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A Taste of the Garden

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 8:30am

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.

The concept of serving fresh, seasonal, local food at the Garden was key to café renovations completed one year ago. Produce and fruit from the garden, as well as from Windy City Harvest plots in the area, and other local vendors, is increasingly available in many dishes including salads, calzones, daily soups, and other specials.

 The bountiful Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden in 2014.

The bountiful Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden in 2014  ©North Branch Communications

Although the café and the Fruit & Vegetable Garden are physically separate, they come together in the growing season through an intricate network of connections that bring garden to table.

“It’s such a unique opportunity,” said Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development. “It opens people’s eyes to what we offer here.” New signage in the garden indicates which plants are on their way to the café. It also feels right, she explained. “If you are a true gardener, that’s how you live your life—by the plants of the season.” She added that the café has only grown in popularity, seeing about 200,000 unique food purchases last year.

Hilgenberg spent much of her lifetime learning how to match seeds with soil and growing conditions, perfecting each step. She lives with the rhythm of the seasons. “We are moving back in the right direction,” she said. “There’s something exciting about eating freshly grown vegetables seasonally. It’s always new and nutritious.”

Hilgenberg begins planning a year in advance for each growing season, mapping out what she will plant and how it will be arranged for display. Seeds for cool-season plants begin to grow in the Greenhouses in late winter, go into the ground in April, and are harvested in May and June. A similar cycle follows shortly after for warm-season crops.

 Chef slicing fresh cabbage.

Fresh cabbage from the Garden is put to use at the Garden Chef Series. Join us on Saturdays and Sundays, May 23 – October 4.

This is Pettorossi’s first spring at the Garden, after beginning in his role in November. He eagerly welcomes the arrivals of produce this spring. “If you can get something at the peak of freshness it always tastes better,” he said. As for the menu, “the season definitely dictates it,” he explained. “The menu features a lot of specials, depending on what we have in house.” No matter the season, he said the menu is always “fresh, mostly organic, local, and garden-inspired.”

Cool-season crops such as heirloom Tennis Ball butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa ‘Tennis Ball’) are the first to be ready this year. They will soon be joined by French Breakfast radish (Raphanus sativus ‘French Breakfast’), Hakurei salad turnips (Brassica rapa ‘Hakurei’), beets, and bunching onions. “All of our ingredients are very simple based on what they tell me they can grow,” he said, indicating that the most seasonal foods can be found in daily specials that he plans a day ahead.

 Staff and volunteers plant the Fruit & Vegetable Garden terraces with fall season crops.

Staff and volunteers plant the Fruit & Vegetable Garden terraces with fall crops.

The connection from garden to table extends to connect people as well, from garden mentor to student, or from an individual to their culture or family traditions, for example. Hilgenberg loves hearing from garden visitors about their connections to the garden crops. She spent much of her childhood on her Norwegian grandparent’s farm in Iowa, building her own such connections.

Hilgenberg makes a point to grow widely recognized plants in the garden each year, including herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables. She grows annual small fruits such as strawberries, gooseberries, and currants in addition to blueberries and bramble fruit. She also grows less common plants such as Marshall strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa ‘Marshall’), which she and her team propagated from three donated plants. Everything grown in the garden is done so organically. “I think it’s interesting for people to try different local varieties,” she said. Many, she explained, cannot be found in a typical grocery store, especially in organic form.

This year, several beds have been planted in the French potager style, and others laid out to mirror the gardens of Monticello. There are two beds planted with vegetables people may have seen in seed houses in 1890, the same year the Chicago Horticultural Society was founded. In honor of the Society’s 125th anniversary, seeds were made available through seed catalogs, the Seed Savers Exchange, and other sources. Edible flowers, such as Empress of India nasturtium (Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’), artfully border beds of radish, rutabaga, and turnips, for example. In addition, she included carrots, kale, collard, and three varieties of cabbage (Brassica oleracea): ‘Mammoth Red Rock’, ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’, and ‘Perfection Drumhead Savoy’. Each one was selected because it is adapted to our local growing conditions, a process Hilgenberg and her staff, volunteers, and interns have mastered over the years. Last year, they grew and harvested two tons of produce. The year before, that was combined with a bumper apple crop for 6,000 pounds of production.

 The Herbs de Provence garden bed in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

The Herbes de Provence garden bed in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden: what is not used fresh can be dried in one batch at the end of the season.

How does the chef manage to find a way to serve even the most unusual varieties with style? “I always try to add a little acid [such as lemon or vinegar] to food because acid makes flavors pop,” he advised. “A lot of lettuces are sweet, but others have a bitterness to them,” he added, “so you would have to find that perfect vinaigrette to go with that bitterness,and maybe add a touch of honey or something sweet.”

In addition to growing and preparing food at the Garden, “we are also this amazing workforce and training program for underserved youth and adults,” said Resnick, who explained that participants in the Windy City Harvest program, with large growing beds off-site, provide a significant amount of produce for the Garden View Café and learn to sell their produce at farmers’ markets. On-site each year, a few Windy City Harvest interns work directly with Hilgenberg.

Anyone walking through the Fruit & Vegetable Garden today may see the beginnings of a dish they can enjoy in the café by early summer. The season will continue to evolve in coming months, with the Garden Grille opening in late May. In June, warm-season crops such as heirloom corn, Japanese Nest Egg summer squash (Cucurbita pepo ‘Japanese Nest Egg’), White Patty Pan squash (Cucurbita pepo var. melopepo ‘White Patty Pan’), Yellow Pear tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Yellow Pear’), and Blueberry Blend tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Blueberry Blend’) will replace the spring plantings in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden, giving way to new edible discoveries.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Rare Affair is a gardener’s dream come true

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 2:00am

If you are reading this blog, you are probably a plant person. So am I.

In my dreams I’m at a party, and there is no dirt under my nails. It’s a late spring evening at the most beautiful botanic garden in the world, with great food and drinks, and everyone who is there also loves plants. There is an auction of exceptional, unusual, and hard-to-find plant specimens I need to have. They have been vetted by a panel of experts and were donated by some of the top nurseries in the country. Best of all, the event will support fellowships for the plant biology and conservation graduate program, which is a collaboration between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University.

Click here to download a PDF catalog containing the entire rare plant inventory.
 Bidsheets and plants at A Rare Affair.

This plant lover’s dream come true is known as A Rare Affair. It is the ninth biennial plant auction presented by the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society. It will be held Friday, May 29, at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and silent auction begin at 6 p.m. in the Regenstein Center, with a catered dinner and live auction to follow at 8 p.m. in McGinley Pavilion.

The Woman’s Board and Chicago Botanic Garden staff members have worked hard to gather an amazing collection of exceptional offerings, including plants and garden-related items. A sampling of the plant offerings includes:

Snow Cloud maidenhair tree
(Ginkgo biloba ‘Snow Cloud’) 

The leaves of this slow-growing ginkgo emerge blonde with white-tipped edges, gradually becoming bright green with white streaking. It has brilliant gold fall foliage.

 Ginkgo biloba 'Snow Cloud'.

With its unusual variegated leaves, Ginkgo biloba ‘Snow Cloud’ makes a wonderful specimen tree. Photo © Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery

Inquinans geranium
(Pelargonium inquinans)

This may look like any geranium, but it comes from Monticello, and is a cutting of a species plant that is one of the parents of our modern bedding geraniums.

 Pelargonium inquinans.

Pelargonium inquinans is grown from a species geranium cultivated at Monticello. Photo by Magnus Manske (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cutleaf Japanese emperor oak
(Quercus dentata ‘Pinnatifida’)

This wonderful tree comes from our friends at Fiore nursery. Its grayish-green leaves are deeply bisected, resulting in a unique, feathery texture.

 Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'.

The delicately-lobed cutleaf Japanese emperor oak, Quercus dentata ‘Pinnatifida’ is a beautiful, smaller ornamental oak, growing only to about 15 feet tall. Photo via JC Raulston Arboretum

Peony collection
(Paeonia sp.)

A peony collection from Cornell Plantations includes Paeonia ‘Myrtle Gentry’—resembling a rose in both form and fragrance—in shades of pink and salmon aging to white.

 Paeonia 'Myrtle Gentry'.

Paeonia ‘Myrtle Gentry’ will be available as part of this rare peony collection. Photo © 2007 by Dr. Wilhelm de Wilde, Mariehamn, Aland-Islands

Floribunda is a collection of non-plant items for plant lovers who may have no more room in their garden and those who love them. Most of these treasures are garden-related or themed. 

Highlights include:

  • A pontoon boat ride at sunset led by Bob Kirschner on the lakes of the Chicago Botanic Garden. (Includes refreshments.)
  • An orchid photograph by Anne Belmont, similar to those that graced the walls of Krehbiel Gallery during the Orchid Show.
  • An exceptional opportunity for a foursome to play golf at the Dunes Club in New Buffalo, Michigan.
  • Lessons in flower arrangement and container gardening, taught by talented members of the Woman’s Board.

The Woman’s Board invites you to attend this event and partner with us in supporting fellowships for the plant biology and conservation graduate program—a collaboration between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University. Reservations are limited. For tickets and information, call (847) 835-6833.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Warbler Heaven

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 8:30am

A lot of birds migrate through the area this time of year, but I have to say warblers are my favorites. The other day, when the rain cleared and the sun came out, I found myself in warbler heaven!

 Yellow-rumped warbler.

Yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) are some of the most common warblers to be seen at the Garden. You can spot them almost anywhere! Photo © Carol Freeman

As soon as I walked out of the Visitor Center, I saw movement in the trees next to the bridge: my first warbler of the day—a prothonotary! (Protonotaria citrea)—an uncommon warbler, and the first time I’ve ever seen one at the Chicago Botanic Garden! Next stop: the top of the Waterfall Garden. The birds were hopping! Here I added eight more warbler species, including yellow-rumped, palm, black-and-white, Cape May, American redstart, Wilson’s, magnolia, and yellow warblers! Wow! So much fun! I also saw red-eyed and warbling vireos, a scarlet tanager, and a ruby-crowned kinglet, to name a few.

 Red-eyed vireo.

Another lovely migrant: the red-eyed vireo ( Vireo olivaceus) Photo © Carol Freeman

 Black-and-white warbler.

The black-and-white warblers (Mniotilta varia) can be seen hopping along branches looking for insects. Photo © Carol Freeman

After delighting in the abundance of birds for a few hours, I slowly made my way back to my car, choosing to walk under the amazing flowering crabapple trees. Just at the end of the line of trees I heard what I thought was another warbler. I couldn’t quite see what it was. I tried calling it out, and to my delight, out popped the most beautiful male northern parula warbler (Setophaga americana). He hopped right onto a flower-filled branch and seemed to pose while I got some photos. I’ve only seen a parula a couple of times before, and never this close, and never on such a pretty perch. A perfect way to end my journey in warbler heaven.

 Northern parula warbler.

I could hardly believe my eyes when this beauty popped up in the flowering crabapple tree! Northern parula warbler (Setophaga americana) photo © Carol Freeman

While I can’t promise you will see this many warblers in a day, there is always something to see, and the fun part for me is never knowing just what might show up. Last week it was a white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus). This week, warblers. Next week, who knows? All I do know is I’ll be out there to see what wonders there are to discover and then I’ll be in heaven again.

 Palm warbler.

Palm warblers (Setophaga palmarum) can easily be identified by their tail pumping and rusty crown. Photo © Carol Freeman

 White-eyed vireo.

An uncommon visitor! I was surprised to find this white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus) in a tree in a parking lot. Photo © Carol Freeman

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Language of Flowers

Sun, 05/17/2015 - 8:48am

Today we text hearts. But in Victorian times, flowers acted as the instant messaging and emojis of the day.

In nineteenth-century Europe (and eventually in America), communication by flower became all the rage. A language of flowers emerged. Books appeared that set the standard for flower meanings and guided the sender and the recipient in their floral dialogue. Victorians turned the trend into an art form; a properly arranged bouquet could convey quite a complex message.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Now an amazing collection of books about the subject, including many entitled The Language of Flowers, has been donated to the Lenhardt Library. The gift of James Moretz, the retired director of the American Floral Art School in Chicago, the collection includes more than 400 volumes from his extensive personal library on floral design. Moretz taught the floral arts for 45 years, traveled the world in pursuit of the history and knowledge of flowers, and authored several books on the topic. His bequest gives the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library one of the Midwest’s best collections of literature on the language of flowers.

As even these few photos show, there are books filled with intricate illustrations, books specific to one flower, handpainted books, pocket-sized books, and dictionaries. The oldest volume dates to 1810. Two are covered in pink paper—seldom seen 200 years ago, but quite subject-appropriate. Many books are charmingly small—the better to fit, it was thought, in a woman’s hands.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

 Carnation Fascination bookcover.

Carnations held several meanings: a solid color said yes, a striped flower said no, red meant admiration, while yellow meant disappointment.

The language of flowers translated well: there are books in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese…and English. Some 240 of the volumes are quite rare—those will, of course, be added to the library’s Rare Book Collection. (Fear not, you can peruse them by appointment.) The remainder will be catalogued and added to the library shelves during the course of the year. Are you a Garden member? You’ll be able to check them out.

 The tiny books of of The Language of Flowers.

Tiny books were sized for women’s hands—and to slip into pockets.

 Cupid's Almanac and Guide to Hearticulture bookcover.

This pocket-sized Victorian reference could come in handy when courting.

Librarians aren’t often at a loss for words, yet when I asked Lenhardt Library director Leora Siegel about the importance of the donation, she paused for a very long moment before responding. Clearly, her answer would have weight.

“It is the single most outstanding donation in my tenure as director,” she replied.

Pink rose illustrationAnd so to Mr. Moretz, one last word of thanks:

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Join the food revolution on World Environment Day

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 12:39pm

Check out 20 food-waste-saving ideas here—and learn more on World Environment Day at the Garden, June 6.

 Food waste infographic.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Speaking Science: Bringing Plant-Based Research to All Ages

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 9:30am

Do you ever feel like trying to understand plant science research can be as daunting as deciphering a passage written in a foreign language?

As a budding plant scientist in the joint Chicago Botanic Garden/Northwestern University Ph.D. program, I find it exciting to pick through dense scientific text. Uncovering the meaning of a new acronym and learning new vocabulary can be thrilling, especially when decoding something new.

 Kelly Ksiazek speaking in Sydney, Australia.

This past fall I spoke to a group of green infrastructure professionals in Sydney about the importance of urban biodiversity.

But the commonly used styles in scientific writing and presentation packed with language used to convey big topics in small spaces can be really off-putting to an audience of non-scientists. Many of us can conjure up a memory of a professor or teacher who seemed to like their subject matter but couldn’t convey the material in an interesting way. All of a sudden, science became boring.

Rather than struggling to learn this “foreign language,” many folks stop paying attention. Lack of scientific literacy, especially as it applies to plants, is a pity. Plants are all around us! They are so valuable to the entire planet. The very applicable field of botany shouldn’t be something that’s only discussed and understood in laboratories or scientific conferences—it should be for everyone.

This idea inspires me to try and bring my current botany research to a wide variety of people.

 Ksiazek takes her presentation on the road to Pittsburgh.

I’ve had the chance to speak with many visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden about my research, and typically bring some of my research supplies, as seen here from a trip to Pittsburgh.

 A Book About Green Roofs.

Writing and publishing a children’s book helps bring my research findings to kids all over the world.

For example, I recently realized that there are very few resources available to teach young students about the habitat where I currently collect most of my data: green roofs. While some of the methods I use for data collection and analysis can be quite complex, the motivations behind my work and some of the findings can be broken down into some basic ideas, applicable to students of all ages. So a fellow botanist and I wrote and produced Growing Up in the City: A Book About Green Roofs.

Our children’s activity book teaches youngsters about some of our research findings. The book follows a pair of native bumblebees through a city, where they guide the reader through engaging activities about the structure, environmental benefits, and motivations for building green roofs. At the end, readers even have the opportunity to ask their own research question and carry out a green roof research project of their own.

Interested in your own copy of our book? More information and a free digital download of the book are available at greeningupthecity.com.

 Ksiazek presents her work to a girls' middle school.

Talking to 100-plus middle school girls about why it’s cool to be a botanist was a great experience!

The activity book is just one example of ways that plant scientists can engage with a broader audience and make their research findings more accessible. Some of the other activities that my colleagues here at the Chicago Botanic Garden and I have participated in include mentoring undergraduate and high school students, speaking to community organizations, creating lessons for schools and school groups, volunteering for summer programs, and maintaining a presence on the Internet through online mentoring, blogging, websites, and Twitter.

 Ksiazek and an undergraduate student identify green roof plants.

Teaching undergraduate students how to identify plants on green roofs is one way of passing on my research knowledge.

 Ksiazek discusses her research with a visitor to the PCSC.

My experiments on the green roof at the Plant Science Center are visible to everyone. Come take a look!

Here at the Garden, we scientists also have a unique variety of opportunities to share our science with the thousands of visitors who come to the beautiful Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. If you’ve never been to the Plant Science Center, you should definitely stop by the next time you’re at the Garden. You can see inside the laboratories where the other scientists and I collect some of our data. There are also a lot of interactive displays that aim to demystify plant science research and decode some of the “foreign language” that science speak can be. For a really interactive experience, come visit us on World Environment Day, Saturday, June 6, and talk to scientists directly. Bring your kids, bring your neighbors, and ask a botanist all those burning plant questions you have! We promise to only speak as much “science” as you want.

For more information about my research and science communication efforts, please visit my research blog, Kelly Ksiazek’s Botany in Action, and follow me on Twitter @GreenCityGal.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

For the Love of Trains

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 8:55am

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

 a steam engine!

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

This year marks Rodelius’s 15th season at the Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America, which opens Saturday, May 9, with a special treat. This season, the Model Railroad Garden will pay tribute to steam engines, in honor of the 125th anniversary of the Chicago Horticultural Society (the Society founded and manages the Chicago Botanic Garden). Models of historic steam engines will chug along 1,600 feet of track, representing the early days of the Society, when steam engines ran commuter coaches along Chicago’s elevated tracks and hauled freight over long distances.

Q. Dave, you have the greatest job title ever! How did you get this job?

A. I was retired, and my wife saw a little blurb in the newspaper that the Chicago Botanic Garden needed tram drivers. So I became a tram driver. One day, I saw that they had torn things up right in the middle of the Garden. I said, “What the Sam Hill are they doing here?” That’s how I found out there was going to be a model railroad out there. Then one of the secretaries, who worked for a vice president, found out that I had been into model railroads all my life. So one day, the vice president of visitor operations at the time called me into her office and asked if I would be interested in managing the railroad. I didn’t get a chance to ask her how much I’d have to pay.

 Visitors of all ages enjoy the Model Railroad Garden.

Visitors of all ages enjoy the Model Railroad Garden.

Q. But that was back in 2000—and the railroad exhibition was going to be a five-month exhibition.

A. We had more than 100,000 people come through in five months. The little path out there was constantly packed with people. One thing led to another. In our first year, the trains didn’t make any sounds—no choo-choos or whistles or anything, so we added sound cars. Gradually, the railroad became so darn popular that it became a permanent exhibition.

Q. So you became interested in trains as a kid?

A. When I was 6 or 7, my dad bought me a Lionel train. That train would go around the Christmas tree and in the bedroom. Now I have a model railroad layout of Solothurn, Switzerland, where my daughter got married; it’s in my basement. It has Swiss trains and a ski lift.

Q. It sounds like you were a busy kid.

A. My family had 2.5 acres that we farmed in World War II for vegetables. I sold vegetables in the neighborhood in my little wagon. Then I was in the Boy Scouts and became an Eagle Scout in 1948….I grew up in Evanston and still live in Evanston, and I have lunch with some sixth-grade classmates once a month.

Q. And you’ve had some other interesting jobs before you started running the railroad.

A. I received a bachelor’s degree in animal science at the University of Illinois. I wanted to raise cattle. In college, I was an intern at a purebred cattle farm. The most fascinating thing I did was to help birth calves. You get to see the little rascals trying to get up and stumble around….Eventually, I was drafted into the U.S. Army engineer corps. Two years later, I was discharged and became a manager at a livestock feed manufacturing company. Then my dad bought a photography studio in 1961, and I became a photographer.

Q. What keeps you motivated after all these years?

A. My passion for the railroad is what drives me—I absolutely love this railroad. The same passion goes for everyone. We have 18 engineers and 75 to 80 volunteers. They get along so darn well that I can’t believe it. You cannot keep these people away; they are just so dedicated. They whole thing has kept me young. I get up and down on my hands and knees all the time. I should write to the AARP—if you want to hear about a good job to have, we at the Garden have it.

 Model Railroad Garden volunteers.

Left to right: Model Railroad Garden volunteer engineers Ken Press and Mark Rosenblum with George Knuth, staff engineer

Q. What do you do in your spare time?

A. I do some gardening, and some fishing and boating. My wife and I have three daughters and three grandkids. My wife is spectacular, one of the greatest people I’ve ever met.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

World Bonsai Day

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 10:00am

Join us for a new program at the Chicago Botanic Garden on Saturday, May 9: World Bonsai Day! 

Observed on the second Saturday in May, this day was established by the World Bonsai Friendship Federation (WBFF) in 2010 to honor WBFF founder and bonsai master Saburo Kato’s contributions to the world of bonsai, and to bring all bonsai enthusiasts together for a day to promote bonsai and friendship throughout the world.

 The late bonsai master Saburo Kato.

The late bonsai master Saburo Kato

The oldest son of bonsai master Tomekichi Kato, Saburo Kato followed in his father’s footsteps cultivating bonsai, and at his father’s death, became the third-generation owner of Mansei-en Bonsai Garden in Japan, one of the most famous bonsai nurseries in the world. As an author, teacher, and poet, Kato inspired countless people throughout the world to learn the art of bonsai cultivation. He believed so strongly that bonsai could bring peace throughout the world that he founded the WBFF.

In 2014, the following organizations celebrated World Bonsai Day: National Bonsai & Penjing Museum (at the United States National Arboretum), the North Carolina Arboretum, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, the Pacific Bonsai Museum, and Rosade Bonsai Studio.

 Jack Sustic (left), curator, National Bonsai & Penjing Museum (at the United States National Arboretum), with a volunteer, World Bonsai Day 2014

Jack Sustic (left), curator, National Bonsai & Penjing Museum (at the United States National Arboretum), with a volunteer, World Bonsai Day 2014

 Curator Chris Baker of the Chicago Botanic Garden trims a bonsai, under the watchful eyes of Jack Sustic (far left) and bonsai master Harry Hirao (seated).

Curator Chris Baker of the Chicago Botanic Garden trims a bonsai, under the watchful eyes of Jack Sustic (far left) and bonsai master Harry Hirao (seated).

Join me, curator Chris Baker, and some of our bonsai volunteers in the activities below on World Bonsai Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The stages of growing bonsai will be featured with specific examples. Explore the tools, pots, wire, etc., used to practice bonsai, and get information on upcoming bonsai classes.

Program Schedule:

  • 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Demonstration: Bonsai Tree Styling
    I will demonstrate how major tree shaping is done, with a tree being formed into a bonsai.
  • 1 p.m.: Spring Garden Walk: Bonsai Collection Highlights
    During the scheduled Spring Garden Walk, I’ll be showcasing selections from the Garden’s Bonsai Collection and pointing out special spring highlights. (Note: due to the recent warm weather, the Korean lilac, wisteria, crabapple, or azalea bonsai may be in bloom.)
  • 1 to 4 p.m.: Demonstration: Bonsai Landscape Planting
    I will demonstrate how I create a “landscape planting” with multiple bonsai on a rock slab.

Come back to the Garden May 16 – 17 for the Midwest Bonsai Society Spring Show & Sale.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Leave Room for Blooms

Tue, 05/05/2015 - 3:28pm

Have you eaten a flower today?

Americans are getting comfortable with the idea of edible flowers. But how—aside from sugar-candied flowers for bakers—do you use them?

We asked horticulturist Nancy Clifton, who brought five really fresh ideas to the table.

 flavorful greens finished with blue flower petals.

Today’s blue plate special: flavorful greens finished with blue flower petals.

1. A modern salad: greens + color

Gone are the days of a plain side salad on a white plate: today, even a tiny saladette is vibrant with color and flavors. Start with a blue (or green) plate. Add a piquant mix of salad greens (and reds), including baby chards and chois, and leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro. Then finish with flower petals: snip blue bachelor button petals to highlight that plate, dot white sweet alyssum among the greens, and trade the traditional sprig of parsley for blooming sage and rosemary.

 Nasturtium or chive flowers make a lovely pink vinegar. For a fruitier flavor, pour white vinegar over one cup of gently washed fresh raspberries.

Nasturtium or chive flowers make a lovely pink vinegar. For a fruitier flavor, pour white vinegar over one cup of gently washed fresh raspberries.

2. Flowers are the new dressing

You’ll need a dressing for that salad above: Nancy’s flower-based vinegar recipe couldn’t be easier:

  1. Wash one cup of nasturtium or chive flowers and let dry.
  2. Gently add flowers to a sterile quart jar. Pour in plain white or white wine vinegar to cover.
  3. Let steep for two weeks in a cool, dark spot.
  4. Strain vinegar into a fresh jar to use. Note how flowers have lost their color to the vinegar.

Such beautiful pink color! Sprinkle as is onto leafy greens, or mix with oil and season to taste.

 a red/white/blue salad for the Fourth of July!

Blue bachelor buttons, red cranberries, and white apples: a red/white/blue salad for the Fourth of July!

3. Hello, Farro!

Also called wheatberry, farro makes a delicious base for a “superfood” salad chock full of fruits and nuts and topped with flowers. Nancy notes that all amounts can be adjusted to your preference.

To begin, cook one cup of farro according to directions (Nancy suggests substituting apple cider vinegar for part of the cooking liquid). While the farro is cooling (about 3 cups cooked), make the dressing:

  1. Toast ½ cup pecans in an oven or fry pan until fragrant. Set aside to cool, then chop.
  2. Sauté one small (or ½ large), chopped red or yellow onion in olive oil until translucent.
  3. Add one medium, unpeeled, chopped Granny Smith or gala apple to pan. Continue to sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in fresh thyme (leaves of 2 sprigs) and ½ cup dried cranberries.
  5. Dress with a mix of 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, seasoned to taste.
  6. Combine farro with the sautéed mix.
  7. Snip bachelor button or calendula petals and sprinkle over the top.
 Summer weddings, showers, and graduations call for a flower-spiked punch.

Summer weddings, showers, and graduations call for a flower-spiked punch.

 Nancy likes the look of fresh ginger ale studded with a flower that floats.

Nancy likes the look of fresh ginger ale studded with a flower that floats.

4. Flower floats

In the 1950s and ’60s, no punch bowl was presented without an ice ring. Nancy charmingly updates the idea for a homemade lemonade or champagne brunch punch, using fresh flowers. Try pansies or violets, or a mix of flowers and fruits, such as calendula petals with strawberries or bachelor buttons with blueberries.

A crazy good ice tip: to make clear ice cubes (rather than cloudy) or ice rings, use distilled water or filtered bottled water—or boil and cool the water twice before adding to ice mold or trays.

  1. Line a bundt pan or jello mold ring with gently washed and dried pansies.
  2. Gently fill with water. The pansies will float to the top.
  3. Freeze.
  4. When ready to use, dip the mold into a larger bowl holding an inch or two of hot water, which will loosen the ice ring.
  5. Invert and set ice ring into punch bowl. (Right side up or upside down? Either works.) Pour in punch or beverage of choice.

Floral ice cubes are great for summer parties, too: adjust the above directions for your ice cube trays.

 How do they taste? “Like mushrooms,” Nancy says. Dandelions are great as a conversation-sparking finger food!

How do they taste? “Like mushrooms,” Nancy says. Dandelions are great as a conversation-sparking finger food!

5. Deep-fried dandelions

We didn’t believe it, either, but Nancy’s how-to-fry-a-dandelion demo changed our minds forever about everyone’s formerly least-favorite flower.

  1. Pick freshly-bloomed dandelions (just the blossom, no stem) from a trusted, chemical-free site.
  2. Gently wash the blossoms. While moist, lightly flour each flower (shake with ½ cup seasoned flour in a zip-lock bag).
  3. Heat ¼-inch of olive oil in a small fry pan.
  4. Gently fry flowers, turning delicately, until golden brown.
  5. Drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Fry fresh sage leaves alongside dandelions, then crumble both on salads.

Next time you’re out at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, check out the spring edible flower bed in the Small Space area, where sweet alyssum, calendula, and dianthus are set off by towers of climbing peas for pea shoots—the new foodie rage!

Use common sense before eating flowers.

Know your flowers! Grow your own chemical-free flowers; don’t use unfamiliar flowers or those from non-organic sources. Our Plant Information staff has a good write-up about the difference between edible/inedible, plus a list of flower suggestions. More questions about what’s edible and what’s not? Call our Plant Information Service at (847) 835-0972.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Celebrate with Us

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 9:17am

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

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

To celebrate the Society’s 125th anniversary, the Garden is featuring two special exhibitions, lectures, and the launch of a commemorative book, Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125.

The exhibition Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125  is open May 2– August 16 in the Joutras Gallery.

 The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125 by Cathy Jean Maloney.

Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125 will be available for $35 at the Garden Shop in mid-June.

“The Chicago Horticultural Society has always been a dynamic organization that responded to the needs and interests of the public at all stages of its history,” said Kris Jarantoski, the Garden’s executive vice president and director. “And so it continues to this day by connecting people with beauty and plant collections from around the world in its botanic garden, educating the public about food growing and ecosystems, and studying our native flora.”

The Society shaped the future of Chicago through a series of public-private partnerships. During the 1890s, the Society included many influential businessmen who were also avid gardeners. “At that time, local civic leaders helped individual nurserymen do research,” said Cathy Jean Maloney, a Chicago-area garden historian and author. “This was well before the days when big companies could do their own plant research.” Maloney spent more than two years researching and writing the commemorative book.

The Society hosted nationally recognized flower and horticultural shows, including the World’s Columbian Exposition Chrysanthemum Show, held in conjunction with the world’s fair in 1893. Spectacular arrangements of cut and potted flowers were also displayed alongside artwork and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago.

 the annual Chrysanthemum Show.

An early postcard of the Society event of the year: the annual Chrysanthemum Show

“It was the marriage of flowers and horticulture with artistry,” Maloney said. “Wealthy individuals would send floral specimens by railroad from as far away as New York. For people in the Chicago area, that was astounding.” One fall flower show in 1899 drew more than 15,000 visitors.

To observe the anniversary, a special exhibition will take place at the Garden from May 2 through August 16. “There are old hand tools and seed catalogs from the Garden’s archives,” Maloney said. “It will also highlight the major challenges of growing plants from the early days and before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to the victory garden era through the present.”

 A view south of the site of the future Chicago Botanic Garden; low in the horizon is the city of Chicago.

A view looking south from the site of the future Chicago Botanic Garden; low in the horizon is the city of Chicago (click on image for a larger view)

 in the foreground are Bird Island on the left, and the Fruit & Vegetable Garden on the right.

An early image of the Garden’s islands: in the foreground are Bird Island on the left, and the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden on the right (click on image for a larger view)

 Midsummer in the English Walled Garden is a feast for the senses.

Midsummer in the English Walled Garden is a feast for the senses.

Research for the exhibition, lectures, and book was conducted at several institutions including the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Chicago History Museum, at local historical societies, and within the Garden’s Lenhardt Library. The library maintains a Chicago Horticultural Society archive that encompasses 250 feet of shelves and cabinets and includes newspaper clippings, letters, and other ephemera, but the gem, according to library director Leora Siegel, is a Society ledger filled with the spidery, elegant penmanship practiced by the Victorians. “We have some printed materials of early Society meetings that are just wonderful,” Siegel said, “but our magnificent ledger covering 1890 to 1904 is the prize.” A recent grant will allow the ledger and other fragile documents to be digitized so that they will be freely accessible online.

The library exhibition Keep Growing: The Chicago Horticultural Society’s 125th Anniversary is open through August 16 in the Lenhardt Library. A free talk will be held May 17 at 2 p.m.

“The 125th anniversary is a wonderful time to celebrate the people who advanced the Society and its accomplishments throughout its history—and the impact that the Society has made on the Chicago area and the world,” Jarantoski said.

You won’t want to miss it!

This post was adapted from an article by Nina Koziol for the summer 2015 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Breaking Ground on New Educational Opportunities

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 9:09am

Let me start by expressing how pleased I am to represent the Regenstein School’s Adult Education department at the groundbreaking ceremony for your new Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus.

Six years ago, in the great recession of 2008–09, I found myself in a big predicament: I was suddenly downsized from my longtime career managing finances and employees for a large retailer. What I had was a home with a landscape plan inspired by countless visits to the Chicago Botanic Garden, a growing enthusiasm for garden design based on a few classes I had taken at the Garden, and years of experience in business. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was on the brink of a new career path that would combine my business skills with my passion for plants and people, and lead me to my dream job.

 Kerry Stonacek in his garden

Kerry Stonacek in his garden

So I made a full commitment to building my plant knowledge and garden design skills through the Regenstein School’s certificate programs. Going back to school after 35 years in the business world? Scary? Yes, but what fun! I took a total of 37 in-depth courses in less than four years covering four separate certificate programs—Professional Gardener Level 1 & Level 2, Ornamental Plant Materials, and the Garden Design Certificate. What I experienced here at the Garden were great class selections, professional instructors who were just downright nice, stellar facilities, and a beautiful outdoor living classroom that doesn’t get any better. As someone who knows the value of money, I understood that my education at the Garden was a really sound investment on many levels.

That dream job? I am general manager of retail operations at Chalet Nursery and Garden Center in Wilmette. The Regenstein School classes I attended highlighted practical application, and my passion came back full circle to focus on employee development. At Chalet, we are improving the experiences of both our customers and employees at work through training, and we encourage our associates to enhance their knowledge base by taking programs at the Garden. I get the opportunity to engage with new Regenstein School students, and even offer them employment opportunities at Chalet. Meanwhile, I am still friends with many fellow certificate graduates and instructors.

 A Garden ecologist leads a class into the woods to learn about this ecosystem.

Students make amazing discoveries about plants and nature in a host of certificate programs offered at the Garden.

I believe that passion ultimately can win. It has brought me career satisfaction, friendships, and the opportunity to help others make a difference in their lives. In closing, and on behalf of present and future students, I’d like to thank the Chicago Botanic Garden and everyone who made this new campus possible. The future is full of possibilities!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Easy Peas-y: Planting Pea Seeds with Little Sprouts

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 10:08am

Plant, water, and grow! Whether you are a parent, teacher, or caregiver, teaching children to plant seeds is a simple and authentic way to help them engage with nature. It’s an activity that the littlest of sprouts can do “all by myself,” or at least with minimal help from you.

 Little Diggers pea planting in the raised beds.

Growing future gardeners in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden

Planting seeds leads to discussions about what seeds and plants need to grow and how food gets to our tables. Watering is a simple chore young children are capable of doing; it teaches them about responsibility and helps them feel they are making a contribution to the family or classroom. 

Students from our Little Diggers class, ages 2 to 4, planted peas indoors in mid-March and transplanted them outside into the raised beds in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden in mid-April. Come follow the steps we took to get there.

March: Planting the Pea Seeds Indoors

Supply List:

  • Seeds
  • Soilless potting mix or seed-starting potting mix in a wide-mouth container
  • Plant pots (plastic or biodegradable, roughly 2.5 inches in diameter)
  • Trowels, spray bottles, or watering cans
  • Plastic seedling tray with lid

Set-up Time: 10 minutes

Activity Time: 10–40 minutes of actual planting (depending on the size of the group)

Appropriate for Ages: 2 and up

Clean-up Time: 10–15 minutes

 Large pea seeds are easy for small fingers to grasp.

Large pea seeds are easy for small fingers to grasp.

 Use this kind of plastic seedling tray and lid.

Here I am modeling the latest in seedling trays. You can purchase these and our other supplies at your local garden center or home improvement store.

Select seeds that are big—the smaller the hands, the bigger the seed should be—and quick to sprout, or germinate. Also consider the amount of space the mature plants will occupy, and the time of year you are planting. Some seeds can be planted during the cool spring, while others should go in the ground once the threat of frost has passed.

We chose ‘Tom Thumb’ pea seeds because they are large enough for little hands to easily manipulate, they germinate in 7–14 days, they thrive in the cool spring weather, and they only grow to be 8 inches tall and 8 inches wide, making them great for small-space gardens and containers.

Tip: Some other large seeds suitable for little hands are sunflowers, beans, nasturtium (edible flower), pumpkin, and other squash. For more details about how and when to plant these seeds visit www.kidsgardening.org/node/101624.

 A low, wide trug full of soil makes filling pots easy for younger gardeners.

A low, wide trug full of soil makes filling pots easy for younger gardeners.

 Watering the seeds in is the best part of planting.

Watering in the seeds is the best part of planting.

 

Set out the potting mix in a wide-mouth container such as a flexible plastic tub, sand bucket, or cement mixing tray on the ground. Have trowels, pots, seeds, and spray bottles ready.

Tip: A soil container with a wide opening will lead to less soil on the ground. Also, more children will be able to plant at the same time.

Using a trowel, fill the pot with soil. Set two pea seeds on the soil and push them down ½- to 1-inch deep. Then cover the seeds with soil. Spray with a spray bottle until the soil is saturated.

Tip: Planting depth will depend on the type of seeds you are planting. Read the back of the seed packet for details.

Finally, each child should label their pot. We used craft sticks to easily identify each child’s plant.

Tip: Pot up extra seeds in case some don’t germinate. I potted up 10–15 extras. Every child needs to feel successful and have peas to transplant when the time comes. Once kids have planted seeds a few times and are a little older, you won’t need to pot up extras. Having seeds fail is the next great gardening lesson for more experienced young gardeners.

 Our young grower adds his pot to the tray. It's a good idea to pot up extra seeds in case some don’t germinate.

Our young grower adds his pot to the tray. It’s a good idea to pot up extra seeds in case some don’t germinate.

 Craft sticks easily identify each child’s plant. Keeping the top lid on slightly open helps air circulate around the plantings, so they don't grow fungus.

Craft sticks easily identify each child’s plant. Keeping the top lid on, but slightly open, helps air circulate around the plantings, so they don’t grow fungus.

Put the containers on the plastic tray and cover with a clear plastic lid. This will keep moisture in and will require less frequent watering. Allow the soil surface to dry out slightly between watering. Using the misting setting on the sprayer works well because it doesn’t create a hole in the soil and expose the seed like a watering can will.

Tip: Watch for white fungus growing on the soil surface. If this occurs, remove the plastic lid. This will kill the fungus and promote germination. If you will be away from the classroom or home for a few days, put the plastic lid on so the soil doesn’t dry out. Remove it when you return.

Tip: Peas don’t respond well to transplanting, so we planted the seeds in biodegradable pots to avoid this problem. These pots break down in the soil, allowing the roots to continue to grow undisturbed.

 Seeds are absorbing water.  The roots and stems have started to grow.  True leaves have appeared.  Getting ready put our seedlings in the ground.

April: Transplanting the Pea Plants into the Garden

Supply List:

  • Pea plants
  • Trowels
  • Spray bottles or watering cans

Set-up Time: 10 minutes

Activity Time: 20–30 minutes or more (depending of the size of the group and the number of helpers)

Appropriate for Ages: 2 and up

Clean-up Time: 10 minutes

Choose a sunny location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight every day and has well-drained soil. We planted our peas in the raised beds at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

Bring all the supplies out to the site. Have each child choose where they would like to dig their hole. Pass out a trowel and plant to each child. Dig a hole as deep as the soil in the pot. Place the plant, pot and all, in the hole. Fill in the space around the plant with soil and water the plants.

Check the peas daily and water them with a watering can or hose when the soil is slightly dry. About 50 – 55 days after planting, these shelling peas will be ready to harvest and eat! Come see the plants that the students of our Little Diggers class planted in the raised beds, just south of the orchard at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden!

 Watering seedlings in the raised beds.

Remember to water in your seedlings when you put them in the ground!

 Watering seedlings in the raised bed.

Sunshine and a good squirt of water will help this pea seedling grow!

Direct Sowing: Easy Peas-y Approach

 it's fun.

Direct sowing is the easiest approach—and often the most successful with early spring vegetables. Not to mention: it’s fun.

As a working parent, I chose this approach with my almost three-year-old. All you really need is a sunny spot with well-drained soil, seeds (we used ‘Tom Thumb’ peas because we have a small garden), a small shovel (trowel) and water. Choose a sunny spot for planting (6–8 hours of direct sun).

First I showed him how to draw lines in the soil with his trowel (they should be ½– to 1-inch deep). Then he dropped seeds along the lines. I wasn’t concerned about spacing 2 inches apart as recommended on the seed packet because I can always thin them out once the seeds start to grow. He covered the seeds up and watered them with the hose. Every evening, we enjoy checking to make sure the soil is damp.

Tip: If you’re little one is getting impatient, these peas can be harvested early and eaten, pod and all, like snow peas!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Hand to Hand

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 12:30pm

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

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

22 Folds
From the first corner-to-corner fold to the last crook of beak and tail, it takes 22 folds to make this style of origami crane. Because pictures are worth 1,000 words, we offer this visual guide to crane-making.

Download these instructions to create an origami crane.

Click on the image above for a larger version to print and save. Wishing you longevity and good fortune!

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

Over the years, Ray and Ginny made 40,000 cranes.

When Ray “retired” from volunteering, fellow-volunteer Edie Rowell decided to keep the hand-to-hand tradition alive. She taught Interpretive Programs manager Mary Plunkett how to fold. Mary found more volunteers to train other volunteers, and set out stacks of paper for them to take at will.

Now there are 10 people who fold, bringing in bags of 20, 60, or 100 origami cranes throughout the winter.

And 3,000-plus cranes are ready to hand out for the 2015 season.

 Volunteers Susan and Edie with their stash of origami cranes.

Happiness is 1,000 paper cranes…and volunteers like Susan and Edie.

This just in from California…

Just 24 hours after our interview, Mary Plunkett called to say that a box had just arrived in the mail from volunteer Meline Pickus. She’d sent 50 cranes from California, where she was staying for the winter. In her spare time, she folded cranes…and she wanted them to arrive in Chicago before the Shoin House opened. Our volunteers are awesome.

 Origami paper cranes.

Origami paper cranes

From Ray’s original intent comes great good fortune: a community has sprung. “It goes beyond the normal notion of volunteering,” Mary explains. “You get into a Zen state when folding…it’s very relaxing…and you’re contributing to something that’s bigger than you. It’s social, too—a group of three or four might have dinner together, then fold cranes together.”

And what do the kids think when they’re offered a crane? “They’re over the moon, they’re very gentle with them,” Mary says. “We say, ‘We’d like you to have one,’ and you’d think you were giving them gold when you explain why. It opens the door for conversations, especially with 7-, 8-, 9-year-olds.”

Cranes are offered, hand to hand, at the Shoin House whenever volunteers are present…for as long as the handmade supply lasts. (Although adults make wishes, too, cranes are for kids only.)

Volunteer season at the Shoin House begins May 13. Bring the kids—and tell them to think about their wish!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Find style by the decades this weekend!

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 9:24am

Find the best of your favorite era available at the Antiques, Garden & Design Show, April 17-19, 2015.

 Antiques, Garden & Design Show Design by the Decades

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Unexpected Signs of Spring

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 9:10am

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. This year definitely falls into the first category, but this isn’t a bad thing. It gives us time  to appreciate some things that might otherwise be overlooked by the flashier signs of spring.

 Red Charm Peony buds push out of the ground.

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

The cooler temperatures are slowing growth for most plants but also allowing for richer colors to develop. These peony stems have a rich burgundy color that is highly ornamental in an otherwise empty bed. Eventually these will grow out into large bushy plants with showy red flowers, but for now we can enjoy the unique form of the new growth.

Many geranium varieties also feature beautiful new growth in the spring. Geranium ‘Blue Sunrise’ in the Dwarf Conifer Garden has gorgeous bright green foliage in the summer, but in the spring it has stunning orange and red new growth that almost looks like flames coming out of the ground. Having plants with vibrant new growth can give your garden a whole new dimension. Imagine how bright blue Scilla siberica would stand out against the geranium, or how lush a planting of soft pink Chionodoxa lucillae ‘Pink Giant’ would look among the hellebores. It’s almost as though you’re getting two different plants for the price of one when you have such distinctive spring growth.

 New shoots of Geranium 'Blue Sunrise'.

New growth doesn’t have to be dull! These Geranium ‘Blue Sunrise’ have new growth that looks like flames coming out of the ground.

 New spring growth on Helleborus x hybridus 'Blue Metallic Lady'.

A Helleborus x hybridus ‘Blue Metallic Lady’ in the English Walled Garden sports new growth that is almost showier than its flowers.

Of course, since it is spring, there are plenty of flowers to see. Many people associate spring with bulbs, but there are some other unusual plants blooming now too. Petasites japonicus spends the summer looking like a rhubarb that has aspirations to take over the world. However, in the spring it graces us with patches of inflorescences that look like bright green cabbages. Nestled inside of the “cabbages” are clusters of lime green flowers that will gradually elongate into a short spike of tufty white flowers. They’re not the showiest flowers ever, but they have a clean, bright color that really makes them pop against the dark soil of the hillside in the Waterfall Garden.

 Petasites japonicus has rather unusual spring blooms.

Petasites japonicus has rather unusual spring blooms.

 Buds opening on Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas).

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) provides a gentle pop of spring color during a sometimes dreary time of the year.

And finally, the cornelian cherry trees (Cornus mas) in the Heritage Garden provide a soft glowing yellow that is a much gentler burst of color than the more common forsythia that can sometimes be almost gaudy with the intensity of its colors. During a time of year when so much is happening, it’s sometimes nice to have plants that allow your eyes to rest and regroup before moving on to the next batch of vibrant, eye-catching color.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Bonsai in the Semitropical Greenhouse

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 9:12am

I am happy to announce the addition of four bonsai trees on display in the Semitropical Greenhouse in the Regenstein Center.

 Bonsai on display in the Semi-tropical Greenhouse.

Bonsai on display in the Semitropical Greenhouse

The crape myrtle, two ficus species, and natal plum trees were placed on display on March 28. The display will be up through the end of May with a change of tree species the last week of April. It’s the first time these trees are being displayed in this fashion here at the Garden, giving visitors the opportunity to see tropical and subtropical trees that otherwise would not be able to be shown in our courtyards until late May, due to temperature requirements.

The courtyards will open on Tuesday April 21, 2015, with our cold-hardy evergreen and deciduous trees.

 Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) bonsai.

This crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is continuing to respond very favorably to the root work we did.

This crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) was the focus of my previous post on repotting. It is continuing to respond very favorably to the root work we did.

Crape myrtles are a genus of about fifty species of trees and shrubs native to South Asia, Northern Australia, and some Pacific islands. Some varieties can grow as tall as 100 feet, but most species grow as either small trees or large shrubs. Some varieties are deciduous, and some are broadleaf evergreens—this is a deciduous variety.

Crape myrtles are most famous for their flowers, which grow as clusters of small blooms. Flowering typically takes place between June and August. This tree has never flowered while here at the Garden. I am hoping that with the addition of a more appropriate soil mix, fertilizer changes, and a longer growing season we can can encourage this tree to bloom in the years to come.

The natal plum (Carissa grandiflora) is a dense evergreen tree with sharp spines. It’s native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Australia, and Asia.

 Natal plum bonsai in fruit and flower.

Our natal plum in fruit and flower at the same time!

Our natal plum produces beautiful flowers throughout the year. These can occur either as individual blooms or in clusters. The flowers have a powerful fragrance reminiscent of gardenia. The fruit is plum-shaped and can be red to dark purple-black in color. The fruit of the natal plum is edible and tastes like a giant cranberry—but please don’t eat ours! :)

 Willow-leaf fig (Ficus salicifolia) bonsai.

Willow-leaf fig (Ficus salicifolia)

 Chinese banyan (Ficus microcarpa) bonsai.

Chinese banyan (Ficus microcarpa)

Our two ficus trees on display are monsters! The Nabari (base of the tree) on these trees are huge, and they have a great presence. Ficus are tropical and subtropical trees native to southern Asia and India. However, they are also commonly found in South American countries and the southern United States. There are hundreds of species in the ficus genus in the world, but there are only about a half dozen that are commonly used for bonsai. Ficus benjamina, Ficus microcarpa, Ficus retusa (or Green Island fig), and Ficus salicifolia are among the most frequently used. These are great examples of tropical bonsai that will love their new temporary home in the Greenhouse.

Be sure to come down and see these amazing trees while they are on display! And keep a lookout for the new additions coming later this month. Here is a sneak peek at one of the trees you might see…can you tell what species it is?

 Bonsai in bloom.

This mystery tree might be blooming soon in the Regenstein Center—can you guess what it is?

Thanks for reading, and be sure to follow me on instagram @Windy_City_Bonsai for updates and pictures of the collection!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org