Archives For Karen Z.

Think about this vegetable fact: In 1903, 544 varieties of cabbage were listed by seed houses across the United States. By 1983, just 28 of those varieties were represented in our national seed bank at the National Seed Storage Laboratory (now the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation).

Hundreds of other varieties have disappeared—not only of cabbages, but also of lettuce and corn and tomatoes and too many other crops to list. And that, in a nutshell, is why it continues to be important to plant heirloom varieties.

Vintage Varieties,
Still in Vogue

PHOTO: Cover of Vaughn's seed catalog, featuring Osage musk melon.

Stunning color illustrations made vintage nursery catalogs hard to resist. A fine selection of them are now on view at Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125 in the Joutras Gallery and its sister exhibition, Keep Growing: The Chicago Horticultural Society’s 125th Anniversary, at the Lenhardt Library. Through August 16, 2015.

Heirlooms have special meaning at the Garden this year, as we celebrate the 125th anniversary of our parent organization, the Chicago Horticultural Society, which was officially established in 1890.

What was growing in Chicago vegetable gardens that year? Two big and beautiful beds at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden honor the tried-and-true midwestern varieties that were the staples of our great- and great-great-grandparents. The cabbages beloved by the immigrants who flocked to the Midwest, like ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ and ‘Mammoth Red Rock’. The beans that could be canned to sustain the family, like ‘Henderson’s Bush’. The root vegetables that could overwinter, like parsnip ‘Mammoth Sandwich Island’ and rutabaga ‘Laurentian’. And the onions and lovage and cutting celery that were the flavor enhancers of the day.

Horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg tracked down the varieties by going to the source: the seed catalogs that nurserymen, farmers, and gardeners ordered from and depended on. In the Rare Book Collection of our Lenhardt Library, she pored over an 1891 Storr’s & Harrison catalog, a Burpee’s from 1901, and numerous Vaughan’s Seed Store catalogs. (Vaughan’s started on the East Coast, then became one of the leading Chicago seed houses.) Recognizing that some varieties from the turn of the twentieth century were still available today (‘Bull Nose’ pepper, ‘Philadelphia White Box’ radish, ‘Wapsipinicon Peach’ tomato), she sought out those seeds from sources like Seed Savers Exchange, the D. Landreth Seed Company, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

As seedlings arrived at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden from the production nursery this spring, Lisa planted them in a classic bed layout inspired by the vegetable gardens at Monticello: 4-foot by 6-foot beds (easy to harvest from either side) separated by mulched paths made with wood chips that would have been straw in earlier centuries. As one crop is harvested, the next crop is planted—a nod to the constant production that was a matter of survival for our forefathers and foremothers.

PHOTO: Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage.

Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage

PHOTO: Mammoth Red Rock cabbage.

Mammoth Red Rock cabbage

PHOTO: A view of the heirloom seed beds in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

As they fill in, the beds create a strikingly beautiful mosaic of color, of texture, and history.

Heirloom fruits and vegetables are more than interesting food ingredients—they represent the voices of each generation informing the next. Think about that as you tour the beds (turn left past the breezeway), and as you plan to grow heirloom varieties in your own vegetable garden this year.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Ten Romantic Spots to Pop the Question

Summer of Love

Karen Z. —  June 11, 2015 — 2 Comments

Gardens are romantic by nature. That’s why one of our most frequently asked questions is, “What’s the most romantic spot at the Garden?”

So we scoped it out, asked around, and compiled a list of our top ten most romantic spots. Now it’s up to you to…
Pop the Question.

Daisy Chain

PHOTO: Rose Garden arbor.

The Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor is the perfect place to pause on a romantic stroll.

1. “Doesn’t it smell wonderful?”

Claim a bench under the Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor and take a deep breath. Then another. Soon you’ll be discussing the bouquet of roses—one smells of musk, another of tea, a third of myrrh—just as you do a fine wine. (Which, by the way, is available at the Garden View Café.)

PHOTO: The blue bench in the niche at the English Walled Garden.

“Something borrowed, something blue…” sets the tone in the English Walled Garden.

2. “Would you like to sit here?”

With climbing hydrangeas overhead, a pergola of white wisteria just ahead, and a romantic morning glory tile inset behind you (are those leaves or hearts?), the vividly blue bench tucked into the niche at the English Walled Garden is the prettiest seat at the Garden.

3. “Shall we cross that bridge?”

On summer evenings, the bridges to Evening Island—the Arch Bridge and the Serpentine Bridge—are lit at night. A bridge is such a splendid place for a private conversation and…reflection.

PHOTO: The Serpentine Bridge at night.

The dramatically lit Serpentine Bridge is the path to summer evening romance.

4. “Can you top this?”

The top of the Waterfall Garden has it all: rushing water, a sweet arbor, birds chirping in shady trees. It’s one of the best spots at the Garden to sit…very…close.

PHOTO: Arbor at the top of the Waterfall Garden.

The peaceful hideaway atop the Waterfall Garden is a romantic destination in any season.

5. “Pics or it didn’t happen?”

Romantic memories need a great background. At the top of the Sensory Garden is the photo-worthy frame you’re looking for.

PHOTO: The view from the top of the Sensory Garden.

Tucked away in the Sensory Garden is this shady arbor, ready for a romantic moment.

6. “Want to try a new place?”

One of the newest—and therefore least-discovered—spots in the Garden is Kleinman Family Cove. (Yes, it’s open during construction on the Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus across the road.) Take advantage of the quiet, the deck that hovers over the water, and the natural chorus of frogs…

PHOTO: The Cove at dusk.

A shoreline chorus is the perfect accompaniment to your proposal at the Cove.

7. “Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

On Monday nights, carillonneurs from around the globe transform Evening Island into an outdoor concert hall. Not coincidentally, it’s also picnic night. Got the picture? A romantic picnic, the music of bells, and a secluded spot on Evening Island, where two perfectly placed rocks make a perfect seat for a perfect couple.

PHOTO: Sitting boulders at Evening Island.

Enjoy a concert for two on Monday nights from this secret spot on Evening Island.

8. “Which path do you want to take?”

A summer walk through the Dixon Prairie is inherently romantic, with grasses and prairie flowers taller than your head, and late-day light filtering through the foliage. Take the boardwalk bridge across the water to tiny Marsh Island for a memorable sunset moment.

PHOTO: The boardwalk to Marsh Island.

Prairie plants grow tall enough to hide stolen kisses off the beaten path on Marsh Island.

9. “Do you feel like a beer?”

There’s something different about this arch: it’s made from hops—which, of course, are the key ingredients in beer. Take photos under the archway, sit for a while in the Circle Garden’s very romantic “secret” side gardens, then ask the beer question. The answer will be “Yes.”

PHOTO: Arch at Circle Garden side garden.

Pop the question in one of the side gardens of the Circle Garden for a “hoppy” answer!

PHOTO: A sunset samba on the Esplanade.

Pop the question after a sunset samba on the dance floor with the best view in town: the Esplanade.

10. “May I have this dance?”

Dancing is romantic. Outdoor dancing is super romantic. Outdoor dancing at the Garden is meta romantic. And it happens every weeknight during the summer. Salsa, swing, big band, bluegrass, and jazz rock the most beautiful “dance floor” in town.

After you pop the other question…

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden. Find out more from Connie or Kristina at events@chicagobotanic.org.

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden.
Daisy Chain

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Language of Flowers

A Great Gift of "Hearticulture" for the Lenhardt Library

Karen Z. —  May 17, 2015 — Leave a comment

Today we text hearts. But in Victorian times, flowers acted as the instant messaging and emojis of the day.

In nineteenth-century Europe (and eventually in America), communication by flower became all the rage. A language of flowers emerged. Books appeared that set the standard for flower meanings and guided the sender and the recipient in their floral dialogue. Victorians turned the trend into an art form; a properly arranged bouquet could convey quite a complex message.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Now an amazing collection of books about the subject, including many entitled The Language of Flowers, has been donated to the Lenhardt Library. The gift of James Moretz, the retired director of the American Floral Art School in Chicago, the collection includes more than 400 volumes from his extensive personal library on floral design. Moretz taught the floral arts for 45 years, traveled the world in pursuit of the history and knowledge of flowers, and authored several books on the topic. His donation gives the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library one of the Midwest’s best collections of literature on the language of flowers.

As even these few photos show, there are books filled with intricate illustrations, books specific to one flower, handpainted books, pocket-sized books, and dictionaries. The oldest volume dates to 1810. Two are covered in pink paper—seldom seen 200 years ago, but quite subject-appropriate. Many books are charmingly small—the better to fit, it was thought, in a woman’s hands.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

PHOTO: Carnation Fascination bookcover.

Carnations held several meanings: a solid color said yes, a striped flower said no, red meant admiration, while yellow meant disappointment.

The language of flowers translated well: there are books in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese…and English. Some 240 of the volumes are quite rare—those will, of course, be added to the library’s Rare Book Collection. (Fear not, you can peruse them by appointment.) The remainder will be catalogued and added to the library shelves during the course of the year. Are you a Garden member? You’ll be able to check them out.

PHOTO: The tiny books of of The Language of Flowers.

Tiny books were sized for women’s hands—and to slip into pockets.

PHOTO: Cupid's Almanac and Guide to Hearticulture bookcover.

This pocket-sized Victorian reference could come in handy when courting.

Librarians aren’t often at a loss for words, yet when I asked Lenhardt Library director Leora Siegel about the importance of the donation, she paused for a very long moment before responding. Clearly, her answer would have weight.

“It is the single most outstanding donation in my tenure as director,” she replied.

Pink rose illustrationAnd so to Mr. Moretz, one last word of thanks:


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Leave Room for Blooms

Five fresh ways to serve edible flowers

Karen Z. —  May 5, 2015 — Leave a comment

Have you eaten a flower today?

Americans are getting comfortable with the idea of edible flowers. But how—aside from sugar-candied flowers for bakers—do you use them?

We asked horticulturist Nancy Clifton, who brought five really fresh ideas to the table.

PHOTO: Today’s blue plate special: flavorful greens finished with blue flower petals.

Today’s blue plate special: flavorful greens finished with blue flower petals.

1. A modern salad: greens + color

Gone are the days of a plain side salad on a white plate: today, even a tiny saladette is vibrant with color and flavors. Start with a blue (or green) plate. Add a piquant mix of salad greens (and reds), including baby chards and chois, and leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro. Then finish with flower petals: snip blue bachelor button petals to highlight that plate, dot white sweet alyssum among the greens, and trade the traditional sprig of parsley for blooming sage and rosemary.


PHOTO: Nasturtium or chive flowers make a lovely pink vinegar. For a fruitier flavor, pour white vinegar over one cup of gently washed fresh raspberries.

Nasturtium or chive flowers make a lovely pink vinegar. For a fruitier flavor, pour white vinegar over one cup of gently washed fresh raspberries.

2. Flowers are the new dressing

You’ll need a dressing for that salad above: Nancy’s flower-based vinegar recipe couldn’t be easier:

  1. Wash one cup of nasturtium or chive flowers and let dry.
  2. Gently add flowers to a sterile quart jar. Pour in plain white or white wine vinegar to cover.
  3. Let steep for two weeks in a cool, dark spot.
  4. Strain vinegar into a fresh jar to use. Note how flowers have lost their color to the vinegar.

Such beautiful pink color! Sprinkle as is onto leafy greens, or mix with oil and season to taste.


PHOTO: Blue bachelor buttons, red cranberries, and white apples: a red/white/blue salad for the Fourth of July!

Blue bachelor buttons, red cranberries, and white apples: a red/white/blue salad for the Fourth of July!

3. Hello, Farro!

Also called wheatberry, farro makes a delicious base for a “superfood” salad chock full of fruits and nuts and topped with flowers. Nancy notes that all amounts can be adjusted to your preference.

To begin, cook one cup of farro according to directions (Nancy suggests substituting apple cider vinegar for part of the cooking liquid). While the farro is cooling (about 3 cups cooked), make the dressing:

  1. Toast ½ cup pecans in an oven or fry pan until fragrant. Set aside to cool, then chop.
  2. Sauté one small (or ½ large), chopped red or yellow onion in olive oil until translucent.
  3. Add one medium, unpeeled, chopped Granny Smith or gala apple to pan. Continue to sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in fresh thyme (leaves of 2 sprigs) and ½ cup dried cranberries.
  5. Dress with a mix of 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, seasoned to taste.
  6. Combine farro with the sautéed mix.
  7. Snip bachelor button or calendula petals and sprinkle over the top.

PHOTO: Summer weddings, showers, and graduations call for a flower-spiked punch.

Summer weddings, showers, and graduations call for a flower-spiked punch.

PHOTO: Nancy likes the look of fresh ginger ale studded with a flower that floats.

Nancy likes the look of fresh ginger ale studded with a flower that floats.

4. Flower floats

In the 1950s and ’60s, no punch bowl was presented without an ice ring. Nancy charmingly updates the idea for a homemade lemonade or champagne brunch punch, using fresh flowers. Try pansies or violets, or a mix of flowers and fruits, such as calendula petals with strawberries or bachelor buttons with blueberries.

A crazy good ice tip: to make clear ice cubes (rather than cloudy) or ice rings, use distilled water or filtered bottled water—or boil and cool the water twice before adding to ice mold or trays.

  1. Line a bundt pan or jello mold ring with gently washed and dried pansies.
  2. Gently fill with water. The pansies will float to the top.
  3. Freeze.
  4. When ready to use, dip the mold into a larger bowl holding an inch or two of hot water, which will loosen the ice ring.
  5. Invert and set ice ring into punch bowl. (Right side up or upside down? Either works.) Pour in punch or beverage of choice.

Floral ice cubes are great for summer parties, too: adjust the above directions for your ice cube trays.


PHOTO: How do they taste? “Like mushrooms,” Nancy says. Dandelions are great as a conversation-sparking finger food!

How do they taste? “Like mushrooms,” Nancy says. Dandelions are great as a conversation-sparking finger food!

5. Deep-fried dandelions

We didn’t believe it, either, but Nancy’s how-to-fry-a-dandelion demo changed our minds forever about everyone’s formerly least-favorite flower.

  1. Pick freshly-bloomed dandelions (just the blossom, no stem) from a trusted, chemical-free site.
  2. Gently wash the blossoms. While moist, lightly flour each flower (shake with ½ cup seasoned flour in a zip-lock bag).
  3. Heat ¼-inch of olive oil in a small fry pan.
  4. Gently fry flowers, turning delicately, until golden brown.
  5. Drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Fry fresh sage leaves alongside dandelions, then crumble both on salads.

Next time you’re out at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, check out the spring edible flower bed in the Small Space area, where sweet alyssum, calendula, and dianthus are set off by towers of climbing peas for pea shoots—the new foodie rage!

Use common sense before eating flowers.

Know your flowers! Grow your own chemical-free flowers; don’t use unfamiliar flowers or those from non-organic sources. Our Plant Information staff has a good write-up about the difference between edible/inedible, plus a list of flower suggestions. More questions about what’s edible and what’s not? Call our Plant Information Service at (847) 835-0972.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Hand to Hand

Making origami cranes

Karen Z. —  April 21, 2015 — Leave a comment

Long-ago legend says that cranes can live for 1,000 years…and that folding 1,000 paper cranes, one for each year, can make a wish come true. 

So it is that the crane is the symbol of longevity and good fortune.

22 Folds
From the first corner-to-corner fold to the last crook of beak and tail, it takes 22 folds to make this style of origami crane. Because pictures are worth 1,000 words, we offer this visual guide to crane-making.

Download these instructions to create an origami crane.

Click on the image above for a larger version to print and save. Wishing you longevity and good fortune!

Fast forward to the turn of the twenty-first century, when Ray Wilke, a devoted volunteer in the Elizabeth Malott Japanese Garden, decided to make origami cranes as a take-away gift for children who visited the garden’s Shoin House. Each winter, Ray and wife Ginny folded cranes…and each spring/summer Ray handed them out, one by one, to the curious children.

Over the years, Ray and Ginny made 40,000 cranes.

When Ray “retired” from volunteering, fellow-volunteer Edie Rowell decided to keep the hand-to-hand tradition alive. She taught Interpretive Programs manager Mary Plunkett how to fold. Mary found more volunteers to train other volunteers, and set out stacks of paper for them to take at will.

Now there are 10 people who fold, bringing in bags of 20, 60, or 100 origami cranes throughout the winter.

And 3,000-plus cranes are ready to hand out for the 2015 season.

PHOTO: Volunteers Susan and Edie with their stash of origami cranes.

Happiness is 1,000 paper cranes…and volunteers like Susan and Edie.

This just in from California…

Just 24 hours after our interview, Mary Plunkett called to say that a box had just arrived in the mail from volunteer Meline Pickus. She’d sent 50 cranes from California, where she was staying for the winter. In her spare time, she folded cranes…and she wanted them to arrive in Chicago before the Shoin House opened. Our volunteers are awesome.

PHOTO: Origami paper cranes.

Origami paper cranes

From Ray’s original intent comes great good fortune: a community has sprung. “It goes beyond the normal notion of volunteering,” Mary explains. “You get into a Zen state when folding…it’s very relaxing…and you’re contributing to something that’s bigger than you. It’s social, too—a group of three or four might have dinner together, then fold cranes together.”

And what do the kids think when they’re offered a crane? “They’re over the moon, they’re very gentle with them,” Mary says. “We say, ‘We’d like you to have one,’ and you’d think you were giving them gold when you explain why. It opens the door for conversations, especially with 7-, 8-, 9-year-olds.”

Cranes are offered, hand to hand, at the Shoin House whenever volunteers are present…for as long as the handmade supply lasts. (Although adults make wishes, too, cranes are for kids only.)

Volunteer season at the Shoin House begins May 13. Bring the kids—and tell them to think about their wish!


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org