Lenhardt Library: New collaborations for future advancement

In early May, I was gratified to hear that the Lenhardt Library’s application to become an affiliate member at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) had been accepted. BHL is an open access, all digital repository of biodiversity literature.

PHOTO: View into the Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
The Lenhardt Library is open to the public. Garden members may borrow materials for 28 days.

BHL founding member libraries are based at universities, botanical gardens, and natural history museums, and include renowned institutions such as the Missouri Botanical Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University, and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

These libraries contribute digital scans of books and journals in their collections. All pages are freely accessible through the BHL portal. Constantly updated, as of today, BHL includes 43,697,651 pages of biodiversity literature. Users of biodiversity literature are researchers based around the globe with nodes in Europe, Australia, and China. BHL also serves as the foundational literature component of the Encyclopedia of Life.

Plans for the Lenhardt Library’s involvement are to contribute literature unique to our collections and not held at other libraries. That may mean adding early volumes that pre-date current content in BHL, filling in missing horticulture resources, or adding volumes from the rare book collection.

Another recent Lenhardt Library affiliation is with the Center for Research Libraries (CRL). CRL is a library’s library with holdings of 5 million items. The Lenhardt Library joined this consortium of academic and research libraries to gain access to these materials to fulfill library research needs for the Chicago Botanic Garden’s staff and visitors.

Partnerships and collaborations are vital to small research libraries such as the Lenhardt Library for advancement and growth. Library collections and resource sharing ensures literature is available for study, scholarship, and scientific advancement.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Best. Plant labels. Ever.

One of the best things about visiting (and working at!) the Chicago Botanic Garden: you get great ideas for your own garden.

I put one of them to work in my new “all vegetable” front yard garden this weekend.

Last summer, at the Heirloom Tomato Weekend, horticulture program specialist Nancy Clifton faced the challenge of labeling dozens of different heirloom tomato varieties in containers. Her solution was simple and elegant: gather up the paint stirrers and get out the chalkboard paint!

BEFORE:  Clean out the paint shelf! Old paint stirrers, stakes, and even wooden spoons can work as plant markers.
Before: Clean out the paint shelf! Old paint stirrers, stakes, and even wooden spoons work as plant markers.
PHOTO: Plant labels painted with two coats of chalkboard paint.
After: Two coats of chalkboard paint ought to do it. Tip: Looks better when you paint the sides, too.

The photos are testament to how easy it is: assemble a pile of paintable wooden markers-to-be, scrub-brush lightly under running water, and let dry. (No need to overdo it on the pre-cleaning—the paint covers most everything.) On a fine spring day, apply two coats of chalkboard paint. I went for black, but you can have the white base paint tinted any color. (Ooh! Lime green would have been good!) Let paint dry between coats.

PHOTO: Pile of black plant markers with names inscribed.
A pile of tomato markers await 50 degree-plus nights before the tomatoes can go in.

To write the names,  I used the same basic white grease pencil—found at any art store—that’s used on the metal signs at the Garden. It withstands rain, wind, and dirty hands.

Like many gardeners, I’ve tried lots of different methods for labeling over the years: Popsicle sticks (disintegrate fast, get stepped on), zinc and copper markers (too small to read from a distance, get stepped on), and rocks (hard to keep in one spot). This approach is simple, recyclable, nice looking, and kind of fun to do—makes a good kid project, too!

Can’t wait to get those tomatoes in the ground…

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Trouble for Monarchs — But You Can Help

Monarch butterflies have left their overwintering sites in Mexico and are heading back toward the Midwest, including the Chicago area.

Unfortunately, far fewer monarchs will be making the northward flight this year and the chance to see large numbers of these beautiful butterflies in your garden or flying across a prairie is becoming less certain.

Explore pollinators at World Environment Day, June 7.

Join us Friday, June 6, for the Make Way for Monarchs research symposium.

PHOTO: Asclepias tuberosa, a native milkweed species, in bloom.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is one of many native milkweed species that provide food for monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for flower visitors such as bees and butterflies.

In the 1990s, hundreds of millions of monarchs made the journey each fall from the northern plains of the United States and Canada to forested sites north of Mexico City. In western North America, more than a million monarchs made a shorter flight to tree groves on California’s coast. However, monarch numbers have been declining for more than a decade, and this year scientists documented record low numbers. We have seen more than a 90 percent decline.

Why is this occurring? We don’t know for sure, although there are several factors that are likely contributing. Habitat loss due to urban development and large-scale agriculture are key concerns. Farms now cover vast areas and many grow genetically modified crops that allow herbicide applications to be used on and around the crop, including in areas where milkweed—the one plant that monarch caterpillars need—used to grow. These “Roundup ready” crops have been identified as a major cause of milkweed loss throughout the Midwest. Additionally, millions of acres of farms and urban land are treated with toxic insecticides. The loss of forest habitat in Mexico and the decline of monarch groves in California may also be playing a role. In the West, severe drought is likely contributing to reduced monarch populations. These threats are compounded by climate change.

We do not have to sit and watch these declines continue.

We can provide these butterflies (and other wildlife) with high-quality, insecticide-free habitats. This is not something that needs to be restricted to a distant wilderness. Indeed, it is a cause in which everyone can take part. Homeowners and farmers can plant milkweed to support monarch caterpillars, and native flowers to provide nectar for adult butterflies, and work to limit the impact of insecticides. Land managers can ensure that milkweed stands are adequately protected.

Sign up for “The Monarch Butterfly: How You Can Help Save This Iconic Species,” Saturday, June 7, at 1 p.m.

PHOTO: A native milkweed pod burst open in winter, distributing seeds.
The Milkweed Seed Finder gives you quick access to regionally appropriate seed sources, with options to search by milkweed species and by state.

The Xerces Society’s Project Milkweed has been working with native wildflower seed nurseries, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and community partners to produce huge volumes of milkweed seed that are being used to restore monarch habitat. In just three years, this work has led to the production of 35 million milkweed seeds! As a result of this effort, milkweed seed is rapidly becoming more available in many regions of the country. To make it easier for people to find seed sources, we’ve launched the Milkweed Seed Finder, a comprehensive directory of milkweed seed vendors across the country.

In addition, the Xerces Society’s work with farmers and the NRCS has led to the creation of tens of thousands of acres of wildflower habitat that includes milkweed, across much of the monarch’s breeding range.

Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” For the sake of the monarch—and so many other species—it is time to heal as many wounds as possible.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Year in Bulbs: Part Three

In just over a month, we’ve gone from having only a handful of small blooms to a lush display of thousands of blooms in every shape and size. Thanks to several warm days, the annual display beds pushed forth to be in their prime just in time for Mother’s Day last weekend.  

PHOTO: Sweeps of tulips line the winding paths of the bulb garden.
Sweeps of tulips line the winding paths of the Bulb Garden.

Those warm days also meant the end of the main daffodil season, leaving us with just a few of the late-blooming varieties such as Narcissus ‘Dickcissel’, a unique jonquil-type daffodil with dark yellow flowers and a white cup.

The real star of the late spring garden though, are the tulips. As if by magic, more than 5,000 tulips in our annual displays started blooming overnight. Doubles such as Tulipa ‘Orange Angelique’ and Tulipa ‘Foxtrot’ add unique texture alongside bold colors like Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ and Tulipa ‘New Design’.

PHOTO: Narcissus 'Dickcissel'.
Narcissus ‘Dickcissel’ is consistently among the latest-blooming jonquils in the Bulb Garden.
PHOTO: Tulipa 'Queen of the Night' and Tulipa 'Orange Angelique'.
Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ and Tulipa ‘Orange Angelique’

In addition to these showy giants, there are more subtle species tulips adding pops of color throughout the garden. Tulipa batalini ‘Apricot Jewel’ adds spots of warm yellow to lighten up a planting of dark-leaved Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, Camassia leichtlinii, and Allium aflatunense. These species tulips are often better perennializers, making them great additions to the garden, as long as they’re protected from rodents.

In addition to all these big, showy bulbs, there are many that require a closer look.

This bed might look like it’s mostly perennials, but if you stop and look you’ll see a sweep of Fritillaria acmopetala and Fritillaria uva-vulpis, along with a groundcover of the tuberous Anemone ranunculoides, and several varieties of Narcissus.

PHOTO: Fritillaria acmopetala.
Fritillaria acmopetala
PHOTO: Fritillaria are sprinkled amidst other spring bulbs under a ferociously blooming pink crabapple tree.
They might be hard to see from a distance, but this bed contains dozens of Fritillaria, each with a unique pattern.

We’re currently experiencing elevated lake levels, which gives us an opportunity to show that there are at least a couple of bulbs that will survive standing water for a period of time: Bletilla striata and Camassia.

PHOTO: Bletilla striata.
Bletilla striata
PHOTO: Camassia leichtlinii blooming though flooded.
Camassia leichtlinii can handle seasonal flooding without any issues.

Bletilla striata is a hardy ground orchid native to China and Japan that is very tolerant of saturated soils during the growing season. (However, it should never be allowed to sit in water in the winter.)

Camassia are native to the Pacific Northwest and naturally grow in wet meadows. This makes them a terrific bulb for gardeners who experience seasonal flooding or have areas with poor drainage. The tall blue spikes of flowers provide a welcome dose of color after your main spring bulbs are finished blooming; the plants also are long-lived.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Create Your Own Horticultural Therapy Containers at Home

It’s finally starting to feel like spring in Chicago, which means it’s time to get those home gardens up and running.

In the Horticultural Therapy Department, we’re in the process of setting up our off-site gardens at facilities all over the greater Chicago area. These gardens come in all shapes and sizes and fall on a wide spectrum of costs. For today, we’re focusing on how to create your very own home horticultural therapy garden—or perhaps more accurately—your own home horticultural therapy containers.

PHOTO: Three container plantings of varying heights.
Three containers at various heights create visual interest in the Buehler Enabling Garden.

To start your own home horticultural therapy garden, the first thing you need is a good container. At the Buehler Enabling Garden, as well as off-site gardens, horticultural therapists utilize raised, round containers for planting. 

We recommend that you purchase a planter of decent size (24 to 28 inches in height and diameter) or a few slightly smaller ones. This will enable you to plant a wide variety of plant materials—from grasses to small perennials, herbs to large vegetables. Also, be sure to use a container with drainage holes to avoid root rot and water logging.

The next item you’ll need is a rich, nutrient-filled, potting soil. If you’re using a large container, filling the entire container with soil will make it heavy and difficult to move. Placing light, mesh landscape materials in the base, such as Better Than Rocks drainage medium (sold in rolls of bright green mesh), or household items like empty water bottles and landscape fabric, will help keep your container light and decrease the amount of unnecessary soil.

PHOTO: A circle of Better Than Rocks planting mesh is cut out of a roll of the material, and placed in the bottom of the pot.
Find Better Than Rocks drainage mesh—used in the bottom of our pot—at your local nursery.

With the container(s) set and filled, we are now ready to plant our home horticultural therapy garden.

Gardens planted with a horticultural therapy intent often consist of plant materials that are engaging to the senses and good for programming. When I refer to “programming,” I’m speaking to the desired slate of uses for the garden. Your “program” may be to provide yourself or a loved one with an easily accessible personal garden to tend to and enjoy. It may also be to grow edibles that can be picked, prepared, and shared with friends and family.

Being in a garden facilitates therapeutic outcomes and interacting with plant material enhances the therapeutic experience that much more. By selecting plants that will encourage activity, you are increasing the likelihood for therapeutic outcomes.

Some of my favorite horticultural therapy-inspired plant pallets are those with a variety of textures and sensory qualities as well as pallets that bring about seasonal harvest.

DIAGRAM: Sample diagram for a sensory container garden planting
Sample diagram for a sensory container garden planting

In the first sample illustration, I’ve laid out a container of sensory-rich plant material as one option for your garden. Start with a “thriller” or focus plant such as a Pennisetum rueppelianum grass or Caladium X hortulanum (1). This plant can be placed along the side or in the middle. I like to place my focus plant slightly off center in my containers. Next, add some filler sensory plant materials such as Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Kong Red’ coleus (2) and perhaps an edible plant such as a Stevia rebaudiana (3). Stevia is one of my favorite horticultural therapy plants; the super-sweet leaf makes for a fun treat when maintaining your garden. The final plants are your trailing or spilling plants. This will bring added visual interest to the outside of your container and give your garden that extra pop. I love to use Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’—Sweet Potato Vine (4) and/or Calibrachoa x hybrida—trailing petunias (5)

Each of these plants has wonderful sensory qualities. The grass stalks or large caladium leaves provide soft fascination as they rustle in the wind. The coleus and stevia add visual texture and color while also lending themselves to programming. The coleus plants can be picked and used for flower pounding, pressing, or for propagation. The petunias can be used for pressing flowers, and at the end of the season, you can dig out your sweet potato vine and eat the tuber/potato at the root. 

DIAGRAM: Sample diagram for an edible container garden planting.
Sample diagram for an edible container garden planting

The second illustration—and container—has been laid out to focus on edible plant material. This planter would be ideal for a household that would like to have fresh harvest for cooking activities and experiences. A cherry tomato plant such as Solanum lycopersicum ‘Sun Gold’ (1) can easily be grown in a container. This variety performs very well in our climate (USDA Zone 5) and produces delicious, orange-colored cherry tomatoes. Tomato plants will get leggy as the season goes on, but certain plant material can be placed next to a tomato without interfering with or overpowering it. I enjoy placing a few varieties of herbs in my edible planters. In this example, I placed Ocimum basilicum ‘Super Sweet Genovese’ basil (2) and Thymus vulgaris, or garden thyme, (3) with my tomato, so that I could make delicious items such as fresh pizza, bruschetta, and tomato-basil-mozzarella paninis throughout the summer. Lastly, because it’s an absolute favorite, I snuck in a few Lavandula angustifolia ‘Mini Blue’ lavender (4) plants. These can be used for pressing, drying for sachets, and pure sensory enjoyment.   

A horticultural therapy garden is about enjoyment and interaction. At the end of the day, you want it to be something that you enjoy caring for.

During this time of year, local nurseries and stores are chalk full of garden experts who will be happy to help set you up with all the materials you need. And remember, staff and volunteers are always available at the Chicago Botanic Garden to instruct you on fun and simple gardening basics; just come visit us and ask!

Happy gardening!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org