Archives For Erica Masini

Summer is in the air. As the nights heat up, it’s a perfect time to get outdoors and entertain in your garden. Chicago Botanic Garden floriculturist Tim Pollak shares how you can bring the party to your garden with a few simple tricks for evening entertaining.

Plant light-colored flowers
Enhance the darkness of evenings by planting white or cream-colored foliage and flowers. White flowers and plants create brightness in your garden by reflecting moonlight, candlelight, and firelight. Some flowers even “glow” in the moonlight, including white and yellow lilies. Pollak recommends flowering shrubs such as hydrangea, roses, and hibiscus.

hibiscus moscheutos 'Blue River II'

Hibiscus moscheutos

rosa 'Dicjana'

Rosa ‘Dicjana’

hydrangea arborescens

Hydrangea arborescens

Add fragrant, evening-blooming flowers
In areas where you can sit and entertain, use plants that emit mood-setting fragrance. Scent in a garden carries farther and longer in the evenings than in daytime, said Pollak. Plus, evening blooming plants often give off strong fragrance that attracts night-flying pollinators (additional guests for your party). Some examples of especially fragrant plants include heliotropium, nicotiana, and ipomoea alba.

outdoor garden lightingInstall night accent lighting
Lure guests down the garden path with purposefully placed outdoor lighting. You can shine focal points on specimen plants, and create wonderful shadows and backlighting effects that will enhance the setting of your evening party.

Keep warm with fire pits
People are drawn to fire pits, which create a campfire-like atmosphere, said Pollak. Fire pits also serve as focal points in your garden, providing warmth, light, and a cooking source. Stay warm on cooler nights, and enjoy the light and ambience that make fire pits a natural gathering spot for entertaining. Many fire pit options are available, including natural or electric, modern or traditional, in-ground or portable. Be sure to consider the placement of seating as well, with flexible options in case of wind and smoke.

evening outdoor entertaining - sculpture

Enhance the mood with garden structures and sounds
Nighttime atmosphere can make for a magical evening. A few sensory features such as white or gray painted structures or statues, wind chimes or fountains will add the perfect finishing touched to your evening ambience.

Keep out pesky party crashers
Mosquitos are never a welcome guest at a nighttime gathering. Keep them at bay by eliminating all standing water. You can also use citronella (including the actual citronella plant, or candles, lamps, and tiki torches) to help keep them away.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Time to Take Your Urban Houseplants Outside

Plant Parenthood

Erica Masini —  May 27, 2018 — 5 Comments

Hey, Chicago. It finally feels better outside. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief with me. Sigh. We made it.

Now that it’s officially patio season, it’s time to get out and enjoy the sun. Which has me wondering…should my houseplants join me outside? Can they?

Spider plant

The spider plant catching some rays.

The process of moving indoor plants outside, called “hardening off,” typically happens around when nighttime temperatures stay above 42 degrees Fahrenheit. By now, pots are popping up all along back wooden porches across the city. But if you have little to no outdoor space—like me—it can be a challenge to give your houseplants a much needed breath of fresh air.

I turned to Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, who lives in Chicago. She has an open lot next to her apartment, but also has some restrictions like me. Her lot gets 100 percent shade, so she can’t even grow vegetables. My apartment has an eastern exposure back stairwell, with mostly shade and some indirect morning light. 

Here’s what she says about putting my plants outside:

  • Be careful about sunburn. Sunburn isn’t a concern just for us humans. Plants can get scorched, too. Don’t put them in blazing sunlight. Porches with shade are prime locations for orchids and birds of paradise plants.
  • The outdoors makes your plants happy. A lot of plants really enjoy the strong swing in temperature that only the outdoors can provide, said Sherwood. If you have the space for it, and moderate sunlight, your indoor houseplants would love to feel the extended daylight.
  • Keep a watchful eye. You’ll need to water outdoor plants more often, said Sherwood. Plants dry out much quicker in the sun, so check them daily. Also be aware of the weather forecast; if it’s predicting wind and rain, you may want to bring your plant babies back inside until it blows over.

Of my plant collection, Sherwood said my spider plant would probably do best outside. She also recommended elephant ears as a new outdoor option. I don’t have room in my apartment for a large plant, but I’ll keep that idea in my back pocket.

I’m going to bring my spider plant outside and see how it fares over the next few weeks. Who knows, maybe I’ll even start a vegetable container. Stay tuned!

Plant Family Check-ups

Aloe (Aloe hybrid)

Aloe (Aloe hybrid)

I’m not sure whether it’s OK, because the tips of its leaves are a little brown and soggy. I don’t think it’s dead, though. I think. I hope.

Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)

Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)

Seems to be doing all right, but I’m a little disappointed by its lack of movement. I bought the prayer plant partly because I wanted to see its leaves bend up and down. From what I can tell, it doesn’t move. It’s still pretty, though!

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Honestly, I forget it’s there half the time. Which is great! It’s my lowest maintenance plant, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum)

Flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum)

New growth! I spotted a few red blooms shooting up from the soil, and it’s made me so happy. This is my favorite plant. Shhh…don’t tell the others.

Mexican firecracker succulent (Echeveria setosa)

Mexican firecracker succulent (Echeveria setosa)

This one is the most worrisome of the crew. It hasn’t lost any more leaves, but it still doesn’t seem too happy. I moved it out of direct sunlight, and have been resisting watering it, but the leaves still feel a little soft and squishy. Keeping an eye on this one.

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Loving its new home outside!


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Link Between Plants and Animals

Hosted by: Jeremie Fant, Garden scientist and plant genetics guru

Erica Masini —  May 14, 2018 — Leave a comment

How do you bring an endangered plant species back from the brink of extinction? The answer might be found in zoo animals.

That’s the inspiration for Chicago Botanic Garden scientist Jeremie Fant’s latest research. Fant, a molecular ecologist and plant genetics guru, is working with other botanic gardens around the world to develop conservation and reintroduction plans modeled after the ones used by zoos to protect endangered animal species.

“When we conserve plant species, it’s possible to preserve hundreds of individuals, and the genetic information they contain, by banking their seed or using cuttings to propagate them,” said Fant. “But when this is not possible, these plant collections are maintained by continually crossing with other plants to produce new seed. This is akin to animals in zoo collections. Zoos have used genetic information to develop ‘studbooks’ to decide what crosses are compatible so they maintain genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding.”

Fant’s work is based on zoological cases including black-footed ferrets in the 1980s. Zoologists created a breeding program that ultimately reintroduced the threatened species back into the wild. The zoologists used genetic information taken from the remaining black-footed ferrets, and bred a strong, biodiverse population that could keep the animals healthy and, more importantly, increase numbers, which is the aim of all good conservation programs.

Fant’s work centers on one plant in particular: the Brighamia insignis, or “Cabbage on a stick,” or as we’ve fondly named it, “Cabby.” This is Cabby’s story:

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

To stay tuned on what Fant, and the rest of the Garden’s conservation scientists are doing, check out the latest news at chicagobotanic.org/research.


Illustrated by Maria Ciaccio
©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

It’s finally spring (and practically summer) weather these days at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and we’re bursting to get outside, and get growing.

In just a few weeks, we’ll have the perfect chance to do just that. At Get Growing Weekend on May 18 to 20, gardeners will gather for gardening demonstrations, a spring marketplace, and a one-of-a-kind plant sale to celebrate the much-anticipated arrival of spring.

Get Growing Weekend
Learn more about Get Growing Weekend

Part of the weekend’s festivities include a specialty plant sale hosted by The Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society. On Friday, members of the Garden will enjoy early access to the plant sale from noon to 4 p.m.; the plant sale will open to the public on Saturday and Sunday. A highlight of the sale is the “potted paradise” selection, which features composed planters grown on-site and designed by horticultural celebrities, as well as our own staff and Woman’s Board members.

We couldn’t wait to get a sneak peek, so we talked with celebrated designer Bunny Williams of Bunny Williams Interior Design about her potted paradise design.

Q: Describe your process for designing your container this year. What makes a good container?

A: One of the things I’m always thinking about when I’m doing a container is height. When you first plant a container, all of the plants are very small. But a month later when they’ve grown in, they’re at their full profusion. They look quite different. You have to think in advance about plants growing to varying heights. For instance, I always like to have something that hangs over the sides of the container, like the Silver Falls dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’) that I’ve included in my Potted Paradise container. And then something that stands tall, like the Mystic Spires Improved salvia (Salvia ‘Balsamispim’).

Q: What colors work well in a container?

A: I always like to use a simple color palette in containers. For this one, it’s all about shades of purple, black, and green. It makes for a more effective container than if you try to put too many colors in it. In your garden, you often mix containers together, so if you have containers with their own color schemes situated next to each other, you can have a more controlled color scheme overall.

Q: How do you use texture in your containers?

A: You don’t want every leaf to be exactly the same. In my Potted Paradise container, there are six plants, each with different leaf textures. I chose Mystic Spires Improved salvia (Salvia ‘Balsamispim’), Pinball™ globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa ‘Pinball Purple’), Primo™ Black Pearl coral bells (Heuchera ‘Black Pearl’), Solar Power™ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Black Improved’), Silver Falls dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’), and Kent Beauty oregano (Origanum rotundifolium ‘Kent Beauty’). The different textures set the plants off when you see the relationship between the different foliage. It makes the container more interesting if something is not in bloom.

Mystic Spires Blue Improved salvia

Salvia ‘Balsamispim’ Mystic Spires Blue™ Improved

Silver Falls dichondra

Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’

Container featuring Kent Beauty oregano

Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’; photo by Paul S. Drobot

Q: What’s the best thing about planting containers?

A: What’s interesting and fun about containers is you have to know a little bit about what each plant is going to do. The salvia is tall, and so I know that will be the centerpiece of my container. When you go to the nursery, I enjoy making a grouping right there in the store. You can see the textures together, and choose what makes sense based on a few basic principles: leaf texture, differentiation, and colors of the same family.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Show of hands: Who’s ready for spring?

We are, too.

Thankfully, the bright, blooming containers in the Heritage Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden were planted this week, welcoming spring and warm fuzzies along with them. Just standing near these spring annuals makes us happy, and for horticulturist Tom Soulsby—who’s been planting these signature troughs for the past 15 years—it’s one of his favorite things to do each spring.

The bright, colorful troughs in the Heritage Garden welcome visitors every Spring.

The bright, colorful troughs in the Heritage Garden welcome visitors every spring.

“After a long, drawn-out winter, it’s nice to have something that cheers people up,” said Soulsby. “It cheers us up, too, to see visitors smiling.”

spring-container

Horticulturist Tom Soulsby uses small, visually interesting plants that would otherwise get lost in a mass planting in the Garden.

People look forward to these 41 containers each spring, which is something Soulsby keeps in mind when he’s planting them. By the time April rolls around, people are craving lush, overflowing color after months of dreary gray, so he “overplants” the troughs to make them look full from the get-go.

Poking through the red, orange, and yellow flowers this year is an unusual, edible treat: some Lactuca sativa ‘Australian Yellowleaf’ lettuce. “I’ve never used lettuce before in a container, but it’s a fun alternative for foliage accents, and can tolerate cooler weather,” said Soulsby.

lettuce-trough

Lactuca sativa ‘Australian Yellowleaf’ lettuce is a fun foliage accent for a container, and a tasty snack.

That’s another trick: all of the plants Soulsby picked for these troughs can handle cold and a light frost (but we’re hoping they won’t have to). Some—like the Narcissus ‘Fruit Cup’ daffodils and Tulipa praestans ‘Shogun’ tulips in this year’s troughs—will bloom later. It’s all about balance, Soulsby said—finding a mix of plants that will bloom at varying times.

spring-trough

We’re loving the bright, sunny color of Primula vulgaris ‘Kerbelnec’ Belarina® Nectarine in these troughs.

Here’s hoping Mother Nature takes a cue from these troughs.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org