10 Cool Plants in the Nature Play Garden

Fran Sherman —  September 10, 2016 — 2 Comments

The opening celebration of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Regenstein Learning Campus on September 10 and 11 is just the beginning of the fun at the Nature Play Garden. How about splashing in the runnel or running up and down the rolling hills?

Beyond those charms, the Nature Play Garden has another wonderful element: plants that were chosen specifically for this garden. There are plants that appeal to all five senses, and plants with funny names or those that exhibit extreme contrasts. One of the best ways to explore the new Learning Campus and its Nature Play Garden is through plants.

In the Garden’s 26 other gardens, plants are chosen, tended, and laid out to enhance the visitor experience. In this, the Garden’s 27th garden, plants are meant to be touched, smelled, and examined up close.

Plants that appeal to the senses:

PHOTO: Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears'

Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’

Sensory plants like lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’) feel soft to the touch.

PHOTO: Physostegia virginiana 'Miss Manners'

Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’) has tubular flowers that remain in place if you move them.

PHOTO: Polemonium reptans 'Heaven Scent'

Polemonium reptans ‘Heaven Scent’
Photo courtesy of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens

Heaven Scent Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans ‘Heaven Scent’) was chosen for its fragrance. Enjoy its bright bloom in the spring.

PHOTO: Bergenia cordifolia 'Winterglut'

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winterglut’

Pigsqueak (Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winterglut’) has big, fleshy leaves that squeak when rubbing fingers over them.

PHOTO: Liquidambar styraciflua

Liquidambar styraciflua

Moraine American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Moraine’) has star-shaped leaves and seedpods that are spiky; when dry, the seedpods are a great percussion instrument when shaken.


Plants that look cool:

PHOTO: Sedum 'T. Rex'

Sedum ‘T. Rex’

Autumn stonecrop (Sedum ‘T Rex’) was a cultivar we didn’t yet have in the Garden. The education staff likes these leaves because they can be filled with air.

PHOTO: Cercis canadensis 'Columbus Strain'

Cercis canadensis ‘Columbus Strain’

Columbus Strain redbud (Cercis Canadensis ‘Columbus Strain’) promise to put on a glorious color show each fall. You won’t have to look far to find these: more than 60 surround the McCormick Entry Plaza. 

PHOTO: Carpinus caroliniana 'JN Select'

Carpinus caroliniana ‘JN Select’

Johnson’s Select American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana ‘JN Select’), a cultivar of hornbeam that is recognized for its unusually smaller and upright stature, is ideal for smaller urban gardens with red and orange fall color. These create the Hornbeam Room in the Nature Play Garden.

PHOTO: Chelone obliqua 'Tiny Tortuga'

Chelone obliqua ‘Tiny Tortuga’

Tiny Tortuga turtlehead (Chelone obliqua ‘Tiny Tortuga’) has flower heads that look like turtles.

PHOTO: Alchemilla mollis 'Thriller'

Alchemilla mollis ‘Thriller’

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis ‘Thriller’) is best when it rains because the raindrops stay on the leaves.


And a few bonus plants with fun names:

PHOTO: Eupatorium perfoliatum 'Milk and Cookies'

Eupatorium perfoliatum ‘Milk and Cookies’

Milk and Cookies common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum ‘Milk and Cookies’) is unusually dark-leafed.

There’s also a mythical hero — Hercules coral bells (Heuchera ‘Hercules’) — and a princess — Cinderella anemone (Anemone × hybrida ‘Cinderella’).

PHOTO: Heuchera 'Hercules'

Heuchera ‘Hercules’

PHOTO: Anemone x hybrida 'Cinderella'

Anemone × hybrida ‘Cinderella’

The team of horticulturists and landscape designers who worked to choose and plant the elements of the Nature Play Garden looked for four-season interest and plants that would appeal to visitors of all ages and abilities. Our heavy clay soil didn’t work for everything, but the range of options was still enormous. Come to the Nature Play Garden and discover your own favorite plants.

Join us for the opening celebration of the Regenstein Learning Campus, Saturday and Sunday, September 10 & 11, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Fran Sherman

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Fran Sherman is an editor at the Chicago Botanic Garden. If she's not at her desk, look for her bright orange kayak in the Skokie Lagoons or in Lake Michigan! (She might also be home practicing the violin...)

2 responses to 10 Cool Plants in the Nature Play Garden

  1. It’s so great that the Chicago Botanic Garden now has this Nature Play Garden! Children benefit so much from playing in and around nature.

    May I suggest adding the “mahiyain” or “makahiya” (shy/sensitive) plant?
    I don’t know it’s Scientific name, but it’s the plant that closes its leaves when touched. I think the children would find it fascinating

    • Hi Barbara. Thanks for your note and your suggestion. We do have the sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) in the Garden’s collections, and I agree that it would be a fun one for our younger visitors. On your next visit, you may want to use our GardenGuide app to find it and other interesting plants in the Nature Play Garden, the Greenhouses, and the Circle Garden!

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