Archives For Visiting the Garden

Find wonder in all seasons at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Are you feeling winter blue? Do you feel trapped in cold and ice? Has your mood gone south, leaving you wishing that you could, too?

What, with the world’s best antidepressant right out your front door?

The magic elixir is a winter walk. And the Chicago Botanic Garden awaits with a prescription-strength dose—miles of trails through the Garden, almost all of them kept clear of snow and ice, with a number of mapped-out walks ranging from 1 to 2.3 miles.

PHOTO: Spider Island in winter.

A hidden gem, the path along Spider Island is just the place for a peaceful winter walk.

I love a brisk walk any time, anywhere. But never is it as urgently necessary for my mental health as in winter.

A winter walk is the cure for cabin fever. And more than that, it’s the way to reshape the way you think about winter.

PHOTO: Birches in winter.

Elegant in winter, birches line the Sensory Garden path.

Winter doesn’t have to be a sentence to months of suffering. Once you start walking in it, you see it as a time for a brisk spins through snow-frosted landscapes; an opportunity to see trees in their dramatically revealed architecture; a chance at that perfect winter moment when a bright sun in a blue sky makes a new snowfall glitter like diamonds.

The Garden’s winter regulars need no convincing.

“I love the freshly fallen snow,” said Paul Wagner, who was here on a recent blue-sky day when snow frosted the hills and chunks of ice floated in the Garden’s waters.

He regularly drives 40 minutes from his Northbrook home to walk a 4½-mile circuit here.

“The Garden is really pretty. And it’s certainly less crowded,” he said. “It’s just peaceful. I listen to music…you’re deep in thought—and at the end of it, you’re just so relaxed you wonder where the time went.”

Cookie Harms, of Wilmette, treasures the quiet and solitude. She also admires the birds, untroubled by winter and more visible in leafless trees. “I still see something different every time I come here,” she said.

And as a self-described “summer girl,” she considers walking in winter an essential survival tool.

“It really lifts the blues,” she said. “It’s definitely a drug.”

PHOTO: Linden Allee in winter.

The Linden Allée, newly plowed after a fresh blanket of snow

But is it a hard drug to take? Isn’t walking in winter cold?

Wagner was wearing a sweatshirt over a base layer. The air temperature was 25 degrees Fahrenheit. He was perfectly comfortable. Walking fast is like being surrounded by a bubble of heat.

Harms was downright toasty, but that might be because she was basking in the sun in the Garden View Café before setting out on her walk.

Still, she was certain she would still be warm outside. “Fleece base layers,” she said, pointing to her leggings.

I would add: Hat. Wind-blocking scarf or neck gaiter. Chemical hand-warmers. Mittens.

Add a route through trees and hills, whether at the Garden or your local forest preserve—and out you go!

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Where Love is in the Air

The Garden's Most Romantic Bridges

Karen Z. —  July 26, 2015 — 2 Comments

A bridge can be a portal, a passage, a strategic position, an arrival, a departure, or a place to meet halfway. And of course bridges can be marvelously romantic, as anyone who’s gasped at a mist-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge or taken a Parisian boat ride on the Seine can attest.

Bridges are integral to the Chicago Botanic Garden, too, built as it is on nine islands.

For a lovely summer evening, take a long walk together…cross these six romantic bridges together…and prepare for some memorable moments.

Daisy Chain

It’s official! Chicago Botanic Garden is voted Best Wedding Venue 2015 by Make it Better magazine! #MIBBestof2015

Daisy ChainShall we Cross that Bridge?

Bridges are one of the most spectacular places at the Garden for photography—as countless brides, prom groups, families, and sweethearts can attest.

PHOTO: Trellis bridge.

Sunset frames the Trellis Bridge in golden glow.

Halfway along Evening Island, the Trellis Bridge is a surprise invitation to explore what lies on the other side. The Trellis Bridge has different acoustics than the other bridges: it goes quiet at the center. Listen for the sounds of gardens, rather than the sounds of people. Its sinuous shape and curving boards invite you to pause…and enjoy each other’s company.

PHOTO: Japanese Garden bridge.

The serene scene at the Malott Japanese Garden bridge.

Intentionally steep, the arched bridge that leads to the three islands of the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden forces you to slow down as you climb. At the top, you pause naturally to take a breath, to stop and lift your gaze, to look around, not just ahead of you. This bridge signals change—your passage into a very different garden and a very different mindset.

PHOTO: The Zigzag bridge at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

In good spirits? Cross the Zigzag Bridge.

Separating two of the three Malott Japanese Garden islands is the Zigzag Bridge. While legend holds that humans can elude evil spirits by crossing a zigzag bridge (because those spirits move only in straight lines), a zigzag bridge also has a practical purpose: to slow your progress, encouraging you to enjoy the beauty around you…including your sweetheart.

PHOTO: Lotus frame the ends of the Arch Bridge in midsummer.

Lotus bloom in the shallows of the Arch Bridge in midsummer.

Turn left as you leave the Malott Japanese Garden, and the very next turn brings you to the Arch Bridge, which connects to Evening Island. With its height above the water and its panoramic view, this bridge has a grand, soaring feeling. Plan to be there at sunset, when late light strikes and illuminates the bridge, making it—and the person you’re with—positively glow.

Set the SceneDine and dance every evening Monday through Thursday at the Garden to the rhythms of swing, Latin jazz, samba, bluegrass, big band, country, rock ’n’ roll, and salsa.

Return to Evening Island and you’ll soon reach the Serpentine Bridge, which carries you back to the main island. It also brings you quite close to the water, as if floating above it. Meanderingly quiet and peaceful, the Serpentine Bridge feels very protected. Fish swim just below you, lilies and lotuses rock with the breeze, and the view toward the Arch Bridge at sunset is simply glorious.

Bridges set the scene for what’s ahead, and the long boardwalk to Spider Island does that in a particularly brilliant way. Hand-hewn from black locust, the boardwalk bridges our largest island to our smallest, with an angled path lying low across the water. What could have been a short, direct, 90-degree crossing becomes instead a private journey to Spider Island’s sole, spiral path—like a tail on the curve of a question mark. 

PHOTO: Spider Island boardwalk.

Follow the path to its end, a small and private sitting area.

Daisy Chain

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Ten Romantic Spots to Pop the Question

Summer of Love

Karen Z. —  June 11, 2015 — 2 Comments

Gardens are romantic by nature. That’s why one of our most frequently asked questions is, “What’s the most romantic spot at the Garden?”

So we scoped it out, asked around, and compiled a list of our top ten most romantic spots. Now it’s up to you to…
Pop the Question.

Daisy Chain

It’s official! Chicago Botanic Garden is voted Best Wedding Venue 2015 by Make it Better magazine! #MIBBestof2015

Daisy Chain

PHOTO: Rose Garden arbor.

The Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor is the perfect place to pause on a romantic stroll.

1. “Doesn’t it smell wonderful?”

Claim a bench under the Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor and take a deep breath. Then another. Soon you’ll be discussing the bouquet of roses—one smells of musk, another of tea, a third of myrrh—just as you do a fine wine. (Which, by the way, is available at the Garden View Café.)

PHOTO: The blue bench in the niche at the English Walled Garden.

“Something borrowed, something blue…” sets the tone in the English Walled Garden.

2. “Would you like to sit here?”

With climbing hydrangeas overhead, a pergola of white wisteria just ahead, and a romantic morning glory tile inset behind you (are those leaves or hearts?), the vividly blue bench tucked into the niche at the English Walled Garden is the prettiest seat at the Garden.

3. “Shall we cross that bridge?”

On summer evenings, the bridges to Evening Island—the Arch Bridge and the Serpentine Bridge—are lit at night. A bridge is such a splendid place for a private conversation and…reflection.

PHOTO: The Serpentine Bridge at night.

The dramatically lit Serpentine Bridge is the path to summer evening romance.

4. “Can you top this?”

The top of the Waterfall Garden has it all: rushing water, a sweet arbor, birds chirping in shady trees. It’s one of the best spots at the Garden to sit…very…close.

PHOTO: Arbor at the top of the Waterfall Garden.

The peaceful hideaway atop the Waterfall Garden is a romantic destination in any season.

5. “Pics or it didn’t happen?”

Romantic memories need a great background. At the top of the Sensory Garden is the photo-worthy frame you’re looking for.

PHOTO: The view from the top of the Sensory Garden.

Tucked away in the Sensory Garden is this shady arbor, ready for a romantic moment.

6. “Want to try a new place?”

One of the newest—and therefore least-discovered—spots in the Garden is Kleinman Family Cove. (Yes, it’s open during construction on the Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus across the road.) Take advantage of the quiet, the deck that hovers over the water, and the natural chorus of frogs…

PHOTO: The Cove at dusk.

A shoreline chorus is the perfect accompaniment to your proposal at the Cove.

7. “Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

On Monday nights, carillonneurs from around the globe transform Evening Island into an outdoor concert hall. Not coincidentally, it’s also picnic night. Got the picture? A romantic picnic, the music of bells, and a secluded spot on Evening Island, where two perfectly placed rocks make a perfect seat for a perfect couple.

PHOTO: Sitting boulders at Evening Island.

Enjoy a concert for two on Monday nights from this secret spot on Evening Island.

8. “Which path do you want to take?”

A summer walk through the Dixon Prairie is inherently romantic, with grasses and prairie flowers taller than your head, and late-day light filtering through the foliage. Take the boardwalk bridge across the water to tiny Marsh Island for a memorable sunset moment.

PHOTO: The boardwalk to Marsh Island.

Prairie plants grow tall enough to hide stolen kisses off the beaten path on Marsh Island.

9. “Do you feel like a beer?”

There’s something different about this arch: it’s made from hops—which, of course, are the key ingredients in beer. Take photos under the archway, sit for a while in the Circle Garden’s very romantic “secret” side gardens, then ask the beer question. The answer will be “Yes.”

PHOTO: Arch at Circle Garden side garden.

Pop the question in one of the side gardens of the Circle Garden for a “hoppy” answer!

PHOTO: A sunset samba on the Esplanade.

Pop the question after a sunset samba on the dance floor with the best view in town: the Esplanade.

10. “May I have this dance?”

Dancing is romantic. Outdoor dancing is super romantic. Outdoor dancing at the Garden is meta romantic. And it happens every weeknight during the summer. Salsa, swing, big band, bluegrass, and jazz rock the most beautiful “dance floor” in town.

After you pop the other question…

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden. Find out more from Connie or Kristina at

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden.

Daisy Chain

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Hand to Hand

Making origami cranes

Karen Z. —  April 21, 2015 — Leave a comment

Long-ago legend says that cranes can live for 1,000 years…and that folding 1,000 paper cranes, one for each year, can make a wish come true. 

So it is that the crane is the symbol of longevity and good fortune.

22 Folds
From the first corner-to-corner fold to the last crook of beak and tail, it takes 22 folds to make this style of origami crane. Because pictures are worth 1,000 words, we offer this visual guide to crane-making.

Download these instructions to create an origami crane.

Click on the image above for a larger version to print and save. Wishing you longevity and good fortune!

Fast forward to the turn of the twenty-first century, when Ray Wilke, a devoted volunteer in the Elizabeth Malott Japanese Garden, decided to make origami cranes as a take-away gift for children who visited the garden’s Shoin House. Each winter, Ray and wife Ginny folded cranes…and each spring/summer Ray handed them out, one by one, to the curious children.

Over the years, Ray and Ginny made 40,000 cranes.

When Ray “retired” from volunteering, fellow-volunteer Edie Rowell decided to keep the hand-to-hand tradition alive. She taught Interpretive Programs manager Mary Plunkett how to fold. Mary found more volunteers to train other volunteers, and set out stacks of paper for them to take at will.

Now there are 10 people who fold, bringing in bags of 20, 60, or 100 origami cranes throughout the winter.

And 3,000-plus cranes are ready to hand out for the 2015 season.

PHOTO: Volunteers Susan and Edie with their stash of origami cranes.

Happiness is 1,000 paper cranes…and volunteers like Susan and Edie.

This just in from California…

Just 24 hours after our interview, Mary Plunkett called to say that a box had just arrived in the mail from volunteer Meline Pickus. She’d sent 50 cranes from California, where she was staying for the winter. In her spare time, she folded cranes…and she wanted them to arrive in Chicago before the Shoin House opened. Our volunteers are awesome.

PHOTO: Origami paper cranes.

Origami paper cranes

From Ray’s original intent comes great good fortune: a community has sprung. “It goes beyond the normal notion of volunteering,” Mary explains. “You get into a Zen state when folding…it’s very relaxing…and you’re contributing to something that’s bigger than you. It’s social, too—a group of three or four might have dinner together, then fold cranes together.”

And what do the kids think when they’re offered a crane? “They’re over the moon, they’re very gentle with them,” Mary says. “We say, ‘We’d like you to have one,’ and you’d think you were giving them gold when you explain why. It opens the door for conversations, especially with 7-, 8-, 9-year-olds.”

Cranes are offered, hand to hand, at the Shoin House whenever volunteers are present…for as long as the handmade supply lasts. (Although adults make wishes, too, cranes are for kids only.)

Volunteer season at the Shoin House begins May 13. Bring the kids—and tell them to think about their wish!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Tree-O-Caching in Fall

Kathy J. —  October 24, 2013 — 1 Comment
PHOTO: Fall leaves in the Sensory Garden.

Fall leaves in the Sensory Garden

This is a treasure hunt to find trees.
Follow the clues to find them with ease.

Each clue has a hint to the tree’s location,
And a few facts for identification.

The numbers provided are GPS* clues,
Just in case our rhyming stumps you.

When you get to each tree you’re meant to find,
Read the message on the large brown sign.

*GPS coordinates give the general area and my not be exact. Use them to get in the vicinity, then look for a tree that fits the clues. (All trees can be found in adjacent gardens on the west side of the main island.) Don’t have a GPS device? You can use your iPhone or Android phone’s compass utility to follow the clues. Remember: leave any seeds you find for the critters that need food for winter!


PHOTO: This shows the end of a branch with green pointed leaves and black berries.

Tree #1


Enter a Garden of native flowers and grasses;
Walk ’round the fence and try not to pass this.

It’s tall and stately, and rough is its bark;
Look up to see woody, small berries, which are dark.

If you go past the fliers, frozen midflight,
“backtrack” your footsteps to the tree that is “right.”

GPS: N 42˚08.899′, W 087˚47.510′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’54”  W 87˚ 47’31”


Tree #2


If these trees were shorter, this clue’d be a hard one.
Follow the path through the Landscape Garden.

An evergreen trio are loaded with seeds;
They form narrow cones—look up high to see.

You may cross a stream discover these gems, 
Enjoying the moisture, to the water they bend.

GPS: N 42˚08.879′, W087˚47.499′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’53”  W 87˚ 47’31”

PHOTO: close up of a yellow, star-shaped leaf

Tree #3


For those who love fall color it’s plain to see,
Edna Kanaley Graham would have loved this next tree.

Come into the garden, where spring bulbs sleep.
Look right in the entrance and take a quick peep.

This tree’s fruits (now all fallen) are small prickly balls,
Star-shaped leaves are what’s left now—orange and yellow in fall.

GPS: N 42˚08.890′, W 087˚47.566′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’53”, W 087˚ 47’34”

PHOTO: This is a pair of leaves with some type of nuts.

Tree #4


Near the Circle Garden and the whistling of trains,
A group of large trees makes nuts from sun, air, and rain.

Squirrels and critters think that these nuts are great;
It’s also a favorite of Ohio State!

Can’t find our trees on your wander? Look down:
This time of year, fruit and husks litter the ground.

GPS: N 42˚ 08.849′, W 087˚47.465′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’50”, W 087˚47’34”

PHOTO: Long seedpods hang between heart-shaped leaves

Tree #5


From here, it’s off to the Enabling Garden you go;
Where a smattering of these trees you’ll find in a row.

This specimen grows very large heart-shaped leaves;
Long, narrow seed pods hang from its eaves.

Either side of the path they drip like fresh wax;
We hope from these clues you discover the facts.

GPS: N 42˚08.810′, W 087˚47.416′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’49”, W 087˚ 47’25”

Our ephemeral signs have now been removed from each site, but here are the answers:

  1. Hackberry (Celtis Occidentalis)
  2. Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Acrocona’)
  3. Moraine sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Moraine’)
  4. Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
  5. Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and