Archives For Programs and Events

These posts offer previews or behind-the-scenes information on some of the Garden’s special events. Learn what it takes to put together these exquisite events and then come see them in person!

Inspired by the plants and insects in their garden, jewelers Roberta and David Williamson will be among 145 artists from across the country showing their handcrafted work this week at the American Craft Exposition (ACE). The juried exposition at the Chicago Botanic Garden is also a fundraiser for the Auxiliary of NorthShore University HealthSystem.

Roberta recalls the early days of her work, when, shortly after her daughter was born, she peered out the window and observed a mother bird feeding its young. She marveled at its instinctual behavior and how the scene symbolized her own experience. The artist was inspired to create a series of charms for necklaces depicting stories of nature such as that one, which she later told to her young child. “I always see those kinds of connections between people and nature and how inspiring that is,” she said.

It is that type of inspiration that has energized her work each year, leading to new creations that she and David craft with much thought and care. “We are great observers of nature and incorporating that into the work,” she noted. “People who collect our work come year after year and we think about them as we are creating the work, and know who will love which piece…they are growing with us and that’s amazing.”

Dave and Roberta Williamson

Dave and Roberta Williamson

Based in Ohio, the Williamsons are also professors of art at a liberal arts college near Cleveland. The natural-born teachers enjoy sharing the stories of their art with students and visitors to ACE. At home, they are avid gardeners, working across their one-acre property as much as possible to plant urns and work with their favorites—foliage and flowers. “We plant and really enjoy that process,” said Roberta. “We are passionate about it and just being so in touch with nature, we bring that to the work. Many of our pieces are about plants and the insects that inhabit the garden.”

As much as nature enhances their work, the jewelers also find inspiration in other sources. “I think besides the garden and any insects and birds, the other part that we are really interested in is antique etchings, but primarily the early costumes of royalty and the embellishment on the clothing that they wear,” said Roberta. Both interests can be seen in much of the body of work they create each year.

Just as their own stories have evolved over the years, such as Roberta finding a love of nature after moving from Chicago to the suburbs as a child, the story of each piece of their jewelry evolves from the time they begin to create it to the life it takes on when it is in the hands of a new owner.

ACE cannot come soon enough for the couple, who are energized by the atmosphere of the event, the presence of their fellow artists, the event committee, and the lush setting of the Garden. “I just hope that a lot of people will be able to come to see how spectacular the combination of the art in the show is beside the Botanic Garden. I think their spirits will be so lifted that it will be really magical,” Roberta said.

Roberta & Dave Williamson, Abundance, 2010. Photo by James Beards

Roberta & David Williamson, Abundance, 2010. James Beards photograph, via craftinamerica.org

The American Craft Exposition opens with a Benefit Preview on Thursday, September 14, and is open to the public Friday through Sunday, September 15 to 17. Proceeds from ticket sales support research into orthopaedic regenerative medicine and pharmacogenomics, or how changes in one’s DNA affect the way the body responds to medication.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

What is it about dahlias?

Guest Blogger —  September 7, 2017 — 1 Comment

When it comes to showstoppers, Shakespeare may have elevated the rose to star status with his line, “Of all the flowers, methinks a rose is best.”

But what is it about dahlias that has attracted so many fans and admirers? In our effort to describe the joys of dahlia gardening, members of Central States Dahlia Society were recently asked why they are so enthusiastic about these dramatic floral divas, which will be on display September 9-10 at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Here’s what we found.

Dahlia 'Hollywood Spiderwoman'

Dahlia ‘Hollywood Spiderwoman’

Dahlia 'Hissy Fitz'

Dahlia ‘Hissy Fitz’

Dahlia 'Harvey Koop'

Dahlia ‘Harvey Koop’

Size does matter.  Of the 70,000 varieties developed, dahlia blooms range in size from the miniatures, just 12 inches tall with 2-inch blooms, to the huge “dinnerplates,” the dense, glossy-leaved plants that grow up to 6 feet tall and bloom with flowers 10 to 12 inches in diameter.  As one member said:  “I love giant flowers! The ‘dinnerplates’ are showstoppers!” Another praised the benefits of smaller varieties, which can be used in containers when space is limited. “Sometimes, you don’t realize they are all part of the same family,” she said.

Miniature dahlias sport 2-inch blooms

Miniature dahlias sport 2-inch blooms.

A "dinner plate" dahlia

A “dinnerplate” dahlia…

A "dinner plate" dahlia

…can measure up to a foot across!

They come in a range of colors. Color and beauty ranked high in members’ reviews. The wide range color range means dahlias will complement any gardening color scheme and co-star with both annuals and perennials in a garden. Recognized by one member as “The Las Vegas of flowers,” dahlias range from the darkest red or purple to many shades of pink, orange, yellow, and white. There are also blends, variegated, and bi-colored cultivars. The only color missing from this palette is blue. Many admired the range of color in the foliage as well. 

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Formal dahlia arrangment

Formal dahlia arrangement

These prolific bloomers offer a lot of choices. Form and size are categorized by the American Dahlia Society (www.dahlia.org) into 21 classifications, and members are drawn to the diversity, describing the blooms as “gigantic,” “elegant,” and “perfection.” The plants provide continuous blooms from July to frost. As a cut flower, dahlias are superstars. The more you cut them, the more prolific they become.

Formal decorative form dahlia

Formal decorative form dahlia

Pompon form dahlias

Pompon form dahlias

Incurved cactus dahlia form

Incurved cactus dahlia form

Code Description
AN Anemone-flowered
BA Ball
Straight Cactus
CO Collarette
FD Formal Decorative
IC Incurved Cactus
ID Informal Decorative
LC Laciniated
MB Miniature Ball
MS Mignon Single
Novelty
NO Novelty Open
NX Novelty Fully Double
Orchid-flowering 
OT  Orchette 
Pompon
PE Peony-flowering
Single
SC Semi-Cactus
ST Stellar
WL Water Lily 

Copyright ©1995-present, American Dahlia Society, all rights reserved.

Other members cited the unique features of dahlias. There are 1,500-plus named varieties, with names like Prince Charming, Blondee, Cutie Patootie, and Diva. The availability of low-growing varieties makes them perfect for containers. While dahlias receive a standing ovation for their color and form, they have no scent, making them an ideal bloom for people with allergies.

Devoted followers highlighted ease of growing as an attribute. Tubers can be saved and propagated from year to year, making them very efficient.

Then there is the “wow” factor. Our members found a special place in their hearts for these plants, like old friends, that deliver on their promise. Whether it is the opportunity to share the beauty and harvest of the garden with family, neighbors and friends, the occasion to find personal happiness or endure sorrow, or the chance to compete with other gardeners for the perfect bloom, dahlias provide a formidable scene. Dahlias offer something for everyone. In the words of the Bard, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

P.S.  Will, what were you thinking? The rose has thorns! Pick dahlias!

Dahlia arrangement at the Central States Dahlia Society Show

Join us September 9-10, 2017, for the 51st Central States Dahlia Society Show.

ILLUSTRATION: dahlia artWe hope you will join us at the 51st National Dahlia Show hosted by the Central States Dahlia Society at the Chicago Botanic Garden on September 9-10, 2017. For additional information on the Central States Dahlia Society or the 2017 National Dahlia Show, visit centralstatesdahliasociety.com/2017-national-show.

 

By Andrea Basalay, with thanks to the CSDS members for sharing their thoughts and experiences.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

We love nature here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, so we looked to the natural world for inspiration on how to enjoy the eclipse—here at the Garden, or in your own backyard.

Practice safe viewing at the Garden with eclipse glasses from the Adler Planetarium.

Practice safe viewing at the Garden with eclipse glasses from the Adler Planetarium. Distribution of glasses begins at 10 a.m. Monday, August 21 on the Esplanade.

On Monday, August 21, people across the United States will be able to witness a rare event: the first total solar eclipse to cross over the country from coast to coast in nearly a century.

The path of totality—meaning the area of the United States that will see the sun completely blocked by the moon—passes across southern Illinois. In the Chicago area, we will experience roughly 86 percent coverage around 1:19 p.m. This is the closest the Chicago area has been to a total solar eclipse in 92 years.

 

1. Make a pinhole projector—using leaves.

Rule number one with eclipses—and with the sun every day, actually—is don’t look directly at it with the naked eye. A fun way to indirectly “see” the eclipse is with a pinhole projector, and one of the best natural projectors is a leaf. Leaves often have holes that can act as natural projectors.

During the eclipse, turn your back to the sun and hold the leaf above a neutral colored background, ideally several feet or more away. A white sheet of paper will do. You’ll see a crescent-shaped shadow that changes as the eclipse progresses.

Via Rice Space Institute, a fun way to commemorate an eclipse: make a pinhole sign and photograph its shadow.

Via Rice Space Institute, a fun way to commemorate an eclipse: make a pinhole sign and photograph its shadow.

The easiest pinhole projector you can make is with your hands. Stretch out and overlap your fingers to create a grid. Look down and you’ll see mini eclipses projected through the spaces between your fingers.

Eclipse shadows seen through crossed fingers of kids.

Viewing with children? Use what you’ve got to make your own shadow art: tiny hands are perfect. Photo via blogger Linda Shore

Other ideas: Use everyday objects that already have holes—like colanders or crackers, for example—or by punching a hole in a piece of cardboard or other sturdy material. If you want a more patriotic experience, NASA has 2D/3D printable pinhole projectors in the shape of the United States and each state.


2. Follow the shadows of the trees.

Find a shady spot and watch as the eclipse shadows change over the course of the event. Instead of the one shadow that a standard pinhole projector creates, you can view hundreds by standing under a decently sized oak or maple.

Instead of the shadows of leaves, thousands of sun crescents: the light cast through the gaps in moving leaves is only a sliver of the sun, and it shows.

Instead of the shadows of leaves, thousands of sun crescents: the light cast through the gaps in moving leaves is only a sliver of the sun, and it shows. Photo by David Prasad from Fresno, CA., United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, taken during the 2012 annular solar eclipse seen on the west coast of the United States.

Shadows of leaves on the ground during a partial solar eclipse look like a host of small, overlapping crescent moons.

Shadows of leaves on the ground during a partial solar eclipse look like a host of small, overlapping crescent moons. Photo by பரிதிமதி (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Another cool effect created by the eclipse is shadows that look sharper and appear to move (albeit very slowly) as the eclipse goes on. Boyce Tankersley, the Garden’s director of living plant documentation, was in St. Louis during the annular solar eclipse that passed over the United States in 1994, and witnessed this phenomenon while working at the botanical garden there. Unlike the annular 1994 eclipse, where a ring of the sun appears around the edge of the moon, the total eclipse this year will completely block the sun’s light in the path of totality (near Carbondale, Illinois, in our region). That’s because during a total eclipse, the distances between the moon, sun, and earth allows the moon to completely cover the sun; during an annular eclipse, it does not.

Rangers in Grand Canyon National Park use eclipse filters on a pair of binoculars during an annular eclipse viewing in 2012.

Rangers in Grand Canyon National Park use pair of filtered binoculars during an annular eclipse viewing in 2012. Note the crisp shadows at near-peak eclipse, as well as the crisp outline of the crescent sun.
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

At peak viewing time, from roughly 12:45 to 2 p.m., we’ll see a skinny crescent of light peeking out from behind the moon, almost like it’s taking a bite out of the sun. Though it’s only a sliver, it’s still strong enough to mess with the way shadows appear to the naked eye. This will make for some amazing patterns and changing shapes under the Garden’s trees. If you want to experience the eclipse this way, Tankersley recommends heading to the Waterfall Garden, English Oak Meadow, or English Walled Garden. Even the Garden’s parking lots have big, leafy trees that would work. If you prefer seclusion, the west service road, stretching from the Regenstein Learning Campus to the Graham Bulb Garden, has ginkgo, redbud, and buckeye, to name a few trees in that area with interesting leaves. Use the Garden’s plant finder or download our GardenGuide app to seek out a spot to see the eclipse by your favorite kind of tree.


3. Come to the Garden’s Eclipse Event

The Garden has partnered with the Adler Planetarium to host a solar eclipse viewing event. Free special viewing glasses—while supplies last—will be available so visitors can safely view the eclipse directly. We’ll also have Family Drop-In activities related to the eclipse and a scale model of the moon, sun, and earth stretching across the Esplanade, not far from the Visitor Center.

Crescent-shaped shadows of an eclipse seen through a colander.

Colanders, strainers, slotted spoons, and crackers—use household objects for your own eclipse experiments. Photo via Lightscapes blog.

The Esplanade is going to be a hub of activity, but the Garden has a number of other open spaces for great viewing. Grab your eclipse glasses and head to Dixon Prairie, on the south end of the Garden. When you need a break from staring at the sky, you’ll also see blooming blazing star, wild bergamot, prairie dock, and ironweed. If you’re lucky, you may also spot a hummingbird or monarch butterfly. The prairie is right off the section of the North Branch Trail that winds through the eastern part of the Garden, so it’s easily accessible if you bike here from the south.

Not as off the beaten path, but usually a sure bet for some private space, is Evening Island. It’s home to the Theodore C. Butz Memorial Carillon and features different landscapes on five acres. Head to the lawn overlooking the Great Basin for a clear view of the sky, as well as sweeping, photo-ready vistas. If you’re with a small group, gather in the council ring, inspired by the work of famed garden designer Jens Jensen.


If you miss this year’s total solar eclipse you won’t have to wait too long for the next one. There will be another in seven years, with the Chicago area closer to the path of totality and expected to see roughly 93 percent coverage. Practice your skills this year and you’ll be proficient in eclipse observation by 2024.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

How to Grow More Amazing Dahlias Than Your Neighbors

A Dahlia Primer: From Planting to Blooming

Guest Blogger —  August 4, 2017 — 1 Comment

Get ready for an explosive burst of color September 9-10 at the annual American Dahlia Society National Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden. More than 2,000 flowers in the dahlia family will be on display in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and forms. 

Dahlias are indigenous to Mexico, where they were grown by the Aztecs, who used the tubers as one of their staple foods. The plants were brought to Spain and eventually spread throughout Europe, as people appreciated the beauty of the flowers themselves. Through hybridization, there now are more than 70,000 varieties of dahlia, about 1,500 of which are popularly grown.

Here are some tips for growing these beautiful plants in the garden. 

Dahlia bouquet from the American Dahlia Society National Show

ILLUSTRATION: dahlia artOn September 9 and 10, the Central States Dahlia Society and the Chicago Botanic Garden present the 51st annual American Dahlia Society National Show. For detailed information on the show and the Central States Dahlia Society, please visit centralstatesdahliasociety.com


Selecting a site

Pick a sunny spot where, optimally, the plants will receive at least six hours of sunlight. Since dahlias do not like to get their “feet” wet, the area should not accumulate water and should drain well. If the soil is clay-like, it should be amended with leaf mulch, compost, or peat moss. Since dahlias should be planted about 18 inches apart, it is easy to determine the number of plants the area will accommodate.

Planting

You can plant your dahlias as soon as the danger of frost has past, and the soil temperature remains above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In Chicago, this typically means about the middle of May. However, some growers wait until Memorial Day just to be sure. The delay does not seem to appreciably affect when the first blooms appear. You can start with either potted plants or tubers that have been over-wintered from last year’s crop.

If using potted plants that have already developed a root system, place the plants in the ground so that the top of the potting medium is level with the ground. Many growers will add a slow-release fertilizer (e.g., Osmocote) and/or composted manure to the bottom of the hole. Water the plants once they have been put in the ground, and water as needed to keep the soil moist (about one inch per week).

Planted dahlia tuber

Planted dahlia tuber

A new dahlia plant

A new dahlia plant

When starting with tubers, dig a shallow hole (about 6 inches deep), add material as described above, and place the tuber on its side. Loosely cover the tuber—but do not bury it—with soil. Once the tuber has sprouted and the sprout has reached the level of the soil, the hole should be back-filled. The tubers should not be watered until they have sent out a sprout that reaches above ground level. A word of caution: Tuber sprouts can be quite delicate. It is a good idea to use a short, temporary support until the plant becomes established. You can start with tubers planted directly in the soil or start the tubers indoors in pots to get an early start. If starting inside, the tender plants should be “hardened” off prior to planting in the garden.

Since dahlias will often grow to five feet or more in height, they need to be staked. The stake should be placed in the ground as soon as the plant, or tuber, is in place. Put the supporting stake within a couple of inches of the plant and avoid damaging the tuber. Plastic stakes tend to bend and break. Many growers use ¼- to ½-inch rebar that can be bought from big-box stores or building supply centers. Tomato cages also provide good support.

New dahlia plant staked, tied, and identified

New dahlia plant staked, tied, and identified

Depending on the height of the plant, you should loosely tie it to the supporting stake. The final step in the planting process is to write the name of the variety on a plastic tag. The tag should be stuck in the ground or attached to the support system.

Dahlia bed ready for the growing season

Dahlia bed ready for the growing season

The first several weeks

As the plant continues to grow, additional ties will have to be placed at about 12-inch intervals. After the plant produces three or four sets of leaves and is about 18 inches tall, the plant should be “topped.”  This means that the terminal bud, at the top of the main stem, must be removed. This will be done only once. This process forces that plant to develop lateral stems, which results in more flowers. 

A "topped" dahlia with terminal bud removed, and laterals forming

A “topped” dahlia with terminal bud removed, and laterals forming

Water as needed to keep the soil moist. During this early phase, many growers will use a nitrogen fertilizer to promote leaf growth and stimulate the plant’s development.

Once buds appear

Depending on the weather and maturity of the starting stock, after about six to eight weeks the first buds should appear. These will develop in groups of three. Two of these should be removed. This process, called “disbudding,” will result in larger blooms. The first blooms tend to be the largest ones that the plant will produce. Growers who plan to compete in shows will try to time these first blooms so they appear just before the show.

A dahlia plant ready for "disbudding"

A dahlia plant ready for “disbudding”

During this phase, water the plant as needed. Watering should be done at the base of the plant. Water on the leaves may cause disease, and water on the blooms may cause them to become top-heavy and droop, or even break. Fertilizing during this phase should consist of potassium and phosphorus to encourage root and bloom development. Do not “over-feed’ the dahlias. Fertilizing about every three to four weeks is the generally recommended practice.   

If the plant becomes too full, you should remove a lateral stem or two. This process, called “disbranching,” should be done as close to the main stem as is possible. All plant grooming should be done in the early morning.  Ideally, you should sterilize the cutting tool as you move between plants to avoid the possible transfer of any disease for one plant to the next.

During the growing season, be aware of the impact of pests and plant disease. Snails and slugs may attack the newly planted dahlias. Spider mites are the most common pest. If they attack, the leaves will shrivel and yellow spots will appear. Many growers will preventatively spray once the hot weather arrives to avoid these pests, as remediation is difficult.

A garden full of dahlias

The fruits of your labor

Cutting the blooms

It is best to cut the blooms in the morning using a sharp instrument to make a clean cut. The stem can then be slit along its length to increase water absorption. Freshly cut dahlias will last in the house for one week or longer. 

 

By George Koons, Central States Dahlia Society


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Don’t trust your eyes—that leaf is actually a butterfly

The orange dead leaf (Kallima inachus)

Patrick Sbordone —  July 20, 2017 — 2 Comments

As the season has been progressing at Butterflies & Blooms at the Chicago Botanic Garden, we have been lucky enough to receive a very special butterfly species and a definite crowd-pleaser: the orange dead leaf (Kallima inachus)

If we didn’t point out this character to guests, no one would ever suspect that they were looking at a butterfly.

I like to describe the orange dead leaf butterfly as being able to mimic a dead leaf better than an actual dead leaf can. When it closes its wings, the butterfly has a perfectly ovate silhouette, complete with both a pointed leaf apex at the front tip and a petiole, or the stalk that attaches leaf to stem, on the hindside. The wing is a drab brown, with leaf vein arrangement very similar to that of a flowering dogwood. The orange dead leaf butterfly is at home in broadleaf forests of India, where it blends in with dead foliage during the dry season, going unnoticed by all but the sharpest predators. Here at Butterflies & Blooms, this butterfly seems to seek out dead, brown leaves in the tree canopies and uses them as a place to blend in. I always get a kick out of showing people that one of those dead leaves is not what it seems.

Kallima inachus at rest on a branch

Kallima inachus at rest on a branch

Kallima inachus with its wings open

Kallima inachus with its wings open

The butterfly has another surprise for visitors: It has incredibly vivid coloration on the dorsal side of its wings. When the orange dead leaf opens its wings to sun itself or take flight, it shows off its navy blue iridescent wings, with a bright orange stripe on each of the forewings.

We have several other butterfly species that also use one side of their wings to resemble dead foliage, including the autumn leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide) and the great orange tip (Hebomoia glaucippe). However, these species have not mastered the art of camouflage quite like Kallima inachus. Come over to Butterflies & Blooms to check out this fascinating butterfly.


Atlas moth (Attacus atlas)

Atlas moth (Attacus atlas)

While you are here, take a look at the serviceberry tree just to the left of the pupae chamber. We have an unprecedented seven giant atlas moths perched on the tree branches like Christmas tree ornaments. Also, don’t miss all of the blooms: The recent rainy weather has undoubtedly helped the Butterflies & Blooms garden become more floriferous.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org