Picture your dream garden with Mario Nievera and Craig Bergmann

What’s the one thing you can do to transform your landscape? It’s a matter of vision, one expert explains below. Get even more tips from the pros at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Antiques, Garden & Design Show. Did we mention that there will be shopping?  

PHOTO: Entry design by Nievera Williams Design.
A well-designed path is a strong visual element. Photo courtesy Nievera Williams Design.

If you do only one thing…

Even if your house is small, think about your grounds holistically. “You want to be able to walk inside the home and walk back outside and feel like it’s a seamless experience,” says landscape architect Mario Nievera, a featured speaker at the Antiques, Garden & Design Show. “If it’s a modern, clean home, the plants should be clean as well. If the home has character and charm, you can use more leaves and texture. When planning your hardscape, if the home has stone or tile inside, you want to use complementary materials outside. The same goes for furnishings and outdoor fabrics.”

PHOTO: Garden design by Nievera Williams Design.
Garden ornaments add a sense of scale in a garden. Photo courtesy Nievera Williams Design.

Point of view

“You have to have a strong visual element in a garden, whether it’s a stand of birch trees, one plant that is repeated, or a well-designed path—it ties it all together,” says Nievera, whose firm is based in Palm Beach, Florida. “People tend to focus on the small scale, but your garden should be based on your view.”

Lights and accents and more

To freshen up the look of a garden, Nievera works with clients to incorporate garden ornaments. “We do a lot of contemporary designs, and garden ornaments give you a sense of scale, patina, and character,” he says.

Get inspired

Go to flea markets, antique shows, or established gardens, and check out Pinterest to get ideas on design styles or objects to add to your garden, adds landscape architect Craig Bergmann, who designed indoor gardens for the Show.

PHOTO: Container design by Craig Bergmann Landscape Design.
Mix old and new for a bold look. Photo ©Linda Oyama Bryan

Mixing old and new

Even if your house is modern, think about using antique elements—but consider your climate, says Bergmann, whose firm is based in Lake Forest. “Some fine antiques are fragile and don’t do well in severe weather changes that happen here in Chicago,” he says. “Hairline cracks might be exacerbated with frequent moving of a piece, or by sub-zero temperatures or high heat or humidity. Some high-end pieces need to be stored for winter indoors or on a protected terrace or porch.”

Bonus tip on shopping at the Antiques, Garden & Design Show

Be prepared to act quickly. Bring pictures of your house and garden, and consult with the vendors. The Show features more than 90 vendors of garden antiques, antiques, horticulture, and more from around the United States and Europe.

“I like looking at shows like this because you know you are getting the real deal, not reproductions,” Nievera says. “I will take pictures of things my clients might want and tell them they have five minutes to decide if they like it. You have to make your decisions quickly because you might lose it.”

PHOTO: Craig Bergmann Landscape Design, Redfield Residence, Lake Forest.
Visit a variety of sources to add objects to—and develop the look of—your garden. Photo ©Linda Oyama Bryan

Tickets are on sale now for spring’s most anticipated event, the Antiques, Garden & Design Show. The event takes place at the Chicago Botanic Garden from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday, April 15 to 17. Additional fees apply for the lectures.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Check This Chart Before You Start Your Seeds

Attention, fellow seed swappers: it’s mid-March, and that means it’s time to pull out all those amazing seeds you got at Seed Swap (what a fun day!) and start growing transplants indoors.

My “aha!” moment at Seed Swap happened when I stopped by at horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg’s seed-starting table, and picked up a copy of her Seed Viability Chart. It’s not only a useful tool about the average “shelf life”—or viability—of veggie seeds, but also an eye-opening reminder to check the dates on seed packs before I start growing this spring. Some seeds last longer than others!

Click here to download a PDF of the chart. (Proper seed storage conditions are in a cool and dark place where temperature and moisture content will stay relatively stable.)

Ready to start sowing? We’ve got lots of good tips and info about how to start seeds on our blog and website:


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

If You Can’t Take the Heat, Stay Out of the Fire

This winter has been unpredictable with unusually warm weather one day and biting cold the next. During one of those particularly cold periods in January, I took advantage of the solid ice to work on removing woody invasive plants from one of our isolated wetlands in the McDonald Woods.

We have several such wetlands, but this one is perhaps more interesting than the others, in that it is home to a population of broad-winged skippers (Poanes viator)—an uncommon butterfly that has only been found on six or fewer sites being monitored for butterflies in the Chicago region.

PHOTO: Broad-winged skipper (Poanes viator).
Broad-winged skipper (Poanes viator)

This small brown butterfly is dependent on lake sedge (Carex lacustris) as a larval food plant on our site. It has been found to feed on some other sedge and grass species elsewhere, but here, that is the only plant that its larvae feed on.

In the 26 years I have been managing the 100 acres of the McDonald Woods, this small quarter-acre wetland is the only spot this butterfly can be found. Although there are many patches of lake sedge found throughout the woodland, apparently this butterfly will not leave this small and sunny wetland to venture into the surrounding shade of the oak canopy to take advantage of the other sedge patches.

PHOTO: Lake sedge in winter.
Lake sedge in winter

As I was working among the dormant lake sedge stems—solidly anchored in the thick ice of the wetland—I decided to do a little investigating to see if I could find any clues to the whereabouts of this butterfly in winter. Some butterfly experts think this skipper overwinters as a developing larva, then later pupating before emerging as an adult in early July. However, it seems as though no one is quite sure where exactly the developing larvae would be found.

PHOTO: Broad-winged skipper larva.
Possible Dion skipper larva

As I was working in the wetland, I occasionally plucked a dried-up stem of lake sedge and peeled the leaves back, much as you would peel a banana. Although I did not find a broad-winged skipper larva, I did find the larva of a noctuid moth, what appears to be the larva of a Dion skipper (Euphyes dion), some various fly larvae, a couple tiny adult flies, hundreds of sac spiders (Clubiona maritima), some Linyphiid spiders, Gnaphosid spiders, and a few other spider genera. Although I am well aware that many invertebrates spend their dormant periods hidden away in stems, leaves, and roots of plants, I was amazed to see how much life was present in the dried stems above a solid block of ice.

This revelation got me thinking about my management activities, and in particular, the use of controlled burning. Much like prairies, oak woodlands are dependent on fire to prevent fire-intolerant woody plants from moving in and creating too much shade for the “sun loving” oak trees to reproduce themselves.  

Prairies and oak woodlands evolved primarily as a result of climate, and in particular, rainfall. As you travel eastward from the Rocky Mountains, you first encounter short grass prairie where the rainfall is lowest, then mixed-grass prairie where it is a little wetter, then tall grass prairie where it is still wetter, then oak woodlands and eventually, eastern deciduous forest, dominated primarily by fire-intolerant tree species (like maple and beech), where the rainfall is most abundant.

PHOTO: Euphyes dion by Charles T. and John R. Bryson, Bugwood.org.
Euphyes dion by Charles T. and John R. Bryson, Bugwood.org

These prairies and oak woodlands provided a readily burnable fuel for any fire that got started, whether as a result of intentionally set fires by Native Americans or random lightning strikes. It is not hard to picture the description of early settlers when they wrote about fires that burned for days and covered hundreds of thousands of acres. As the prairie fire approached oak woodlands, they did not go out but continued to burn through the flammable leaf litter and dry herbaceous plants covering the ground of these woodlands.

But historically, these were huge landscapes. Today we are dealing primarily with tiny fragments of the plant communities that once covered thousands—if not millions—of acres. Because the landscape has changed and these remnants are now so small, they no longer experience the landscape-scale fires in which some areas burned while others did not. Back then, when habitats were huge and animal populations were large and widespread, these fires helped to maintain rich and diverse habitats and animal populations for thousands of years. It is always impressive, even after a single fire, to see the abundance of native seedlings emerge from the burned understory and later, the increased flowering of mature plants. But we don’t always consider the unseen other life forms hidden among the dried leaves and stems. Therefore, as managers, it is important that we utilize fire in a thoughtful way to try to restore and maintain all the richness in what remain of these once extensive natural systems.

Getting back to my experience in the winter wetland, there is a tremendous amount of invertebrate life that is present in the dry and burnable plant material in these dormant plant communities. This is particularly important when the entire population of a single species, like the broad-winged skipper, is found in such a restricted space. Plants and animals found in prairies and oak woodlands have evolved adaptations to periodic fires.

PHOTO: The Dixon Prairie in full bloom.
The Dixon Prairie in full bloom

Research has shown that most invertebrates are able to rebound after fire, but as managers, it is important that we make an effort to give these species the best opportunity to flourish on our small remnants. We can best do this by scheduling our burns—not burning the entire patch of any one particular habitat at any one time, especially during extreme weather conditions. And we should always try to leave some remnant vegetation unburned so that populations can regenerate themselves from those individuals that remain. Fire is an extremely important management tool for restoring and maintaining these natural communities, but it must be used wisely.


Photos @ Jim Steffen except where noted.
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Separated at Birth? Orchid Lookalikes

There’s only one reason orchid flowers look so beautiful and smell so good: to attract a pollinator. Some orchids engage in mimicry, evolving to look like the pollinator they’re trying to lure. Other orchids look familiar to humans, even though there is no connection for the flower. There’s a word for the phenomenon, pareidolia.

Roll over each orchid to reveal its look-alike. See an array of beautiful orchids at the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden, through March 13. 

Ophrys apifera, "bee orchid"Bee


Ophrys apifera

Known as the bee orchid, this species not only looks like a female bee, but it smells like one, too. Male bees land, hoping to mate, only to be fooled into transporting pollen from one flower to another.

Caleana major,  "flying duck orchid"Duck


Caleana major

Animals as large as a duck are too big to pollinate an orchid…but when the sawflies that are the right size land on the “beak” or labellum of the flower, their weight springs them downward into contact with the pollen.

Psychopsis papilio, "butterfly orchids"Atlas moth


Psychopsis papilio

Looks like a butterfly, is named for the butterfly (papilio is the Latin word), and flutters like a butterfly at the top of its long, delicate step. Yes, it’s pollinated by butterflies.

Dracula, "monkey orchid"Monkey


Dracula
sp.

Orchids in the genus Dracula are called monkey orchids, but their charmingly face-like flowers are calling out to fruit fly pollinators, not to monkeys.

Brassia, "spider orchid"Spider


Brassia
sp.

Spider orchids are wily—they developed the look of a spider in order to attract spider wasps as pollinators. The wasp lands on the labellum, tries to sting it, gets covered in pollen instead, and flies off to its next prey.

Peristeria elata, "dove orchid"Dove


Peristeria elata

Look deep into the center of a dove orchid to see the tiny bird with widespread wings. When a Euglossine bee lands on the flower’s hinged lip, it trips a hinge that throws the bee against the pollen-bearing column (the head of the dove). The national flower of Panama, the dove orchid is increasingly rare.


Some photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Alice the Amorphophallus—An Update on Titan Arum Fruit

Thousands of visitors to the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden have been delighted to see a special guest star at the Tropical Greenhouse: Alice the Amorphophallus is on display, in full and glorious fruit! 

Visitors are asking: why are some of the berries on the titan arum (or corpse flower) skinny and small, while others are big and plump?

Dr. Pat Herendeen and “Titan Tim” Pollak plucked a few of each in mid-February, X-rayed them, and performed a bit of berry surgery to get the answer.

PHOTO: An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Spike (Chicago Botanic Garden).
An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Spike (Chicago Botanic Garden, 2015).
PHOTO: An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Stinky (Denver Botanic Gardens, 2015).
An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Stinky (Denver Botanic Gardens, 2015).
PHOTO: Pat Herendeen examines titan arum seed under microscope; gloves protect his hands from oxalate crystals in the fruit.
Dr. Pat Herendeen examines titan arum seed under microscope; gloves protect his hands from oxalate crystals in the fruit.

X-rays showed that seeds had developed in the larger berries—those pollinated with pollen from Stinky, the titan arum that recently bloomed at the Denver Botanic Gardens. There were no signs of seeds in the smaller berries, which were pollinated by Spike, the Garden’s first titan arum. Dissection confirmed it; the large berries are ripening, while the smaller berries are sterile.

Spike and Stinky contributed all the pollen used for Alice’s pollination last September. About one-third of Alice’s female flowers received Spike’s pollen; about two-thirds received Stinky’s—and you can see the difference visually.

Garden scientists believe that Spike and Alice, who are siblings, are too closely related genetically to create healthy seeds, while Stinky, thought to be more distantly related, provided appropriate genetic material for proper reproduction.

You can see the difference on Alice’s infructescence (fruit stalk), too: the stalk is curving. As the chubby, seed-filled fruits from Stinky’s pollen continue to ripen and enlarge, the structure is bending over the small, non-viable fruits from Spike’s pollen. 

Each of the berries produced by Stinky’s pollen will make one or two seeds. It will take several more months for the fruits to ripen and turn deep red—a signal that seeds may finally be collected. 

PHOTO: One fruit resulting from Spike’s pollen is on the left; two fruits from Stinky’s pollen is in the center and on the right. The fruit in the center has been opened and the two seeds removed. The large seed on the right, though still unripened, reveals what the final titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) seed will look like.
One fruit resulting from Spike’s pollen is on the left; two fruits from Stinky’s pollen are in the center and on the right. The fruit in the center has been opened and the two seeds removed. The large seed on the right, though still unripened, reveals what the final titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) seed will look like.

What’s Next for Alice’s Seeds?

Because the titan arum’s natural habitat in Indonesia has degraded so drastically—estimates say 72 percent has been lost—scientific and academic institutions like the Chicago Botanic Garden have become safe havens in which titan arums can grow and multiply.

After Alice’s fully-ripened fruits are collected, the seeds will be extracted, cleaned, stored, and shared. Alice’s seeds will contribute to titan conservation through:

  • Seed sharing between gardens, universities, and other institutions.
  • Raising new plants here at the Garden to bolster our titan collection.
  • Researching DNA to increase diversity among titan plants.

 

Relive the excitement of Alice’s bloom! Our blogs and videos track Alice’s progress from bud to fruit.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org