Archives For October 2017

Tiny hands, belonging to a class of third graders, carefully fold rulers into squares and rest them on a grassy meadow near the Dixon Prairie. Inside these 2-by-2-foot quadrants is a fantastical world to discover: the height of different species of plants, the temperature of the soil, the wind and the sun, and the climate of the lawn.

The children have a mission on this blustery October morning, an adventure in the far reaches of the Chicago Botanic Garden, where a yellow school bus opens its doors to a field trip inside the life of a Garden scientist.

A young boy studies tallgrass on the prairie during a guided field trip at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Learning about ecosystems outside the classroom creates valuable experiences and future scientists.

Prairie Pondering is just one of the Garden’s guided field trips, where students from Chicago area schools can experience the day-to-day work of a Garden ecologist. Trained Garden volunteers engage students in guided field trips from September to June. They use the same tools as horticultural scientists, take samples in the field, and ask questions that Garden experts examine on a daily basis. The goal of the field trips is to create real-life opportunities for students to have fun with science outside of their classroom walls, said Drew Wehrle, the Garden’s coordinator of student field trips.

To get their hands dirty, so to speak.

A teacher and group of students study the ecosystem in the 2ft-square area they have blocked off.

Evaluating the ecosystem of a particular quadrant helps scientists of all age focus their study.

“What are the biotic—or living—things affecting the prairie?” asked a Garden volunteer during Prairie Pondering. Students scribble answers in their notebooks: sun, wind.

“What does the soil look and smell like?” More answers: dry, smells bad.

“What is the temperature of the soil? Why do you think it’s different from the temperature in the air?”

One girl watches her thermometer fluctuate from 77 to 76 degrees. “The temperature is changing!” And so begins an early, hard lesson about Chicago weather.

As the group moves on to the prairie, the children are asked to consider the many different plants they’ve found. One girl counts 100, another 200. One boy points out a milkweed plant that reminds him of the game Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.

“The point of the field trips is less about botanical expertise and more about asking the kids to consider why they think a plant looks or behaves the way it does,” Wehrle said.

Two girls compare answers as they walk through the prairie on a field trip.

Sharing time together outside is part of the fun of guided field trips.

A boy on a field trip runs through the prairie.

Field trips are a great opportunity for outdoor fun, too.

Each of the guided field trips is crafted to fulfill age-appropriate state Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), so students get to explore while also engaging with ideas that complement what they’re already learning in the classroom. Guided field trips include a range of botanical and nature topics, including The Wonders of Worms and Soil, Lake Investigations, Water Bugs, and Tree Detectives. Field trips are offered for third grade through high school students, and can be guided or self-directed. Self-guided field trips allow groups of all ages to explore while their teachers direct them on independent activities.

For more information about field trips, or to sign up, visit www.chicagobotanic.org/fieldtrips.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

At the Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America, you see model trains chugging charmingly through the trees, mountains, and cityscapes, and clacking across bridges as they merrily toot their horns.

You don’t see the workshop crammed with test tracks, a lathe, a drill press, soldering irons, a drawer filled with spare train motors, dozens of bins of spare parts, and rows of small jars of paint labeled “CNW yellow” and “Wisconsin Central maroon.”

But that’s what keeps the trains rolling at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Watch our engineer interview video on YouTube.

Have a tiny engineer? Don’t miss Trains, Tricks & Treats on October 21 & 22.

Small boy with a microphone talks about the Model Railroad Garden.

This summer, a few of our younger visitors got a chance to interview our engineers. View the video on YouTube here.

A room in the basement of the Regenstein Center is the hive of repair activity for the Model Railroad Garden, which operates through October 29. There are also ghost trains for Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns (October 26 to 29), and trains that wend through Wonderland Express, which begins November 24. That is why there is a staff of three year-round engineers and 18 seasonal engineers, helped by 66 volunteers, that keep the repair shop busy year-round.

The work is crucial. The Model Railroad Garden has 350 model railroad cars and 125 engines, and during the season they run on a punishing schedule: eight to nine hours a day, seven days a week.

“The trains are not designed to operate the way we operate them; companies will not design them that way,” said chief engineer Dave Rodelius. “So we just continually use up the trains, and when they’re used up, we discard them. We get two of everything. When one breaks down, we replace it with the other.”

The engineers replace motors, wheels, and track—400 feet of track a year. They repair motors. They wire the electronics that make the trains run, testing the trains on the workshop tracks before putting them into service; incorrect wiring causes the fuses to blow. They install circuit boards with electronic sound cards that make horn or bell sounds when the train travels over magnets.

They also invent their own fixes. They have to.

Every spring, the miniatures also get a mini-makeover. Read more about our Miniature Maintenance.

PHOTO: Miniature Chicago Cubs fans.

Cubs fans in fresh whites never lose hope for their team winning one day.

“The Amtrak train hasn’t been made since 2004; we couldn’t get wheels anymore,” said operating engineer John Ciszek. “So we re-engineered the truck assembly (which holds the wheels) with a bolster plate.” Now they can replace the wheels with ones still being made.

And when they need a part that doesn’t exist, they have it custom engineered.

The behind-the-scenes work continues outside. Discreetly tucked away in the Model Railroad Garden is a shed that stores cars and engines overnight, and another that houses banks of remote controllers that operate the engines and their charging stations. A board fitted with small colored lights shows the direction each railroad line is operating—green for clockwise, red for counterclockwise.

The constant work is a labor of love. Rodelius, Ciszek, and maintenance technician Dave Perez have been model railroad enthusiasts themselves since they were children.

“Most of the engineers have their own layouts in their basements,” Rodelius said. “It’s the perfect job for most of the people here. They love it. You can’t keep them out of here.”


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Gerit Quealy is passionate about the Bard of Avon.

Her latest book, Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium of All the Flowers, Fruits, Herbs, Trees, Seeds, and Grasses Cited by the World’s Greatest Playwright (HarperCollins), is beautiful proof. She will talk Shakespeare at a lecture and book signing at 1 p.m. Sunday, October 15, at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Honeysuckle illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins for Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium

Honeysuckle illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins

The book’s splendid illustrations are by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins and its foreword is by Helen Mirren—yes, Dame Helen’s an avid gardener. But it is Quealy, the book’s writer and editor, who dug through historical manuscripts from the sixteenth century’s “Elizabethan horticultural boom” to unearth more than 170 plant references in Shakespeare’s poems and plays.

For instance, apples often play a role in the Bard’s works, for as Quealy writes: “Shakespeare finds the apple ripe for metaphor.” Consider the Apple-John variety in Henry IV: “I am withered like an old Apple-John,” says Falstaff.

The mix of history and mystery captivated Quealy, who as a child read every Nancy Drew book she could find. It took 20 years to research and compile the book. “Letters and manuscripts still have not been transcribed because not enough people know how to do it, and it’s costly and time-consuming,” she told us. “And I was like, wow, there’s this secret repository of stuff.”

With no historical photographs to work with, though, Quealy and artist Sumie “had a lot of talks about the color things were.”

Gourd illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins for Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium

Gourd by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins

The book should charm gardeners who might prepare an autumn feast by emulating the Bard’s locavore and organic credentials. Quealy suggests featuring carrots, turnips, potatoes, leeks, apples, grapes, plums, pears, thyme, or marjoram. Shakespeare, as noted in Quealy’s book, can provide conversation starters for each of these ingredients.

Potatoes: “Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of Greensleeves…” (Falstaff in Merry Wives of Windsor)

Apples:  “I will make an end of my dinner. There’s Pippins and cheese to come.” (Sir Hugh Evans in Merry Wives of Windsor)

Grapes:  “The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.” (Menenius in Coriolanus)

Leeks: “His eyes were green as leeks.” (Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Plums: “There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” (Falstaff in Henry IV)

Quealy has been in love with the Bard since a traveling troupe performed Twelfth Night for her third-grade class. “I just think the story and the way the story unfolded, maybe the rhythm of the language, is something that I responded to,” she says.

Grapes illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins for Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium

Grapes illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins

Born in Virginia, raised in Florida, and now living in New York, Quealy has been an actor (theater, television), a journalist (newspapers, magazines), and an author. A television project is in the works (FLOTUS: Playing the Woman Card in the White House); as is a project on Shakespeare’s kitchen.

The Garden event will include a lutenist and a soprano, who will perform during the free October 15 program (preregistration required). Quealy hopes the event and the book will help people connect with Shakespeare. “Shakespeare is all around you.”


Guest blogger Judith Hevrdejs-King is a freelance writer.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Fall brings new foods and flavors, and there are many beers that pair perfectly with the apples, gourds, and Thanksgiving classics you’ll be enjoying this season.

There are two spots in the Chicago Botanic Garden where beer is served: the Garden View Café and the Rose Terrace Beer Garden. Now that it’s fall, the Beer Garden is only open on weekends (weather permitting), but the new season also means there are new flavors and varieties to try there.

I sat down with Matt Sherry, beverage supervisor at the Garden, to find out what beers are best this time of year, which beverages pair well with classic fall dishes, and what interesting craft brews are available at the Garden this fall.

Beverage supervisor Matt Sherry and colleague prepare for our beer garden's grand opening this past summer.

Beverage supervisor Matt Sherry and colleague prepare for our beer garden’s grand opening this past summer.

A basic rule in pairing alcohol with food is to make sure there is balance between what’s in your glass and what’s on your plate, so the flavors in your drink don’t overpower your meal, Sherry said. That’s, of course, true for beer as well. 

Here are his fall food and beer pairings (all of the beers are available at the Garden):

beer-3Sheeps-Cashmere-HammerTurkey chili: A darker beer like 3 Sheeps Brewing Company Cashmere Hammer would work well with a heavy dish like chili. Its creamy flavor and texture has chocolate notes that complement the cinnamon and cardamom spices usually found in chili.

Roast turkey: IPAs have a bitterness that cuts through the taste of the fat in foods like turkey. Citrus is always a good pairing with poultry, so choose  Goose Island Juicy Double IPA, which is brewed with orange juice, for Thanksgiving dinner or leftovers.

beer-My-Shout-Sparkling-AlePumpkin pie: For a rich, dense dessert like pumpkin pie, a lighter beer works best. Goose Island My Shout, an Australian sparkling ale, is a limited-edition release that has hints of stone fruit, making it a good choice for pumpkin pie. If you want to go overboard with the same flavors, go for a pumpkin ale.

Butternut squash soup: Skip the beer when you have butternut squash soup and grab a cider instead. A dry cider isn’t as sweet, so it won’t overpower the flavor of your soup. Virtue Cider Michigan Brut is especially nice.

beer-Petal-to-the-KettleAnti-fall choices: If you want no part of sweater weather and pumpkin spice lattes, grab a SweetWater TripleTail. This IPA is brewed with tropical flavors like passion fruit and papaya, so you can imagine you’re on a beach instead of gearing up for cold weather. Another good option is Upland Brewing Company Petal to the Kettle. Part of the brewery’s Side Trail Series, a limited edition set of experimental brews, this sour has hibiscus and strawberry flavors.

 

Ready to sample some creative craft beers? Come to Autumn Brews on Thursday, October 12. Tickets available online.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org