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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

One of my favorite volumes in the Lenhardt Library’s rare book collection (although I love them all) is Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins, published in 1868. Each of the 18 original watercolor paintings of autumn leaves looks so true-to-life that you want to reach out and pick a leaf off the page.

Sumac illustraion from Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins.

Sumac from Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins

This volume, specifically, the sumac watercolor, will be on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in the American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent exhibition which runs March 1 to May 14, 2017. I’m delighted that an East Coast audience will have the opportunity to share this treasure.

Although we’ll miss the book while it’s away, through the Lenhardt Library’s digitization program, each page of the book is viewable in the Illinois Digital Archives repository.

You’ll find the sumac shown here on page 4 of the content list. View the full collection of prints here: http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/ncbglib01/id/3364/rec/2

Additionally, the sumac will be published in the American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent exhibition catalog.

A unique, one-of-a-kind book, this is the only copy listed with holdings in a library.

Bound with gold tooling and gilt edges, the volume is quite brittle and fragile. It has just been conserved by a professional book conservator to prepare it for exhibition.

Inside front cover, marbling, and bookplate for Ellen Robbins' Autumnal Leaves, published in 1868.

Inside front cover, marbling, and bookplate in Autumnal Leaves, published in 1868

Read more about Ellen Robbins and her extraordinary life and talent from retired curator of rare books Ed Valauskas in one of his Stories from the Rare Book Collection: Ellen Robbins, New England’s extraordinary watercolorist and floral artist.

Discover more about the current and rare books in the Lenhardt Library’s collection, which is open to the public. Members have borrowing privileges—become a member today!


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

2016’s Award-Winning Books on Botany & Horticulture

Available at the Lenhardt Library

Leora Siegel —  December 22, 2016 — Leave a comment

Winter is the time to curl up by a fire with all the books you didn’t get to this summer—and this year had some fantastic reads in botany and horticulture. But how do you know what to pick up in a sea of books?

Each year at its annual conference, the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) awards prizes for the best new works in botany and horticulture that contribute to the body of literature in these fields. Not surprisingly, a selection of these award-winning books are available to be borrowed from the Lenhardt Library. Here are our top four picks—find them online, or check them out on-site on your next Garden visit.

Shopping online? Order through our Amazon Smile link; a portion of your purchase is donated to the Garden.

2016 Award for Significant Contribution to the Literature of Botany or Horticulture:

The Curious Mister Catesby: A Truly Ingenious Naturalist Explores New Worlds

The Curious Mister Catesby: A “Truly Ingenious” Naturalist Explores New Worlds
by E. Charles Nelson and David J. Elliott ; foreword by Jane O. Waring

University of Georgia Press, 2015. (Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book Ser.)

456 p.; 238 paintings, illustrations, photos, and maps

ISBN 9780820347264 (hardcover)

Lenhardt Library call number: QH31.C35C87 2015


2016 Award of Excellence in Botany:

On the Forests of Tropical Asia Lest the Memory Fade

On the Forests of Tropical Asia: Lest the Memory Fade
by Peter Ashton

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in association with the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, 2014

ix, 670 pages; color photos, illustrations, and maps

ISBN 9781842464755 (hardcover)

Lenhardt Library call number:  SD219.A84 2014

2016 Award of Excellence in Plant Identification & Field-Guides:

California mushrooms: The Comprehensive Identification Guide

California Mushrooms: The Comprehensive Identification Guide
by Dennis E. Desjardin, Michael G. Wood, and Frederick A. Stevens

Timber Press, 2015

559 pages; color photos

ISBN 9781604693539 (hardcover)

Lenhardt Library call number: QK605.5.C2D47 2015

2016 Award of Excellence in Biography:

James Sowerby: The Enlightenment’s natural historian

James Sowerby: The Enlightenment’s Natural Historian
by Paul Henderson

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2015

336 pages; 150 color plates, 30 halftones

ISBN 9781842465967 (hardcover) 

Lenhardt Library call number: QH31.S69H46 2015

CHBL is the leading professional organization in the field of botanical and horticultural information services. It is comprised of librarians who work in botanic garden libraries across North America and in university libraries focused on botany and agriculture. Several Lenhardt Library staff (Leora Siegel, Stacy Stoldt, and Donna Herendeen) have served as CBHL board members in the past—and at present.

To learn more about CBHL, visit www.cbhl.net.

Members have borrowing privileges—become a member today!


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

So you think you’re an ace tree identifier. Those big scalloped leaves are from oak trees, the three-fingered hand shapes are maple leaves, those little oval leaves marching in a double line along a stem are from an ash—boo yah!

OK, now do it without any leaves.

And yes, you can…with a little help from Jim Jabcon, assistant ecologist for natural areas. The other day Jabcon, walked me through the McDonald Woods and began my education.

PHOTO: Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) bark.

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)

Jim Jabcon is giving a class on Identifying Trees and Shrubs in Winter on December 10. Sign up today!

First, he corrected my misinformation. I always thought the trick was looking at the tree’s habit—its size and shape. But no—especially not in a natural woodland like this. A tree’s habit depends on where it is growing—how crowded it is by other trees and what it has to do to catch some sunlight.

“Any tree will change its habit depending on what is given to it,” he said as we walked into the woods. “You can probably get 100 trees in a row, but it’s like a fingerprint. They all have different spaces, different light; they’re all going to be different.”

Still, there are some distinctive shapes. Does the tree have thick branches, even at its top with a fearsome, gnarly look worthy of a horror movie? Jabcon nodded at a towering behemoth that could have played a role in The Exorcist: it was an oak.

But let’s start with a major clue: bark.

Jabcon cast a practiced eye—an artist’s eye, in fact, for his degree is in fine art—over the trees. He pointed out a tall tree whose trunk was covered in thick, rough bark.

That bark is the giveaway. The tree was an oak; the tough bark is its secret to surviving fires.

PHOTO: Black walnut (Juglans nigra) bark.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra)

Nearby, another tree boasted thick bark with a rugged geometry, forming blocky rectangles running vertically up the tree in a kind of forest version of cubism.

“This is your black walnut,” Jabcon said. “It’s got a really good knobby bark.”

It also had another tree, a small sapling, growing in a crook about 5 feet up. Jabcon pulled it out and showed how its slender reddish branches were covered with a white chalky material that scraped off easily. “This is your box elder, in the maple family,” he said.

And further along the trail was a tree that won my heart because it looked like another part of a human body.

Its smooth, gray trunk was wrapped in bark with the sinewy look of muscle.

That was because the tree was a muscle wood—the common name for an American hornbeam, bestowed because of the signature appearance of its bark.

PHOTO: American hornbeam or muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana) bark.

American hornbeam or muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana)

Walking on, we stopped at another tree with its own distinctive bark, which looks like big hunks of bark pasted onto the trunk and separated by deep grooves. That “warty” bark, as Jabcon put it, identified it as hackberry. (Celtis occidentalis)

Blogger Kathy J. gives you a Tree 101 on hackberry in her post This Bark is Rough.

Still, bark isn’t the only clue. Jabcon pulled a slender branch close and examined the leaf buds running along its length.

They were in neat pairs, each bud opposite another. “Very few trees have opposite leaf buds,” he said. “Ashes. Maples. So if you’ve got opposite buds you can narrow it down.”

To make the final ID, he examined the terminal bud—the bud at the very end of the branch. It consisted of a cluster of three tiny points, making the branch look almost like a miniature deer hoof. That distinctive shape settled it: this was a white ash.

And so it went as we wandered through the woodland.

We looked at leaf buds, like the sulphur yellow leaf ones (“I love how cool they are,” Jabcon said) on a bitter nut, one of his favorite trees.

We looked at terminal buds, like the super-long ones that look like a goose’s bill and mark it as a nannyberry, a kind of viburnum.

PHOTO: Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) bark.

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)

We looked at bark, like the one hanging in huge strips off a tree. It was a shagbark hickory. This tree’s bark has peeled off in such big pieces that bats have hibernated beneath them.

And if all else fails, there is another clue still there in winter, though soon it could be hidden under snow.

“It’s OK to cheat and look at leaves on the ground,” Jabcon said cheerfully, picking up a few oak leaves to prove the point. “They’re still there.”


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Thanksgiving is here again, and we at the Chicago Botanic Garden are thankful for all the pollinators who make our food possible, every day, around the world. Bats, bees, butterflies, birds, and more pollinate plants that create one-third of the food we eat.

As you enjoy a meal with friends and family, take a moment to say thanks for the little things that make such a big difference—pollinators!

Draw and color the foods you are eating at your feast in the center of your plate on our placemat. Check the answer key to see who pollinated them.Instructions: Click on the image above to download our placemat to enjoy with your feast.

The ideal printing size is tabloid (11 x 17 inches). Letter size paper (8.5 x 11 inches) will also work if you choose “fit to page” when printing.

Draw and color the foods you are eating on our placemat. Check the answer key to see who pollinated them. Then, fill the Thanksgiving plate by drawing and coloring the foods—fruits, vegetables, and spices—that were brought to you by pollinators.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org