Behind the Scenes at Wonderland: Part 1

“I wonder…”  It’s a phrase we hear a lot at the holidays, especially about the outdoor light show that accompanies Wonderland Express, and it inspired us to gather the answers to your FAQs.

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I wonder how many lights there are.  750,000, give or take a string.

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I wonder what kind of lights they use.  LEDs, for the same reasons you have them at home: they last longer and use just 10 percent of the energy of incandescents.

I wonder how long it takes to put up all the lights.  Crews start stringing outdoor lights in October, using ladders or hydraulic truck lifts to reach the tops of the trees.

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I wonder how many lights are on that big tree.  About 300 strings of LEDs light up the approximately 40-foot tree on the Esplanade.

I wonder if they re-use the lights every year.  Most lights are installed and removed by hand every year, tested, wrapped, and stored to re-use the next year. Some lights (entrance road, outer wall) are left on trees for two to three years. As you can imagine, damage from wind and weather and the occasional we-just-couldn’t-reach-it issue cause us to lose some lights every year. For an in-depth look at light installation and removal—and to see a tree delivered by helicopter—check out this video.

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I wonder if the lights are up for Thanksgiving.  Yes! The lights get turned on next Tuesday, November 20, in plenty of time for you to bring family and friends for a pre- or post-Thanksgiving dinner stroll around the grounds.

Bring your sense of wonder.


©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Autumn Trailblazing

Did you know that “blazing a trail” is the act of painting white marks, or “blazes,” on trees to guide others through the woods? People who make these paths are called “trailblazers” but the term has also come to mean “pioneer.”

PHOTO: This sign tells visitors which way to drive to get to parking lots, visitor center, or learning campus.Instead of using white paint on trees, the Chicago Botanic Garden uses a system of white arrows on brown signs. In this sign, which is located just past the Gatehouse, the arrow pointing up in this sign tells you to go straight forward to get to the Visitor Center, while arrows pointing left and right direct you to turn in order to reach the parking lot or Learning Campus.

You can be a trailblazer in the original sense of the word. You don’t need brown signs or white paint to be a trailblazer. Autumn is a great time to find natural objects such as sticks, acorn caps, and other things fallen from the trees, to make trail markers on the ground.

PHOTO: Pictured here are four diffent ways to make arrows using stones, sticks, and red berries.The picture here shows you four different ways to direct a person to the right. 1. Line up small stones in the shape of an arrow. 2. Use larger stones to make a traditional trail marker by placing a small stone on top of a larger stone and adding a third stone next the pile in the direction you want to send your hikers. 3. Bright red serviceberries contrast against the green grass and make a colorful marker. 4. Arrange sticks in an arrow to point the way.

 

PHOTO: four sticks are arranged to form a square with eight stones inside the square; three sticks form an arrow over the square to tell what direction the hiker should take.Want to get fancy? Try this: form a square with sticks and tell the hiker how many steps to take by placing that number of stones in the middle. Make an arrow with small sticks to indicate direction. The trail marker in the picture tells us to take eight steps to get to the next marker. (This marker idea comes from an old Girl Scout Handbook.)

 

IM000504Mark the end of your trail with an X or a circle of rocks to let people know they’ve reached the intended destination. You can even place a treasure at the end of the path to reward your trail followers.

So don’t be put off by the cool fall weather—get outside and show your pioneering spirit by blazing a trail for your family and friends to follow around your home.


©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Magic Tree

The Magic Tree is the Holy Grail for photographers. It’s the sweet spot where all the wildlife seems to magically appear for minutes or sometimes hours at a time. If I’m lucky I will find it a few times each year. The trick is I never know when or where the Magic Tree will be. The Magic Tree doesn’t just reveal itself to everybody. You have to show it respect. You can’t just walk up to it and start firing off pictures – that breaks the magic, and all the birds will scatter.

Whenever I pull into the Garden, the first thing I do is roll down my windows and drive very slowly down the entry road. I’m looking and listening for any clue as to where I might find something interesting to photograph.

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Cedar Waxwing eating a berry. ©Carol Freeman

On this particular day I hear a few chirps and see the flash of a bird. I park in the first lot and quickly grab my gear and head for the place where I think I saw it.

As I get close, I hear Cedar Waxwings conversing. Wow, there are dozens of them, hopping from branch to branch grabbing ripe berries and gobbling them down whole. They move so fast that it’s hard to get a shot before they move on to the next branch or bend down for another berry— but it’s fun to watch! I take many shots, attempting to get one where the Waxwing has a berry in its beak. Timing is everything here. Too soon and all I see is the top of the bird’s head; too late and the berry is gone.

There are many young Waxwings who have not yet mastered the art of grabbing the berries, so many are dropped onto the ground. That’s good news for birds like the Hermit Thrush, which like to scavenge on the ground. The Waxwing’s loss is the Thrush’s gain. Seems like a good compromise – and there are plenty of berries to go around.

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Robin getting in on the action. ©Carol Freeman.

Joining the Waxwings are Robins. They, too, can grab berries and swallow them down whole. Along comes a couple of Cardinals. They love berries too, but it seems like they get more on their beaks than they eat. Even the squirrels are getting in on the action, climbing out on the thin branches to get the delicious fruit.

I stand here for over an hour. The birds begin to accept me like part of the landscape. I’m able to inch closer and closer to the birds without them minding me at all. This is what nature photography is all about for me: being accepted by the wildlife that I’m photographing.

I realize today I have found The Magic Tree. I thank the tree and all the critters for letting me in on such a wonderful experience. I am grateful that I have been allowed to share in the magic of The Magic Tree.

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Cardinal “Do I have something on my beak?” ©Carol Freeman.

All photos were shot with a Nikon D300s camera, Nikon 80-400mm lens, hand-held.

Green Thumbs at Work

What it takes to plant 26,000 tulip bulbs in the Crescent Garden in just 3 hours:

  • 4 dozen doughnuts
  • 2 boxes of coffee
  • 2 gallons of orange juice

And 20 dedicated volunteers and staff fueled by the above.

Bulb planting
By 11:00 a.m., 26,000 tulip bulbs were planted in the Crescent Garden last Thursday.

It’s time to plant bulbs for next spring, and the weather’s cooperating nicely. In your yard, plant tulip bulbs 6-8 inches deep in well-drained soil. Remember, bulbs will rot where there’s too much water from gutters, irrigation, or poor drainage. Plant plenty: tulips look wonderful in clusters, in drifts, and in vases all around the house next spring!

Horticulturist Benjamin Carroll has a great video on how to plant bulbs at home. Check it out (along with other planting information) here.

Red-tailed Hawk at the Learning Campus

Thursday, November 1, Garden education staff watched a large red-tailed hawk hunting small animals on the Learning Campus.

PHOTO: A red-tailed hawk is perched at the top of the young oak tree in teh Learning Campus Circle.

PHOTO: A large red-tailed hawk is perched on a pine tree branch scanning the landscape for prey.This is a perfect place for these raptors. They can soar over the open lawn searching for small mammals, and when they catch a vole, rabbit, or other creature, they can safely retreat to a high branch of a nearby trees to devour their prey.

We watched it catch two small animals – probably mice or voles – within about ten minutes. It ate one of these unfortunate animals while perched in the pine tree pictured at the left and the second in the oak limb, pictured below.

You may see more hawks now and through winter than you do in spring and summer. According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there is a population of red-tailed hawks that live in our area year-round, but in late fall other hawks from far north fly into the area and join them during the winter. We must have more of the animals they like to eat.

PHOTO: the red-tailed hawk is perched on a large oak tree limb after eating its second rodent.

Come to the Garden this month to see our fall gardens, but remember to look up in the sky, because it’s likely that you’ll also see a hawk!