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Many of the display gardens at the Chicago Botanic Garden may be sleeping this time of year, but our horticulturists definitely are not. They’re hard at work during snowy winters, thinking about all the new plants and planning for the New Year.

The Garden in Winter

We asked a few horticulturists for their gardening resolutions for 2018—whether at the Chicago Botanic Garden, or in their own backyard. Feel free to snag one of their ideas for yourself.

Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist, English Walled Garden

Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist, English Walled Garden
Some of my New Year’s resolutions are to clean and sharpen my tools, start a compost pile with my kitchen scraps, pet more bumble bees, and sit on a garden bench every day. Okay, maybe every week. Well, at least every month. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Michael Jesiolowski, senior horticulturist, Entrance Gardens

Michael Jesiolowski, senior horticulturist, entrance gardens
I want to include more bulbs in my perennial plantings. Bulbs might not be the first thing that comes to mind when going plant shopping, but they can be used to complement perennials in bloom or massed on their own to make a bold statement. How about an early summer combo of Allium ‘Globemaster’ and Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’? Hmmm…

Ayse Pogue, senior horticulturist, Japanese Garden

Ayse Pogue, senior horticulturist, Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden
My New Year’s resolution is to apply the principles of the  soil initiative the Garden has just begun. I am very excited to learn more about how to take care of our soils properly and, in the meantime, increase the vigor and resiliency of our plants.

Tom Soulsby, senior horticulturist, Rose Garden, Heritage Garden, and Linden Allee

Tom Soulsby, senior horticulturist, Krasberg Rose Garden, Heritage Garden, and Linden Allee
For me, plants with especially unique leaf characteristics such as color, shape, and variegation have recently piqued my interest. I’ll be on the hunt in 2018 for more plant ideas that express these characteristics. Distinctive plants inspire my seasonal designs in the Heritage Garden.

Wade Wheatley, assistant horticulturist, Greenhouses

Wade Wheatley, assistant horticulturist, Greenhouses
My horticultural New Year’s resolution is to be a better plant dad to my houseplants. Since I spend the day at work taking care of the tropical plants at the Garden, it is sometimes difficult to maintain enthusiasm to come home and keep watering plants. However, I know that when I am more attentive to my houseplants they thrive and brighten up my living space.

Tom Weaver, horticulturist, Dwarf Conifer Garden and Waterfall Garden

Tom Weaver, horticulturist, Dwarf Conifer Garden and Waterfall Garden
My New Year’s resolution for my home garden is to be less stressed out when my dog, Pepin, tries to help me by digging holes all over the garden. I chose this because she loves to dig and I don’t think I’m ever going to stop her, so I might as well use the help and make use of the holes she’s digging!


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Over the river and through the woods you trekked to find the perfect, most lush Christmas tree (okay, maybe you drove to the nearest retail lot and pointed at that one). Now that you picked your evergreen, how do you make it last through the holidays (and possibly even longer)?

Keeping your tree fresh isn’t hard—most can live up to a month—as long as you follow some simple rules of evergreen thumb. Get it? Horticulturist Tom Weaver explains how to get the most life out of your tree in a few easy steps.

christmas_tree_on_esplanade

Pick a fresh tree
If you’re shopping for pre-cut live trees at a nursery or retail lot, never buy a bagged tree, says Weaver. It’s harder to know whether the tree is fresh if it’s wrapped in netting. The best way to tell which pre-cut tree will last longest is to do the “shake test.” Grab a tree by its trunk and give it a little jostle. If more than handful of the tree’s needles fall off, you may want to keep looking. Also, make sure the needles are firm, flexible, and dark green—not dry, brown, and brittle. Firs keep their needles longest, but there are many kinds of evergreens to choose from.

Give the stump a fresh cut
If you purchase a tree at a location less than 20 minutes from your home, ask for the tree stump to be cut ½ to 1 inch while at the retailer. If you’re commuting more than 20 minutes with tree in tow, make the cut yourself at home. When a tree sits in a lot, its stump creates a callus to prevent it from losing water and sap. A fresh cut allows the tree to absorb water more easily. Make sure the cut is perpendicular, not at an angle or pointed.

Watering rules
As soon as you get your tree home, plunge it in a bucket of room-temperature water until you’re ready to put it in a tree stand. Make sure the tree stand reservoir can hold enough water for the size of tree you picked—Christmas trees generally drink a quart of water a day per 1 inch diameter of the tree’s stem. Most drink up to a gallon a day. Don’t let the water dish run dry!

To feed or not to feed?
Although some tree experts say water is plenty, Weaver recommends adding Christmas tree food to the mix. “Think of it as a giant cut flower,” said Weaver. “You’ll have better luck extending the life of your tree with some food.”

Step away from the heat
Though you’ll likely want to snuggle up next to the fire to gaze lovingly at your tree, the tree doesn’t share this wish. Position it far away from any heat source (fireplaces, furnaces, radiators, and heating vents), because heat speeds up the drying out process. Not only will that mean your tree will die sooner, but a dry tree is also a big fire hazard. Show your tree some love by keeping it in a cool place, and you’ll enjoy its piney scent through the New Year.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Now that the holidays are bearing down, we’ve put together some gift ideas for the nature lovers and others on your list, including the blooms-loving home mixologist (three words: cherry blossom elixir).

Bring your shopping list (or personal wish list; we won’t tell) to the cozy Chicago Botanic Garden Shop, where our offerings include handmade, inspired-by-nature gifts that you won’t find anywhere else in the area. Proceeds from your purchase help support the Garden’s mission.

Get your holiday shopping done early and then treat yourself to a walk at the Garden. Parking fees apply; members park for free (and get a 10 percent discount at the Garden Shop). Or shop online anytime.

For the home mixologist

Floral elixirs

Floral elixirs

These floral elixirs will transform champagne, spirits, and soda water into celebratory holiday cocktails and mocktails. Besides the cherry blossom elixir, other flavors include hibiscus and violet. Each elixir is all natural and handcrafted from real flowers.

Set of five 2-ounce bottles: $34.99
One 2-ounce bottle $9.99
One 8.5-ounce bottle: $19.99

For the holiday ornament collector

Carillon ornament

Carillon ornament

The new Chicago Botanic Garden holiday ornament features the 48-bell Theodore C. Butz Memorial Carillon, a lovely reminder of bells on a summer evening. This ornament, which has a silver palladium finish, also highlights the Garden’s elegant willow trees.  

Custom carillon ornament: $19.99

For the host and hostess

Hand-painted tableware

Hand-painted tableware

This hand-painted collection from Tag is perfect for the host or hostess who appreciates the splash of color that a cardinal brings on a winter’s day. The Cardinal Collection includes mugs, a dessert dish, and platter, and is dishwasher and microwave safe.

Cardinal mugs: $14.99
Greenery dessert dish (not shown): $16.99
Cardinal platter: $39.99


For the art and nature lover

Nature-inspired jewelry

Nature-inspired jewelry

Nature lovers can celebrate the ephemeral grace of a gingko leaf and other reminders of the natural world with this handcrafted jewelry. Nature’s Creations uses natural items or impressions from nature to make each piece, which is finished with bronze and other patinas.

$39.99 and up
Single gingko leaf necklace: $119.99

For the person with fun ears

Handmade jewelry

Handmade jewelry

Each handmade stud in this gemstone earrings set is handpicked, so no two are alike. Instead, the JaxKelly studs complement each other as sisters, not twins—metaphor, anyone? The earrings are gold vermeil over sterling silver.

$29.99 per set
JaxKelly quartz earrings: $29.99

For the outdoors-y man

Winter accessories

Winter accessories

For the man who isn’t scared by winter weather, consider these classic accessories from Dorfman Pacific Co. The warm 3M thinsulate gloves and fleece-lined hats will come in handy on walks in bone-chilling weather.

$19.99 and up


For the photographer

2018 Garden desktop calendar

2018 Garden desktop calendar

Photography fans and garden lovers will be reminded of the beauty of the seasons with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s 2018 desktop calendar. Featured scenes include the vibrant colors of spring-blooming tulips and the elegance of the Malott Japanese Garden.

2018 Desktop calendar: $19.99

For the train fan

Train ornament

Train ornament

Who doesn’t love a vintage train? We do at the Garden, where we celebrate the holidays with the annual Wonderland Express train exhibition. This two-piece train ornament is crafted and hand painted in Poland.

Train ornaments (2-piece set): $75

For the reader

Books for plant buffs

Books for plant buffs

Anyone who is interested in the natural world and how we study it will enjoy Lab Girl, the memoir by Fulbright Award-winning geobiologist Hope Jahren. Looking for a boost to your cocktail party chitchat? Enjoy tidbits about the plants that led to the creation of the world’s great drinks in the New York Times bestseller The Drunken Botanist.

Prices vary. Browse books available online.


For the home cook

Hand-painted servingware

Hand-painted servingware

The bright pomegranates on this sturdy servingware will lend a festive flair to any gathering. The collection by Tag includes individual bowls and a serving bowl; all are dishwasher and microwave safe.

Small pomegranate bowl: $9.99
Pomegranate serving bowl: $69.99

For the homeowner

Butterfield pottery

Butterfield pottery

Davin and Susan Butterfield are the artists behind this unique, small-studio editions of fine handmade pottery in stoneware. The collection features tableware and pottery, with nature-inspired patterns. Butterfield pottery is food safe, and microwave and dishwasher safe.

Blue floral mug: $39.99
Blue floral basket: $149.99
Blue floral large vase: $199.99

For someone special

Garden membership

Garden membership

Inspire and delight your loved ones with year-round access to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Membership includes free parking 365 days of the year, and special discounts on classes and events, the Garden Shop’s merchandise, and more. Your gift membership is fully tax-deductible and directly supports the Garden’s mission.

Garden membership: $95 and up


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

It might be fall, but the last weeks of September felt like summer, and that’s going to change how long trees will show off their seasonal colors.

On the official first day of fall, temperatures in the Chicago area reached well into the 90s. Heat and the recent lack of rainfall means trees are going into survival mode to conserve water, which means that mid-October’s typical fall colors will be affected. 

Deciduous trees, explains Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, respond to environmental conditions when preparing to go dormant for the winter. Just like animals that hibernate, trees slow their processes down in order to conserve energy. What we can see of this process can be beautiful: leaves change from green to vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. Then trees will drop their leaves and wait out the winter.

In a regular year, trees aren’t in a rush to go dormant. The process that we see takes several weeks. The production of chlorophyll, which produces the green color in leaves, fades away, unmasking the beautiful colors we associate with autumn. As the season progresses, the leaves will eventually drop. In Chicago, our trees usually reach peak color in the first two weeks of October, and aren’t usually bare until late October or early November.

But this isn’t a regular year. The heat we’ve been feeling lately is a factor.

Fall leaf color

Expect color, but this year’s display will be shorter than usual.

“The higher the temperature, the faster the processes go,” Tankersley said. And this month’s drought is why we’re also seeing leaves dropping only a few days into fall. Local rain gauges have been virtually dry, with less than 2 inches recorded in the month of September.

“Trees don’t have minds, but they do respond to environmental clues. If there’s been little rain, they will drop their leaves early in order to conserve water and get through the rest of fall and winter,” he said.

If you’re a fan of getting family portraits done with a backdrop of colorful foliage, Tankersley suggests getting those done sooner rather than later.

“This year, we’re going to have to be a little bit more proactive about getting out there and getting photos as the trees come into color. They’re just not going to hold.”


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Supreme Court has been asked to opine on many critical issues of its time. These cases have had profound impacts on our society and even the progression of democracy. But perhaps the most important Supreme Court case of all time—at least if you are a hard-core plant geek—was Nix v. Hedden, 1893, in which the Court ruled that the tomato is, for the purposes of taxation, a vegetable.

In the spring of 1886, the Nix family made their living importing tomatoes into New York City from the West Indies. Based on the Tariff Act of 1883, the New York Port tax collector assessed a duty on these imported tomatoes. The Tariff Act required a 10 percent duty on “vegetables in their natural state…” But, the Nix family contended, a tomato is a fruit, botanically speaking, and should not be taxed as a vegetable. The New York tax collector was unmoved by this argument and forced the family to pay the tax, though he did record that the tax was paid under protest.

Blindfolded Lady Justice weighs a tomatoPeople were just as reluctant to pay taxes in 1886 as they are today, and as any good botanist of the nineteenth or twenty-first centuries would tell you, the tomato is indeed a fruit. Its tissues derive from the reproductive organs of the plant (and contain seeds), making it a textbook fruit. It’s not even botanically confusing like the oddball strawberry, which is technically a swollen receptacle that holds fruits (the little black achenes on the strawberry’s surface). A tomato is about as clearly a fruit as there is, botanically speaking.

Yet, in common language, we tend to think of fruits as sweet and vegetables as savory. Or perhaps more basically, fruits are for dessert and vegetable go with the main course.

When the tax assessor for the New York Harbor used the common language meaning of tomato as the rationale to levy a tax, in opposition to the botanical definition used by the Nix family, I doubt he knew he was opening a legal can of worms that would end up in the Supreme Court.

The Nix family sued the tax collector. The case was heard by the Circuit Court of the Southern District of New York. The case primarily consisted of entering into testimony the dictionary definitions of fruit and vegetable. The court sided with the tax collector, and the Nixes appealed. Somewhat amazingly, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and registered judgement on May 10, 1893.

By this point, the case was not so much about whether or not a tomato is botanically a fruit. In fact, in his opinion, Justice Horace Gray of Massachusetts freely admitted that “botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of the vine…” But he made a distinction between the common language of the people and the botanical definition. Specifically, he noted that tomatoes are “usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principle part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.” He even cited from Supreme Court precedent. In 1889, Robertson v. Salomon, the Court held that, again for tax purposes, white beans (which definitely are seeds) should be taxed as vegetables, and not classified as seeds, which were exempted from taxation. Justice Joseph P. Bradley of New Jersey wrote of white beans, “We do not see why they should be classified as seeds, any more than walnuts should be so classified. Both are seeds, in the language of botany or natural history, but not in commerce nor in common parlance.”

Grape tomatoesRead more about cultivating tomatoes in our Tomato Talk series on Facebook (#CBGTomatoTalk) and at chicagobotanic.org

The Supreme Court unequivocally stated in Robertson v. Salomon and then reaffirmed in Nix v. Hedden that a technical definition should not necessarily stand in the way of an ordinary or common meaning. According to the high court, tomatoes and white beans are not fruit and seeds, respectively. They can, and should, be taxed as vegetables.

These cases are important to legal history in delineating the differences between technical and common usages of words under legal dispute. But what should a botanist learn from this legal tomato obscurity?

Principally, science and the law are quite different systems. You may conflate them at your own peril. Scientific logic is not always compatible or supported by legal doctrine. Under the law, up can be down, black can be white, and tomatoes aren’t fruits.

And above all, it’s very hard to avoid paying taxes.


Dr. Ari Novy

Dr. Ari Novy

Guest blogger Ari Novy, Ph.D., is chief scientist at the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas, California, and a research collaborator at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. He’s interested in pretty much everything about plants, including obscure legal minutiae.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org