Archives For Adult Education

The Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden offers a variety of classes for the adult learner in the areas of horticulture, garden design, nature studies and botanical arts for all levels of interest. For more information or to register visit www.chicagobotanic.org/school or call (847) 835-8261.

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

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

In the summer of 2002, a large, multidisciplinary group of professors, healthcare providers, and design professionals gathered at the Chicago Botanic Garden to help form the curriculum of a new, original certificate program.

The goal of the Healthcare Garden Design Certificate Program was, and remains, to provide a useful, up-to-date, and engaging professional development opportunity in healthcare garden design that reflects the multidisciplinary nature of this emerging field, and allows participants the opportunity to focus their learning on topics of particular relevance to each person.

PHOTO: 2015 Healthcare Garden Design class.

The 2015 Healthcare Garden Design class
Photo by Carissa Ilg

PHOTO: Participants rest in the shade of a garden during a site visit as part of the Healthcare Garden Design course.

Gwenn Fried, a program instructor, having a conversation with 2015 program participant during a site visit to a healing garden as part of the Healthcare Garden Design Certificate course. Photo by Carissa Ilg

From the start, evidence-based design has been the core of this program, with a focus on using research results to design garden facilities that allow for and make possible specific health and wellness outcomes, while encouraging the design team’s creativity and the application of professional insight.

What you can expect to learn from attending this course:

  • Learn from key industry leaders why healthcare gardens constitute an essential component of customer-centered environments of care. Learn how these gardens positively impact patient health outcomes, stress reduction, and satisfaction, as well as employee retention, marketing activities, philanthropy, accreditation, and the bottom line.
  • Gain a more thorough understanding of how evidence-based design is fueling growth in healthcare gardens and restorative environments, and how research informs the design process.
  • Define best practices in this emerging field through collaboration with colleagues from a variety of professions.
  • Discover how healthcare gardens can lead to increased levels of outside funding and contribute to successful marketing activities.
  • Learn about the full range of benefits that therapeutic gardens make possible when used by health professionals including doctors, nurses, and horticultural, art, music, physical, occupational, and recreation therapists.
  • Engage in case studies, multidisciplinary group projects, field trips, and other learning activities that focus on the unique characteristics of healthcare gardens and their design for specific populations and facilities.
PHOTO: Splitting into teams, each group designs their own Healthcare Garden Design project to present at the end of the program.

Splitting into teams, each group designs their own healthcare garden design project to present at the end of the program. Photo by Carissa Ilg

PHOTO: Another team sketches out their Healthcare Garden Design.

Another team sketches out their healthcare garden design. Photo by Mark Epstein

The Healthcare Garden Design (HGD) program at Chicago Botanic Garden was one of the most information-packed programs I have ever attended. Every speaker was at the top of their field and imparted practical, useful information that I was able to take back to my special-needs school to use. I loved that the speakers had diverse backgrounds—which gave a well-rounded view of what healthcare gardens should entail. Because of what we learned at the HGD program, we were able to design a wheelchair-accessible therapy garden that meets the needs of all our students. The program gave us insight to avoid problems, add security and safety, and create a useful, beautiful garden for students with very complex needs. I can’t say enough about how valuable the HGD program was for my professional career as a special-needs educator with an extreme interest in horticulture therapy.
—Janel Rowe, Bright Horizons Center School, Bright Garden Project co-chair

Each cohort is composed of up to 24 professionals and students from throughout the United States and abroad.

Past participants include:

  • Healthcare executives, administrators, and facility managers
  • Landscape architects, architects, and garden and interior designers
  • Nurses, doctors, horticultural and other adjunctive therapists, and other medical professionals
  • Graduate students in degree programs in these fields

Upon completion of this program, the participant’s ability to design and promote healthcare gardens will be markedly improved. Someone who has completed the program will be capable of applying their knowledge, skills, and insight to the design of healthcare gardens for any population or facility.

What you won’t find in the marketing material—the exclusive intangibles of this course—is the experience of immersive learning from the broad range of distinguished instructors, in a spectacular setting. The Chicago Botanic Garden itself is a masterpiece of great design, and the classroom feels like an illustrious museum. The curriculum and instructors provide personalized and customized learning. Participants have created enduring friendships and professional relationships in this course.

There is no other course like this one; the Healthcare Garden Design certificate program provides a unique and extraordinary experience.

PHOTO: Final 2015 Healthcare Garden Design group presentations.

Final 2015 Healthcare Garden Design group presentations
Photo by Carissa Ilg.


Our next program begins May 11, 2016. Register for the Healthcare Garden Design certificate program today.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Sure, they are fun pets and a good educational tool for your kids, as well as a great source of fresh eggs. But what do chickens have to do with the environment? There are a number of ways that having hens in your backyard can be environmentally beneficial.

PHOTO: Jennifer Murtoff with one of her pullets.

Jennifer Murtoff of Home to Roost, LLC with one of her pullets

Poultry Pest Patrol

Forget those nasty pesticides! Chickens are omnivores by nature and thoroughly enjoy chasing down plant-destroying insects like grasshoppers, grubs, beetles, and larvae. 

Betsey Miller and her colleagues at Oregon State University recently conducted a study with red ranger chickens to test the insect-finding power of poultry. They placed hundreds of insect pest decoys in leaf litter, placing some litter in the chicken pen and some outside. A day later, they examined both piles and recovered any remaining decoys. The results: all the decoys remained the control pile, but there were no decoys to be found in the chickens’ pile. The birds had gobbled them up! This study illustrates the chickens’ persistence in ridding an area of potential pests in a very short time.

Poultry pest patrols can be applied to flower and vegetable gardens. In addition, business enterprises are also reaping this benefit of keeping chickens: Earth First Farms, run by Tom and Denise Rosenfeld, is a local organic orchard that uses chickens as natural “insecticide.”

Biddie Biorecycling

Many eco-minded individuals tout a zero-waste trash stream as an important part of their green living plan: no materials leave the home as trash to be added to a landfill. Many people recycle waste, repurpose materials, and compost their vegetable matter. Chickens can be included in this schema as well, helping to reduce the amount of organic waste.

PHOTO: A mother hen teaches her chicks to forage.

A mother hen teaches her chicks to forage. By fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons

An adult chicken eats around 9 pounds of food per month. For the sake of argument, let’s say that 75 percent of that is layer ration (which I recommend for a healthy, balanced diet). That means each bird can biorecycle more than 2 pounds per month in vegetable matter and table waste. A flock of four birds, if fed a diet of 75 percent layer ration and 25 percent food waste, can eat more than 100 pounds per year in waste. If you take layer ration out of the equation completely, four birds can power through more than 400 pounds of food waste in a year. (As an aside, only fruit and vegetable matter should be fed to the chickens on a regular basis; too much pasta, dairy, bread, etc., can lead to obesity and health problems.)

The idea of chickens as biorecyclers was so appealing to officials in the villages of Pince in northwest France and Mouscron in Belgium that they are offering chickens to residents. Says the mayor of Pince, “To begin with it was a joke, but then we realized it was a very good idea. It will also reinforce community links: just as people look after their neighbors’ cats and dogs while they’re away, they’ll also look after the chickens.”

Fowl Fertilizer

All the natural waste byproduct, better known as poop, comes out the back end of the bird to the tune of 1 cubic foot of manure every six months. While chicken manure can be messy, stinky, and just all-around not desirable, this “black gold,” as some call it, is very high in nitrogen. However, it contains ammonia, which makes it “hot” compost: it needs time to break down into a usable format. When mixed with organic “brown” material such as grass clippings and leaves, the waste eventually decomposes into nitrites (which are toxic to plants) and finally into nitrates (which can be used as fertilizer). This chemical process can take anywhere from six to nine months. The mature compost can be added to the surface of a flower bed or worked into the soil. So a flock of chickens can turn all that vegetable matter from your kitchen into highly effective, free fertilizer.

PHOTO: Chicken feet at work! These feet are made for scratching—and ridding your yard of insect pests.

Chicken feet at work! These feet are made for scratching—and ridding your yard of insect pests.

Hens and Humus

While chicken manure contributes to your compost bin, the birds can enrich your garden in other ways—with their feet. Chickens are ground birds, with strong, sturdy feet that are meant for digging and scratching in search of food. Turn your birds loose in the garden or on a raised bed and they will till the soil with their feet in search of grubs, worms, bugs, tender shoots, and other tasty tidbits. All this activity will turn leaf litter and dead biomatter into the soil while providing an easy aeration solution. If your soil is in need of a boost, put your chicken to work. When the birds have worked over a garden plot or raised bed, it will be tilled and ready to plant!

Environmental Egg-sistence

Envision an agribusiness egg farm with stack upon stack, row after row, of hens in cramped cages. You’ve no doubt questioned the system and its humanity and sustainability. Chicken houses produce tons of manure per year, and the hens who live in these barns may be force molted to keep up egg production by withdrawing food and water. These barns are considered concentrated animal-feeding operations, and the U.S. EPA cites them as being “a significant source of water pollution.” In addition, the air around these farms “can be odorous,” and the nitrogen can leak into bodies of water, causing algal bloom and destroying the natural habitat.

PHOTO: Eggs in straw.

The best benefit of backyard chickens—the eggs!

Backyard chickens provide a better alternative to the excessive environmental impact of factory farming. Compared to a factory farm, backyard hens produce a fraction of the manure in a much smaller footprint. You can handle their waste properly, returning it to the environment in an eco-conscious manner. If the coop is kept well, there will be little to no odor. In addition, the birds will also be happier and healthier. Their eggs, too, will contain better nutrition due to the birds’ ability to forage and eat a varied diet.

Chickens, like most critters, are at their happiest when doing what comes naturally to them—eating veggies and bugs, digging in the dirt, pooping, and living a happy, carefree existence on the open range. So consider adding these delightful birds to your garden as part of an eco-conscious living plan. You’ll be thanked with hours of entertainment and the best eggs you’ll ever eat!

Join us on World Environment Day, Saturday, June 4, 2016 and come learn more about keeping backyard chickens!


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org