Archives For Karen Z.

Gardening Gift Book Recommendations, Part 2

More gift titles from our Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist

Karen Z. —  December 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

You can give a gardening book to almost everyone on your list. They will especially love books about food and how to grow it! Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg adds to her recent Top 10 Gardening Gift Books blog with a follow-up list—plus more titles to find at our Garden Shop (on-site and online). 

Order through our Amazon Smile link and 0.5 percent of the profits go to support the Chicago Botanic Garden! Or bookmark

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

Audels Gardeners & Growers Guide: Good Vegetables and Market Gardening. Its opening line: “The book of nature is open, but its wonderful beauties and mysteries are revealed only to the careful student.”

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voight and J.S. Vandermark

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C. E. Voight and J. S. Vandermark. Our horticulturist-in-chief, Kris Jarantoski, included this classic on his recommendation list, too.

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers. A go-to history book about the world’s most distinctive gardens and the communities of people who built them.

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts by Frances Densmore

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts by Frances Densmore. Such a fascinating book, all about food history and resourcefulness.

How to Grow Vegetables by the Organic Method

How to Grow Vegetables by the Organic Method edited by J.I. Rodale

How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method edited by J. I. Rodale. The grandmother of organic gardening books, by the grandfather of organic gardening. A classic.

Edible Landscaping

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy. Beautiful yards from beautiful vegetables.

Seed to Seed

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. For the seed saver in your life.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. For gardeners of all ages.

Secret Garden, An Inky Treasure Hunt

Secret Garden, An Inky Treasure Hunt by Johanna Basford

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. A botanical coloring book to unleash your creativity—add Caran d’Ache colored pencils to this gift.

A RARE FIND: Planting: Putting Down Roots by Penelope Hobhouse. Sleuth the book resellers to find this hand-sized book, part of a series by one of England’s great gardeners. 

special bonus!

Now at our Garden Shop: More Great Gift Books

Lisa hand-picked these favorite fruit-and-vegetable books from the bookshelves at our Garden Shop. Members, make us your book-buying resource—you always save 10 percent!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Top 10 Gardening Gift Books…

...from our Fruit & Vegetable Garden Horticulturist

Karen Z. —  December 9, 2015 — 2 Comments

Gardeners love to read about gardening. Therefore, gardeners love books as holiday gifts. But which books?

When we learned that horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg had built up a working botanical library for herself at home, we asked her for suggestions. She took the question to heart. Titles flew. In fact, it was hard to winnow the list down! Here, then, are Lisa’s top ten favorite gardening books for gift-giving.

PHOTO: Book cover of Les tomatoes du prince Jardinier

Les tomates du Prince Jardinier by Louis Albert de Broglie

Les tomates du Prince Jardinier by Louis Albert de Broglie

PHOTO: Horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg with fold-out from Le Potager du Roi.

Fold-outs in Les tomates du Prince Jardinier speak to tomato diversity like nothing else in print.

Know gardeners who grow tomatoes? Gift them this book, then bask in their reactions. Louis Albert de Broglie, the Gardener Prince, grows 650 tomato varieties at Le Château de la Bourdaisiére in Touraine, where he’s established the French National Tomato Conservatory.

Under the nom de plume “Le Prince Jardinier” (he’s a member of one of France’s noble families), de Broglie, whom worldly Americans may know as the current owner of the Parisian shop Deyrolle, has authored one of the most spectacular books you’ll ever open—and it’s a revelatory look at tomatoes. Includes recipes, fold-outs, and a book-within-a-book of garnishes. In French, available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Vegetable Literacy.

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

“When it debuted in 2013, Vegetable Literacy became my new favorite cookbook,” Lisa says. “It’s so aesthetically pleasing, so beautiful to look at, and it elevates horticulture to its proper place.” Madison organizes her book by the families of plants, showing gardeners and cooks how and why vegetables from the same botanical family can be substituted in recipes. “It’s a soothing, orderly, nurturing book,” Lisa says, “and it’s botanically correct. It’s a great gift for deepening the gardener/cook connection.” Check it out at our Lenhardt Library. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Thoughtful Gardening.

Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox

Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox

Well known to British gardeners for four decades as the gardening columnist for the UK’s Financial Times, Robin Lane Fox deserves a place on more American gardeners’ bookshelves. Thoughtful Gardening collects a series of his columns, organized by seasons, into an easy-to-read book that’s charming and witty, yet sensible. “I read it in snippets, adding sticky notes, underlining, revisiting it every year,” Lisa notes. “It brings a fresh perspective through both historical information and hands-on experience.” Available to read at our Lenhardt Library.

PHOTO: Book cover of Art and Appetite.

Art and Appetite : American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine by Judith A. Barter and Annelise K. Madsen

Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine (Art Institute of Chicago) by Judith A. Barter and Annelise K. Madsen

The companion book to the Art Institute’s 2013 exhibition of the same name, Art and Appetite illustrates nothing less than the history of American food through its art. From a still life of cherries in a hat to Andy Warhol’s soup cans, the book skillfully and entertainingly marries food, food history, cooking, and art. So filled with facts and historical connections—chapter one alone tackles “Thanksgiving: The Great American Food Fest”—that it’s impossible to put down. Vintage recipes included. Available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Le Potager du Roi.

Le Potager du Roi by Pierre David, Gilles Mermet, and Martine Willemin

Le Potager du Roi by Pierre David, Gilles Mermet, and Martine Willemin

Lisa’s 2014 gardening travels in France included a trip to “the kitchen garden of the king” at Château de Versailles. King Louis XIV’s 25-acre vegetable garden employs the same methods of growing, preserving, and storing today as it did in the late seventeenth century.

“America’s early gardening history was tied to France,” Lisa explains, “and it’s thrilling to see the gardening methods still in practice, the thousands of varieties of old pears and apples and fruit, and the detailing of the espaliers—it all ties directly into my work today.” The layout, the photography, the history—what a great gift! Available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Vascular Plant Families.

Vascular Plant Families by James Payne Smith, Jr.

Vascular Plant Families by James Payne Smith, Jr.

A gift for the garden geek and plant nerd, Smith’s book focuses on plant families and taxonomy, including flower structures, pollination, and the fine details of botany. “I consult this book all the time,” Lisa reveals, “and it has the most wonderful illustrations!” Members, check it out at our Lenhardt Library. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Kitchen of Light.

Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad

Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad

The host of TV’s New Scandinavian Cooking goes directly to the source for his food, foraging for ingredients, eating flowers, and using just a few ingredients to make fresh, clean, simple outdoor meals. “Cookbooks are wonderful gifts when you make the right connection with the right cook,” Lisa muses. “Scandinavian or not, adventurous cooks will use it constantly.” Available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers.

Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers by Donald N. Maynard and George J. Hochmuth

Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers by Donald N. Maynard and George J. Hochmuth

According to Lisa, “It’s the vegetable grower’s bible, and a truly useful gift.” Now in its fifth edition, Knott’s Handbook is the resource for row spacing, seed planting, soil information, weed management, post-harvest handling…all in one very important resource. If you don’t buy yourself a copy, read it at our Lenhardt Library. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Around the World in 80 Plants.

Around the World in 80 Plants by Stephen Barstow

Around the World in 80 Plants by Stephen Barstow

When author Stephen Barstow and his wife—both vegetarians—moved to Norway, vegetable growing went from hobby to necessity. Tour the world’s food plants with the man who holds the world’s record for most edible ingredients in a single salad (537). “It’s the book I’m reading now,” says Lisa, “and it’s dedicated to Château de Valmer, where we send our Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden interns to work each year.” Our Lenhardt Library has it on the shelves, too. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Nothing Ever Happens on My Block.

Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin

Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin

“This is the book that started it all—the catalyst for my library,” Lisa says. A book from her childhood that seemingly has nothing to do with gardening, Nothing Ever Happens on My Block is about awareness—or, rather, Chester Filbert’s lack of awareness, as he claims boredom while the block around his house seethes with interesting spies, pirates, monsters, and fireworks. It’s a fun gift for all ages—and especially those who know that awareness is one of the great secrets to great gardening. Available online.

Order any of these books through our Amazon Smile link and 0.5 percent of the profits go to support the Chicago Botanic Garden! Or bookmark

Visit the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden for more inspiration.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

What’s the oldest thing in your refrigerator? Chances are that it’s the almost-but-not-quite-empty jar of mustard.

Conditioned by decades of backyard barbecues, brightly colored squeeze bottles, and grab-’em-by-the-handful packets, Americans are at last tuning in to the taste of homemade condiments.

The time has come for homemade mustard—and you won’t believe how easy and tasty it is.

Start with the Basics

As always, we turned to program horticulturist Nancy Clifton to learn the how-to’s. Within five minutes of starting her demo for us, she had the first batch of mustard whipped up:

PHOTO: The ingredients for a basic, homemade mustard.

The basic mustard-making ingredients

Nancy Clifton’s Basic Mustard Recipe

½ cup dry mustard powder* 
¼ cup cool water (see tips on temperature below)
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 to 3 teaspoons honey

Whisk ingredients together. Pour into clean Mason or Ball jars and set aside on a pantry shelf for two weeks, to allow the spice’s heat to mellow to the degree desired. Sample out of one jar periodically to test the heat level as you wait. It takes about two months for mustard to reach “mild.”

(*Local to the Chicago area? Find mustard powder available in bulk at Penzeys or The Spice House, or purchase online.)

Mustard-making Tips

  • Mustard powder makes a much stronger spread than mustard seeds. Best bet? A combination of both.
  • Hot water mellows mustard’s heat—use hot instead of cool in any recipe if you prefer less bite.
  • Soak whole grain seed in vinegar and water for 48 hours to soften it before using it in a recipe. Keep the seeds submerged, not floating.
  • Freshly made mustards should mellow for 2-4 weeks at room temperature on a pantry shelf. Refrigerate after the desired pungency is reached. Homemade mustards last 6 to 12 months in the refrigerator.
PHOTO: Mustard powders and seeds.

Clockwise from top left: hot mustard seed, yellow mustard powder, a finished basic yellow mustard, brown crushed mustard seed, and medium-hot mustard seed.

Next, Get Creative

After making that first quick batch of basic mustard, Nancy passed around ten jars of flavored mustards for us to sample. Revelations all!

By tinkering with the basic ingredients—using cider or champagne or balsamic vinegars, adding fresh or dried herbs, experimenting with different whole mustard seeds, adapting recipes from cookbooks and the web—Nancy had us all exclaiming over the freshness, complexity, and surprise of mustards in these flavors:

  • Basic Mustard with Summer Savory (the 2015 Herb of the Year)
  • Herbed Tomato Mustard
  • Dilled Mustard
  • 5-Spice Mustard
  • Balsamic Vinegar Mustard
  • German Whole Grain
  • Dijon
  • Grainy Mustard
  • Herb & Shallot Mustard
  • Jalapeño & Cumin Mustard

Mustards make a sandwich (and a hot dog, as any self-respecting Chicagoan knows), and homemade mustards will forever change your approach to sandwiches. Try mixing hot mustards with mayo for a deliciously different spread. You’ll also rethink deviled eggs…potato salad…pork tenderloin…veggie sauces…and salad vinaigrettes.

A Hot Gift Item

PHOTO: Uncapped mustard varieties showing different flavors, colors, and textures.

Homemade mustard in a single jar or assortment makes a great gift that’s sure to be enjoyed!

Homemade mustards make awesome gifts. Need a football season party gift? Check. Hostess gift? Check. At the holidays, gift neighbors, co-workers, and foodies with a package of three different mustards in quarter-pint jars—delicious and memorable!

Experiment, and build your gift stock—remember that it takes a couple of weeks for mustard to mellow—and the next time you’re cleaning out the refrigerator, recycle that old jar of yellow stuff and replace it with a jar of your own fresh, tasty, homemade mustard. 

The Plant Connection 

PHOTO: Brassica nigra in seed and in flower. The seeds are contained in conical pods called silique.

Brassica nigra in seed and in flower. The seeds are contained in conical pods called silique.

Yes, mustard seed comes from a plant—three different plants, in fact. All are in the Brassica family.

Brassica nigra = black mustard seed
Brassica juncea = brown mustard seed
Sinapis alba = white mustard seed

And yes, you can grow your own mustard plants for seed—just be sure to harvest it all, as mustard can quickly self-sow and take over a garden bed.

Looking for more tasty, homemade gift ideas? Make some Vanilla Spice Apple Butter with scientist Pati Vitt, or see what other gifts gardeners give!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Think you know Chicago? Look closer.

Chicago landmarks reunited for the holidays

Karen Z. —  November 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

The marvelous miniatures of Wonderland Express reunite with their iconic Chicago landmarks for the holidays! Below are six of the most popular of our 80+ replicas alongside their real-world landmarks for comparison.

Created by Applied Imagination for our holiday and model train exhibition and photographed by staff photographer Robin Carlson, each model building is created in detail using only botanical materials. Come see these models and more for yourself: Wonderland Express is open daily November 27, 2015–January 3, 2016.

Click here to buy advance tickets.

PHOTO: Willis Tower & botanical scale model.

Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)

1. Willis Tower
Have you had the nerve to try “the Ledge” yet? The glass balcony on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) wouldn’t be quite so intimidating from our 9-foot-tall replica…

PHOTO: Marshall Field's building clock & botanical scale model.

Marshall Field’s building clock

2. Marshall Field’s clock
We couldn’t quite squeeze all the numbers onto the face of our 3-inch-high Marshall Field’s clock (now Macy’s). Look closely at the 7½-ton, bronze original, and you’ll see that the Roman numeral “four” is represented as IIII rather than IV.

PHOTO: Newberry Library & botanical scale model.

Newberry Library

3. Newberry Library
In 1998, more than 100 years of city soot was washed from the darkened exterior of the Newberry Library, revealing its original 1893 surface of Connecticut pink granite.

PHOTO: Chicago Theatre & botanical scale model.

Chicago Theatre

4. Chicago Theatre
Called “the Wonder Theatre of the World” in 1921, the Chicago Theatre is a landmark loaded with other landmark references: the arch over the glitzy marquee is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the lobby after the Royal Chapel at Versailles, and the grand staircase after the one in the Paris Opera House.

PHOTO: Chicago Stadium & botanical scale model.

Chicago Stadium (now United Center)

5. Chicago Stadium
Before there was the United Center, there was the Chicago Stadium, home to the Blackhawks, the Bulls, boxing, ice shows, superstar concerts (Elvis, the Rolling Stones), and political conventions galore. Opened in 1929 and demolished in 1995, the Stadium was state-of-the-art for its day, despite being described as having “the acoustics of a shower stall.”

PHOTO: Rockefeller Memorial Chapel & botanical scale model.

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

6. Rockefeller Memorial Chapel
More than 100 seedpods stand in for the more than 100 statues that decorate the exterior of the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Built almost entirely of stone, the real thing weighs a staggering 32,000 tons; our model, about 20 pounds.

Wonderland Express is a 10,000-square-foot holiday-themed exhibition that’s become a family-friendly tradition at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Model trains travel over bridges, under trestles, and past waterfalls on their way through a magical landscape with more than 80 mini-replicas of Chicago-area landmarks, all created with natural materials.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Fall is family photo time, as the holidays near and thoughts turn to cards, gifts, and updates. The Chicago Botanic Garden makes a beautiful background! 

 PHOTO: Crescent Garden.

No. 1: Crescent Garden
Works great for: groups large and small. Chrysanthemums and Japanese maples in shades of burgundy and wine.

PHOTO: English Oak Meadow.

No. 2: English Oak Meadow
Works great for: families. As our silhouette “family” shows, position the group on the path, then stand on the grassy area to take the shot. It’s a good vertical backdrop for larger groups.

PHOTO: Home Landscape Garden.

No. 3: Farwell Landscape Garden
Works great for: couples, kids. The “arm” of a copper beech creates a creative arch for framing. 

PHOTO: English Walled Garden.

No. 4: English Walled Garden
Works great for: tight-knit clusters. The perfect blue, the perfect bench, always a perfect picture.

PHOTO: Puryear Point.

No. 5: Puryear Point
Works great for: close-ups. Want the grand vista in the background? Head up to the hill between the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden and the Arch Bridge, where two Martin Puryear sculptures offer not only a nice place to relax, but also a grand vista of the Japanese islands.

PHOTO: Arch Bridge.

No. 6: Arch Bridge
Works great for: group selfies. Try this at sunset, as golden light illuminates the bridge.

PHOTO: Lakeside Terrace.

No. 7: Lakeside Terrace
Works great for: formal photos. Beautifully designed water-level terrace has seating, water, and a view of Evening Island.

PHOTO: Circle Garden.

No. 8: Circle Garden
Works great for: short-distance walkers. Just a few steps outside the Regenstein Center, the Circle Garden’s beautifully designed beds and “secret garden” benches are ideal for grandparents and little ones.

PHOTO: Outer Road.

No. 9: Outer Road
Works great for: getting away from the crowd. On the outer road, between the Bernice E. Lavin Plant Evaluation Garden and Dixon Prairie, rows of trees make a nice background with a view to the grasses beyond.

PHOTO: Evening Island.

No. 10: Evening Island
Works great for: everyone. Evening Island has broad paths, drifting grasses, big sky, a grand lawn, and a handy wall for perching at the Nautilus.

Note: With the turn of the season, backgrounds are changing every day! Use these as guidelines for your photos, and let us know your favorite backgrounds! 

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and