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.

Slow Flowers

Drawing from nature at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Sophia Siskel —  March 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

Recently, I enjoyed a lecture at the Garden by Debra Prinzing, the author of Slow Flowers:  Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow, and Farm.

PHOTO: color chart by sophia siskel

While Debra helped us discover how to use the best locally grown cut flowers all year long, I’ve been on a “slow flower” journey of my own this winter, taking Botanical Drawing with Colored Pencil with instructor Derek Norman and 13 other Garden members in the Design Studio at our Regenstein Center. Slow processes (cooking, springtime, gardening, travel, motherhood) always demand patience, and constantly toe the line between joy and frustration. Drawing is no exception!

Derek brought in fresh flowers or leaves weekly and led us in studying their forms and showing us how to render them—in our own ways—on different kinds of paper with colored pencils, which we got to know by number, not color name.

During some class sessions, when I could work without self-consciousness and distraction, I felt freedom and joy—a pure relaxation I rarely experience. And I was proud of my work:

ILLUSTRATION: Apples by Sophia Siskel

ILLUSTRATION: Ivy Leaf by Sophia Siskel

Some sessions proved challenging and exhausting, especially those that followed my visit to the wonderful Picasso exhibition at the Art Institute or a weekend examining the exquisite botanical drawings by Ellsworth Kelly. I was full of doubt and frustration, and the drawing experience and images suffered.

ILLUSTRATION: Narcissus sketches by Sophia Siskel    ILLUSTRATION: Tulip sketch by Sophia Siskel

I am not an experienced artist. (The last time I took a drawing course was as a student at Wellesley.) And since I’ve been working at the Garden I have seen (and been intimidated by) so many remarkable botanical illustrations, like those produced by the members of the American Society of Botanical Artists or shown at the Garden’s Annual Student Botanical Arts Exhibition.

ILLUSTRATION: Waterfall by Marian Scafidi

Waterfall by Marian Scafidi (©2012)

ILLUSTRATION: Shitake Mushrooms by Christina Lovering

Shiitake Mushrooms by Christina Lovering (©2012)

ILLUSTRATION: Tulip by Sophia SiskelBut last summer, my sister-in-law, nephew, and I spent an afternoon in Wisconsin drawing pansies and wild geranium. What alternating feelings of joy and frustration! I’d make progress on my petals only to look up and see that my sketch looked nothing like the plant on the picnic table before me. But my 7-year-old nephew gave me the encouragement I needed. He told me enthusiastically, “Just go for it, add some watercolor, don’t worry!” His sweet voice cut through my filters of, “I can’t, I won’t, I’m scared,” and I added some purple paint…and eventually felt inspired to sign up for the Garden class.

I am glad I did. I learned new skills, used new tools, and got to know myself—and the Garden—better. I made new friends, whose works of art I so admire. I’ll be back—sketching at the Garden and signing up for another class (maybe even watercolors!) as soon as possible. 


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

I made that?!

Prairie plant wall tile looks artistic, even though I’m not

Amy Spungen —  February 19, 2013 — 4 Comments


One of the advantages to working as an editor here is being among the first to read about new classes offered by the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Last summer, after proofing a description of a prairie plant wall tile class led by artist Janet Austin, I immediately registered for it, as did my web-design colleague Christina. I was a bit dubious, having last taken an art class in sixth grade, but this workshop sounded too intriguing to pass up.

When that Sunday rolled around, Christina and I joined a group of other adults eager to make art using plants. After we had gathered in our Garden classroom, Janet introduced herself and explained that we would be choosing among the prairie flowers and grasses collected in several vases and pressing them into clay. After that, we were to use tiny dried pasta letters to spell out the plants’ names—or anything else we wanted to “write.“ The pasta would be incinerated in the kiln, leaving only the imprinted letters. Clever!

We both chose bold purple coneflower. I thought it had a shape that would translate readily onto clay, unlike (I thought) the spindly looking Queen Anne’s lace next to it. I resumed my seat and looked down at my slab of clay, fighting a kidlike impulse to begin squishing it around madly. My mature adult nature asserting itself, I carefully pressed my coneflower into the slab, then lifted it up and took a look. Hmm. Not much there. I pressed harder. This time, I could see the contours of the leaf, the stem, and an array of pinprick dots left by the stiff cone.

Next came the letters. I shook the box of alphabet pasta over my desk, then began searching for the correct letters to spell out “purple coneflower” while Christina used the plant’s Latin name, Echinacea purpurea. Then we students wandered around, admiring what the others were doing. Best of all was picking  up our tiles a few weeks later, after Janet had applied verdigris glaze and fired the pieces. Amazing! Beautiful! Artistic! I made that?!

PHOTO: Prairie plant wall tile from Janet Austin's workshop at the Garden.

I gave my tile away as a holiday gift, but Christina still has hers, pictured here. As it turned out, one of the most beautiful tiles of all featured Queen Anne’s lace. Who knew its delicate beauty would translate to clay so well? The grasses were gorgeous, too.

Janet is offering another wonderful prairie plant tile class on Thursday, March 14 — the Garden Marker Tile Workshop — creating the same style of tile, but in a set of hanging row markers for your garden’s bounty. Don’t miss out on the fun!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Five Unexpected Things to Learn in Master Gardener Training

The new session is underway!

Karen Z. —  February 15, 2013 — 1 Comment

It’s snowy outdoors at the Chicago Botanic Garden. But serious gardening is underway indoors, where master gardener training has begun.

The Garden’s Plant Information Service help desk typically recruits 20 new master gardener interns from each biannual training session. Master gardeners answer your questions!

Every two years, the Garden becomes a teaching site for the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program. This year, the ten-week course, which started January 16, saw a record number of students enroll in on-site (93) and online (31 — triple the number of screen users as last session) classrooms.

What are those 124 folks up to so far? They’ve finished sessions in topics including botany, soils & fertilizers, and woody plants. (Herbaceous plants, vegetables, fruits, turf, plant pathology, insects, and IPM/pesticide safety are up next.) They’re learning skills which are key to the program, including how to be a volunteer community educator — the true definition of a master gardener.

Lessons learned along the way include:

1. You don’t have to know everything.  Yes, master gardener training is a crash course with lots of information coming at you fast. And, yes, there’s a test after every week’s session (it’s open-book, and you can take it at home). The real skill is to learn about the resources with the answers to the questions you’ll be fielding as a volunteer.  As one instructor puts it, “there are two kinds of knowledge: what you already know, and what you know you can find the answer to.” The master gardener program teaches both.

Soil Class_rjc4600

Students learn to identify soil samples.

2. The educators bring some interesting stuff to class. While class is lecture-based, there are plenty of PowerPoint visuals to help you picture what you’ll encounter out in the Garden. In the Soils & Fertilizers class on January 23, instructor Ellen Phillips brought soil samples, and explained soil porosity with the aid of…sponges!

3. You learn from everyone in class. Most classes have a Q & A session, and that’s when things can really get interesting. The real-life questions that fellow master gardener trainees bring up in class are the same questions you’ll be asked by the public. Many an “after-school” conversation, and many a gardening friendship, have begun from a question asked in class.

4. You identify your real interests. Are you a natural teacher? A community organizer at heart? Or a home gardener with decades of skills to share? After successfully finishing the course, master gardener trainees head out to master gardener internships, with lots of opportunities to find a volunteer situation that truly fits their interests.

Master Gardeners answer gardening questions at the Plant Information Service.

Master gardeners answer gardening questions via Plant Information Service.

5. You realize that this is a special program. Started in Illinois back in 1975, the master gardener program began as an aid to agricultural extension officers who needed to be out in the field helping farmers, but also needed volunteers to run the office and answer day-to-day questions from the community. (It still functions that way in some rural counties.) Today, the program is a shining example of public education at work, as university/research-based knowledge gets passed on from master gardener instructors to master gardener trainees to the public, in communities all over the state.

Although the next on-site master gardener session won’t start at the Garden until 2015, we offer the course every year online! There are also different University of Illinois county extension offices that offer the program each year. Think about your schedule, talk to our Plant Information Service volunteer master gardeners, and do some research about the program on our website. See you at the next master gardener training!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

250 family members attended the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Military Appreciation Day with USO Discovery Kids on August 6. We’d like to thank the Tawani Foundation for their support and the USO of Illinois for their partnership. Visit http://www.chicagobotanic.org/therapy/military for more information.

Ecologically friendly gardening isn’t as tough a commitment as you might think. In fact, you won’t just be saving the planet, you’ll be saving time and money. Watch Eliza Fournier’s video for tips on how easy it can be or read on for the highlights.

  1. Repurpose packing materials by filling the bottoms of large pots with leftover styrofoam and packing peanuts. You’ll reduce the amount of potting soil needed, and make your pots lighter and easier to move around. 
  2. Replace chemical herbicides with a natural mix. Boil 1 gallon of white vinegar with 1 cup of table salt, then cool. Add 2 or 3 drops of liquid dish detergent and pour into a sprayer.
  3. Reuse! Instead of buying cheap tools every year, consider investing in quality tools and maintaining them properly. Your tool-sharpening kit should include WD-40, a rasp, coarse sandpaper, and a clamp.
  4. Recycle garden pots at garden centers or at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s World Environment Day on June 4, 2011.
  5. Reinvent your garden to include native plants and organic vegetables. Native plants attract pollinators to make your veggies more productive. Natives are also low-maintenance.

Visit www.chicagobotanic.org for more information.