Archives For Karen Z.

I’m finally doing it: after years of thinking, talking, plotting, and chickening out, I’m finally tearing out everything in my front yard and putting in a practical, useful, well-designed (and hopefully beautiful) vegetable garden this year.

Of course I’ve got a wish list for the hardscape: a few practical, useful, well-designed (and hopefully beautiful) items that I hope to find at this year’s Antiques & Garden Fair (April 11-13). 

    1. Tuteurs for the peas and beans and roses to grow on.
    2. A bench or seat to perch on.
    3. A garden gate or arbor or very-cool-I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it item to mark the entrance.

I’m open to ideas and negotiable on style, materials, shape, color—and, of course, price. All of which made me wonder: just how do you negotiate your way through this enormous (half an acre of halls/galleries/tents), diverse (115-plus vendors from 24 states—and the UK), and visually stunning event to find the right item?

We called an expert to find out.

PHOTO: Beau Kimball.

Beau Kimball of Kimball & Bean

Antiques expert Beau Kimball has been a friend to the Antiques & Garden Fair for years—in fact, he and wife Nancy will host the first booth you’ll come to under the Krasberg Rose Garden tent. As proprietor of Kimball & Bean Architectural & Garden Antiques in Woodstock, Illinois, Kimball has 27 years of experience with antiques, and lots of insight about negotiating the Fair.

Have fun—you’re at an amazing show!

When so many top-notch antiques dealers gather under the tents, it’s more than an antiques show—it’s the equivalent of “Fashion Week” for the garden. “The quality level of this show is what makes it different,” Kimball says. “Dealers put a lot of time and energy into curating for it, and they bring the best of their best to this show.” Yes, you can pull out your smartphone and take photos at the beautifully decorated booths; Kimball suggests you ask first (it’s common courtesy) and, just as you’d mention the designer’s name at a fashion show, always give credit to the dealer when you’re tweeting or blogging about their merchandise.

PHOTO: Antiques dealer's booth.

Kimball and Bean’s booth from last year’s Antiques & Garden Fair

Ask questions.

Fun conversations make for a fun show! Antiques dealers are passionate about their collections and love to talk about their merchandise. Dealers are happy to answer questions. “These are the experts among experts—if you want to know an item’s history or how it’s made, they’ll not only give you the real story, but also explain why it’s important,” Kimball said. Got an item you’re looking to sell? Approach a dealer during a lull or less crowded moment, when they can give you and your antique their undivided attention.  

Be prepared to…

Kimball recommends a few pre-show strategies for potential buyers:

  • Bring measurements with you. If you’re in the market for a garden bench with specific size requirements but don’t have them that day, you might miss out on a unique antique to another shopper who came prepared.
  • Take notes as you go. It’s a big show, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed! Jot down booth locations on a business card, show map, or smartphone so you can return for a second look later.
  • Bring checks and/or cash, too. Credit cards are accepted, but the offer of cash or check is appealing to a dealer, who incurs extra fees with credit card use. For the best possible deal, mention that you’re happy to pay with cash or check.
  • Arrange delivery service for larger purchases. The Antiques & Garden Fair offers delivery and shipping services onsite, by companies who know how to handle heavy, large, or fragile antiques. Take advantage of this service—many dealers are from out of town, and not in a position to help you arrange delivery.

The final negotiations

A few courtesies that go a long way toward building rapport and, ultimately, a good price:

  • Unlike at auctions or flea markets, dealers have already done the work for you in terms of condition. Most items are ready to take home and put on display; know that pricing reflects the time, care, and transport costs put into each item.
  • Negotiation is a common practice at antiques shows. Kimball says that antiques are at reasonable price levels these days, with 5 percent to 10 percent flexibility in some prices. Offering much lower than that is considered a bit of an affront to the dealer’s professionalism.
  • There’s a crucial distinction between asking, “What’s your best price?” and “Would you take X dollars?” The former is a courteous way to question a dealer on price; the latter implies that you’re ready to buy the item at that moment if the dealer agrees (like holding up a paddle at an auction). It’s easier to negotiate when both parties are speaking the same “language.”

What’s hot in 2014?

We had to ask! Kimball says to look for indoor/outdoor pieces that are stylish enough to spend the summer outside, then move straight into your home at the end of the season.

Hmm…that garden bench I’m looking for could work in the front hall next winter…practical, useful, well-designed, and hopefully beautiful.

PHOTO: Whitewashed antique wrought iron bench.

Could this be the kind of bench I’m looking for?

A friend/colleague recently gifted me with a new Chicago Botanic Garden office mug—so appropriate since she knows I don’t go anywhere without a cup of tea. What she didn’t know was that I’d soon be digging into the Rare Book Collection at the Lenhardt Library because of it.

PHOTO: Delicate orchids decorate a white china tea mug.

My new office mug…tells quite a story.

View all the items in the Orchid Show collection.

On the cup is a lovely graphic design of orchids—a topic that’s very top of mind here because of the Orchid Show, now in its final week at the Garden (click here for tickets). Fueled by a new-found love of the family Orchidaceae (a classic case of orchid fever), I took a closer look at the design. Was that a slipper orchid? Which one? What was the story behind it?

Turns out the design stemmed from one of the Garden’s great treasures: our Rare Book Collection. At the Lenhardt Library, director Leora Siegel related the history and details.

The drawings are by Henry Lambert, from a portfolio of 20 plates published as Les Orchidées et les Plantes de Serre; Études. The plates are chromotypogravures (a nineteenth-century French style of photolithography); Paris bookseller Armand Guérinet compiled and issued them in portfolio form, rather than as a book, between 1900 and 1910.

PHOTO: Illustrated orchids from Les Orchidees par Henry Lambert.

The portfolio’s title translates as Orchids and Plants of the Greenhouse; Studies.

The portfolio entered the Garden’s collection in 2002 as part of the purchase of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s rare books. In need of TLC—“bumpy, bruised, and dirty,” according to Siegel—the loose prints were sent for conservation to the prestigious Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in 2011. (Read more about the process in this recent blog.)

Looking lively upon their return in 2012, the plates then became contenders for an interesting project: the development of the Garden’s own line of merchandise to complement the Orchid Show. Of ten finalists, Plate 4 from the portfolio won out, as seen here in the Illinois Digital Archives (page 8).

Two orchids share the plate. The daintier, spotted, clustered flower is identified as Saccolabium giganteum (later re-classified Rhynchostylis gigantea), an orchid that’s native to Myanmar (formerly Burma). In 1893, its habitat was described as “where the hot winds blow and where the thermometer in the dry season is about 45 degrees Celsius (112 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade….” (Veitch, A Manual of Orchidaceous Plants…).  The American Orchid Society has a nice write-up about this species and its varieties here.

The slipper orchid Cypripedium schrodere is listed in the 1906 Hortus Veitchii as Cypripedium (Selenipedium) x Schröderae, with the note, “It is one of the finest of the Selenipedia hybrids, and was named as a compliment to the late Baroness Schröder of the Dell, Egham.” Nomenclature for lady slipper orchids gets complicated; the American Orchid Society goes deep into the history here.

PHOTO: Montage of orchid-related products in the Garden Shop.

A Mother’s Day (May 11) gift idea: an exclusive Orchid Show item, plus the promise of a trip to the Orchid Show in 2015!

Next, a graphic design specialist worked with the orchid illustrations, using a bit of creative license to fit the prints to the shape of the products: the cut of a coaster, the drape of a tote, the curve of a coffee cup. From that work came the Garden’s exclusive collection—it’s only available online and at the Garden Shop!—of items that are practical, meant for everyday use, yet connected to a deeper story.

Good design transcends time. It’s quiet, yet thought-provoking. Now that I know the story behind the orchid design, I look at my friend’s gift differently.

Come to think of it, it’s time for a nice cup of tea…

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Five Seed-Starting Secrets

Sow fun: Seed Swap is this Sunday!

Karen Z. —  February 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

Anticipation is running high for the third annual Seed Swap tomorrow, from 3 to 5 p.m.

PHOTO: A dried sunflower head.

Panache sunflower (Helianthus annuus ‘Panache’) shown in its native seed packet.

It’s always a fun day with a community vibe, as Chicago area gardeners gather to swap seeds, stories, and green-thumb tips. A special bonus this year: keynote speaker Ken Greene (founder of the terrific Hudson Valley Seed Library) will be available during the swap to answer questions and offer “sage” seed-starting advice.

With that in mind, here are five simple secrets for seed-starting success:

1. Quality seed starter. Give your seeds a healthy jump start by planting them in a really good seed starting mix. Don’t skimp on quality here—plants grown in inferior mix will never perform like those grown in a high-quality medium. Some adjectives that should describe the product you buy: sterile, fine-grained, free-draining, fluffy, uniform. One brand we’ve had success with: Black Gold.

2. The back of the pack. It’s a simple step that can make a big difference: read the back of the seed packet before you sow. It’s full of important and helpful information—often spelled out in great detail—such as planting depth, days to germination, and watering requirements. Save the seed packs after you sow, too, since there’s often valuable transplant and harvest info there as well.

3. D.I.Y. pots. You don’t need a fancy setup to start seeds. D.I.Y.ers can make their own paper pots; recyclers can put egg cartons to good second use; and the organically minded can replace plastic with peat or compost pots that go straight into the ground and disintegrate as the season progresses. Reusing last year’s plastic pots? Wash them out thoroughly and rinse in a 10 percent bleach solution to knock out fungus and residues before filling with starting mix.

4. The right light. A strong light source is crucial for stimulating plant growth. Without it, plants turn leggy, making them weak and more susceptible to breakage. Consider full southern window exposure as a mere starting point—even better is a grow light that can be raised with the plant’s height, while offering the 12 full hours of strong, even light that seedlings need.

PHOTO: Bean sprouts.

Beans sprouted in dampened paper towel.

5. Self-watering system. Started seeds in years past, only to have them dry out and wither before you know it? You may be a candidate for a simple capillary mat/self-watering system. After filling pots with seed starting mix, set them on the specially-designed mat/tray—fill the tray with water, which the mat draws up to the pots, keeping them properly moist without being waterlogged. The system is a boon to those who can’t water every day; an optional lid helps keep humidity high. They’re available at many nurseries and online.

At Seed Swap, Garden experts and master gardeners from our Plant Information Service desk will be available to chat, but we’ve found that the best way to get an answer is also the simplest and most satisfying: turn and ask the gardener next to you.  

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow!


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Love Lives of Orchids

Four fab stories with lyrics from the Fab Four

Karen Z. —  February 13, 2014 — Leave a comment

This year, Valentine’s Day has special meaning for us at the Chicago Botanic Garden—it’s opening night for our first-ever Orchid Show (purchase tickets here). With that in mind, we’ve gathered a few stories about how orchids will do just about anything to attract a pollinator…along with a few soundtrack suggestions…

PHOTO: A spray of blooming orchids, which resemble tropical spiders.

A spray of Brassia rex “spider” blooms await pollinating parasitic wasps.

She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
With a love like that, you know you should be glad, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Granted, a little makeup can work wonders on date night. But the spider orchid, Brassia, takes things even further in order to attract an insect: it makes itself up to look like a pollinator’s favorite food.

The orchid’s flower has developed the color and shape of a large tropical spider. But it’s not trying to attract the spider—no, that would be too obvious. Rather, scientists think that the orchid attracts a wasp that hunts the spider as potential food for its own larvae. Thus the wasp is fooled into landing on the flower—and picking up its pollen—while hunting. So cheeky!

PHOTO: Closeup of a hammer orchid.

A hammer orchid (Drakaea glyptodon) awaits its next suitor. Photo by Mark Brundrett.

I’ve Just Seen a Face
Falling, yes I am falling, and she keeps calling me back again.

When the hammer orchid (Drakaea species) set its sights on the Thynnid wasp as a pollinator, it didn’t mess around: it developed a flower that looked like a lady wasp and a scent like the female pheromone used to attract a male.

In nature, the lady wasp climbs to the top of a plant and awaits a male—who recognizes the pheromone, flies over, plucks her off the plant, and mates. The hammer orchid’s flower mimics the look of the waiting female, but when the male flies up and lands, his weight throws him into the back part of the flower that carries the pollen—with the force of a hammer strike. He realizes he can’t carry her off, and heads off for another orchid, where the next hammer throw deposits the pollen he’s already carrying.

PHOTO: Closeup of Coryanthes speciosa, showing bucket and drip of nectar.

Coryanthes speciosa by Dalton Holland Baptista [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

A Taste of Honey
I will return, yes I will return. I’ll come back for the honey and you.

The right perfume can change a man. The bucket orchid, Coryanthes speciosa, has singled out the male euglossine bee for a pollinator. The flower produces a highly scented perfume that attracts swarms of male bees—which know that it’s a female’s favorite and rub it all over themselves. But step carefully, gentlemen: it’s a slippery slope into the flower’s bucket, where you’ll have to swim to the exit—picking up the flower’s pollen on your way out. On the plus side: you’ll smell great to that female bee when you finally find her!

(Check out more on orchids fooling mating bees with this famous video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h8I3cqpgnA.)

PHOTO: A spray of fuchsia-colored, ruffled-petal blooms.

Oncidium Sharry Baby ‘Sweet Fragrance’ has dancing skirts and chocolate fragrance.

I’m Happy Just to Dance with You
Before this dance is through I think I’ll love you too. I’m so happy when you dance with me.

The most fashion-conscious orchids (Oncidium) are called “Dancing Ladies,” because of their wonderfully ruffly petals that look like the spread skirts of dancers. The most prominent petal on the orchid’s flower—called a lip, or labellum—can be ruffled, spotted, hairy, pouched, or fringed. All are features meant to attract a pollinator into using it for a miniature landing platform (the lip is much sturdier than this bloom’s delicate design lets on), drawing it in close to the center column that holds pollen.

Oncidium Sharry Baby ‘Sweet Fragrance’ is the supermodel of dancing ladies—and did we mention that it just happens to smell like chocolate? Most fragrant in the late afternoon to early evening, this is truly an orchid that knows the way to a woman’s heart.

PHOTO: The incredibly long nectar spur of Angreacum sesquipedale.

Angraecum sesquipedale ‘Flambouyant’ x var. bosseri ‘Lisa’—pollinated by the light of the moon.

Bonus Track! Mr. Moonlight
And the night you don’t come my way, Oh I pray and pray more each day, ’cause we love you, Mr. Moonlight.

At the Orchid Show, which opens this weekend, you’ll get introduced to Darwin’s orchid, or Angraecum sesquipedale, an orchid with an elegantly long nectar spur. When Charles Darwin first described the orchid in 1862, he postulated that it must have a pollinator with a long tongue, though none was known at the time. The mystery persisted for 40 years until a hawkmoth with a fantastically long 12- to 18-inch proboscis—a straw-like tongue—was finally identified. The moth flits from flower to flower at night, reaching deep into the brilliant white flower’s spur in a split second—all by the light of the moon.

With thanks and apologies to the Beatles, who performed for the first time in America on TV’s the Ed Sullivan Show 50 years ago this week. Since then, generations have grown up knowing the words to their love songs.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A circle, a ring, a wreath

Karen Z. —  December 22, 2013 — 2 Comments

“A ring speaks of strength and friendship and is one of the great symbols of mankind.”

Those are the words of Jens Jensen, the great landscape designer who celebrated the native and the natural and often included circular council rings in his garden plans.  

At the holidays, we hang wreaths on our doors as symbols of love, of welcome, of community. Twenty-nine wreaths, all handmade by our horticulturists and staff, are currently drawing visitors to the galleries at the Wonderland Express exhibition, and the detail and craftsmanship in them is amazing. (The answer to the frequently asked question “Can you buy them?” is yes—pick them up after January 5, the final day of Wonderland Express. Proceeds from the sale of the wreaths go to fund the Garden’s programs.)

Ring in the new year with our staff’s creative interpretations of the circle, the ring, the wreath.

PHOTO: Six types of colorful indian corn—husks facing outward as a fringe—create this wreath.

This is a BIG wreath—great for an outdoor wall.

Flint. Dent. Sweet. Flour. Pod. Pop. Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg celebrates these six major types of corn—and beautiful heirloom varieties with names like ‘Blue Jade’, ‘Glass Gem’, and ‘Golden Bantam’—in a seasonless sunburst.

PHOTO: An owl made from natural materials perches in this cotton boll wreath.

The French saying on this wreath translates to, “the moon is my light and my joy.”

Monica Vachlon (administrative assistant of horticulture) and Jacob Burns (herbaceous perennial plant curator) built a wintry vignette around a charming mascot dubbed “Mr. Who.”

Children’s educator Kathy Johnson used just one ingredient for her made-by-hand wreath: natural raffia. It’s hand-knotted into evergreen sprays and red berries, and crocheted into a life-like cardinal couple, nesting at the bottom.

PHOTO: A hand-crocheted raffia cardinal.

Even the branches of this wreath are made of raffia.

A nursery grower in our production greenhouse by day, Lorin Fox is an artist and woodcarver off-hours. A close look at his wreath reveals the mushrooms he hand-carved from tagua nuts and cedar.

PHOTO: Incredibly realistic hand-carved wooden mushrooms on a real piece of wood.

Everlasting mushrooms were hand-carved from wood and nuts.

Star-shaped flowers are made from milkweed pods, with a crabapple at the center.

Star-shaped flowers are made from milkweed pods, with a crabapple at the center.

The supersized fruit of ‘Ralph Shay’ crabapple dot the centers of milkweed pod “flowers” on this dramatic, dried Baptisia wreath by ecologist Dave Sollenberger. He foraged all of the materials from gardens here and at home.

PHOTO: Wreath of grapevine, cotton bolls, and hydrangea.

Cotton turned up as a natural and everlasting element in several wreaths.

Wonderland Express = teamwork. So thoughtfully did the team from the Development Department (spearheaded by Lisa Bakker) brainstorm, gather, and plan for their wreath that it took them just two lunch breaks to assemble and decorate it.

All summer long, assistant horticulturist Leah Pilon kept a sharp eye out for materials that dried well: the Carex seed pods, okra, millet, dried flowerheads (Green Ball dianthus), and Engelmann creeper vine (for the bow) were all collected in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

PHOTO: Wreath created from millet, with evergreens, carex seedpods, a lotus pod and a creeper vine bow.

Even okra works on this wreath made from materials in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

Horticulturist Ayse Pogue pays tribute to her Mediterranean roots with a fragrant wreath made of juniper and olive branches. Tucked in in delicate sprays, tiny spray-painted alder cones stand in for “olives.”

PHOTO: Wreath made of real olive leaves and faux olives.

Real olive leaves, with faux olive fruit (they’re alder cones, painted black).

PHOTO: Large, heart-shaped wreath made from grape vines.

Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, showers, weddings: proof that one wreath can do it all.

In simplicity is elegance. Made from grapevines growing in McDonald Woods, this heartfelt wreath by senior horticulturist Heather Sherwood can hang indoors or out. Leave it up straight through February 14.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org