It is with great pleasure that I announce that international bonsai master Walter Pall will be at the Chicago Botanic Garden, performing a demonstration on the collection’s oldest tree.
Pall has performed on many international stages, and is one of the world’s most popular bonsai artists. He has visited the vast majority of European countries as well as South Africa, Australia, Canada, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, and the United States.
His lectures are a treat. Pall’s philosophy about bonsai demonstrations is first and foremost to provide a basis for high-quality bonsai work. He adds a substantial amount of explanation so that the audience can clearly understand his development process, and he tells amusing anecdotes along the way.
Pall will work on a limber pine (Pinus flexilis) that was donated by Gerald Weiner in 2007. This tree was collected in Estes Park, Colorado, at about 10,000 feet in the early 1980s by Harold Sasaki, and is estimated to be around 800 years old.
Though he initially was looking for landscape material, Weiner could not resist purchasing this tree for a bonsai in 1987 on a collecting trip to the Rocky Mountains. This is the largest and oldest tree in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s collection, and it is an absolute honor to have Walter Pall come and work on it. This is a must-see event!
As a mom and working artist, I try to think of ways I can introduce my 3-year-old daughter to the outdoors and the power of imagination through craft projects. And as an employee at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I am inspired by all sorts of family programs and drop-in activities for kids and families that celebrate the outdoors.
What’s fun about nature art is that it starts with an adventure and ends with a surprise. For instance, the “family of owls” that we created may appear in story time later.
Here are some of the nature-inspired activities and kid-friendly crafts that have come out of my journey as a mother and continue to get the best reviews from Laila, my toughest little critic.
Dirt is cool
Even when she was a baby, my daughter was intrigued by dirt. She is still fascinated by it, in any form. In the long winter, when we’re tired of being cooped up, we bring a little of the outdoors inside and put together a mud pie prep kitchen. Supplies include dropcloth, potting soil, spray bottle, pouring cups, pie plates, and sticks, rocks and/or sand for decorating.
Happiness is when mom says it’s OK to play with your food
This is the best way to distract a picky eater, or wow guests with an inexpensive dish you can design with your kids. Laila and I made these creations out of various fruits, vegetables, herbs, and cheeses.
It’s an outdoors treasure hunt
Laila and I start by taking adventure walks and filling our pockets or a basket with sticks, leaves, flowers, and other found art objects. Everywhere you look, there are free art supplies.
Rock ’n’ roll with it
Hand-picked rocks can be collected, cleaned, painted, and polished to transform into precious stones with a story attached. Even little nature lovers can apply homemade or washable paint to their rocks before an adult adds a clear topcoat finish. The rock art can be used as a paperweight or embellishment to a potted plant. Add a pipe cleaner and clothespin to make it a photo holder.
One day we found pine cones and added fabric, buttons, and ribbon to create a family of owls that found a new home in our Christmas tree. Another time we used sticks, wire, glitter, and beads to build a twinkling mobile.
When the projects are done, we talk about what we made, where our supplies came from, and who we can share our creations with.
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of outdoor exploration with my mom. I hope Laila someday will feel the same way.
Want to get more nature into your child’s education? Learn about our Nature Preschool program.
A growing body of research tells us that children are better off when they have daily contact with nature.
Nature play encourages creativity and problem solving, boosts academic performance, helps children focus, increases physical activity, improves eyesight, reduces stress, and promotes positive social relationships.
Chicago Botanic Garden scientists, educators, and horticulturists credit their personal growth and professional development to early doses of “Vitamin G” (a term used to describe the benefits of exposure to green environments). Their words and childhood pictures best capture the joyful effect of nature on their lives.
Deeply Rooted Educators
Jennifer Schwarz Ballard, Ph.D.
“Even though I spent the early part of my childhood in Hyde Park, Chicago, I can’t remember a time when as a family, we didn’t take every opportunity to head out of the city to northern Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula, or northern Michigan for camping, canoeing, or hiking. Later, we moved to (almost) rural New York, where my sister, friends, and I became intimately familiar with the acres of woods, fields, and streams behind our house, disappearing for hours to explore our private, imagined world. As an adult, when I had the opportunity at the Chicago Botanic Garden to combine my expertise in learning science with my love of nature and share it with others, I thought, ‘This is the place for me.’”
“The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”—Richard Louv, journalist and author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
“Some of my fondest memories of childhood include our summer vacations at Silver Lakes in southwestern Michigan. My brothers and cousins and I would spend all day, every day, playing in the sand and splashing in the water. We’d take the rowboat out to the ‘lily pads’ to see if we could catch any frogs—we were (disappointingly) never successful, though we did manage to get the rowboat stuck once for what seemed like an hour, but was probably just a few panicked minutes.
I have a particular fond memory of my close cousin Jean and I filling buckets with sand, mixing in just the right amount of water, and carefully making a batch of sand pancakes to cook on our folding chair stove. The simple pleasures derived from the freedom to play and explore outside throughout my childhood reinforces for me the importance of ensuring those same opportunities for play time in nature are available for my own children at home and the children participating in the programs at the Garden—making sure there are places to run, to hide, to dig, to splash, to have fun.”
“I grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a landscaped front yard and a wooded backyard. I spent hours jumping from stone to stone in my mother’s rock garden, picking blueberries from bushes in our front yard before the birds gobbled them up, and ‘designing’ and planting the annual bed along the walkway to our front door. When I was 7 or 8 years old, my best friend and I were allowed to explore the woods by ourselves. One time we ‘discovered’ a plant we called the umbrella plant. It was about 5 inches tall with horizontally held, fan-like branches covered in scale-like leaves. We excitedly brought it home and, although it didn’t last long, the impression did.
“Preschool educators have long known that animals, plants, water, and other aspects of the natural world delight children and draw them in as learners.”—Natural Start Alliance
This exposure to nature and being allowed to explore outside on my own shaped many aspects of my life, including my decisions to study plant science at Cornell University and earn a master’s degree in elementary education at Loyola University, Chicago. My position as family programs coordinator at the Chicago Botanic Garden combines my fondness for the natural world and my love of children and teaching. I look forward to teaching and sharing similar experiences with children at the new Regenstein Learning Campus.”
“Here I am in my teens at a Chicago River cleanup in the woods, holding a toad. I was lucky enough to have attended a Chicago public high school that got me out in the forest preserves and into nature. The experiences are part of why I studied ecology, and also why I wanted to inspire other Chicago teens to do the same. Now, I recruit Chicago public high school students for Science First and College First.”
Deeply Rooted Conservation Scientists
Kayri Havens, Ph.D.
“My best childhood memories were all outdoors…playing in the garden, growing vegetables, picking up seashells, going bird-watching. That love of nature has stayed with me, and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to have a career that allows me to continue to explore and study plants and the natural world.”
Pati Vitt, Ph.D.
“There are very few pictures of me as a child, most of them posed…except this one. It is outside in an open field, where I and my siblings tramped around at will, falling in love with the outdoors.”
Andrea Kramer, Ph.D.
“I grew up in a small town in Nebraska in the corn belt where, as you can imagine, trees were not very common. I spent a lot of quality time either climbing in or sitting under this particular tree when I was young. A few years after this photo was taken, a family of owls took up residence in it. I can’t imagine a childhood that didn’t involve nature play—climbing trees or sitting quietly with binoculars to watch owls interact with each other and the plants that they called home helped me see the world from a larger vantage point, and made me want to understand it by becoming a scientist.”
Jeremie Fant, Ph.D.
“Growing up in a part of Australia where the weather was often nice, it was easy to spend most of your time outside. I am not sure I can remember when I was not outside in flip-flops and board shorts. No matter what we were doing, there was always something to get me excited. Sometimes it was something as amazing as a dolphin swimming close to the beach or a kangaroo caught by surprise on our hikes. It was clear from a young age that the thing that got me so excited was the flora, and a botanist was born. The smell of the eucalyptus still sends memories flooding of hikes after rains, recalling the wonderful discovery of small patches of donkey orchids in winter.
Ultimately, I combined this love of native flora with working in the garden. I would often spend afternoons walking through the Adelaide Botanic Garden for inspiration and to marvel at its collections. I went to university to study horticultural sciences and volunteered on weekends at the botanic gardens as an undergraduate. All of these interactions played an obvious role in my life’s trajectory as a scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.”
Deeply Rooted Horticulturists
“My mother was a teacher and felt that it was so important to incorporate learning play. Here’s what she had to say: ‘Lisa, there was probably no time in your early years that you were not connected to nature. Starting with the simple joy of playing outdoors, you watered flowers for grandma and dad, made daisy chains, raked and played in the leaves, built snowmen, ice skated, and sculpted sand castles at Lake Harriet, Minneapolis. You planted gardens, learned to fish at Deer Lake. You loved having collections of rocks and leaves (author’s note: yes, I majored in geology and my childhood rock collections are still in the basement). You showed a love of dogs, gerbils, fish, white mice, even squirrels (you fed them peanut butter crackers at the back door). You were bonded to nature as a young child and it continues to this day!’”
“In my early childhood, I remember playing at my friend’s house. They had a very old forsythia bush, perfect for ‘house building,’ great tunnels, and hours of imaginative fun! When we were a bit older, the same best friend and I would meet down by the creek (between our two houses about a mile from each of us). We would spend hours walking in the creek bed, looking for crayfish, spiders, plants. (We brought skunkweed home to harass our siblings.) We would build forts with branches and grasses. When I was 12 years old, on a family vacation, we went to an enormous conservatory at the Grand Ole Opry Hotel. I walked into a breathtaking environment, and I knew. I knew I wanted to make people feel that same rush, excitement, wonder, as I did, and I was going to do it with plants. The rest, as they say, is history.”
“This picture (left) was the first time I had flowers of my own, and it was so exciting! Even to this day I still try to make sure I have at least one zinnia plant somewhere in my life, whether it’s in a garden I work in at the Chicago Botanic Garden or at home because I fell so in love with the flowers as a child.”
Everything old is new again, especially when you integrate antiques into a twenty-first century home.
Here are some style-savvy tips from two high-profile interior designers, both presenting lectures at the Antiques, Garden & Design Show, April 15 to 17, at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Mixing it up: “Today it’s not really about doing interiors that are filled with one particular period or style,” says Los Angeles-based interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, author of Live, Love & Decorate and the upcoming Design & Decoration (Rizzoli, due in April). “It’s really about learning to be eclectic and how to edit and how to mix and match.”
Balance equals harmony: “Editing is one of the most important elements in creating harmonious interiors,” says New York-based interior designer Timothy Whealon, author of In Pursuit of Beauty (Rizzoli). “The trick is mixing pieces from different periods and countries, juxtaposing textures, i.e., the time-worn against a crisp lacquer, without drawing attention to any particular element.”
Follow your heart: “When I’m looking for antiques with a client, I’m looking for them to respond to it on an emotional level,” Whealon says. “If it speaks to you, buy it.…If you love it, usually you can find a place to work it in.” Bullard agrees: “The great find is actually just something that you love,” he says. “There should never be a monetary value on things. If you love it, then it is worth a fortune.”
Sensibility of scale: Bullard says that “the most important thing for interiors is scale.…You need to know the scale and size you want and where you are going to put (something).” Measure the spaces you want to fill, as well as the doorways these items need to pass through, ahead of time. A tape measure will come in handy at the Show, too.
Seeing the light: To create a seamless continuum from indoors to outdoors, Whealon writes in his book, “I always start a project by looking out the windows, which more often than not informs my design decisions for the interiors.”
Color your world …“People shouldn’t be afraid of color,” Bullard says. “I think one of the first rules of color is to choose one you look good in.…If you look good wearing it, think how great you’ll look surrounded by it. It really works.”
But don’t forget white: “I like color that gradually reveals itself,” Whealon writes, “and no color has the capacity to do that quite like complex whites.”
Comfort is king: “The biggest trend in interiors is really comfort,” Bullard says. “People really want to be able to use everything, to be able to sit on everything….The idea of really precious things that you don’t really use is so outdated now.”
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