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Flora Brasil

Lenhardt Library celebrates Brazil in the Garden with a “Flora Brasil” special collections exhibition

Leora Siegel —  July 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

Brazil’s native flora has amazing diversity with differing biomes, including tropical rainforest, subtropical forest, tropical savanna, mangrove forest, tropical dry forest, wetland, and savanna.

Of the approximate 400,000 known plant species in the world, 55,000 are endemic to Brazil, and most of these are from the Amazon forest.

Brazilian bromeliads in the Crescent Garden

Bromeliads abound this summer throughout the Garden. There are more than 3,000 known species of bromeliads; 650 of these are native to Brazil. Many bromeliads have leaves that are spiraled and called a rosette. At the base of the rosette, the leaves may grow in an overlapping and tight form to become a place for water to collect.

Many of the foods we eat (like acai), industrial products we use (rubber tree and mahogany), medicines—even our houseplants in the Chicago region (orchids), depend on plants from this region. The unique flora of this area continues to be threatened by deforestation and urbanization, and plant species are at risk.

Books on display through October 15, 2017, in the Lenhardt Library’s Flora Brasil exhibition depict a plant exploration map, Brazilian aroid, and Brazilian bromeliads. An untitled original artwork by Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx on loan from Longwood Gardens complements our main Joutras Galley exhibition of Marx’s work.

Roberto Burle Marx, Untitled, 1991, Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

Roberto Burle Marx, Untitled, 1991, Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

The library exhibition opens with an eighteenth-century map of South America with “the coast of Brazil being corrected” bound into the third edition in English of Voyage to South America: Describing, at Large, the Spanish Cities, Towns, Provinces on That Extensive Continent by Don Antonio de Ulloa and Don George Juan, 1772. Ulloa and Juan explored the region, observing and describing the flora, fauna, geology, minerals, indigenous population, and politics they encountered.

Map of a voyage to South America by Ulloa and Juan, 1772

18th century map of South America with “the coast of Brazil being corrected” from Voyage to South America: Describing, at Large, the Spanish Cities, Towns, Provinces on That Extensive Continent by Ulloa and Juan, 1772; Click here to view larger image

ILLUSTRATION: Philodendron cannaefolium by Heinrich Schott

Philodendron cannaefolium ‘Burle Marx’, a 24” x 30” detailed chromolithograph that is both scientifically accurate and stunning from Aroideae Maximilianae by Heinrich Schott, 1879.

A Brazilian aroid Philodendron cannaefolium (today known as Philodendron ‘Burle Marx’) is the centerpiece with a 24-inch-by-30-inch detailed chromolithograph that is both scientifically accurate and stunning. This 1879 work, Aroideae Maximilianae by Heinrich Schott, features 42 plates with delicate colors and clean lines. Schott was an Austrian botanist who traveled in Brazil from 1817 to 1821. He specialized in Araceae and throughout his career, he named 587 new-to-science species of aroids; by comparison, Linnaeus named six aroid species. 

Come also learn about Margaret Mee, who was an exceptional botanical artist, plant explorer, and environmentalist. Four reproductions of Mee’s “Brazilian Bromeliads” are on view. These are from a limited edition set published in Brazil in 1992.

Mee traveled to Brazil often, and went on fifteen botanical expeditions, mainly into the Amazon region. On these expeditions, she discovered several new plant species, painted more than 400 gouache pieces, and kept travel diaries detailing her adventures. Her passion for Brazilian flora coincided with the large-scale commercialization of the Amazon rainforest. She became an outspoken environmentalist, calling attention to the dangerous destruction of the biodiverse region. 

ILLUSTRATION: A Brazillian bromeliad by Margaret Mee

Margaret Mee’s Nidularium innocentii from Brazilian Bromeliads, reproduction, limited edition set published in Brazil, 1992.

Noted Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx cultivated plants that Mee brought back from her expeditions and used them in his landscape designs. Known for his bright and bold color choices, Marx was inspired by Mee’s paintings. Like Mee, he was concerned about the environmental impacts of the commercialization of the Brazilian Amazonian region.

Learn more about Mee, Marx, and Brazilian flora at our free Library Talks on July 16, August 22, and September 12 at 2 p.m. in the Lenhardt Library.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

DIY Living Plant Wall

Kathy J. —  May 15, 2017 — 1 Comment

This year, the Living Wall in the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden needed to be replanted. The metal cells that hold the plants to the wall were removed and taken to the Garden’s greenhouse nursery to grow new plants before placement outside for the summer.

This left us with four empty walls at the entrance to the Growing Garden. So we decided to get creative. We made an “alternative” living wall. 

PHOTO: sixteen cone-shaped pockets containing small plants are displayed on the brown walls.

The south-facing wall is now covered with burlap pocket planters containing alyssum, lettuce seedings, grass, and coriander.

Our carpenters covered foam boards with brown burlap and installed these panels on the living wall frame where the plant cells had been removed. Students from the Garden’s Nature Preschool planted seeds and transplanted seedlings into small pots. We placed the plants into colored burlap planters and pinned them to the foam walls, and voila! We have a vertical garden again.

You can do this at home. Making planting pockets is simple and fun.

  1. Plant seeds or transplant small plants and let them sprout. We used biodegradable Fertilpots, but you could also start seeds in egg cartons, newspaper pots, or plastic pots.

2. Cut the burlap into squares that are twice as long and wide as the pots.

PHOTO: The picture shows the size of the burlap square next to the pot that was used.

Our Fertilpots were 4″ tall, so I cut the fabric roughly into 8″-x-8″ squares. This does not need to be exact.

3. Fold the square in half diagonally and sew a seam along the side. You can use a heavy duty needle with a sewing machine or do this by hand with a darning needle. It might be possible to use a hot glue gun to make the seam, but I did not try this.

PHOTO: This shows what the burlap looks like after it is sewed in half.

I used a sewing machine because I made more than 100 of these. They could be sewn by hand.

4. Turn the triangle inside out to form the pocket. Slip the planted pot into the pocket and get ready to hang it on a wall.

PHOTO: This shows the pocket with a pot inside.

The seam side of the pocket is the back, and the pointed front top can either be folded down or cut off.

5. To hang on the wall, pinch the extra fabric so the burlap fits snugly around the pot. Fold down the point in front or cut it off—your choice. Push a long pin through the pot and the fabric and pin the pocket to the wall. (I had pins used by our horticulturists to propagate cuttings; you could use T-pins or other pins with large heads.) You could also lace a ribbon around the top of the pocket and cinch the fabric, then hang the planter by the ribbon.

PHOTO: The picture shows a hand holding the fabric to make the pocket fit around the pot.

Gathering the extra fabric will help hold the pot better, and it will look neater on the wall.

Students in our Nature Preschool enjoyed helping to grow the plants and pin them to the Living Wall. Each child wanted to place his or her planter next to a friend’s planter so they could grow close together.

wall KJ with girl

Just for fun, we experimented with some other kinds of planters, including plastic bottles and shoes.

PHOTO: a 2 liter plastic bottle turned sideways and filled with soil and oregano plants is pinned to the wall.

If you want to try growing a plant in a 2-liter bottle, cut a rectangular opening in the side of the bottle, poke six to eight holes on the opposite side for drainage, fill with soil, plant, and hang it up.

The preschoolers are fascinated by the soda bottle planter. They like to look in the round opening on the side. The toddler shoe makes everyone smile. We may add more surprising planters over the next few weeks, just to keep it interesting.

PHOTO: a toddler shoe with alyssum growing in it is laced with twine and hanging on the wall,

An old shoe can become a whimsical planter that sparks imagination.

If you decide to try something like this at home, be advised that the small pots need to be watered frequently (ours need watering daily) because they tend to dry out faster than larger containers. It’s a good project for young children because they will get to do a lot of watering without harming the plants.

Our “alternative living wall” is only temporary. Stop by the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden between now and June 12 to see how it’s growing. After that, the real living wall will be installed for the rest of the year.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

If you’ve been around the Regenstein Center in the past couple of months, you may have seen me around the librarian’s suite, Skyping in the library’s rare book room, training at the circulation desk or maybe having lunch in the break room. I’m Alicia Esquivel, a new addition to the library staff for 2017 who will be working at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library as a resident on a collaborative project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

My cohort and I are hosted at different institutions across the United States (including the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, Natural History Museum Los Angeles, Smithsonian Libraries, Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Chicago Botanic Garden) and we are all researching best practices for digital libraries and making recommendations for improvement to the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). BHL is a group of natural history and botanical libraries that work together to digitize books and articles about biodiversity and make them freely available to access and use. Over the past ten years, BHL has uploaded more than 50 million pages of biodiversity literature for public use.

(Left to right) 2017 BHL residents Ariadne Rehbein, Alicia Esquivel, Pamela McClanahan, Marissa Kings, and Katie Mika

(Left to right) 2017 BHL residents Ariadne Rehbein, Alicia Esquivel, Pamela McClanahan, Marissa Kings, and Katie Mika

My particular project is to define how much biodiversity literature is in the public domain and how much of it still needs to be added to BHL. This content analysis will help focus future digitization efforts by BHL and fill in gaps in the collection. By making this material available online for free, scientists and researchers from all over the world can have access to research needed to make new discoveries. This is especially helpful for scientists who may not be located near a library with the materials that they need. For more information on all of our projects and updates throughout the year, follow our blog!

Crimson bottlebrush (Calistemon citrinus)

My phone’s camera roll is quickly filling up as I find a new, beautiful plant every day on my walk in to work.

I’m excited to be hosted at the Chicago Botanic Garden this year—this is my first time working at a botanic garden and I have a lot to learn about how a living museum functions and operates. I got to meet Boyce Tankersley from Living Plant Documentation and was blown away by all of the data his department is responsible for managing and all of the work his volunteers do. We have similar missions of creating and maintaining open data that can be linked and shared with other platforms to make discoveries.

Working at the Garden has inspired me to do some small-scale gardening (apartment living) of my own. After checking out a couple of books from the library, I started a windowsill planter of mixed herbs from seeds this spring. If anything goes wrong (quite possible), I know I can ask the Plant Information Service for help!


Alicia Esquivel

Alicia Esquivel

Alicia Esquivel is a National Digital Stewardship Resident hosted at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library. Before moving to Chicago, she received a B.A. in art history from the University of Houston and a M.S. in information science from the University of Texas at Austin. Alicia is enthusiastic about transforming data into useful information to facilitate research. In her free time she enjoys reading fiction, baking bread, and watching live comedy.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

When I was in elementary school, I thought wall charts were the coolest things. Here I am, biblio-nerd-supreme, 40 years later, and I still think so! 

Botanical wall charts were introduced in the late nineteenth century and grew in popularity until the 1960s. During that time they were considered fundamental educational tools. Produced as high-quality, brilliantly colored posters, botanical charts were used not only in primary schools, but in university economic and systematic botany classes as well. The large-scale format allowed students to see the botanical posters from any seat in the classroom or lecture hall.

No longer used in formal education, nineteenth-century classroom posters have regained popularity as vintage poster art. 

One of the wall charts from Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Farbigen Wandtafeln mit Ertläuterndem.

One of the wall charts from Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Farbigen Wandtafeln mit Ertläuterndem

See Botanical Charts: 19th-Century Classroom Posters through Sunday, June 11, 2017

The botanical charts featured in the Lenhardt Library exhibition Botanical Charts: 19th-Century Classroom Posters were produced by Hermann Zippel and Karl Bollman—a botany teacher and print-shop teacher, respectively—who taught at the same high school in Gera, Germany. They combined their skills and produced these beautifully crafted charts called Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Farbigen Wandtafeln mit Ertläuterndem, translated as Foreign Cultivated Plants in Colored Wall Charts with Explanations.

Come see these beautiful illustrations of plants depicted in their full-color life cycles.


With grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, these charts have been conserved and digitized, and are freely accessible at the Biodiversity Heritage Library: www.biodiversitylibrary.org

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Pantone Color of the Year: ‘Greenery’ and Its Many Benefits

This year, Pantone chose 'greenery' as the color of the year. Read about the many benefits of green and why it is so important in every day life.

Clare Johnson —  March 2, 2017 — Leave a comment

The 2017 Pantone color of the year has us doing somersaults at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Pantone’s “greenery” has inspired us to discuss the importance of green space and nature’s role in our well-being.

Every year, Pantone selects a color of the year. This year’s color selection, “greenery”—a revitalizing shade “symbolic of new beginnings”—inspired us to discuss the benefits of spending time in nature with our Horticultural Therapy participants—a conversation worth sharing with the entire Garden community.

January's Gardening for Life Enrichment project: Eucalyptus Sensory Mobile.

January’s Gardening for Life Enrichment project: Eucalyptus Sensory Mobile.

The color “greenery” brings many images to mind: lush forests, fruits and vegetables, fields of grass, and wild jungles. Being in spaces of green, or viewing them from inside, brings about psychological and physiological changes in our bodies. It slows our breathing, reduces stress, and encourages us to take in what is around us. 

Why does “greenery” impact us the way it does? There are countless reasons why we feel calm, restored, and connected while in nature. Largely, it is because we are connected to it as human beings. The Biophilia theory, formulated by evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, teaches us that because our survival has been linked with nature (water, shelter, food), our love of it is built into our DNA. 

Being in green space allows us to rest our minds. More specifically, it allows our directed attention a chance to restore. Directed attention is what we use to concentrate on the day-to-day tasks—sending emails, conducting meetings, taking exams, etc. Our directed attention can quickly become fatigued when it is overworked. This is where nature comes to the rescue.

According to researchers Rachel and Steven Kaplan, nature provides us with elements of “soft fascination,” such as watching tall grasses in the wind or listening to a babbling brook. These elements engage our involuntary attention—attention that is reactive to stimuli and doesn’t take cognitive effort—and when our involuntary attention is engaged, our directed attention gets to take a break. Creating opportunities to take breaks in green space has been statistically proven to increase concentration and alertness, happiness, and connectivity—no matter one’s age, ability, or background. As we like to say, nature (or “greenery”) is one of the best vitamins you can take to keep up with the hustle and bustle of life. 

Watching butterflies is one of the many ways nature provides us with "soft fascination."

Watching butterflies is one of the many ways nature provides us with “soft fascination.”

Theories and studies, such as the ones listed above, have inspired a resurgence in restorative landscapes. This resurgence has led to outcomes such as the following: greater number of gardens in healthcare facilities; nature-based curriculums and education centers (e.g., the Nature Preschool at the Garden); and professional development opportunities such as the Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network in the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Healthcare Garden Design Certificate Program.

There are many elements one could incorporate when creating a therapeutic green space. When we design a garden with therapeutic intentions, we include some of the following features:

  1. A 7:3 vegetation vs. hardscape ratio (70 percent vegetation; 30 percent hardscape)
  2. Opportunities to engage with nature, such as raised beds/vertical plantings with high sensory plant material
  3. Elements of soft fascination (e.g., water features, tall grasses, bird feeders, butterfly gardens)
  4. Accessible and comfortable garden elements (e.g., smooth surfaces, ample shade, and seating areas)

Most importantly, we design spaces that create a positive distraction to the everyday experience. It is important that spaces of “greenery” evoke joy and excitement, engaging visitors in the space with or without planned activities. 

Landscape design rendering using a full range of greenery-shaded markers. (Designer: Clare Johnson)

Landscape design rendering using a full range of greenery-shaded markers. (Designer: Clare Johnson)

Visiting a green space, even viewing one from inside your home or office, brings about positive and impactful changes in our bodies and minds. It is one of the most universally accessible and free healthcare resources in our modern world. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, we cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life. We believe strongly in the power of “greenery” and its impact on our health and well-being. Through thoughtful display gardens, designs, programs, and research, we continue to educate the public and inspire future generations to become stewards of the environment. After all, a little “greenery” goes a long way.

Interested in learning more about the importance of green space for health and well-being? Read about the upcoming seminar, Gardens That Heal: A Prescription for Wellness on May 10, 2017. 


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org