Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Trip to The Chicago Botanic Garden

The bank of the Skokie waterway seen from the pedestrian bridge.

     This August I visited the Chicago Botanic Garden, located in Glencoe, Illinois. It's a remarkable place, not to be missed. The garden showcases twenty-five display gardens and four natural areas within the 385 acre park. Its parent organization, The Chicago Horticulture Society, began in 1890; however, construction of the Chicago Botanic Garden did not begin until 1968. It opened to the public in 1972. I took a lot of photos. Here's a peek.

The Rose Garden

Exploding pink petals.

An unexpected dab of blue in a river of red roses.

My mom admiring warm colors next to cool greens.

A number of things about the Rose Garden struck me as ingenious. Evergreen shrubs are used extensively, especially arborvitae and juniper; the darker and lighter green foliage hues provide an arresting backdrop for the deep drifts of flowers, mostly pinks and reds. The wide, herringbone brick walk surrounding the rose garden's perimeter is all graceful curves, much like the Skokie Lagoons that wind through the garden's acreage.

Luscious curves.

A resting spot.

Vertical forms punctuate.

A visually cleansing courtyard.

The Esplanade

These impressively large Linden (Tilia) trees hem in the rose garden from a slightly raised elevation. The trees are pruned geometrically in a double row, creating a dramatic one-point perspective that directs pedestrian traffic through a leafy corridor. The esplanade also immediately divides the space between the Rose Garden and it's neighbor, the English Walled Garden. 

The English Walled Garden

Romance, antiquity, nature.

A few graceful limbs curve toward the entrance.

Everything radiates from the center.

A stone urn echoes the Classical Age.

Positive and negative space with yellow accents.

Weeping Beech pours into the courtyard.

Native prairie docks surround a Juneberry.

Flowers tumble over the gravel.

Naturally, the English Garden is hidden within ivy-covered brick walls. But inside, kabam! it's a blast of yellows and oranges. Even more unexpectedly, instead of being stocked with familiar English plant selections, the stars are mostly North American natives--Helenium, Helianthus, and Heliopsis, to name a few. Species are planted in shrubby mounds and beg to be touched.

An apple tree (center) heavy with fruit.

The Fruit & Vegetable Garden

A proper brambles trellis.

Apple tree espalier.

A handsome rain barrel with copper downspout.

The fruit and vegetable garden is enviable, especially the trellised brambles and the espaliered fruit trees. Wouldn't you love to have a gorgeous red brick wall surrounding your fruits and vegetables garden? I would! There is also a "living kitchen" area that includes a cozy, outdoor lecture theater where cooking classes are held, and an indoor herbarium for growing and drying culinary plants.  I was delighted to discover the uniquely designed beehive called "The Beeline." Honeybees enter and exit through two holes drilled in the roof (see photo below) to reach the hive, which is inside a tall plexi box. You can see a whole honeybee colony fast at work.

Honeybees enter and exit through the holes.

Horizontal herbs.

Langstroth honeybee hives.

Willow wattle herb bed.

Cinderella Pumpkin.

The Japanese Garden

Form is everything in a Japanese garden.

Traditional Japanese gardens alter the viewer's perception of the landscape primarily through the process of extreme pruning and training of selected plants. Trees and shrubs are shaped over decades (even hundreds) of years to achieve the desired look--often curving limbs with dense clouds of foliage at their tips. The goal is to remind the visitor of eternity; our time on earth is brief, therefore flowers are minimal in Japanese gardens.  Boulders are artfully placed.  Contemplation and quiet are expected--listen to the wind, study the clouds, observe the ants marching across the earth.

A hidden walkway
Elevated view of The Island of Pure, Clear Breezes. If you look very closely at the center 
of the Willow tree, you'll see a Heron perched atop the Pine.

An handsome old Willow slants  toward the water.

Fascinating play of shadow and light on the ground.

Cross the Arched Bridge to enter and exit.


A stone lantern, used by Japanese monks.
Waterfall Garden

Pink flowering water lily and lotus.

Robustissima Grape Leaf Anenome. Round pink blooms on erect stems.

When you reach the pool at the top of the waterfall by way of a winding path you feel as if you are high in the clouds, looking down at the forest. The falls cannot be seen--only heard, imparting a sense of mystery.

The falls sparkle in the dappled sunlight. Water is recirculated to the top,
where it pools in a calm reservoir.

The runoff from the waterfall slows to a trickling stream.

Highlights Along the Way

A perfectly shaped Magnolia.  I'll bet she steals the show in springtime.

Late-blooming Lavender Globe Lily (Alium.

A black reflecting pool with a tropical theme.

The long arm of a Locust tree stretches over a sea of undulating evergreen shrubs.

Gorgeously shaped hedges, like billowing green clouds.

A stunning English Beech, thankfully spared the awful hacking off of bottom limbs.

A stunning mixture of foliage, texture and form.

Perennial borders burst with color.

Waterways lead to the Great Basin. The Chicago Botanic Gardens recently restored
all of its aquatic shorelines. Not only is this far more environmentally sound,
it adds yet anotherlayer of beauty to the landscape.

Prairie & Natural Areas

Rattlesnake Master (foreground left and right). 

There is so much to say regarding the Chicago Botanic Garden's approach to native plants. Natives are used everywhere within the entire park. Everywhere. By the time you enter the "natural" areas you realize that you've been looking at many of these plants all along, because they're artfully used in every garden and throughout transitional walking paths. This is design genius. For gardeners who are unfamiliar with using natives, or assume that they are not as beautiful as exotic ornamentals, all they need is to look at the view.

Blending natives with non-natives.

Ironweed and Russian Sage.

Red Japanese Fleece Flower in front of Calamagrostis.

Ironweed, Calamagrostis grass (Karl Foerster), and annual sunflower: mixed together!

The Trellis Bridge

The Trellis Bridge by Oehme, van Sweden & Associates. 

The bridge spans 12' wide by 300' long, rising 9' above the water.

A view from the Trellis Bridge.

The visual energy of the design is all about motion. Fabulous.

Guara and Dropseed planted within stones that reiterate the Trellis Bridge.

 Plant Conservation Science Center

Plants are studied and evaluated for their adaptiveness to Midwestern climates.

A corner of the science center.

The Chicago Botanic Garden has made a deep commitment to the scientific study and conservation of native Midwestern plants. Visitors at the Plant Conservation Science Center can actually see scientists at work in their labs through the glass walls of the central corridor. There are also excellent interactive displays. Watch videos of how native seeds are collected from the gardens, separated, cleaned and stored. I learned about some remarkable new technology that's providing science incredible insight into plant DNA.  And of course, the building has a Gold LEED rating.

So Long, I'll Be Back

Puffy pink Tamarix flowers behind a friendlier-than-usual Poseidon.

For more information on the Chicago Botanic Garden, and planning your visit, click on the link above or point your browser to

Shane VanOosterhout is The Passionate Gardener.  
For more garden inspiration, you can follow him on Facebook


Jean said...

Wow! I just fell in love with the rose garden. It is so lovely post indeed. Thanks you so much for the wonderful page. Brilliant page indeed.

Jean @ Cheap Sheds PTY LTD

Kayhosta said...

Wonderful pictures! I love CBG. It is my wish that these pictures are available to the public through a variety of web searches and not limited to only those that follow your blog.
Kay Anderson