Archives For May 2015

A Taste of the Garden

Undercover Science

Julianne Beck —  May 25, 2015 — 1 Comment

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.

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: 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

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.
PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: 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

Carol Freeman —  May 18, 2015 — 5 Comments

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!

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: Red-eyed vireo.

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

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: Palm warbler.

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

PHOTO: 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

A Great Gift of "Hearticulture" for the Lenhardt Library

Karen Z. —  May 17, 2015 — Leave a comment

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 donation 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.

PHOTO: 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.

PHOTO: The tiny books of of The Language of Flowers.

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

PHOTO: 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

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

ILLUSTRATION: Food waste infographic.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org