Archives For Jasmine Leonas

We love nature here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, so we looked to the natural world for inspiration on how to enjoy the eclipse—here at the Garden, or in your own backyard.

Practice safe viewing at the Garden with eclipse glasses from the Adler Planetarium.

Practice safe viewing at the Garden with eclipse glasses from the Adler Planetarium. Distribution of glasses begins at 10 a.m. Monday, August 21 on the Esplanade.

On Monday, August 21, people across the United States will be able to witness a rare event: the first total solar eclipse to cross over the country from coast to coast in nearly a century.

The path of totality—meaning the area of the United States that will see the sun completely blocked by the moon—passes across southern Illinois. In the Chicago area, we will experience roughly 86 percent coverage around 1:19 p.m. This is the closest the Chicago area has been to a total solar eclipse in 92 years.

 

1. Make a pinhole projector—using leaves.

Rule number one with eclipses—and with the sun every day, actually—is don’t look directly at it with the naked eye. A fun way to indirectly “see” the eclipse is with a pinhole projector, and one of the best natural projectors is a leaf. Leaves often have holes that can act as natural projectors.

During the eclipse, turn your back to the sun and hold the leaf above a neutral colored background, ideally several feet or more away. A white sheet of paper will do. You’ll see a crescent-shaped shadow that changes as the eclipse progresses.

Via Rice Space Institute, a fun way to commemorate an eclipse: make a pinhole sign and photograph its shadow.

Via Rice Space Institute, a fun way to commemorate an eclipse: make a pinhole sign and photograph its shadow.

The easiest pinhole projector you can make is with your hands. Stretch out and overlap your fingers to create a grid. Look down and you’ll see mini eclipses projected through the spaces between your fingers.

Eclipse shadows seen through crossed fingers of kids.

Viewing with children? Use what you’ve got to make your own shadow art: tiny hands are perfect. Photo via blogger Linda Shore

Other ideas: Use everyday objects that already have holes—like colanders or crackers, for example—or by punching a hole in a piece of cardboard or other sturdy material. If you want a more patriotic experience, NASA has 2D/3D printable pinhole projectors in the shape of the United States and each state.


2. Follow the shadows of the trees.

Find a shady spot and watch as the eclipse shadows change over the course of the event. Instead of the one shadow that a standard pinhole projector creates, you can view hundreds by standing under a decently sized oak or maple.

Instead of the shadows of leaves, thousands of sun crescents: the light cast through the gaps in moving leaves is only a sliver of the sun, and it shows.

Instead of the shadows of leaves, thousands of sun crescents: the light cast through the gaps in moving leaves is only a sliver of the sun, and it shows. Photo by David Prasad from Fresno, CA., United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, taken during the 2012 annular solar eclipse seen on the west coast of the United States.

Shadows of leaves on the ground during a partial solar eclipse look like a host of small, overlapping crescent moons.

Shadows of leaves on the ground during a partial solar eclipse look like a host of small, overlapping crescent moons. Photo by பரிதிமதி (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Another cool effect created by the eclipse is shadows that look sharper and appear to move (albeit very slowly) as the eclipse goes on. Boyce Tankersley, the Garden’s director of living plant documentation, was in St. Louis during the annular solar eclipse that passed over the United States in 1994, and witnessed this phenomenon while working at the botanical garden there. Unlike the annular 1994 eclipse, where a ring of the sun appears around the edge of the moon, the total eclipse this year will completely block the sun’s light in the path of totality (near Carbondale, Illinois, in our region). That’s because during a total eclipse, the distances between the moon, sun, and earth allows the moon to completely cover the sun; during an annular eclipse, it does not.

Rangers in Grand Canyon National Park use eclipse filters on a pair of binoculars during an annular eclipse viewing in 2012.

Rangers in Grand Canyon National Park use pair of filtered binoculars during an annular eclipse viewing in 2012. Note the crisp shadows at near-peak eclipse, as well as the crisp outline of the crescent sun.
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

At peak viewing time, from roughly 12:45 to 2 p.m., we’ll see a skinny crescent of light peeking out from behind the moon, almost like it’s taking a bite out of the sun. Though it’s only a sliver, it’s still strong enough to mess with the way shadows appear to the naked eye. This will make for some amazing patterns and changing shapes under the Garden’s trees. If you want to experience the eclipse this way, Tankersley recommends heading to the Waterfall Garden, English Oak Meadow, or English Walled Garden. Even the Garden’s parking lots have big, leafy trees that would work. If you prefer seclusion, the west service road, stretching from the Regenstein Learning Campus to the Graham Bulb Garden, has ginkgo, redbud, and buckeye, to name a few trees in that area with interesting leaves. Use the Garden’s plant finder or download our GardenGuide app to seek out a spot to see the eclipse by your favorite kind of tree.


3. Come to the Garden’s Eclipse Event

The Garden has partnered with the Adler Planetarium to host a solar eclipse viewing event. Free special viewing glasses—while supplies last—will be available so visitors can safely view the eclipse directly. We’ll also have Family Drop-In activities related to the eclipse and a scale model of the moon, sun, and earth stretching across the Esplanade, not far from the Visitor Center.

Crescent-shaped shadows of an eclipse seen through a colander.

Colanders, strainers, slotted spoons, and crackers—use household objects for your own eclipse experiments. Photo via Lightscapes blog.

The Esplanade is going to be a hub of activity, but the Garden has a number of other open spaces for great viewing. Grab your eclipse glasses and head to Dixon Prairie, on the south end of the Garden. When you need a break from staring at the sky, you’ll also see blooming blazing star, wild bergamot, prairie dock, and ironweed. If you’re lucky, you may also spot a hummingbird or monarch butterfly. The prairie is right off the section of the North Branch Trail that winds through the eastern part of the Garden, so it’s easily accessible if you bike here from the south.

Not as off the beaten path, but usually a sure bet for some private space, is Evening Island. It’s home to the Theodore C. Butz Memorial Carillon and features different landscapes on five acres. Head to the lawn overlooking the Great Basin for a clear view of the sky, as well as sweeping, photo-ready vistas. If you’re with a small group, gather in the council ring, inspired by the work of famed garden designer Jens Jensen.


If you miss this year’s total solar eclipse you won’t have to wait too long for the next one. There will be another in seven years, with the Chicago area closer to the path of totality and expected to see roughly 93 percent coverage. Practice your skills this year and you’ll be proficient in eclipse observation by 2024.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

How did the Chicago Botanic Garden end up sharing one of the most sought-after strawberry plants in the world with a three-star Michelin restaurant?   

The collaboration and conservation initiative began after Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg happened to meet Aaron Keefer, the culinary gardener for the renowned French Laundry restaurant in California’s Napa Valley. At a conference in Iowa, their conversation turned to the rare Marshall Strawberry, known for its exceptional flavor. Keefer mentioned that he would love to grow the plant at the French Laundry, where the prepaid lunch tasting menu begins at $310 a person.

What is the Marshall strawberry?

Strawberry plant in fruit and flower

Strawberries flower and fruit at the same time.

The Marshall strawberry has a storied history. In the early twentieth century, it was a widely grown strawberry variety. James Beard, the legendary cook and television personality, once said he thought the Marshall was “the finest eating strawberry in America.” But by the 1950s, the Marshall had largely been replaced by other cultivars because, due to disease and its short shelf life, it became an expensive strawberry to produce. By 2007, the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon, was one of the few places to even have Marshall strawberry plants. Now, a handful of private growers is trying to bring it back to prominence.

The Garden’s role

Leah Gauthier, an artist from Maine, is one of the only certified distributors for the once critically endangered berry. Through her website, marshallstrawberry.com, Gauthier sells the plants as they become available. Only nine are available for order this year, and once they’re sold out, the next batch won’t be available until 2019.

In 2012, Hilgenberg was given three Marshall plants from Gauthier, who was living in Indiana at the time. Gauthier drove to the Garden to personally deliver the fragile cargo. Hilgenberg got the Marshall plants into the ground right away at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden; one was promptly stolen. But by 2013, Hilgenberg was able to propagate 50 of the strawberry plants, thus helping to preserve and conserve this unique strawberry.  

After her chance meeting with the French Laundry’s Keefer in summer 2016, Hilgenberg agreed to send him some Marshall plants. Coincidentally, the same week that Hilgenberg sent the plants to the French Laundry, Aaron Bertelsen, the gardener/chef at Great Dixter House & Gardens in the United Kingdom, was visiting the Garden. When Bertelsen also expressed an interest in the strawberry plants, Hilgenberg shared some with Great Dixter as well.

Hilgenberg said she hasn’t heard of any other public gardens that have shared plants with culinary gardens like those at the French Laundry and Great Dixter. But to her it seemed like a great opportunity to be part of “a conservation effort connecting more people to this plant.”

StrawberriesSee photos of the beautiful fruits and vegetables being grown at the French Laundry, Great Dixter, and the Chicago Botanic Garden by following Aaron Keefer (tfl_culinarygarden), Aaron Bertelsen (aaronbertelsenofficial), and Lisa Hilgenberg (hilgenberg8) on Instagram.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Alongside the stunning flora of Brazil, visitors to the Garden can taste the flavors of Brazil in two ways this summer.

The popular Garden Chef series, where visitors can watch cooking demonstrations by local chefs and sample the fare, will include Brazilian chefs and chefs from Brazilian-inspired restaurants cooking authentic dishes. Join us for Brazilian-themed demos at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. on the following dates:

  • June 17 – Jorgina Pereira from Sinhá
  • July 1 – Cristiane Pereira from Taste of Brazil Café
  • July 30 – John Manion from La Sirena Clandestina
  • September 10 – Tony Castillo from Longitud315

Visitors can also enjoy Brazilian flavors at the Garden View Café throughout the run of Brazil in the Garden. Favorites like caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, and brigadeiro, a sweet, truffle-like dessert, will be served. Some regular menu items, including salads and pastries, have been reimagined to include flavors found in Brazilian cooking. Highlights from the menu include a misto quente sandwich, Brazilian beef picanha skewers, and Brazilian nut cake.

Brazilian Superfood Chopped Salad

Brazilian superfood chopped salad

Picanha Skewers

Picanha skewers

The Café’s Brazil-inspired menu items are as follows:

  • Brazilian superfood chopped salad: Baby kale and spinach, quinoa, fresh mango, broccoli, black beans, radishes, flax seed, Brazil nuts, orange-agave dressing
  • Citrus salmon salad: Local greens, hearts of palm, cherry tomato, Vidalia onion, spring onion, avocado, citrus vinaigrette
  • Misto quente sandwich: Applewood-smoked jamon (ham), queso blanco (white cheese), local tomato, oregano aioli, buttered brioche
  • Brazilian couscous salad and chicken salpicão sandwich at the grab-and-go bar

At the Garden Grille:

  • Brazilian beef picanha skewers: Grilled sirloin, zucchini, Vidalia onion, cilantro-lime rice, chimichurri
  • Brazilian caipirinha cocktail: Cachaça, fresh lime

Barista and Pastries:

  • Brazilian nut cake
  • Cocoa carob cookies
  • Brigadeiro
  • Acai fruit smoothie with banana, acai berry, blueberry, raspberry, almond milk
  • Summer mango smoothie with mango, banana, almond milk

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Keep summer fun going with outdoor activities that encourage creativity and independent thinking.

School is in session, but that doesn’t mean outdoor summer fun has to stop. Sure, going back to school might mean the long summer days of riding bikes and playing hide-and-seek outside will be replaced with classrooms and school bells, but kids can still find time to play in nature when they aren’t in school. And the good news is that outdoor play time has many benefits; a growing body of research shows that nature play encourages creativity and problem solving, boosts academic performance, helps people focus, reduces stress, and promotes positive social relationships.

PHOTO: Three young boys peek into a bucket full of lake water looking for life.

Sharing discoveries—like water creatures from Garden lakes—is a great way to cement knowledge.

Nature play abounds at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and can be found in many of our education programs, including family drop-in activities, Camp CBG, and the new nature preschool. Ann Halley, coordinator of early childhood programs, outlined a few nature play activities kids and families do at the Garden that can also be done at home. Choose an activity—or two—to keep children playing in nature throughout the school year:

PHOTO: British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy inspired this nature art at Camp CBG.

British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy inspired this nature art at Camp CBG.

Create land art. Use twigs, rocks, and leaves to create artistic sculptures and let creativity be the guide. Build a stone tower topped with a flower, or let a design naturally reveal itself. Discover the beauty of natural materials and make whatever feels right. There are no limits on what can be created using material found in the backyard and a bit of imagination.

PHOTO: A young boy mixes mud in kitchen baking pans.

Half the joy of painting with mud: mixing your colors.

Paint with mud. Why use regular paint when mud is so much more fun? Swap out watercolors for mud and ditch brushes for hands to create all-natural art. Take sustainability up a notch by using an outside surface—the sidewalk, a driveway, or back patio—instead of paper as your canvas. Wash creations away when you’re through.

Dissect flowers. Pick a few wildflowers and take them apart. Examine each petal and stamen. Compare different flowers and notice the shapes and colors of each. For older children who are interested in art, use the dissected flower pieces to make geometric patterns. Budding scientists can compare different kinds of flowers to learn more about what attracts certain pollinators.

PHOTO: A small girl picks apart the seed pods of Lunaria, or money plant.

Peeling apart leaves, seeds, and flowers reveals all kinds of interesting information about the natural world.

Go on an adventure hike. It seems obvious to suggest a hike when talking about activities that can be done outdoors. But an adventure hike makes the walk more fun. Give the hike a theme and try to hunt for on-topic items. The theme can be a color (things that are blue), a shape (look for circles), or whatever else you think might be fun. Turning the hike into an adventure means children will be more aware of what’s all around them and will stop—maybe even literally—to smell the flowers.

Study the clouds. Look up. A cloudy day provides an opportunity to find inspiration in the sky. Younger children can look for different shapes. Older kids can discuss the different types of clouds and identify those currently over their heads. The best part about this activity? No tools required.

Can’t get enough nature play? Check out the new Regenstein Learning Campus and sample some of the Garden’s educational offerings at the Opening Weekend celebration on Saturday and Sunday, September 10 and 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can get artistic with a photography or mosaics class demonstration, stretch your muscles with yoga or tai chi, or have some fun running on rolling hills or splashing in the water of the Nature Play Garden.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Cultivating Nostalgia

Jasmine Leonas —  June 30, 2016 — 7 Comments

The Garden’s head of urban agriculture took a trip to Cuba and reminded me of my culture’s resiliency and connection to gardening.

How do you farm when you have little to no resources? Cubans “inventan del aire.”

Literally meaning “inventing from air,” this is the philosophy that is required to get by in Cuba.

Angela Mason, the Garden’s associate vice president for urban agriculture and Windy City Harvest, traveled to Cuba to see firsthand how the farmers there create and maintain collective farms. These farms provide much-needed produce for a population that lives without what we’d consider the basics in the United States. The average hourly wage in the Chicago area is around $24.48. That’s more than the average monthly wage in Cuba.

“Before going, I didn’t understand why people would risk their lives getting on a raft and floating 90 miles,” she said. “But when you see the degree of poverty that some of the people are living in, it’s heartbreaking.”

Angie recounted to me the details of her trip; the people she met, all of whom were welcoming and warm, and the places she saw. She visited several farms just outside of Havana and another in Viñales, in the western part of the country.

PHOTO: Angie Mason, Fernando Funes and Madeleine Plonsker in Cuba.

Angie Mason, associate vice president Urban Agriculture/Windy City Harvest (center), poses with Cuban trip liason Fernando Funes, and Madeleine Plonsker, a member of the Garden’s President’s Circle who has visited Cuba many times and who helped Angie put the trip together.

Poverty in Cuba means the farmers there grow without supplies and tools that are standard here. But they are still able to create beautiful and sustainable harvests through ingenuity. For example, Angie asked one of the farmers she met what he used to start seeds. He showed her dozens of aluminum soda cans that he’d cut in half. One farmer dug a well by hand. He then used the rocks he dug out to build a terraced garden.

PHOTO: Isis Maria Salcines at her farmer co-operative, Organopónico Vivero Alamar in Havana, Cuba.

Isis Maria Salcines at her farmer cooperative, Organopónico Vivero Alamar, in Havana, Cuba

PHOTO: Finca Marta, Fernando Funes' farm outside of Havana, Cuba, in the province Artemisa.

A glimpse of Finca Marta, Fernando Funes’s farm outside of Havana, Cuba, in Artemisa Province

I asked Angie many questions about her trip and what she saw, because I relish every detail I can learn about Cuba, the country where both of my parents were born.

The reasons for Angie’s trip felt especially close to my own family’s heritage, because I come from a long line of farmers on both sides. My mother’s family had a farm in the province of Matanzas. My father’s side did as well, in the more rural province of Las Villas. Both properties have since been seized by the Cuban government, as was all private property after the revolution in 1959. Neither one of my parents has been back to visit since they moved to the United States as children (my father was just a few years old and my mother was 11) so the stories they can share are scarce. The only tangible evidence of childhoods spent in the Cuban countryside are a handful of faded photographs: my mom riding a horse when she was in kindergarten; my father in diapers and running around with farm dogs. And as each year passes, the memories of Cuba are farther and farther in past.

PHOTO: My mother and grandparents and uncle on the family farm in Matanzas province with my grandfather's most memorable purchase: his Jeep.

My mother and grandparents and uncle on the family farm in Matanzas province with my grandfather’s most memorable purchase: his Jeep

Two of my grandparents, both now deceased, had many stories to share with me as well. My maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother were fixtures in my life and both often shared stories of their lives before the United States and growing plants and food in the fertile Cuban soil. It’s a talent that apparently never leaves a person, even if they change their country of residence, because both had beautiful backyard gardens at their homes in Miami.

My grandmother had a knack for flowers. The bougainvillea in her yard was always resplendent. Hydrangeas were the centerpieces at my sister’s wedding shower; months later the plant repotted and cared for by my grandmother was the only one that thrived. My grandfather leaned more toward the edible. His yard was full of fruit trees. Whenever he’d visit, he usually brought something growing in the yard: fruta bomba (more commonly known as papaya), mamoncillos, or limon criollo (a type of small green lime).

PHOTO: My grandfather and uncle, circa 1940s in Bolondron, Cuba.

My grandfather and uncle, circa 1940s in Bolondron, Cuba

Growing up, I always associated the cultivation of plants, whether flowers or fruit, as just a part of their personalities. Gardening was a hobby they enjoyed. While that was true, I realized later that it was also an activity that kept them connected to Cuba. As long as they could grow the plants they remembered from back home, that life was not completely gone.

My grandparents, as well as parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and pretty much most people I’m related to, have all tapped into their resiliency to make it as immigrants in the United States and adapt to their changed lives. The same personality trait that allows a Cuban farmer to grow vegetables without any tools has gotten my family through decades of living outside of Cuba. No matter the situation, members of the Cuban diaspora “inventan del aire.” It’s how people survive in Cuba, but it’s also how Cubans outside of the country get through exile.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org