Handmade greeting cards make people feel loved. Here is a fun and festive way to show friends and relatives that you care about them. It’s a great project for kids who need something to do during Thanksgiving break. (It’s also a way to use up some of those 20-year-old spices that are languishing in your kitchen cabinet!)

PHOTO: Spice holiday cards.

Finished spicy holiday cards smell absolutely fantastic.


  • White glue in a squeeze bottle
  • Construction paper 
  • Dried herbs and spices, whole or ground 
  • Salt and water in a small dish, with a paint brush
  • Markers, crayons, or colored pencils

Work over a large paper towel or mat, because this project is messy!

Fold a piece of stiff paper (construction paper or card stock) in half. Draw a design with glue on the front of the card. Try to use glue sparingly, because the paper will warp if the glue is too thick or wet. Sprinkle the herbs or spices of your choice on the wet glue.

You can apply the spices by gently tapping them out of the jar onto the page, or take small pinches and apply them where you want them to go. If you want more control, fold a small piece of paper in half, put some spices in the crease, and gently tap the paper to slide the spices down the crease to apply them to your picture. 

It helps if you make the glue design for one spice at a time, and let each spice dry before putting a new one on. When each spice has dried, shake the card to remove excess, and apply glue for the next spice. This reduces blending.

PHOTO: Spice holiday card: snowman.

Cream of tartar dries white to make this snowman. Other dried spices were used for hat and arms, and whole cloves make the face and buttons.

PHOTO: Spice holiday card: wreath.

One of my daughters combined different herbs to make this wreath, and decorated it with dots of cinnamon, whole cloves, and a bay leaf and paprika bow.

Dried herbs are all slightly different shades of green. Tarragon leaves are a lighter green, and a little brighter than oregano. For yellow, try ground turmeric or curry. Paprika, cinnamon, chili powder, and crushed red pepper flakes deliver warm reds. Pink and green peppercorns make nice accents. Cream of tartar and alum powder dry white, but require special handling or they will flake off. Everything sticks better if you gently press the herbs into the glue.

You can also glue whole spices such as bay leaves, cloves, fennel seed, or pieces of cinnamon bark to the card. Keep in mind that whole spices will make the card bulkier and may make it difficult to fit the card into the envelope. 

PHOTO: Spice holiday card: birds.

Turmeric, paprika, and bay leaves were used to create this scene of birds perched on a branch.

PHOTO: Spice holiday card: snowflakes.

It’s too bad your screen is not “scratch and sniff,” because this card smells of cinnamon, cardamom, paprika, oregano, and tarragon.

Want to add some sparkle? Glue salt crystals in some areas or paint salt water on the paper with a fine paintbrush or cotton swab. Like glue, you’ll want to use a light touch so the paper does not become too wet and wrinkled.

My daughters are teenagers, so they made an effort to make a picture of something recognizable. If you have younger children, they will probably make a picture that resembles abstract art. It doesn’t matter, because it will still smell wonderful! What’s important is that they make it themselves and have fun doing it.

PHOTO: Spice holiday card: Christmas tree.

My daughter used tarragon for the tree, crushed red pepper for the trunk and garland, whole cloves for ornaments, and turmeric to make the star.

After the glue is completely dry, gently shake the card over a bowl one final time to remove the loose spices. When you are finished working on this project, you can place all of the leftover spices from your work area into a bowl and place them in a room to make the air fragrant. 

One final step: don’t forget to write your message on the inside! You might say something clever like, “Seasoning’s Greetings,” “Merry Christmas Thyme,” “Have a Scent-sational Hanukkah,” or “Wishing You a Spicy New Year.” Don’t forget to sign your name!

A card like this does not fit into an envelope easily and is best hand-delivered. If you must mail it, cover the front with a piece of paper to protect it. Carefully pack the card with a stiff piece of cardboard in a padded envelope to reduce bending and crushing while it’s in transit. If you are delivering a small bundle to the post office, ask them to hand-cancel your cards (they’ll appreciate the tip).

I hope your special creations brighten someone’s day and fill them with memories of good times with family and friends!

Want more fun, craft projects for kids over the holidays? Check out our blogs on making Fruit and Veggie Prints, Wearable Indian Corn necklaces, and Bottle Cap Bouquets.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Chicago Botanic Garden is so honored to have been selected one of the Top 20 best charities in Chicago by Chicago Magazine.*

PHOTO: A young boy learns some urban agriculture skills with Windy City Harvest.
Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram,
and Facebook on #GivingTuesday.

The magazine used criteria such as a four-star ranking from the independent organization Charity Navigator to select finalists. The Top 20 “stand out for their mission, impact, and value to the community,” the magazine said in its November issue.

Our more than 1 million visitors enjoy the Garden for its beauty and find joy through our collection of more than 2.6 million plants.

As the article noted, “The Chicago Botanic Garden is about more than pretty plants,” citing the jobs training and access to fresh foods through Windy City Harvest and the education from preschool to Ph.D. that will be offered at the new Regenstein Learning Campus. Our lives truly depend on how well we understand, value, and protect the plants that sustain our world.

PHOTO: The rooftop garden at McCormick Place, Managed by Windy City Harvest.
Get involved by supporting the Chicago Botanic Garden. Donate to our Annual Fund.

The article also pointed out something special about our neighbors and friends: Chicagoans are generous—and like to give locally. You will be able to see for yourself on Giving Tuesday, December 1, as Chicagoans join the global social media campaign to give back to their communities.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Think you know Chicago? Look closer.

Chicago landmarks reunited for the holidays

Karen Z. —  November 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

The marvelous miniatures of Wonderland Express reunite with their iconic Chicago landmarks for the holidays! Below are six of the most popular of our 80+ replicas alongside their real-world landmarks for comparison.

Created by Applied Imagination for our holiday and model train exhibition and photographed by staff photographer Robin Carlson, each model building is created in detail using only botanical materials. Come see these models and more for yourself: Wonderland Express is open daily November 27, 2015–January 3, 2016.

Click here to buy advance tickets.

PHOTO: Willis Tower & botanical scale model.

Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)

1. Willis Tower
Have you had the nerve to try “the Ledge” yet? The glass balcony on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) wouldn’t be quite so intimidating from our 9-foot-tall replica…

PHOTO: Marshall Field's building clock & botanical scale model.

Marshall Field’s building clock

2. Marshall Field’s clock
We couldn’t quite squeeze all the numbers onto the face of our 3-inch-high Marshall Field’s clock (now Macy’s). Look closely at the 7½-ton, bronze original, and you’ll see that the Roman numeral “four” is represented as IIII rather than IV.

PHOTO: Newberry Library & botanical scale model.

Newberry Library

3. Newberry Library
In 1998, more than 100 years of city soot was washed from the darkened exterior of the Newberry Library, revealing its original 1893 surface of Connecticut pink granite.

PHOTO: Chicago Theatre & botanical scale model.

Chicago Theatre

4. Chicago Theatre
Called “the Wonder Theatre of the World” in 1921, the Chicago Theatre is a landmark loaded with other landmark references: the arch over the glitzy marquee is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the lobby after the Royal Chapel at Versailles, and the grand staircase after the one in the Paris Opera House.

PHOTO: Chicago Stadium & botanical scale model.

Chicago Stadium (now United Center)

5. Chicago Stadium
Before there was the United Center, there was the Chicago Stadium, home to the Blackhawks, the Bulls, boxing, ice shows, superstar concerts (Elvis, the Rolling Stones), and political conventions galore. Opened in 1929 and demolished in 1995, the Stadium was state-of-the-art for its day, despite being described as having “the acoustics of a shower stall.”

PHOTO: Rockefeller Memorial Chapel & botanical scale model.

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

6. Rockefeller Memorial Chapel
More than 100 seedpods stand in for the more than 100 statues that decorate the exterior of the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Built almost entirely of stone, the real thing weighs a staggering 32,000 tons; our model, about 20 pounds.

Wonderland Express is a 10,000-square-foot holiday-themed exhibition that’s become a family-friendly tradition at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Model trains travel over bridges, under trestles, and past waterfalls on their way through a magical landscape with more than 80 mini-replicas of Chicago-area landmarks, all created with natural materials.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Overwintering Your Bonsai

Chris Baker —  November 18, 2015 — 1 Comment

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

PHOTO: Bonsai in fall color.

Bonsai in fall color, before being prepped for storage.

PHOTO: Bonsai tree prepped for winter storage.

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

Here in the Chicago area, we need to take special care to protect our trees from cold temperatures and windy conditions. Prior to bringing in your tropical trees and tucking your cold hardy trees away for the winter, there is some work to be done. In this post, we will discuss fall and early winter care that lead into winter storage of tropical, deciduous, and evergreen bonsai.

PHOTO: A plant grow light gives tropical bonsai more daylight in winter.

This far north of the equator, tropical bonsai will need supplemental lighting for the winter months.

To maximize growth and tree health, your tropical bonsai should be outside during the summer months, getting the most of the warm temperatures and full sun. But before the temperatures drop—most tropical bonsai will not tolerate temperatures below 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit for any length of time without some damage—it is a good idea to slowly move your trees into lower light conditions. This will prepare your trees for the conditions in your house, and result in less leaf drop when they are moved inside. During this time you should also decrease the feeding of your tropical trees, slowing down the growth.

There are four things to consider when picking a spot in your house for your tropical bonsai.

  1. Lighting: Even if you have a south-facing window, most trees are going to require supplemental lighting for the winter months.
  2. Heat: Trees should be in a warm spot in your house, but should never be subject to hot, dry forced air or radiant heating.
  3. Humidity: Due to the dry nature of our heating, supplemental humidity should be provided. Humidity trays, spraying your trees daily with a spray bottle, and humidifiers are all good ways of increasing the humidity around your trees.
  4. Watering needs: Tropical trees tend to use less water in the winter. Over watering can cause root rot and a decline in tree health.

The preparation for hardy trees (both deciduous and evergreen) starts long before they are put away for the winter.

In late summer to early fall, you should stop feeding your trees with nitrogen. Nitrogen—the “N” in N.P.K.-based fertilizers— stimulates foliage growth. As fall approaches, we want to start sending energy to the roots, so using a “bloom” fertilizer with higher phosphorous and potassium values (P and K) is important. This will feed the roots and strengthen the tree for winter. It will also provide the tree with the energy for the spring flush. In bonsai, it is important to be proactive rather than reactive. The things we do in the fall determine how trees respond in the spring.

Snow on quonset.

A dusting of snow coats the ground and the outside of the quonset.

PHOTO: Quonset full of bonsai.

Inside, the cold-hardy specimens of the Garden’s Bonsai Collection enjoy being out of the wind and cold temperatures.

The pre-storage work done on your trees is important.
Our winter cleanup on all deciduous trees entails the following:

  1. Removing all the old foliage from the deciduous trees. This is most often done with tweezers to prevent any damage to the branches and next year’s buds. This step helps to prevent fungal disease forming on those leaves.
  2. Cleaning the bases of the trunks, and removing moss and weeds from the soil surface. This prevents constant moisture from touching the trunks and allows better air circulation to the roots.
  3. Performing minor pruning work. The larger cuts will wait until spring when it is safer. All cuts are covered with “cut paste” to seal the wound and prevent disease and damage to the branch.
  4. Tagging. Finally, each tree receives colored tags that indicate whether it needs repotting in the spring, has wire, needs wire, etc. These indicators are very important when managing about 250 trees!
PHOTO: Bonsai foliage is removed with tweezers before storing the tree for the winter.

Foliage is carefully removed by hand before storage.

PHOTO: Cutting away moss from the trunk of a bonsai.

Moss which has grown over the summer is removed.

PHOTO: Moss has been removed from the trunk of this bonsai pre-storage.

Moss has been removed from the trunk pre-storage.

PHOTO: Cut paste covers the fresh pruning cut.

Cover fresh pruning cuts with cut paste.

Evergreen trees and pines get their own pre-storage cleanup.

  1. Instead of removing leaves, we remove old needles on the pines. This is also done with tweezers, and needles are pulled in the direction in which they grow to prevent damaging the branch.
  2. Some light pruning is done as well as cleaning the surface of the soil.
  3. Winter is a great time to do major work on pines like wiring, making big bends, and carving dead wood.
PHOTO: Pre-wintered bonsai pine.

A bonsai pine awaits overwintering preparations.

PHOTO: The same bonsai pine after overwintering prep.

The same tree after overwintering preparations. It’s ready to be placed with others in the quonset.

We overwinter our cold hardy trees in a climate-controlled quonset. Through a process of heating and venting (if needed), the temperature is maintained at about 34 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows the trees to experience a dormancy period without getting a hard freeze on the roots. This allows us to keep very hardy trees along with those that might like things a little warmer. In the future, we will be adding an additional quonset that maintains temperatures in the mid-40s to accommodate more tree species properly.

PHOTO: Bonsai being trained with big bends.

Winter is the time for major work on pines like making big bends.

There are many variations of this type of storage that you can implement at home. Creating a space in a garage where you can protect the roots by packing mulch around the tree pots is important. Protecting the trees from wind is also important. High winds will dry out your evergreen foliage and deciduous tree buds, causing damage. Once deciduous trees have dropped their leaves and evergreen trees have experienced a frost, they will have minimal need for light, especially as the temperatures continue to drop. Using snow to cover pots and roots is a good idea. Snow is an excellent insulator, and if temperatures rise enough for it to melt, it will water your trees. (Note: You should never water a tree with a frozen root system—this will damage the roots!)

Proper winter storage will ensure that your trees wake healthy and ready to bud out in spring.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

While El Niño might be giving us a warmer winter, it’s never a bad idea to prepare against winter burn, or scorch. Three simple steps will make a big difference in preventing winter burn.

PHOTO: a burlap fence protects the Esplanade hedge from wind and deicing grit.

A burlap screen on the Esplanade path protects young boxwoods in this highly-trafficked area.

PHOTO: Viburnum winter damage.

Fencing may keep nibbling down in winter. This viburnum will need pruning.

Prepare properly

The right plant for your design goals should help reduce maintenance.

  • Choose the right plant for your garden’s growing conditions and design goals. A plant that is well-adapted to your site will perform better and have fewer problems. Proper siting makes a big difference for some plants. Plant salt tolerant plants along busy roads; broad-leaved evergreens perform best when sited so that they are protected from the winter sun and wind. The later in the season an evergreen is planted, the more at risk it is for winter burn.
  • Tree wrap may help prevent frost cracking in young, smooth-barked trees in some situations. Garden staff use tree wrap on a limited basis to protect certain plants from animal damage. Cut back herbaceous plants that are growing up around the base of trees and shrubs if you have had problems with vole damage in the past. The herbaceous plants provide cover for them in the winter while they are eating your plants. Fencing is more effective in keeping deer and rabbits away from plants.
  • Using burlap screens in winter can also help shade plants that need extra protection from the effects of wind, sun, and salt spray.

Plant well

  • Amend your soil with compost when possible, and install your new plants properly to get them off to a good start. Many trees and shrubs are planted too deep.
  • Be sure to break up the circling roots of plants that have been grown in containers before planting. The alternate freezing and thawing temperatures in spring can push out newly installed plants that are smaller in size or were grown in containers if not mulched well. Install one to two inches of mulch around the new plantings, taking care not to bury the crowns of perennials, or mounding the soil around the base of trees and shrubs. This will help prevent frost heaving in spring, and helps mitigate big temperature swings in the soil.

Provide good follow-up care

PHOTO: Andorra juniper with winter damage.

The brown-gray tips of Andorra juniper show where evaporation has damaged the foliage.

Commonsense care will go a long way to keeping plants healthy.

  • Provide supplemental water to newly installed evergreens in late fall when conditions are warm and dry so they do not go into winter under stress from being dry. Pay extra attention to plantings under 3 years of age.
  • Do not pile snow that has salt in it on plants. If you are using a combination of shoveling and ice melt on your driveway when snow is fast and heavy, make sure to shovel away from plants. Products that are safer to use are those containing calcium chloride, or calcium magnesium acetate. (Different products work differently at different temperatures.) Make sure to use the right amount as specified on the packaging! Mix ice melt with sand to reduce amount used, or use just sand near sensitive plantings.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org