy has been well used over the years!”

Landscape Plants for Eastern North America by Harrison Flint

Landscape Plants for Eastern North America by Harrison Flint

Landscape Plants for Eastern North America by Harrison Flint

Which perennial, shrub, or tree, would work best in that tricky corner of your yard? This is the book that tells you. With several thousand plant listings, hundreds of photographs, and handy illustrations of plants compared in youth and at maturity, Flint’s book is a solid reference for seasoned and novice gardeners alike. “Dr. Flint is from the Midwest, and he understands what works in our gardens,” Kris adds. “I think of this book as a truly local resource. His book can be hard to find, though—it hasn’t been updated over the years—in which case you can turn to Michael Dirr’s well-known Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.”

Trees for American Gardens by Donald Wyman

Trees for American Gardens by Donald Wyman

Trees for American Gardens and Shrubs for American Gardens by Donald Wyman

“These two titles are sentimental choices for me,” Kris mentions with a smile. “They’re out of date now, but they’re like old friends to me—textbooks used in the horticulture program at the University of Wisconsin/Madison when I was there. Donald Wyman set the tone and format for all the great horticultural reference books to come. When I open these books, it whisks me back to that thrilling time of learning about new plants, especially shrubs and trees.”

The magazine/periodical racks at our Lenhardt Library are a gardener’s guilty pleasure: gorgeous cover after gorgeous cover begs “pick me” for every gardening topic under the sun. A magazine browse is a fine way to spend a January day.

 Woman with laptop in the Lenhardt Library.

Bring your sketchbook or laptop and plan your spring garden in the Lenhardt Library.

We asked Kris for his top magazine titles:

  • Horticulture
  • Fine Gardening
  • The American Gardener (the American Horticultural Society’s magazine)
  • Garden Design
  • Chicagoland Gardening
  • Northern Gardener (Minnesota State Horticultural Society magazine)
  • Gardens Illustrated
  • The Garden (Royal Horticultural Society magazine)
  • The English Garden

Nearly all of the above titles are available at our Lenhardt Library (free checkout year-round for members!). It’s a resource that Kris knows well. “I’ve always used our library,” he says. “My dad, who was an engineer, loved books and had an extensive collection, and I inherited that love of libraries from him.”

Pull up a chair. Pull out a book. And enjoy a little armchair gardening in January.

What are your favorite gardening books and websites? Tell us your top three titles in the comments section below!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Growing the Garden

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:26pm

Increasing attendance at the Chicago Botanic Garden and sister institutions around the country supports my conviction that public gardens are more relevant than ever to peoples’ lives. Our living museums are uniquely positioned to meet the pressing challenges of our time—climate change, a need for improved physical and mental health, workforce training, stress, and more.

The Garden’s mission statement says it best: We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.

As we work to fulfill our mission, we attract more and more visitors: In 2014 we welcomed 1,058,368 visitors, a 6 percent increase over our record-breaking 2013, and 52 percent more than in 2005. These numbers tell us that something very significant is happening at the Garden.

Graph of Garden attendance.

Our mission compels us to provide meaningful and joyful experiences that speak to the essential role plants play in all of our lives. We continuously work to improve the relevance of that experience and in 2014 enhanced our already-rich menu of programs and services.

 Orchid by Zak Yasin

The 2015 Orchid Show will run February 14 through March 15. (Orchid photo by 2014 photo contest entrant, Zak Yasin)

February saw the launch of the Garden’s first month-long orchid exhibition, a stunning celebration of the world’s largest flowering plant family. The Orchid Show filled the Regenstein Center with fragrance and color, attracting 25,000 visitors seeking respite from the Chicago winter. The beauty of the tropical blooms inspired awe, and also helped visitors understand the value of plant diversity and the importance of conserving the natural habitats on which all life depends.

A newly refurbished Garden View Café opened in spring. The updated menu features the best in local and seasonal food—some of it grown through the Garden’s Windy City Harvest urban agriculture program. We’ve added a brick pizza oven and barista station, and now serve brunch all day on Sundays. Our Sprouts Meals put a healthy twist on traditional children’s favorites. The café serves up delicious, fresh meals, and also serves as a model for sustainability.

 Breaking ground on the new Jarantoski campus, July 29, 2014.

Breaking ground on the new Jarantoski campus, July 29, 2014

In summer, the Garden broke ground for a new 151,000-square-foot outdoor nursery, the first phase of construction for the Kris Jarantoski Campus. The campus will include a new plant production facility and display garden designed by Belgian landscape architect Peter Wirtz. The facility will ensure horticultural excellence, support advanced conservation research, and expand the plant-based educational programs at the Garden. Wirtz’s innovative landscape design will unify the south end of the campus and draw visitors to a lesser-known corner of the Garden.

The North Branch Trail addition opened in early fall and makes the Garden more accessible to the roughly 80,000 to 90,000 visitors who enter by bike or foot each year. The multiuse path provides a safe, scenic route from the Braeside Metra Station in Highland Park to the Garden, and connects the North Branch Trail with the Green Bay Trail.

 North Branch Trail addition (bike path).

The North Branch Trail addition opened this past fall.

The Garden’s expanding influence extends well beyond our Glencoe campus. In December we celebrated 20 years of helping Chicago Public Schools students succeed in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In addition to the over 30,000 students who participate annually in the Garden’s formal education programs, to date, approximately 500 students have taken part in the Garden’s Science Career Continuum programs. Nearly all participants tracked since 2006 have enrolled in college; of these, more than three-fourths majored in a STEM field, and nearly two-thirds pursued science.

A USDA NIFA (National Institute for Food and Agriculture) grant is enabling the Garden’s Windy City Harvest urban agriculture programs to mentor urban farmers in Chicago. Three years into the grant, we’ve created four incubator farms as part of the redevelopment of the former Robert Taylor Homes public housing project. Other Windy City Harvest components include a teen leadership training program and a series of professional certificates offered through the Arturo Velasquez Institute, a satellite of Richard J. Daley College, City Colleges of Chicago.

 The Windy City Harvest’s Legends Farm at 4500 S. Dearborn Street.

The Windy City Harvest’s Legends Farm at 4500 S. Dearborn Street

In December, the White House announced the Chicago Botanic Garden’s C3I initiative as part of a sweeping new approach to climate-change education. C3I (Connecting Climate to Communities Initiative) unites 12 Midwest community organizations in an effort to engage populations underrepresented in the environmental movement.

Our scientists travel the globe, collaborating with peers worldwide to monitor, conserve, and restore critical habitats, research underutilized food crops, and mitigate the effects of climate change. The Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center opened five years ago and so far has graduated 50 master’s degree students from our plant biology and conservation science program, offered in conjunction with Northwestern University. We are looking forward to seeing the first Ph.D. candidates graduate this spring.

Look for continued growth in 2015 as the Garden continues to progress toward goals set out in its ten-year strategic plan, “Keep Growing” (2010–20). What keeps us going? We believe beautiful gardens and natural environments are fundamentally important to the mental and physical well-being of all people. We believe people live better, healthier lives when they can create, care for, and enjoy gardens. We believe the future of life on Earth depends on how well we understand, value, and protect plants, other wildlife, and the natural habitats that sustain our world. Please join us in our mission.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Mushroom Discovery

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 9:30am

All the possibilities for the Obama Library plus our Windy City Harvest Youth Farm are featured on National Geographic’s website! Read about it in Greg Mueller’s article, The Next New Species Could be in Your Backyard: Why Exploration and Discovery Matter—Everywhere on National Geographic. Mueller, chief scientist and Negaunee Foundation vice president of science at the Garden, describes the excitement of discovering new species in our own neighborhoods and parks.

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Photograph by Patrick R. Leacock

Read more by Garden scientists at voices.nationalgeographic.com
Copyright © 2014 National Geographic

Creating Blooming Dish Gardens

Sat, 12/27/2014 - 10:00am

Create a miniature landscape in an open, shallow container: a dish garden! Gather small foliage and flowering plants together in a decorative container—like a basket or saucer—for a versatile display you can enjoy throughout the year. 

Dish gardens are easy to grow, very adaptable to most environments, and can be placed anywhere in the home. Even if you do not have a green thumb, you’ll find it difficult to kill a dish garden. They last much longer than fresh cut flower arrangements, although if you like, you can add fresh cut flowers—they will last up to a week or more. Once done blooming, the flowers can be easily removed or replaced, and the dish garden can be enjoyed for many more months.

Watch this video to learn more.

  • Choose the container: Your dish garden should be planted in a shallow container. The size depends only on how many plants you want to put into it. Almost anything can be used as a container—let your imagination be the judge. 
  • Provide drainage:  Adequate drainage is probably the most important rule to ensure the success of your dish garden. Be sure to remove excess water and avoid over-watering. Drainage holes on the bottom are best, but not mandatory. If drainage holes are not present, use a plastic liner or saucer in the container, or add a layer of gravel or pebbles on the bottom for drainage.
  • Choose the plants: Use small starter plants; 3-inch or 4-inch pots work best. Choose plants with the same general light and water requirements. Using seasonal flowering plants or interesting seasonal focal points—such as poinsettias for the holidays—and change them out throughout the year: replace your poinsettia with a flowering primrose or bulbs in the spring.
  • Dish garden themes: Be different! Try a cactus or desert garden, bulb garden, flowering annuals, African violets, or herb garden. Or try to spruce it up with special decorations for a holiday or event.
  • Planting and design: Always use a well-draining peat-based potting soil. Place the tallest plants in the center if the dish garden is to be viewed from several sides, or place them in the back of the container if viewed only from one side. Mix plants with contrasting foliage, colors, leaf sizes, and shapes. Top dress the soil with a layer of Spanish moss, gravel, or bark chips.
  • Care of your dish garden: Again, they are easy, needing only proper drainage, water, light, and an occasional dose of general fertilizer, and minor trimming if needed. They can last in the home for 1-2 years before repotting is needed.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Putting Down Roots: Urban Agriculture at Work

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 9:15am

Two years ago—before his life took a head-spinning turn—Fernando Orozco was a 19-year-old juvenile offender in the Cook County Sheriff’s detention center. Recently, he completed work as a grower and crew leader on the Kraft Food campus in Northfield, Illinois, as part of a 13-week stint in Windy City Harvest Corps, an educational and transitional jobs program run by the Chicago Botanic Garden.

 Fernando Orozco.

Fernando Orozco at the Kraft Makers Garden

“I never thought I’d have a job like this where I have my own site and, not only that, the responsibility of caring for a crew of other guys,” Orozco said, on a break from work last summer in the 8,000-square-foot Kraft Makers Garden.

His crew included young men, ages 17 to 21, in the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice system. The team grew enough tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and other produce to fill 55 boxes a week for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program. Other crops included cherries, beets, swiss chard, and watermelon, made pretty with plantings of scarlet runner beans and firecracker flowers, all grown in full view of Kraft employees as they worked out in the company gym. Produce from the site is donated to WIC centers and food pantries in the networks of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Orozco became interested in farming at the sheriff’s detention center, where he learned basic growing and organic practices in a program run by Windy City Harvest, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s urban agriculture education and jobs-training initiative. He went on to complete the nine-month Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship program, earned a certificate in safe and sustainable urban agriculture, and interned at locations including chef Rick Bayless’s home garden in Chicago.

The Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship program attracts a diverse group of students, including young adults with a history of incarceration and those with significant barriers to employment. “Just because they’re checking that box that says ‘felony offense’ doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re bad people,” said Angela Mason, director of Windy City Harvest. “They just need someone to give them a chance and support them through those changes. ”

Fernando and WCH Crew work at Kraft

Using organic methods and operating on eight acres at a dozen locations throughout Chicago and Lake County, Windy City Harvest students annually grow about 100,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables, serving an estimated 143,000 people.

Now Orozco tells the former juvenile offenders with whom he works that they can leave their past behind. “I’m not the smartest person in the world,” he tells them, “but I saw an opportunity and I took it, and the same opportunity is happening to you guys. Are you going to take advantage?”

Orozco hopes to run his own farm some day. “But, for now, I’d be happy if I were here, doing the same thing, just perfecting the craft, growing food and helping people, growing people,” he said. “I can’t ask for a better job.” 

This post was adapted from an article by Helen K. Marshall that appeared in the winter 2014 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

20 Years of College First at the Garden

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 9:20am

Twenty years ago, I was running school field trip programs at the Chicago Botanic Garden when then-education manager Alan Rossman received a grant to start a brand new program called “College First.” This program would use the Garden site and staff to introduce 12 students from three Chicago Public Schools to careers in the green industry. He hired retired teacher Gwen Yvonne Greenwood to coordinate the program and enlist staff from all over the Garden to mentor and teach these young people.

 Six high school students are posing in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden, wearing dark green uniform College First T-shirts

These six students from 2003 are all college grads with jobs now.

At the time, there weren’t many programs like College First anywhere in the country. College First was even unique among the other museum teen program start-ups, in that our goals were not merely to make the institution more relevant to this age group, but also to provide a springboard to meaningful careers in science-related fields. Who knew that 20 years later, with some changes and improvements along the way, this small program would evolve and grow into the Science Career Continuum we have today?

We now bring 60 students (like Mely Guzman, whom I blogged about earlier this year) from all over Chicago to the Garden every summer and expose them to environmental and conservation sciences, with the hope that a few of them will be inspired to pursue a career in this field, and maybe go on to do something important for our planet. To date, College First has served more than 500 students from 116 schools. The majority of them have attended college and have entered—or are entering—productive careers. Many of them have pursued science-related careers as a direct result of their experiences at the Garden.

 At the reception of the College First 20-year reunion.

Program manager, Amaris Alanis Ribeiro (standing on the right) reminds a group of former students to visit Wonderland Express after they are finished eating.

We celebrated the success of College First on December 14, with a reunion party at the Garden, including a visit to Wonderland Express, for all past students, instructors, mentors, donors, and their families. More than 200 people attended the event. In between the many reunion hugs, congratulations, and words of encouragement for current students, we gave all program participants an opportunity to reflect on their experiences by telling us their stories on video, writing comments on a talk-back wall, and tweeting about the event while a live Twitter feed displayed the comments.

 College First participants shared their thoughts and feelings on a mural outside the auditorium.

College First participants shared their thoughts and feelings on the comment wall outside the auditorium.

A former program coordinator, William Moss, is now a gardening guru and media celebrity. (Even our instructors have moved on to great things in their careers!) William presided as master of ceremonies during a presentation to recognize all the people who have made this program possible. We honored staff mentors, Louise Egerton-Warburton, Jeremie Fant, and Tom Soulsby as outstanding mentors. The College First 20th Anniversary event was made possible by the generous support of Joel Friedman of the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund. Awards were presented to Annette Kleinman and family of the Sheridan Foundation, the W.P. & H.B. White Foundation, and the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation for their generous financial support over the years.

 William Moss at the podium.

William Moss—television celebrity, author, gardener, and all-around good guy—helped us to honor all the people who have made this program successful.

For me, this was a very rewarding event. It was such a pleasure to see so many past and present students coming together and sharing in the success of this program, especially those who are now adults with spouses and children of their own. This group represents our scientific future.

 Group photo of past College First participants.

A total of 57 past and present College First participants attended the celebration and posed for a picture. Wow!

I wish each and every one of these smart and talented young people a happy new year and all the best in their bright futures!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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