Archives For Education

The Chicago Botanic Garden offers classes for every age, interest, and skill level with instruction by experts in their fields.

This September, find even more ways to learn, play, and get inspired. Our new Nature Play Garden’s plants and natural features encourage discovery, sensory interaction, and imaginative play.

But the best learning opportunities you’ll find on the Regenstein Learning Campus come from horticulturists and educators with lives deeply rooted in nature. Here are a few of their personal stories.

Explore the Nature Play Garden at the Learning Campus’s free Opening Celebration, September 10 & 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (parking fees apply). See the complete schedule for our Opening Celebration events on our website.


Kris Jarantoski

PHOTO: Kris Jarantoski, age 3.

Kris at age 3.

PHOTO: Kris Jarantoski, Executive Vice President and Director, Chicago Botanic Garden.

Kris Jarantoski, executive vice president and director, Chicago Botanic Garden

I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We lived across the street from a woods and river, and I played there all the time. With friends, we built forts and swung around on grapevines. I noticed that the hawthorn flower had a funky smell, and to this day, whenever I smell hawthorn flowers, I’m transported back to those woods.

My parents took me to visit Mitchell Park Conservatory and Boerner Botanical Gardens. Boerner Botanical Gardens especially made a huge impression on me. It had gardens on a scale that I did not have at home and a diversity of plants from around the world that could never fit into my yard. It expanded my horticultural horizons immensely and was a fantasy world to me.

I started out in college majoring in music, playing the organ. In my sophomore year I took a botany class and was fascinated. I switched my major to horticulture and loved designing and planning gardens. Once I decided to pursue a career in horticulture, I knew it had to be working in a botanic garden.

I got my dream job in 1977, when I started working at the Garden as an assistant horticulturist. Over the years I have been fortunate to work with talented staff to plan and plant 27 distinct display gardens and four natural areas.


Amy Kerr Wells

PHOTO: Amy Wells as a child in her grandmother's garden.

Amy in her grandmother’s garden

PHOTO: Amy Wells, Manager, Youth & Family Programs.

Amy Wells, manager, Youth & Family Programs

Here I am, at age 5, with my Grandma Kerr in her garden in Iowa, which we visited every summer. I loved her garden—she told me that she had a fairy living in her garden, and we would look for it as soon as we got there. Her flowers were big and tall—almost unreal to me as a youngster. Her magical touch in nature really stuck with me; her flowers were amazing, and I did not see them anywhere else.

I still carry that “garden magic” with me. I ask our camp teachers to have kids look for the magic in a seed, a tree, a pond—to take the time to just be in nature, whether that is listening to all the sounds in the Kleinman Family Cove, digging in the soil sandbox, chasing fireflies, or rolling down a hill—taking it all in—the sights, sounds, and smells.


Ann Halley

PHOTO: Ann Halley as a child.

Ann helps in the backyard garden.

PHOTO: Ann Halley, Coordinator, Early Childhood Programs.

Ann Halley, coordinator, Early Childhood Programs

My parents were born in Ireland, and, to hear them tell it, were outside every day. We lived on the west side of Chicago, and when I was 3 years old, my dad decided that we would put in a garden. I decided that he needed my help. We gardened, played under the sprinkler, jumped in puddles, and came home covered nearly head to toe in dirt just about every day.

The influence of being exposed to nature—the pretty and the messy—has very much influenced my life. Having this childhood, with parents who encouraged us to “live” outside every chance that we could, allowed me to value its importance and led me to teaching children how to learn in and through nature.


Julia McMahon

PHOTO: Julia McMahon as a baby.

Julia as a toddler in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

PHOTO: Jullia McMahon, Coordinator, Family Programs.

Julia McMahon, coordinator, Family Programs

I grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a landscaped front yard and a wooded backyard. I spent hours jumping from stone to stone in my mother’s rock garden, picking blueberries from bushes in our front yard before the birds gobbled them up, and “designing” and planting the annual bed along the walkway to our front door.

When I was 7 or 8 years old, my best friend and I were allowed to explore the woods by ourselves. One time we “discovered” a plant we called the umbrella plant. It was about 5 inches tall with horizontally held, fan-like branches covered in scale-like leaves. We excitedly brought it home and, although it didn’t last long, the impression did.

This exposure to nature and being allowed to explore outside on my own shaped many aspects of my life, including my decisions to study plant science at Cornell University and earn a master’s degree in elementary education at Loyola University Chicago. My position as family programs coordinator at the Chicago Botanic Garden combines my fondness for the natural world and my love of children and teaching. I look forward to teaching and sharing similar experiences with children at the new Regenstein Learning Campus.

Discover more about our deeply rooted scientists, educators, and horticulturists in our previous post, Deeply Rooted: Garden educators, scientists, and horticulturists are made early in life.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Each year, the Horticultural Therapy Services department plans, plants, and programs outdoor pop-up gardens all over the greater Chicago region as part of the offsite program offerings. From colorful sensory plants to delicious edibles, these therapy gardens have something for everyone. 

The Horticultural Therapy Services department’s summer programs engage participants of all ages and abilities in bi-weekly, plant-based activities in an outdoor pop-up garden. The summer season begins with the implementation of the garden in mid-May and lasts throughout the entire growing season. Pop-up gardens give participants the opportunity to plant, maintain, and enjoy the many benefits of a garden—from watering on a hot day to picking (and eating) vine-ripened tomatoes.

The programs thrive with the assistance of facility participants and staff, and this year, the participants weighed in on some of their favorite plants and activities as we enter into the second half of the summer season. 

PHOTO: A greenhouse full of the plants we use for our many activities on- and offsite.

A greenhouse full of the plants we use for our many activities on- and offsite.

Favorite 2016 Sensory Plants:

Each year, plants are selected to engage participants across the sensory spectrum. Grasses for sound, herbs for taste, and lambs ear for touch—just to name a few. The participants have been enjoying the wide range of plant material, with a few standouts in 2016:

PHOTO: Summer harvest: greens, strawberries, and pickles.

Summer harvest: greens, strawberries, and pickles

  • Cucumis sativus ‘Patio Stacker’ (Cucumber)
  • Fragaria × ananassa ‘All Star’ (Strawberry)
  • Gomphrena globosa ‘Fireworks’ (Globe flower)
  • Lagurus ovatus ‘Bunny Tails’ 
  • Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’ (Pineapple mint)
  • Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’ (Basil)
  • Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple heart’ (Purple heart)
  • Solanum lycopersicum ‘Tumbler’ (Cherry tomato)
  • Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Gay’s Delight’ (Coleus)

In early summer, the participants enjoyed sweet strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa ‘All Star’)a first for the summer offsite gardens—and learned how to appropriately trim and tame the basil (Ocium basilicum ‘Genovese’)At Shriners Hospital for Children, the patients and staff said they could “hardly keep up with all the basil.” Sounds like it’s time for garden pesto!

Favorite 2016 activities:

Planting: Participants learn how to remove plants from the cell packs, loosen the roots, and appropriately plant each item. Each year they take great pride in planting their garden and documenting the plant growth. 

PHOTO: Using a watering wand to reach planters.

A watering wand is a fun and easy way for everyone to participate in tending the garden.

Watering and maintenance: On hot, summer days, watering the garden provides nourishment and relief to plants and people alike. Watering is one of the most vital needs for a thriving garden and thankfully, this calming and restorative experience is inclusive of all program participants. No matter the age or ability, participants can use a lightweight watering wand and hand-over-hand assistance.

Garden lemonade: As a sweet relief at the halfway point of the season, we planned a “Garden Lemonade” activity, utilizing fresh herbs for homemade simple syrup and garnish. The activity was designed to allow participants to taste the difference between homemade and store-bought lemonade. For our fresh lemonade, the participants squeezed fresh lemons into a pitcher, added homemade simple syrup—1 cup sugar in the raw, 1 cup hot water, and fresh muddled mint leaves—and ice to create a refreshing summer treat. Additional herbs and sweet blueberries were added as garnish and enjoyed by all. 

PHOTO: Garden lemonade is a total hit—and delicious on a hot day.

Garden lemonade is a total hit—and delicious on a hot day.

Upcoming Summer & Fall Activities:

As the season moves along, the participants will continue to tend to and utilize the fruits of their labor. Later this summer, participants will plant fall crop seeds—leafy greens, carrots, radishes, and herbs—and create a pasta salad for our “Garden Pasta Party” summer finale. The pasta party activity is designed to engage participants in a healthy garden-focused cooking activity, one that can be easily replicated at home. The horticultural therapy participants will prepare their own personal salad to pack and share with family and friends at home.

As much as we enjoy summer, we always look forward to the fall season with our offsite contracts. This fall, we’re planning to extend the harvest season with cold crops and more culinary activities. We’ll also repot and propagate many of the plant varieties for over-wintering and compost or donate the rest. 

With luck, we’ll successfully grow a few mini pumpkins for a favored horticultural therapy activity: fall mum pumpkins, and roast seeds before concluding the offsite programs in mid-November. 


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Read, play, earn prizes! Kids of all ages are welcome to participate in the Lenhardt Library’s summer reading program at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The Summer Nature Explorer: Reading and Activity Program begins on June 4 and runs through September 5.

With the program, you can encourage the joy of reading and literacy skills in your kids and help reluctant readers enjoy STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities to develop critical thinking skills.

Research has shown that reading 20 minutes per day (or 300 minutes per summer) reduces the “summer slide” and enables students to maintain their reading level during summer vacation.

Here’s how the program works:

  • Sign up at the Lenhardt Library and receive your Summer Nature Explore: Reading and Activity Log.
  • Read a book to get a stamp.
  • Play at Family Drop-In Activities sites to get a stamp.
  • Earn 5 stamps: Get a prize at the Lenhardt Library.
  • Earn 10 stamps: Get a prize at the Lenhardt Library.
  • Earn 15 stamps: Get a prize at the Lenhardt Library.
  • Earn 20 (or more) stamps: Get a certificate of completion and a big prize at the Lenhardt Library.

 

Summer Nature Explorers

Here are a few books in the Lenhardt Library’s children’s corner to pique your interest. (Books with yellow dot are for younger readers, while those with blue star are for more advanced readers.)

Book: Explore Honey Bees! by Cindy Blobaum.

Explore Honey Bees!

Blobaum, Cindy. Explore Honey Bees! White River Junction, VT: Nomad Press, 2015.

Amazing honey bees have been pollinating our world for thousands of years. With descriptions and activities, this book covers it all.

Call Number: QL568.A6B56 2015 blue star icon.

Book: Spring: A Pop-Up Book by David A. Carter.

Spring: A Pop-Up Book

Carter, David A. Spring: A Pop-Up Book. New York, NY: Abrams Appleseed, 2016.

A bright and colorful pop-up book of flowers, trees, birds, and bugs that delights!

Call number: QH81.C37 2016 yellow dot icon.

Book: From Apple Trees to Cider, Please! by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky and Julia Patton.

From Apple Trees to Cider, Please! 

Chernesky, Felicia Sanzari, and Julia Patton. From Apple Trees to Cider, Please! Chicago, Illinois: Albert Whitman & Company, 2015.

From apple varieties on their trees to the cider press, this family’s rhyming visit to an orchard is great fun to read.

Call number: PZ8.3.C42Fr 2015 yellow dot icon.

Book: When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes

Fogliano, Julie, and Julie Morstad. When Green Becomes Tomatoes. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2016.

Poems for each season with lovely illustrations to accompany the journey.

Call number: PS3606.O4225A6 2016 yellow dot icon.

Book: Amazing Plant Powers: How Plants Fly, Fight, Hide, Hunt, & Change the World by Loreen Leedy and Andrew Schuerger.

Amazing Plant Powers: How Plants Fly, Fight, Hide, Hunt, & Change the World

Leedy, Loreen, and Andrew Schuerger. Amazing Plant Powers: How Plants Fly, Fight, Hide, Hunt, & Change the World. New York: Holiday House, 2015.

Spike E. Prickles, the superhero plant, teaches all about plant life in a whimsical way.

Call number: QK49.L44 2015 yellow dot icon.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The landscape of northern Illinois has some remarkable features, many of which are remnants of a glacial past. The Chicago Botanic Garden takes advantage of its islands and lakeshore, and the Alliance for the Great Lakes helps to explore and protect the area’s unique and beautiful ravines.

Help shape a healthy future for your local ravines—home to native trees, wildflowers, birds, and butterflies; pathways to Lake Michigan beaches, and scenic backdrops for parks and homes. Learn about erosion that may threaten some of these ravines, as well as such concerns as damage to sewer lines, roads, and bridges. Ask questions, hear from experts, and brainstorm with your neighbors at this workshop that is open to ravine homeowners, ravine experts, local officials, and everyone who cares about the ravines in our community.

PHOTO: Ravine Openlands Lakeshore Preserve — MarwenRegister now for Revitalizing Our Ravines, a community workshop at the Garden on Wednesday, June 1, from 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. Experts will speak about how you can help protect and restore ravines. Local landscape and ravine restoration service providers will show examples of ravine restoration and landscaping.

Complimentary snacks, refreshments, and an evening cocktail hour are included with registration for this event. Registration closes on May 30.

Hosted by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Chicago Botanic Garden, Openlands, and the Field Museum.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Budding and flowering trees and shrubs—redbud, plum, spirea, almond—are among the great joys of spring. Under the calm and creative eye of Field & Florist’s Heidi Joynt, we learned to turn those branches into lovely, living wreaths in a perfectly timed class at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Heidi Joynt demonstrated how to layer in curly willow cuttings and delicate flowering branches like bridal veil and bridal wreath spirea.

Spring blooming wreaths included “delicate” branches like those shown here.

A finished wreath incorporates many of the more delicate flowering shrubs with a central focal point of redbud and plum branches.

The finished wreath is an exuberant combination of the more delicate flowering shrubs with a dramatic central focal point of redbud and plum branches.

Most Chicago-area yards have a flowering shrub or tree, much admired when it bursts into bloom in spring. While some intrepid gardeners know to cut early branches to force bloom indoors, Joynt takes the idea in a different direction—in a circle, with living branches forming a perfect-for-the-front-door wreath.

Imagine walking out into your yard, pruning a cluster of branch tips—plus a large branch or two—then starting to fill in an 8- to 12-inch grapevine or curly willow wreath (purchased or handmade). That’s how surprisingly simple the process is.

As everyone clipped and pondered and designed, Joynt offered helpful wreath-making and wreath-tending tips:

  • Larger branches of redbud, crabapple, forsythia, double almond, or plum can be strategically wired onto the wreath to create a focal point. 
  • Add delicate curly willow or birch catkins at the center and the outer edges of your wreath. Bouncing and waving in the breeze, they add movement and interest to your design.
  • Hung on your front door, the living wreath can be spritzed with water once or twice a day to keep flowers fresh. 
  • As flowers drop off or brown, pull the branches out of your wreath and replace them with the next blooming items in your yard. Fresh flowers like tulips and roses can also be inserted by placing them in flower tubes (available at florists and craft shops) and tucking them into the wreath. 
  • Yes, silk flowers are an option. Joynt recommends www.shopterrain.com for extremely realistic flowering branches. 

Field & Florist’s Spring Arrangements from Rabbit Hole Magazine on Vimeo.

Classmates begin framing their wreaths with pussy willow tips.

Joynt’s next class, Spring Centerpiece Workshop, is just before Mother’s Day, on Thursday, May 5—create the perfect gift for mom. Can’t make it? Try Floral Techniques on June 21.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org