Archives For Chicago Horticultural Society

Celebrate with Us

Renee T. —  May 1, 2015 — Leave a comment

This year, the Chicago Botanic Garden commemorates the 125th anniversary of the Chicago Horticultural Society, which created the Garden and manages it today.

The roots of the Chicago Botanic Garden run deep. Ground was broken in 1965 and the Garden opened in 1972, but its underpinnings can be traced to 1890, when the Chicago Horticultural Society was founded.

To celebrate the Society’s 125th anniversary, the Garden is featuring two special exhibitions, lectures, and the launch of a commemorative book, Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125.

The exhibition Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125  is open May 2– August 16 in the Joutras Gallery.

PHOTO: Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125 by Cathy Jean Maloney.

Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125 will be available for $35 at the Garden Shop in mid-June.

“The Chicago Horticultural Society has always been a dynamic organization that responded to the needs and interests of the public at all stages of its history,” said Kris Jarantoski, the Garden’s executive vice president and director. “And so it continues to this day by connecting people with beauty and plant collections from around the world in its botanic garden, educating the public about food growing and ecosystems, and studying our native flora.”

The Society shaped the future of Chicago through a series of public-private partnerships. During the 1890s, the Society included many influential businessmen who were also avid gardeners. “At that time, local civic leaders helped individual nurserymen do research,” said Cathy Jean Maloney, a Chicago-area garden historian and author. “This was well before the days when big companies could do their own plant research.” Maloney spent more than two years researching and writing the commemorative book.

The Society hosted nationally recognized flower and horticultural shows, including the World’s Columbian Exposition Chrysanthemum Show, held in conjunction with the world’s fair in 1893. Spectacular arrangements of cut and potted flowers were also displayed alongside artwork and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago.

PHOTO: An early postcard of the Society event of the year: the annual Chrysanthemum Show.

An early postcard of the Society event of the year: the annual Chrysanthemum Show

“It was the marriage of flowers and horticulture with artistry,” Maloney said. “Wealthy individuals would send floral specimens by railroad from as far away as New York. For people in the Chicago area, that was astounding.” One fall flower show in 1899 drew more than 15,000 visitors.

To observe the anniversary, a special exhibition will take place at the Garden from May 2 through August 16. “There are old hand tools and seed catalogs from the Garden’s archives,” Maloney said. “It will also highlight the major challenges of growing plants from the early days and before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to the victory garden era through the present.”

PHOTO: A view south of the site of the future Chicago Botanic Garden; low in the horizon is the city of Chicago.

A view looking south from the site of the future Chicago Botanic Garden; low in the horizon is the city of Chicago (click on image for a larger view)

PHOTO: An early image of the islands: in the foreground are Bird Island on the left, and the Fruit & Vegetable Garden on the right.

An early image of the Garden’s islands: in the foreground are Bird Island on the left, and the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden on the right (click on image for a larger view)

PHOTO: Midsummer in the English Walled Garden is a feast for the senses.

Midsummer in the English Walled Garden is a feast for the senses.

Research for the exhibition, lectures, and book was conducted at several institutions including the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Chicago History Museum, at local historical societies, and within the Garden’s Lenhardt Library. The library maintains a Chicago Horticultural Society archive that encompasses 250 feet of shelves and cabinets and includes newspaper clippings, letters, and other ephemera, but the gem, according to library director Leora Siegel, is a Society ledger filled with the spidery, elegant penmanship practiced by the Victorians. “We have some printed materials of early Society meetings that are just wonderful,” Siegel said, “but our magnificent ledger covering 1890 to 1904 is the prize.” A recent grant will allow the ledger and other fragile documents to be digitized so that they will be freely accessible online.

The library exhibition Keep Growing: The Chicago Horticultural Society’s 125th Anniversary is open through August 16 in the Lenhardt Library. A free talk will be held May 17 at 2 p.m.

“The 125th anniversary is a wonderful time to celebrate the people who advanced the Society and its accomplishments throughout its history—and the impact that the Society has made on the Chicago area and the world,” Jarantoski said.

You won’t want to miss it!


This post was adapted from an article by Nina Koziol for the summer 2015 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Garden Turns 40

Documenting our Past, Planning for the Future

Leora Siegel —  January 5, 2013 — 3 Comments

Chicago Botanic Garden visitors know that the Garden celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. In looking back over the Garden’s growth since 1972, Garden staff, members, and visitors appreciated the remarkable changes that had taken place. The 40th anniversary website includes a timeline of significant events, historical photos, and opportunities for community members to share their experiences at the Garden.

Fewer Garden visitors are aware of the early years of the Chicago Horticultural Society, which dates back to 1890. At a free talk about The Garden Turns 40: Documenting our Past, Planning for the Future exhibition last week, I shared some of this history with those who attended.

In 1890, the goal of the Horticultural Society of Chicago was “the encouragement and promotion of the practice of horticulture in all its branches and the fostering of an increased love of it among the people.” This is in perfect alignment with the City of Chicago’s motto of Urbs in Horto (Latin for city in a garden). The Society shared this message through flower shows. Currently on exhibition in the Lenhardt Library are a poster from a 1900 flower show and a pamphlet from the 1914 flower show.  Seeing the original, primary source documents from the Garden’s early history is inspiring.

PHOTO: The Garden Turns 40 Exhibition

Also on display as a part of the Garden Turns 40 exhibition is an original record book from 1890–1904. It includes all types of documents including board minutes (many of which were hand scribed), by-laws, financial records, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, meeting notifications, and other materials that were of interest to Society members. This is the only original document from the early period in the archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society.

The record book is open to the first page, which has a list of officers. You can see some names crossed off and others added. This is because it was a working document. As board members changed each year, the names were updated on the list. One civic leader who was involved with the Horticultural Society of Chicago and listed as an officer is Andrew McNally (from the Rand McNally family of maps and atlases).

See these items and more at the Lenhardt Library.  Feel free to ask library staff questions. If you have any family stories about how this Garden got started please share them with us; we’d love to hear from you.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org