Archives For Garden Tours

Enjoy the beauty of the display gardens from your own computer screen! These seasonal tours of the Chicago Botanic Garden are led by Garden staff and offer interesting details you might have missed on your last visit. Each garden changes throughout the year, so visit often to watch it evolve.

President’s Day was established in 1885 as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present. It also seems to be just the right day for me to share the highlights of my visit to the White House with you.

Smack dab in the middle of last fall’s Cubs playoff series against the Mets, on the same day that Vice President Joe Biden walked into the Rose Garden to announce to the world that he would not be pursuing a run for the White House, I was…well, I was there in that hardworking garden. I’d been invited to visit the vegetable garden at the White House and tour the grounds. I repeat, I was at the White House visiting the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden!

PHOTO: Lisa Hilgenberg in the White House Kitchen Garden.

Cool season vegetables and herbs planted in the White House Kitchen Garden

PHOTO: The White House beehive.

The White House beehive supplies the first family with honey.

The White House is “The People’s House” and its garden is the iconic “America’s garden.” I’d come on a visit facilitated by Andrew Bunting, director of plant collections and assistant director of the Chicago Botanic Garden—a fresh leader in a generation of garden advocates, a man with gardening friends in high places, possessing the ability to cut through red tape with a machete (stealing a lyric from a Cake song). The White House gardener, Jim Adams, graciously received me as a consultant for the White House Kitchen Garden, an arrangement we’d made when he visited the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden only a month before.

Established in 1791, the President’s Park is the official name for the 82 acres surrounding the White House. Originally laid out by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a Frenchman who fought in the War of Independence, the French formal perspective stands today much as it was planned. Working with George Washington, a farmer and horticulturist, together they envisioned the official residence surrounded by a botanical garden, and the building began.

John Adams became the first president to occupy the White House in 1800, and he requested that a vegetable garden be plowed as a means to supply fresh produce for the nearly 30 people he was responsible for feeding. His request was never realized as he lost his bid for reelection to none other than America’s founding gardener, Thomas Jefferson. Our third president had a strong interest in plants and took on the planting of specimen trees around the grounds and cultivated figs, strawberries, orange trees, and his favorite geraniums inside his sunny office. While none of his trees survive today, it was he who planted rows of sycamore, poplar, and cedar with oak, chestnut, and linden trees on the north side of the White House. (The south grounds were more private and pastoral in design, and eventually iron fences secured the interior 18 acres of private garden around the house, dividing it from the public garden.) Today, 500 trees thrive within this iron fence.

PHOTO: Jimmy Carter's Cedar of Lebanon, planted in 1978.

Jimmy Carter’s Cedar of Lebanon, planted in 1978

As one of the earliest proponents of forestry in the United States, President John Q. Adams planted an American elm (Ulmus Americana) in 1826. (With all the monumental trees, there is a succession plan, so when it needed to be removed in 1991, Barbara Bush’s propagated replacement was planted in the same place.) In 1830, President Andrew Jackson planted the famous Magnolia grandiflora. President Rutherford B. Hayes planted Ohio buckeyes (Aesculus glabra) in honor of his home state. Hayes was the president who introduced the idea of planting commemorative trees to honor presidential tenure or upon historical events. He wanted a tree representing each president and his state as well as each state in the Union. Today, 40 commemorative trees stand on the grounds, cultivated to be excellent specimens of their genus.

PHOTO: Under the Jackson southern magnolias (planted in 1830).

Under the Jackson southern magnolias planted in 1830

President Dwight D. Eisenhower planted northern red oak, Quercus rubra in 1959, President John F. Kennedy planted four Magnolia × soulangeana in 1962. President Clinton planted a pair of white dogwoods, Cornus florida, and President Barack Obama planted littleleaf linden Tilia cordata in 2009—the same tree President George H.W. Bush planted with Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. I held the shovel that commemorates the day each president dug the first shovelful of soil to plant his great tree!

As we walked around the grounds, passing by the putting green and the basketball court, the deeply personal nature of this botanic backyard garden became clear. I could only imagine the solace the garden provided to the families and children while they lived here. This was most evident in the intimate Children’s Garden that had been added to the south lawn by Lady Bird Johnson. Many of the presidents’ grandchildren have impressions of their hands of the paths of this secret garden.

Making our way down to the southwest corner of the lawn, we finally arrived at the White House Kitchen Garden. Centuries ago, President John Q. Adams planted fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables on the grounds; First Lady Michelle Obama was the first to plant vegetables since the Roosevelts planted a Victory Garden at the White House.

The four-season garden is grown in raised beds planted with more than 50 varieties of seeds, many of them heirlooms. One of the beds commemorates the varieties Thomas Jefferson planted in his garden at Monticello. Heirloom lettuce, brussels sprouts, beets, kale, and artichoke seed have been saved and passed down in preservation of our agricultural history. Mrs. Obama intended the garden to be an instructional space, emblematic of her concerns about food security, childhood obesity, and her Let’s Move initiative. I had a chance to meet Cris Comerford, White House chef, in the kitchen to confirm that the bountiful garden harvest is regularly used for State dinners and family dinners.

PHOTO: The White House Weather Station.

The weather station in the White House Kitchen Garden

The White House gardener of today is a weather watcher, as the founding fathers and colonial gardeners were. A rain gauge was installed in the First Lady’s vegetable garden in March of this year, where it not only informs the schedule for watering the lawn but also monitors amounts and reports to the largest Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS). It collects precipitation amounts while also contributing to a broader citizen science effort documenting regional weather patterns and snow.

Just as we got the word of the impending press conference in the Rose Garden, we needed to clear the grounds. On our way back in, I noticed a silver plaque on a pillar and marveled at the affectionate handwritten note, thanking Jaqueline Kennedy from those who worked with her in the White House.

PHOTO: The Jacqueline Kennedy dedication plaque in the White House garden.

“This garden is dedicated to Jacqueline Kennedy with great affection by those who worked with her in the White House-” April 22, 1965

PHOTO: Lisa Hilgenberg with presidential dogs.

I asked Bo and Sunny not to dig in the garden. Only Sunny needed a leash (which is appropriately patriotic)!

My memories galvanized forever in my heart, I’ve returned to the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden with a new appreciation for our connection to the broader national perspective of growing food as a democratic expression of individuality, health, wellness, self-reliance, and honor. This President’s Day, we can feel proud that our work at the Garden is part of this national movement.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Escape to a warmer climate and enjoy a mini-vacation from Chicago winters in the Greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, showed us some of the more unusual plants we will find flowering—or fruiting—in the Greenhouses in January.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Discover amazing aloes and euphorbias in the Arid Greenhouse:

  • We have 43 different species of aloes, including: dwala aloe (Aloe chabaudii), hidden foot aloe (Aloe cryptopoda), and bitter aloe (Aloe ferox). The long tubular flowers of aloes are adapted for pollination by sunbirds, the African equivalent of our hummingbirds. The sap of aloe vera is used widely in cosmetics and to treat burns.
  • Our 35 different species of euphorbias are also spectacular during this time period. Look for geographic forms and cultivars of Euphorbia milii as well as the spectacular Masai spurge (Euphorbia neococcinea). Did you know that poinsettias are also in the genus Euphorbia?
  • About to flower for only the second time in 30 years is turquoise puya (Puya alpestris), a bromeliad native to the high, dry deserts of Chile whose turquoise flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds.

PHOTO: Bitter aloe (Aloe ferox).

Bitter aloe (Aloe ferox)

PHOTO: Crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii).

Crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii)

PHOTO: Turquoise puya (Puya alpestris).

Turquoise puya (Puya alpestris)

The Semitropical Greenhouse is where you will find the following:

  • Paper flower—What appears to be the “flowers” of Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’ and ‘Singapore White’ are actually colorful bracts surrounding the small, white flowers.
  • Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’)—Pomegranates are native to the Middle East and are part of the Biblical Plants collection in the Semitropical Greenhouse.
  • Calamondin orange (× Citrofortunella mitis)—This decorative, small orange is too bitter to be eaten.
  • Ponderosa lemon (Citrus × ponderosa)—Ponderosa lemons are the largest in the world.
PHOTO: Bougainvillea × buttiana 'Barbara Karst'.

Paper flower (Bougainvillea × buttiana ‘Barbara Karst’)

PHOTO: Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum 'Nana').

Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’)

PHOTO: Calamondin orange (x Citrofortunella microcarpa).

Calamondin orange (× Citrofortunella microcarpa)

PHOTO: Ponderosa lemon (Citrus x ponderosa).

Ponderosa lemon (Citrus × ponderosa)

Don’t miss these highlights in the Tropical Greenhouse:

  • “Alice” the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) with her magnificent orange fruiting spike. (The fruiting stage does not produce an odor.) The fruits will mature over the next two months to a deep red. In the wilds of Sumatra, ripe fruits are eaten by the rhinocerous hornbill, which spread the seeds.
  • The vining Vanilla planifolia var. variegata is a variegated form of the Central American orchid that produces vanilla beans
  • Cacao (Theobroma cacao)—the pods from this plant are used to make chocolate.  
  • Nodding clerodendrum (Clerodendrum nutans) is among the first of this genus of winter-flowering shrubs and vines to be covered in showy flowers.
  • The elegant white Angraecum Memoria Mark Aldridge orchids with their long nectar tubes signal the start of orchid flowering season.
PHOTO: Vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia).

Vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia)

PHOTO: Cocoa pod (Theobroma cacao).

Cocoa pod (Theobroma cacao)

PHOTO: Nodding clerodendrum (Clerodendrum nutans).

Nodding clerodendrum (Clerodendrum nutans)

PHOTO: Angraecum Memoria Mark Aldridge.

Angraecum Memoria Mark Aldridge (A. sesquipedale × A. eburneum ssp. Superbum)

Please note: The Greenhouses and adjacent galleries will have limited access January 25 – February 7; from February 8 – 12, they will be closed in preparation for the Orchid Show, opening February 13, 2016. From February 13 – March 13, the Greenhouses will be open to Orchid Show ticketed visitors only. 

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Fall is family photo time, as the holidays near and thoughts turn to cards, gifts, and updates. The Chicago Botanic Garden makes a beautiful background! 

 PHOTO: Crescent Garden.

No. 1: Crescent Garden
Works great for: groups large and small. Chrysanthemums and Japanese maples in shades of burgundy and wine.

PHOTO: English Oak Meadow.

No. 2: English Oak Meadow
Works great for: families. As our silhouette “family” shows, position the group on the path, then stand on the grassy area to take the shot. It’s a good vertical backdrop for larger groups.

PHOTO: Home Landscape Garden.

No. 3: Farwell Landscape Garden
Works great for: couples, kids. The “arm” of a copper beech creates a creative arch for framing. 

PHOTO: English Walled Garden.

No. 4: English Walled Garden
Works great for: tight-knit clusters. The perfect blue, the perfect bench, always a perfect picture.

PHOTO: Puryear Point.

No. 5: Puryear Point
Works great for: close-ups. Want the grand vista in the background? Head up to the hill between the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden and the Arch Bridge, where two Martin Puryear sculptures offer not only a nice place to relax, but also a grand vista of the Japanese islands.

PHOTO: Arch Bridge.

No. 6: Arch Bridge
Works great for: group selfies. Try this at sunset, as golden light illuminates the bridge.

PHOTO: Lakeside Terrace.

No. 7: Lakeside Terrace
Works great for: formal photos. Beautifully designed water-level terrace has seating, water, and a view of Evening Island.

PHOTO: Circle Garden.

No. 8: Circle Garden
Works great for: short-distance walkers. Just a few steps outside the Regenstein Center, the Circle Garden’s beautifully designed beds and “secret garden” benches are ideal for grandparents and little ones.

PHOTO: Outer Road.

No. 9: Outer Road
Works great for: getting away from the crowd. On the outer road, between the Bernice E. Lavin Plant Evaluation Garden and Dixon Prairie, rows of trees make a nice background with a view to the grasses beyond.

PHOTO: Evening Island.

No. 10: Evening Island
Works great for: everyone. Evening Island has broad paths, drifting grasses, big sky, a grand lawn, and a handy wall for perching at the Nautilus.

Note: With the turn of the season, backgrounds are changing every day! Use these as guidelines for your photos, and let us know your favorite backgrounds! 

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

We learned about some of the more unusual orchids featured in the Orchid Show (purchase tickets here) when we toured with Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation.

PHOTO: Dendrobium Comet King 'Akatsuki' orchid.

Dendrobium Comet King ‘Akatsuki’

Boyce told us we have 183 taxa of orchids in our plant collections and 53 of those are straight species found in the wild. Of course, none of our orchids are wild-collected because that does damage to the species, so the orchids we acquire are propagated through tissue culture. We display the orchids that do best in our greenhouse growing conditions, and most of those do best in the Tropical Greenhouse.

Some of the orchids Boyce shows us in the video below are Vandas, which are native to the Philippines and other islands in Southeast Asia.

Boyce shared his love of Dendrobiums and revealed a goal to visit an area of the Himalaya Mountains where they cover the oak trees. But watch out: Boyce warns us of leeches in the area! (Don’t worry, we don’t have those in our greenhouses!)

Finally, we examined an interesting ground orchid, Phaius tankervilliae ‘Rabin’s Raven’, which is growing very well in our greenhouse conditions.

Vanda Orchid

Vanda manuvadee

Nun orchid

Phaius tankervilliae ‘Rabin’s Raven’

Click on the video link above or watch on YouTube to get the full tour!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Take Our Fruit & Veggie Quiz!

Can you I.D. these 10 plants in our Fruit & Vegetable Garden?

Karen Z. —  September 6, 2013 — 2 Comments

“What is that?”

Sure, you’ll see tomatoes and corn and apples at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden—but, during the course of the growing season, we have more than 400 of the earth’s 30,000+ edible plants to see, consider, and think about cooking.

How many of the ten summer fruits and vegetables below do you recognize? Come see them in person soon—harvest is just around the corner!

PHOTO: Cardoon

Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus

1. It’s a cardoon. Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus is, at heart, a thistle. While cardoon’s cousin, the artichoke, is a more familiar food, the thick leaves of cardoon itself are edible—though preparation is…lengthy. Find cardoon in the cold frames.

PHOTO: Eggplant

Solanum lelongena ‘Hansel’

2. It’s an eggplant. Solanum melongela is showing up in markets and on menus in more shapes and colors these days, and we’re growing several varieties of them this year: white ‘Casper’, pink ‘Rosa Bianca’, bicolor ‘Udumalapet’, and this more traditional variety, ‘Hansel’.

PHOTO: Medlar

Mespilus germanica

3. It’s a medlar. Mespilus germanica or common medlar bears a little pome fruit that must be softened, or bletted, to be edible. This is the second year of excellent fruit set on our medlar tree, located just across the Fruit & Vegetable Garden bridge.


Colocasia esculenta

4. It’s taro. Colocasia esculenta is commonly seen in flower beds and containers—you might know it as “elephant ears.” The tuber or corm is toxic when raw—but when cooked, it’s a staple in cuisines around the world. Taro is in the pool under the wisteria arbor.

PHOTO: Mexican miniature watermelon

Melothria scabra

5. It’s a Mexican miniature watermelon, or gherkin. Melothria scabra grows as a vine, with dozens of cute and cucumbery fruits. Eat them fresh or pickled. You’ll find them in containers under the wisteria arbor.

PHOTO: Indigo Rose tomato

Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Indigo Rose’

6. It’s a tomato. Lycopersicon esculentum has a new member in the family and…it’s blue. ‘Indigo Rose’ was bred (at Oregon State) for high anthocyanin levels, which suppressed green color while raising purple. It’s full of antioxidants and is not a GMO (it’s open-pollinated). It’s a sensation. Find it in our Backyard Garden beds and the Small Space Garden.

PHOTO: Pepper

Capsicum annuum var. lycopersiciforme ‘Alma Paprika’

7. It’s a pepper. Capsicum annuum var. lycopersiciforme ‘Alma Paprika’ looks rather like a tomato as it turns from white to yellow to red. As its name suggests, this is the variety from which paprika is made—let it dry, then grind it to make your own.

PHOTO: Quince

Cydonia oblonga

8. It’s a quince. Cydonia oblonga is the fruit-bearing quince (different than flowering quince). In this country, many people are unfamiliar with both the look of the fruit (like a bumpy pear) and its taste (often sour and astringent, it requires cooking). Currently loaded with fruit, the quince tree is near the grape arbor.

PHOTO: Corn smut, or Huitlacoche

Ustilago maydis

9. It’s a fungus. Ustilago maydis is known as Huitlacoche in Mexico, where the fungus—called corn smut here—is considered a delicacy. It occurs naturally on ears of corn—we’ve found one ear with it in our Backyard Garden so far.

PHOTO: Borage

Borago officinalis ‘Alba’

10. It’s borage. Borago officinalis is a multitasker: the gorgeous blue flowers are edible and can be steeped as tea, the leaves add cucumber freshness to a salad, and the plant itself attracts tomato hornworms away from your tomatoes. Turn right after the bridge to see borage in the beds there. Ours, however, are the cultivar ‘Alba’—which, as you may guess, has a white flower.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and