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The January issue of National Geographic features articles on two topics dear to me: American’s national parks (I just planned a Grand Canyon/Arches trip for June!), and the power of nature to improve mental health. The latter article cites scientific evidence that nature makes us happier, more productive, nicer to each other, and—critically—more forgiving of ourselves. Additional evidence of this has been published in recent issues of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nature.

PHOTO: Potato harvest.

Gardening is therapy for the whole being.

Gardeners recognize this power: We find therapy digging in the earth, getting our hands dirty, and participating intimately in the miracles of life, as well as the floods, freezes, insects, diseases, and other gardening disasters that allow us to witness low-stakes death firsthand.

Gardeners know that even when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with our harvest, she doesn’t let us down. Nature is generally consistent, and when it isn’t, it is surprisingly consistent in its inconsistency. We can trust in it to adapt and evolve, to persevere endlessly and, when we let it, to heal and support us. We have no choice but to respect and defer to nature’s ways, even when they don’t always act in our favor. I find this incredibly reassuring.

Last winter, I was paying particular attention to my own mental health and finding essential comfort in the Chicago Botanic Garden—its paths and purpose, my colleagues, and my friends.

PHOTO: Winter in Kane County.

All seasons provide moments for us to photograph and enjoy.

In early January, I listened closely to a National Public Radio interview with former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk, who spoke openly and confidently about his own personal mental health challenges. Inspired, I thought that I too could share some of my story, and had the opportunity to do so in the pages of Sibbaldia, the journal of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

The essay can be read here, but I think it is important to share a bit with you:

“It’s a long row to hoe” were the first words that came into my mind one morning. The day before me felt too busy, too much. How was I going to get everything done while being a good mother and daughter, an attentive partner and friend, and an effective leader? How would I balance the pressure of meetings, phone calls, and ever-increasing e-mail traffic while ensuring that dinner was on the table and my sons’ homework was completed on time? Where would I find time to be kind to myself somewhere along the way? I know this challenge is familiar to many women, and it certainly was not the first time I had felt this way. Furthermore, I have wrestled with feelings of anxiety my whole life, and moments like this one have been with me since I was young.

But that morning, when the idiom “It’s a long row to hoe” started repeating in my mind with the persistence of a pop song, I smiled, exhaled, and experienced an epiphany of sorts. My problems suddenly felt reframed. Never before had I really thought about that phrase. I said out loud, “Wow, the noun is ‘row,’ not ‘road’! This phrase is about gardening and farming…Growing things!”

PHOTO: Summer woods.

Making time and finding a space to reflect in nature is essential.

While I may not yet hold the gift of perpetual tranquility, I do know how to garden. Yes, I have learned that hoeing some rows is harder than others, when rocks and weeds or puddles are in the way, but I am always certain I can get the job done. And the labor I expend while gardening even makes me feel rejuvenated—both mentally and physically. At that moment, I wondered if I thought of each day that lay ahead as a metaphorical row to hoe—and plant, water, weed, harvest, and then allow to rest—would life feel easier? And it does. Some seasons give me the most delicious tomatoes and delphiniums that stand up straight, even in Chicago. Other days I wake to a late freeze or spend hours picking off slugs. Knowing that I can handle the ups and downs of gardening, I felt better prepared to face my more typical day with renewed mental strength, tranquility, and courage.

I know I am not alone in believing that people live better, healthier lives when they create, care for, and enjoy gardens. Millions of people tend backyard or container gardens, or keep plants in their home or office window to enrich their life. Even in winter, there are many ways to enjoy gardens and nature. One thing I do is put on my boots and take a nature walk, simply enjoying the experience of being outside. Browse seed catalogues or gardening books, and plan your summer garden. If you take a vacation, visit the local botanic garden. Dream of the tropics at the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Take nature photos. You can even view lovely garden scenes or videos while you work out. Gardening, visiting gardens, and taking advantage of the science, education, and therapy programs offered by more than 1,000 botanic gardens, arboreta, and conservatories around the world are helping many individuals and communities to cope, mourn, and rejoice.

PHOTO: The renewal of spring in the Garden: peonies in bloom in the West Flower Walk.

The renewal of spring in the Garden: peonies in bloom in the West Flower Walk.

Gardens give us a bounty of gifts: beautiful flowers to share and enjoy, fresh vegetables for our tables. Their greatest gift of all may be intangible, but we are so grateful for their unique power to help us lead happier, healthier lives.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Like many children, I was fascinated with Beatrix Potter, the creator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I remember wanting to visit Hill Top Farm, Potter’s home, after finding a photo of children reading by the fireplace in a National Geographic my parents had.

PHOTO: Hill Top Farm, near Sawrey, Cumbria. Photographed in 2012.

Picturesque Hill Top Farm was purchased by Beatrix Potter in 1905 with proceeds from the sale of her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Photo by Richerman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Those feelings returned after I saw Beatrix Potter: Beloved Children’s Author and Naturalist, on display through February 7 at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library. The exhibition gives wonderful insight into Potter’s early life and career, along with her love of nature and preservation. Here are ten things from the exhibition and beyond that you might not know about the beloved children’s author:

Potter was also an accomplished naturalist and botanical illustrator, although her paper On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae was dismissed by London’s Linnean Society—which had typical Victorian assumptions about women and their research.

Potter was an accomplished naturalist and botanical illustrator. However, her paper On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae was dismissed by London’s Linnean Society—which had a few assumptions about women and their research.

  1. Beatrix’s full name is Helen Beatrix Potter. She shares her first name with her mother, Helen Leech Potter, who was also interested in drawing and painting—common pastimes for upper-middle-class Victorian women. Beatrix used a paint box inscribed with her mother’s name, and she signed some of her drawings H.B.P.
  1. It was summer forays from the Potters’ London family home—first to Dalguise House in Perthshire, Scotland, and later England’s Lake District—that inspired Beatrix’s love of nature. Charles McIntosh, the postman Beatrix befriended in the Lake District, would collect mushroom specimens for her to draw. Some examples of her remarkable mycological illustrations are featured in the Lenhardt Library exhibition.
  1. She kept a secret journal between the ages of 15 and 30, and it was written in code. Though the journal was discovered in 1952, the code was not broken until 1958 by collector Leslie Linder, who then began a massive project to decipher the entire journal. The journal was published in 1966 and gives insights into her thoughts and daily life.

PHOTO: The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in both original black-and-white, and color editions.

First published with black-and-white illustrations (inset), The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold more than 45 million copies over the past century.

  1. Her most famous work, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was first self-published with black-and-white illustrations on December 16, 1901. Peter Rabbit started as a letter to Noel, the ill son of her former governess/companion. 
  1. She purchased Hill Top Farm with proceeds from book sales of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, published by Frederick Warne & Co. (Beatrix had been engaged for a short time to her publisher, Norman Warne, but he died of leukemia before they married.) She learned too late that she had overpaid for the property and was embarrassed about it. Beatrix vowed to be smarter if she purchased additional property and decided she would seek the assistance of a solicitor. As she began to acquire more property, she secured the services of William Heelis. They later married in 1913, when Beatrix was 47 years old. 
  1. She raised sheep. As Beatrix spent more time at Hill Top Farm, she focused her time and energy on raising local heritage livestock—primarily Herdwick sheep—with Kep, her favorite collie. Beatrix dressed in Herdwick tweed skirts and jackets, served as a sheep judge, and was the first female elected president of the Herdwick Sheepbreeders’ Association in 1943. Unfortunately, she died before she could serve.
PHOTO: Beatrix Potter (Mrs. Heelis) by Charles King, April/May 1913, with her favourite collie Kep in the garden at Hill Top Farm and wearing her familiar Herdwick tweed skirt and jacket.

Beatrix Potter (Mrs. Heelis) by Charles King, April/May 1913, with her favorite collie Kep in the garden at Hill Top Farm and wearing her familiar Herdwick tweed skirt and jacket.

  1. The Fairy Caravan, a longer book for older children published in 1929, is autobiographical. Marta McDowell, author of Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, wrote of The Fairy Caravan: “A very personal book, she wove in the birds and blooms of memory, writing of old gardens and woodlands of her grandparents’ home in Camfield.” Once I read the exhibition label, I quickly went to my local library and am now reading The Fairy Caravan for the first time.
  1. She was an ardent preservationist. Beatrix realized that times would change the Lake District she loved so dearly, and she eventually bought 14 farms comprising over 4,000 acres that she donated to the National Trust. Many of her illustrations are directly drawn from the Lake District countryside. If you visit the Lake District, consider ordering Walking With Beatrix Potter: Fifteen Walks in Beatrix Potter Country by Norman and June Buckley.
  1. Peter Rabbit is extremely popular in Japan. The exhibition shows this through a Japanese catalog of all things Peter Rabbit for purchase. There is even a life-sized recreation of Hill Top Farm you can visit near Tokyo that was built in 2006.

PHOTO: Waud felt figurine of Peter Rabbit.

Part of our Wonderland Express every year, our Waud’s felt figurine exhibit includes this beloved rascal—Peter Rabbit. Read more about the Waud felts here.

  1. Her Hill Top Farm still includes many small details of Beatrix’s life. Several years ago when I visited the farm, her clogs were still by the fireplace and, upstairs, the plaster ham Hunca Munca tried to carve in The Tale of Two Bad Mice was in the dollhouse. I almost expected Miss Potter/Mrs. Heelis to pop around the corner.

Beatrix Potter: Beloved Children’s Author and Naturalist closes on February 7, but the Lenhardt Library has a terrific selection of books about and by Beatrix Potter. Check out one of the books to learn more about Beatrix and her many contributions.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Gardening Gift Book Recommendations, Part 2

More gift titles from our Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist

Karen Z. —  December 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

You can give a gardening book to almost everyone on your list. They will especially love books about food and how to grow it! Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg adds to her recent Top 10 Gardening Gift Books blog with a follow-up list—plus more titles to find at our Garden Shop (on-site and online). 

Order through our Amazon Smile link and 0.5 percent of the profits go to support the Chicago Botanic Garden! Or bookmark smile.amazon.com/ch/36-2225482

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

Audels Gardeners & Growers Guide: Good Vegetables and Market Gardening. Its opening line: “The book of nature is open, but its wonderful beauties and mysteries are revealed only to the careful student.”

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voight and J.S. Vandermark

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C. E. Voight and J. S. Vandermark. Our horticulturist-in-chief, Kris Jarantoski, included this classic on his recommendation list, too.

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers. A go-to history book about the world’s most distinctive gardens and the communities of people who built them.

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts by Frances Densmore

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts by Frances Densmore. Such a fascinating book, all about food history and resourcefulness.

How to Grow Vegetables by the Organic Method

How to Grow Vegetables by the Organic Method edited by J.I. Rodale

How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method edited by J. I. Rodale. The grandmother of organic gardening books, by the grandfather of organic gardening. A classic.

Edible Landscaping

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy. Beautiful yards from beautiful vegetables.

Seed to Seed

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. For the seed saver in your life.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. For gardeners of all ages.

Secret Garden, An Inky Treasure Hunt

Secret Garden, An Inky Treasure Hunt by Johanna Basford

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. A botanical coloring book to unleash your creativity—add Caran d’Ache colored pencils to this gift.

A RARE FIND: Planting: Putting Down Roots by Penelope Hobhouse. Sleuth the book resellers to find this hand-sized book, part of a series by one of England’s great gardeners. 

special bonus!

Now at our Garden Shop: More Great Gift Books

Lisa hand-picked these favorite fruit-and-vegetable books from the bookshelves at our Garden Shop. Members, make us your book-buying resource—you always save 10 percent!


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Spring in December?

Keep Growing —  December 18, 2015 — Leave a comment

It has been an unusually mild December, and some of you may be seeing “springlike” growth in your home gardens. Plus, you are tempted to get out in the garden. Here’s what you can expect:

PHOTO: Viburnum in bloom.

It’s happening in our yard, too: This viburnum bloom photo was taken December 10, 2015.

Bulbs and perennials: Any new growth present now will experience a freeze in the very near future. That will have little impact on these plants come spring.

Evergreens and newly installed plants: Because it has rained so much, you shouldn’t have to do any supplemental watering. You should continue to monitor any evergreens that are in containers and provide supplemental water, if needed. A word of caution: always avoid working with and on soils that are wet.

Flowering trees and shrubs: Lilac, redbuds, forsythia and other flowering trees and shrubs will be impacted by this season’s warm weather. The longer the warm weather stays above freezing, the greater the chance there will be damage to the flowers. Prolonged warm weather at this time of year may mean fewer spring flowers on some plants.

There is another benefit to the warm weather: Get outside! You can finish those outside projects like installing brick pathways that you started earlier in the year. You can also lay sod and plant deciduous trees and shrubs until the ground freezes.

PHOTO: Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' in bloom.

Lenten roses like Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ are in bud or bloom in the Garden.

When you visit the Garden to see Wonderland Express, see if you can find lady’s mantle or the bed of dwarf fragrant viburnum in full flower, the hellebores coming to bud (hint: Farwell Landscape Garden), or the ornamental kales with great color.

It’s a great time for a winter walk!


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Top 10 Gardening Gift Books…

...from our Fruit & Vegetable Garden Horticulturist

Karen Z. —  December 9, 2015 — 2 Comments

Gardeners love to read about gardening. Therefore, gardeners love books as holiday gifts. But which books?

When we learned that horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg had built up a working botanical library for herself at home, we asked her for suggestions. She took the question to heart. Titles flew. In fact, it was hard to winnow the list down! Here, then, are Lisa’s top ten favorite gardening books for gift-giving.

PHOTO: Book cover of Les tomatoes du prince Jardinier

Les tomates du Prince Jardinier by Louis Albert de Broglie

Les tomates du Prince Jardinier by Louis Albert de Broglie

PHOTO: Horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg with fold-out from Le Potager du Roi.

Fold-outs in Les tomates du Prince Jardinier speak to tomato diversity like nothing else in print.

Know gardeners who grow tomatoes? Gift them this book, then bask in their reactions. Louis Albert de Broglie, the Gardener Prince, grows 650 tomato varieties at Le Château de la Bourdaisiére in Touraine, where he’s established the French National Tomato Conservatory.

Under the nom de plume “Le Prince Jardinier” (he’s a member of one of France’s noble families), de Broglie, whom worldly Americans may know as the current owner of the Parisian shop Deyrolle, has authored one of the most spectacular books you’ll ever open—and it’s a revelatory look at tomatoes. Includes recipes, fold-outs, and a book-within-a-book of garnishes. In French, available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Vegetable Literacy.

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

“When it debuted in 2013, Vegetable Literacy became my new favorite cookbook,” Lisa says. “It’s so aesthetically pleasing, so beautiful to look at, and it elevates horticulture to its proper place.” Madison organizes her book by the families of plants, showing gardeners and cooks how and why vegetables from the same botanical family can be substituted in recipes. “It’s a soothing, orderly, nurturing book,” Lisa says, “and it’s botanically correct. It’s a great gift for deepening the gardener/cook connection.” Check it out at our Lenhardt Library. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Thoughtful Gardening.

Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox

Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox

Well known to British gardeners for four decades as the gardening columnist for the UK’s Financial Times, Robin Lane Fox deserves a place on more American gardeners’ bookshelves. Thoughtful Gardening collects a series of his columns, organized by seasons, into an easy-to-read book that’s charming and witty, yet sensible. “I read it in snippets, adding sticky notes, underlining, revisiting it every year,” Lisa notes. “It brings a fresh perspective through both historical information and hands-on experience.” Available to read at our Lenhardt Library.

PHOTO: Book cover of Art and Appetite.

Art and Appetite : American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine by Judith A. Barter and Annelise K. Madsen

Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine (Art Institute of Chicago) by Judith A. Barter and Annelise K. Madsen

The companion book to the Art Institute’s 2013 exhibition of the same name, Art and Appetite illustrates nothing less than the history of American food through its art. From a still life of cherries in a hat to Andy Warhol’s soup cans, the book skillfully and entertainingly marries food, food history, cooking, and art. So filled with facts and historical connections—chapter one alone tackles “Thanksgiving: The Great American Food Fest”—that it’s impossible to put down. Vintage recipes included. Available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Le Potager du Roi.

Le Potager du Roi by Pierre David, Gilles Mermet, and Martine Willemin

Le Potager du Roi by Pierre David, Gilles Mermet, and Martine Willemin

Lisa’s 2014 gardening travels in France included a trip to “the kitchen garden of the king” at Château de Versailles. King Louis XIV’s 25-acre vegetable garden employs the same methods of growing, preserving, and storing today as it did in the late seventeenth century.

“America’s early gardening history was tied to France,” Lisa explains, “and it’s thrilling to see the gardening methods still in practice, the thousands of varieties of old pears and apples and fruit, and the detailing of the espaliers—it all ties directly into my work today.” The layout, the photography, the history—what a great gift! Available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Vascular Plant Families.

Vascular Plant Families by James Payne Smith, Jr.

Vascular Plant Families by James Payne Smith, Jr.

A gift for the garden geek and plant nerd, Smith’s book focuses on plant families and taxonomy, including flower structures, pollination, and the fine details of botany. “I consult this book all the time,” Lisa reveals, “and it has the most wonderful illustrations!” Members, check it out at our Lenhardt Library. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Kitchen of Light.

Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad

Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad

The host of TV’s New Scandinavian Cooking goes directly to the source for his food, foraging for ingredients, eating flowers, and using just a few ingredients to make fresh, clean, simple outdoor meals. “Cookbooks are wonderful gifts when you make the right connection with the right cook,” Lisa muses. “Scandinavian or not, adventurous cooks will use it constantly.” Available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers.

Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers by Donald N. Maynard and George J. Hochmuth

Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers by Donald N. Maynard and George J. Hochmuth

According to Lisa, “It’s the vegetable grower’s bible, and a truly useful gift.” Now in its fifth edition, Knott’s Handbook is the resource for row spacing, seed planting, soil information, weed management, post-harvest handling…all in one very important resource. If you don’t buy yourself a copy, read it at our Lenhardt Library. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Around the World in 80 Plants.

Around the World in 80 Plants by Stephen Barstow

Around the World in 80 Plants by Stephen Barstow

When author Stephen Barstow and his wife—both vegetarians—moved to Norway, vegetable growing went from hobby to necessity. Tour the world’s food plants with the man who holds the world’s record for most edible ingredients in a single salad (537). “It’s the book I’m reading now,” says Lisa, “and it’s dedicated to Château de Valmer, where we send our Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden interns to work each year.” Our Lenhardt Library has it on the shelves, too. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Nothing Ever Happens on My Block.

Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin

Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin

“This is the book that started it all—the catalyst for my library,” Lisa says. A book from her childhood that seemingly has nothing to do with gardening, Nothing Ever Happens on My Block is about awareness—or, rather, Chester Filbert’s lack of awareness, as he claims boredom while the block around his house seethes with interesting spies, pirates, monsters, and fireworks. It’s a fun gift for all ages—and especially those who know that awareness is one of the great secrets to great gardening. Available online.

Order any of these books through our Amazon Smile link and 0.5 percent of the profits go to support the Chicago Botanic Garden! Or bookmark smile.amazon.com/ch/36-2225482

Visit the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden for more inspiration.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org