Armchair Gardening

with our "Horticulturist-in-Chief"

Karen Z. —  January 8, 2015 — 4 Comments

January is such a satisfying month for gardening…especially of the armchair variety.

PHOTO: Kris Jarantoski with his favorite library reads.

Kris Jarantoski, the Garden’s executive vice president and director, among stacks of his favorite books

Just think: no digging, no hauling, no sweating. Instead, you have the opportunity to sit in the slowly increasing sunlight, with an inbox or mailbox full of gardening PDFs and catalogs and books. It’s a time to dream and learn and plan.

In short, January’s a fine month for reading about gardening.

Every gardener has his or her favorite books and resources that they turn to in winter. This got us wondering: what does our head horticulturist Kris Jarantoski pull off the shelf when he’s thinking about his next gardening endeavor?

His answers reflect his 30 years of garden experience here—indeed, Kris was the Garden’s very first horticulturist—and a lifetime love of the natural world.

Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage

Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage

Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage

Its full title, Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on Their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes, gives you the sense that this is an authoritative resource, and this gardening classic doesn’t disappoint. Armitage is that rare garden writer who is informative, interesting, and witty all at once. “If my mother had known that the spores overwintered on the blistered, ignored leaves by the garage, she would have removed them. Actually, she would have told her sons to do it, and we would have probably taken the Lawn Boy to them,” Armitage writes of hollyhocks—and his youth.

“This is my most-used reference book,” Kris admits. “We have lots of herbaceous perennials here at the Garden, and I do at my home, too. Armitage’s book is easy to use, up to date (it’s on its third edition), and if you want one place to go for reference, this is it.”


Garden Masterclass by John Brookes

Garden Masterclass by John Brookes

Garden Masterclass and The Essentials of Garden Design by John Brookes

Walk through the blue gates of our English Walled Garden and you’ve entered the world of John Brookes. A visitor favorite since its 1991 opening, the garden’s six “rooms” feature all that Brookes is known for: impeccable thought process, original design, and a masterfully creative use of plants.

Kris was there during every step of that Garden’s implementation. “John Brookes is brilliant,” he shares. “The way he sizes up a landscape, his sense of proportion, and his ability to know how things will work together is amazing. I’ve used his grid pattern on page 83 of Garden Masterclass at my own home—gardeners of any skill level can benefit from it.”


The Gardener's Practical Botany by John Tampion

The Gardener’s Practical Botany by John Tampion

The Gardener’s Practical Botany by John Tampion

An older (1973) but beloved resource, Tampion’s book is important “because anybody who gardens should know how plants work—how they breathe and take up water and have a vascular system,” Kris explains. “If you know how and why plants work—basic, practical botany—then you understand what’s happening when a rodent girdles your fruit trees.” Can’t find Tampion’s book? Try Biology of Plants by Peter Raven/Ray Evert/Susan Eichhorn—just one of the great botany books on the shelf at the Lenhardt Library.


The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

Less a reference book than a work of art about the art of gardening, 2011’s The Artful Garden became the final book by the late landscape architect James van Sweden (who died in 2013). By relating gardening to the arts—music, painting, dance—van Sweden “opened my mind as to how things work together in a landscape,” Kris says. “He was the visionary behind Evening Island, and the great photographs in this book remind me of how we thought about every aspect of the design as we worked on it.” A fine book for daydreaming about gardens large and small.


Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

A true lesson in design by a grande dame of British landscape architecture, this book teaches on the grand and historic scale. Sylvia Crowe created cityscapes, public properties, and institutional landscapes, but she also understood the importance of the land and was one of the first to act on the idea of sustainability. “This is one of the books I return to again and again,” Kris notes. “Sylvia Crowe was ahead of her time, and her thoughts on design continue to resonate today.”


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

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

The secret to many an Illinois gardener’s success, this University of Illinois publication is a favorite of the state’s many master gardeners. “It’s well laid out,” Kris explains, “and the illustrations are very good. The focus is on vegetables that thrive in the Midwest, so it’s a must-read for gardeners in our area. My copy has been well used over the years!”


Landscape Plants for Eastern North America by Harrison Flint

Landscape Plants for Eastern North America by Harrison Flint

Landscape Plants for Eastern North America by Harrison Flint

Which perennial, shrub, or tree, would work best in that tricky corner of your yard? This is the book that tells you. With several thousand plant listings, hundreds of photographs, and handy illustrations of plants compared in youth and at maturity, Flint’s book is a solid reference for seasoned and novice gardeners alike. “Dr. Flint is from the Midwest, and he understands what works in our gardens,” Kris adds. “I think of this book as a truly local resource. His book can be hard to find, though—it hasn’t been updated over the years—in which case you can turn to Michael Dirr’s well-known Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.


Trees for American Gardens by Donald Wyman

Trees for American Gardens by Donald Wyman

Trees for American Gardens and Shrubs for American Gardens by Donald Wyman

“These two titles are sentimental choices for me,” Kris mentions with a smile. “They’re out of date now, but they’re like old friends to me—textbooks used in the horticulture program at the University of Wisconsin/Madison when I was there. Donald Wyman set the tone and format for all the great horticultural reference books to come. When I open these books, it whisks me back to that thrilling time of learning about new plants, especially shrubs and trees.”


The magazine/periodical racks at our Lenhardt Library are a gardener’s guilty pleasure: gorgeous cover after gorgeous cover begs “pick me” for every gardening topic under the sun. A magazine browse is a fine way to spend a January day.

PHOTO: Woman with laptop in the Lenhardt Library.

Bring your sketchbook or laptop and plan your spring garden in the Lenhardt Library.

We asked Kris for his top magazine titles:

  • Horticulture
  • Fine Gardening
  • The American Gardener (the American Horticultural Society’s magazine)
  • Garden Design
  • Chicagoland Gardening
  • Northern Gardener (Minnesota State Horticultural Society magazine)
  • Gardens Illustrated
  • The Garden (Royal Horticultural Society magazine)
  • The English Garden

Nearly all of the above titles are available at our Lenhardt Library (free checkout year-round for members!). It’s a resource that Kris knows well. “I’ve always used our library,” he says. “My dad, who was an engineer, loved books and had an extensive collection, and I inherited that love of libraries from him.”

Pull up a chair. Pull out a book. And enjoy a little armchair gardening in January.

What are your favorite gardening books and websites? Tell us your top three titles in the comments section below!


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Growing the Garden

Something very significant is happening at the Garden.

Sophia Shaw —  January 5, 2015 — Leave a comment

Increasing attendance at the Chicago Botanic Garden and sister institutions around the country supports my conviction that public gardens are more relevant than ever to peoples’ lives. Our living museums are uniquely positioned to meet the pressing challenges of our time—climate change, a need for improved physical and mental health, workforce training, stress, and more.

The Garden’s mission statement says it best: We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.

As we work to fulfill our mission, we attract more and more visitors: In 2014 we welcomed 1,058,368 visitors, a 6 percent increase over our record-breaking 2013, and 52 percent more than in 2005. These numbers tell us that something very significant is happening at the Garden.

Graph of Garden attendance.

Our mission compels us to provide meaningful and joyful experiences that speak to the essential role plants play in all of our lives. We continuously work to improve the relevance of that experience and in 2014 enhanced our already-rich menu of programs and services.

PHOTO: Orchid by Zak Yasin

The 2015 Orchid Show will run February 14 through March 15. (Orchid photo by 2014 photo contest entrant, Zak Yasin)

February saw the launch of the Garden’s first month-long orchid exhibition, a stunning celebration of the world’s largest flowering plant family. The Orchid Show filled the Regenstein Center with fragrance and color, attracting 25,000 visitors seeking respite from the Chicago winter. The beauty of the tropical blooms inspired awe, and also helped visitors understand the value of plant diversity and the importance of conserving the natural habitats on which all life depends.

A newly refurbished Garden View Café opened in spring. The updated menu features the best in local and seasonal food—some of it grown through the Garden’s Windy City Harvest urban agriculture program. We’ve added a brick pizza oven and barista station, and now serve brunch all day on Sundays. Our Sprouts Meals put a healthy twist on traditional children’s favorites. The café serves up delicious, fresh meals, and also serves as a model for sustainability.

PHOTO: Breaking ground on the new Jarantoski campus, July 29, 2014.

Breaking ground on the new Jarantoski campus, July 29, 2014

In summer, the Garden broke ground for a new 151,000-square-foot outdoor nursery, the first phase of construction for the Kris Jarantoski Campus. The campus will include a new plant production facility and display garden designed by Belgian landscape architect Peter Wirtz. The facility will ensure horticultural excellence, support advanced conservation research, and expand the plant-based educational programs at the Garden. Wirtz’s innovative landscape design will unify the south end of the campus and draw visitors to a lesser-known corner of the Garden.

The North Branch Trail addition opened in early fall and makes the Garden more accessible to the roughly 80,000 to 90,000 visitors who enter by bike or foot each year. The multiuse path provides a safe, scenic route from the Braeside Metra Station in Highland Park to the Garden, and connects the North Branch Trail with the Green Bay Trail.

PHOTO: North Branch Trail addition (bike path).

The North Branch Trail addition opened this past fall.

The Garden’s expanding influence extends well beyond our Glencoe campus. In December we celebrated 20 years of helping Chicago Public Schools students succeed in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In addition to the over 30,000 students who participate annually in the Garden’s formal education programs, to date, approximately 500 students have taken part in the Garden’s Science Career Continuum programs. Nearly all participants tracked since 2006 have enrolled in college; of these, more than three-fourths majored in a STEM field, and nearly two-thirds pursued science.

A USDA NIFA (National Institute for Food and Agriculture) grant is enabling the Garden’s Windy City Harvest urban agriculture programs to mentor urban farmers in Chicago. Three years into the grant, we’ve created four incubator farms as part of the redevelopment of the former Robert Taylor Homes public housing project. Other Windy City Harvest components include a teen leadership training program and a series of professional certificates offered through the Arturo Velasquez Institute, a satellite of Richard J. Daley College, City Colleges of Chicago.

PHOTO: The Windy City Harvest’s Legends Farm at 4500 S. Dearborn Street.

The Windy City Harvest’s Legends Farm at 4500 S. Dearborn Street

In December, the White House announced the Chicago Botanic Garden’s C3I initiative as part of a sweeping new approach to climate-change education. C3I (Connecting Climate to Communities Initiative) unites 12 Midwest community organizations in an effort to engage populations underrepresented in the environmental movement.

Our scientists travel the globe, collaborating with peers worldwide to monitor, conserve, and restore critical habitats, research underutilized food crops, and mitigate the effects of climate change. The Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center opened five years ago and so far has graduated 50 master’s degree students from our plant biology and conservation science program, offered in conjunction with Northwestern University. We are looking forward to seeing the first Ph.D. candidates graduate this spring.

Look for continued growth in 2015 as the Garden continues to progress toward goals set out in its ten-year strategic plan, “Keep Growing” (2010–20). What keeps us going? We believe beautiful gardens and natural environments are fundamentally important to the mental and physical well-being of all people. We believe people live better, healthier lives when they can create, care for, and enjoy gardens. We believe the future of life on Earth depends on how well we understand, value, and protect plants, other wildlife, and the natural habitats that sustain our world. Please join us in our mission.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Mushroom Discovery

Julie McCaffrey —  December 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

All the possibilities for the Obama Library plus our Windy City Harvest Youth Farm are featured on National Geographic’s website! Read about it in Greg Mueller’s article, The Next New Species Could be in Your Backyard: Why Exploration and Discovery Matter—Everywhere on National Geographic. Mueller, chief scientist and Negaunee Foundation vice president of science at the Garden, describes the excitement of discovering new species in our own neighborhoods and parks.

Collection: Patrick R. Leacock 5450 2003 Aug 9 USA, Illinois, Cook County Illinois Mycological Association foray Herbarium: F, C0210207F

Photograph by Patrick R. Leacock

Read more by Garden scientists at voices.nationalgeographic.com
Copyright © 2014 National Geographic

Creating Blooming Dish Gardens

Tim Pollak —  December 27, 2014 — 4 Comments

Create a miniature landscape in an open, shallow container: a dish garden! Gather small foliage and flowering plants together in a decorative container—like a basket or saucer—for a versatile display you can enjoy throughout the year. 

Dish gardens are easy to grow, very adaptable to most environments, and can be placed anywhere in the home. Even if you do not have a green thumb, you’ll find it difficult to kill a dish garden. They last much longer than fresh cut flower arrangements, although if you like, you can add fresh cut flowers—they will last up to a week or more. Once done blooming, the flowers can be easily removed or replaced, and the dish garden can be enjoyed for many more months.

Watch this video to learn more.

  • Choose the container: Your dish garden should be planted in a shallow container. The size depends only on how many plants you want to put into it. Almost anything can be used as a container—let your imagination be the judge. 
  • Provide drainage:  Adequate drainage is probably the most important rule to ensure the success of your dish garden. Be sure to remove excess water and avoid over-watering. Drainage holes on the bottom are best, but not mandatory. If drainage holes are not present, use a plastic liner or saucer in the container, or add a layer of gravel or pebbles on the bottom for drainage.
  • Choose the plants: Use small starter plants; 3-inch or 4-inch pots work best. Choose plants with the same general light and water requirements. Using seasonal flowering plants or interesting seasonal focal points—such as poinsettias for the holidays—and change them out throughout the year: replace your poinsettia with a flowering primrose or bulbs in the spring.
  • Dish garden themes: Be different! Try a cactus or desert garden, bulb garden, flowering annuals, African violets, or herb garden. Or try to spruce it up with special decorations for a holiday or event.
  • Planting and design: Always use a well-draining peat-based potting soil. Place the tallest plants in the center if the dish garden is to be viewed from several sides, or place them in the back of the container if viewed only from one side. Mix plants with contrasting foliage, colors, leaf sizes, and shapes. Top dress the soil with a layer of Spanish moss, gravel, or bark chips.
  • Care of your dish garden: Again, they are easy, needing only proper drainage, water, light, and an occasional dose of general fertilizer, and minor trimming if needed. They can last in the home for 1-2 years before repotting is needed.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Two years ago—before his life took a head-spinning turn—Fernando Orozco was a 19-year-old juvenile offender in the Cook County Sheriff’s detention center. Recently, he completed work as a grower and crew leader on the Kraft Food campus in Northfield, Illinois, as part of a 13-week stint in Windy City Harvest Corps, an educational and transitional jobs program run by the Chicago Botanic Garden.

PHOTO: Fernando Orozco.

Fernando Orozco at the Kraft Makers Garden

“I never thought I’d have a job like this where I have my own site and, not only that, the responsibility of caring for a crew of other guys,” Orozco said, on a break from work last summer in the 8,000-square-foot Kraft Makers Garden.

His crew included young men, ages 17 to 21, in the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice system. The team grew enough tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and other produce to fill 55 boxes a week for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program. Other crops included cherries, beets, swiss chard, and watermelon, made pretty with plantings of scarlet runner beans and firecracker flowers, all grown in full view of Kraft employees as they worked out in the company gym. Produce from the site is donated to WIC centers and food pantries in the networks of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Orozco became interested in farming at the sheriff’s detention center, where he learned basic growing and organic practices in a program run by Windy City Harvest, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s urban agriculture education and jobs-training initiative. He went on to complete the nine-month Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship program, earned a certificate in safe and sustainable urban agriculture, and interned at locations including chef Rick Bayless’s home garden in Chicago.

The Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship program attracts a diverse group of students, including young adults with a history of incarceration and those with significant barriers to employment. “Just because they’re checking that box that says ‘felony offense’ doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re bad people,” said Angela Mason, director of Windy City Harvest. “They just need someone to give them a chance and support them through those changes. ”

Fernando and WCH Crew work at Kraft

Using organic methods and operating on eight acres at a dozen locations throughout Chicago and Lake County, Windy City Harvest students annually grow about 100,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables, serving an estimated 143,000 people.

Now Orozco tells the former juvenile offenders with whom he works that they can leave their past behind. “I’m not the smartest person in the world,” he tells them, “but I saw an opportunity and I took it, and the same opportunity is happening to you guys. Are you going to take advantage?”

Orozco hopes to run his own farm some day. “But, for now, I’d be happy if I were here, doing the same thing, just perfecting the craft, growing food and helping people, growing people,” he said. “I can’t ask for a better job.” 


This post was adapted from an article by Helen K. Marshall that appeared in the winter 2014 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org