Archives For Garden Design

Did the striking Silver Fox foxglove make it into “the show” this spring? Who decides which flowers make the cut anyway for the unfurling of 75,000 annuals at the Chicago Botanic Garden?

We’ll show you a few of our spring favorites that made it through the multi-level review process.

Digitalis purpurea ssp. heywoodii ‘Silver Fox’

Digitalis purpurea ssp. heywoodii ‘Silver Fox’ (Sensory Garden)

“Behind all of these beautiful displays, there is a lot more happening than what you may think,” said Tim Johnson, the Garden’s senior director of horticulture. “It can be very complex—different plants have different production times.” Besides considering how long it takes for a plant to grow in our greenhouses, the Garden’s experts also consider the desired size and bloom time.

Every season, each horticulturist proposes a color scheme and submits plans to Johnson. About ten months before spring or the start of the other seasons, the proposals are reviewed by experts, including Kris Jarantoski, executive vice president and director; Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist; Brian Clark, manager of plant production; Andrew Bunting, assistant director of the Garden and director of plant collections, and Johnson. The team also considers how each proposed plant fits into a garden’s design and color scheme, along with its habit, culture, and cost. “They all need to be looked at globally to make sure there are different plants, varieties, and color schemes throughout the entire Garden,” Johnson said. “Each garden should have a unique look to it.”

Viola 'Fizzy Grape' by Ball Seed

Viola × wittrockiana ‘Fizzy Grape’ (Lake Cook Road entrance and gatehouse)

Primula vulgaris ‘Primlet Golden Shade' by Panam Seed

Primula vulgaris ‘Primlet Golden Shade’ (Heritage Garden troughs)

Hyacinthoides hispanica 'Excelsior' by Brent & Becky's Bulbs

Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Excelsior’ (Heritage Garden troughs)

Ranunculus asiaticus Maché 'Purple' by Ball Seed

Ranunculus asiaticus ‘Maché Purple’ (Green Roof)

Linaria maroccana 'Licilia Peach'

Linaria maroccana ‘Licilia Peach’ (Circle Garden)

Calendula officinalis 'Neon'

Calendula officinalis ‘Neon’ (Sensory Garden)

Dianthus barbatus ‘Sweet Purple’ by Panam Seed

Dianthus barbatus ‘Sweet Purple’ (Sensory Garden)

Tulipa 'Amazone'

Tulipa ‘Amazone’ (Crescent Garden)

Before spring slips away, come see what’s in bloom at the Garden and look for the annuals that made the final cut, including—you guessed it—an unusual foxglove known as ‘Silver Fox’. Before you visit, download our free GardenGuide app to help you find plants.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

In the summer of 2002, a large, multidisciplinary group of professors, healthcare providers, and design professionals gathered at the Chicago Botanic Garden to help form the curriculum of a new, original certificate program.

The goal of the Healthcare Garden Design Certificate Program was, and remains, to provide a useful, up-to-date, and engaging professional development opportunity in healthcare garden design that reflects the multidisciplinary nature of this emerging field, and allows participants the opportunity to focus their learning on topics of particular relevance to each person.

PHOTO: 2015 Healthcare Garden Design class.

The 2015 Healthcare Garden Design class
Photo by Carissa Ilg

PHOTO: Participants rest in the shade of a garden during a site visit as part of the Healthcare Garden Design course.

Gwenn Fried, a program instructor, having a conversation with 2015 program participant during a site visit to a healing garden as part of the Healthcare Garden Design Certificate course. Photo by Carissa Ilg

From the start, evidence-based design has been the core of this program, with a focus on using research results to design garden facilities that allow for and make possible specific health and wellness outcomes, while encouraging the design team’s creativity and the application of professional insight.

What you can expect to learn from attending this course:

  • Learn from key industry leaders why healthcare gardens constitute an essential component of customer-centered environments of care. Learn how these gardens positively impact patient health outcomes, stress reduction, and satisfaction, as well as employee retention, marketing activities, philanthropy, accreditation, and the bottom line.
  • Gain a more thorough understanding of how evidence-based design is fueling growth in healthcare gardens and restorative environments, and how research informs the design process.
  • Define best practices in this emerging field through collaboration with colleagues from a variety of professions.
  • Discover how healthcare gardens can lead to increased levels of outside funding and contribute to successful marketing activities.
  • Learn about the full range of benefits that therapeutic gardens make possible when used by health professionals including doctors, nurses, and horticultural, art, music, physical, occupational, and recreation therapists.
  • Engage in case studies, multidisciplinary group projects, field trips, and other learning activities that focus on the unique characteristics of healthcare gardens and their design for specific populations and facilities.
PHOTO: Splitting into teams, each group designs their own Healthcare Garden Design project to present at the end of the program.

Splitting into teams, each group designs their own healthcare garden design project to present at the end of the program. Photo by Carissa Ilg

PHOTO: Another team sketches out their Healthcare Garden Design.

Another team sketches out their healthcare garden design. Photo by Mark Epstein

The Healthcare Garden Design (HGD) program at Chicago Botanic Garden was one of the most information-packed programs I have ever attended. Every speaker was at the top of their field and imparted practical, useful information that I was able to take back to my special-needs school to use. I loved that the speakers had diverse backgrounds—which gave a well-rounded view of what healthcare gardens should entail. Because of what we learned at the HGD program, we were able to design a wheelchair-accessible therapy garden that meets the needs of all our students. The program gave us insight to avoid problems, add security and safety, and create a useful, beautiful garden for students with very complex needs. I can’t say enough about how valuable the HGD program was for my professional career as a special-needs educator with an extreme interest in horticulture therapy.
—Janel Rowe, Bright Horizons Center School, Bright Garden Project co-chair

Each cohort is composed of up to 24 professionals and students from throughout the United States and abroad.

Past participants include:

  • Healthcare executives, administrators, and facility managers
  • Landscape architects, architects, and garden and interior designers
  • Nurses, doctors, horticultural and other adjunctive therapists, and other medical professionals
  • Graduate students in degree programs in these fields

Upon completion of this program, the participant’s ability to design and promote healthcare gardens will be markedly improved. Someone who has completed the program will be capable of applying their knowledge, skills, and insight to the design of healthcare gardens for any population or facility.

What you won’t find in the marketing material—the exclusive intangibles of this course—is the experience of immersive learning from the broad range of distinguished instructors, in a spectacular setting. The Chicago Botanic Garden itself is a masterpiece of great design, and the classroom feels like an illustrious museum. The curriculum and instructors provide personalized and customized learning. Participants have created enduring friendships and professional relationships in this course.

There is no other course like this one; the Healthcare Garden Design certificate program provides a unique and extraordinary experience.

PHOTO: Final 2015 Healthcare Garden Design group presentations.

Final 2015 Healthcare Garden Design group presentations
Photo by Carissa Ilg.


Our next program begins May 11, 2016. Register for the Healthcare Garden Design certificate program today.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A well-designed outdoor space can do wonders for seniors and those with Alzheimer’s disease. But how do these gardens differ from other outdoor spaces and why are they so important?

Housing for the elderly has been provided in many western cities since the Middle Ages. Facilities such as independent living centers, skilled nursing homes, dementia or memory care units, and hospice facilities have traditionally included some form of outdoor space.

PHOTO: Book cover.

The Role of the Outdoors in Residential Environments for Aging, published in 2006.

The majority of the elderly (over 65) reside in their own home or with relatives. Whether in a facility or at a personal home, particular symptoms of decreased quality of life begin to show during these stages. These symptoms are often displayed in the form of boredom, helplessness, and loneliness. Fortunately, many, if not all of these symptoms can be improved with gardening and exposure to outdoor spaces.

The keys (and often the greatest challenges) to successful aging are to remain physically active and socially engaged, and to retain a sense of self. There are many measureable health outcomes for seniors and the outdoors. Even a short visit in a garden can lower blood pressure, improve vitamin D absorption, improve stability, and help with better sleep patterns.

Boredom can be remedied with sensory stimulation and interaction with nature. Nature can aid the feeling of helplessness with providing a space for temporary escape (actual or visual), and the feeling of loneliness can be decreased in a garden that provides multiple places for socialization.

The benefits are endless. So how do we make sure these wonderful gardens are implemented properly so that they will be used by seniors?

PHOTO: An elderly woman smelling a yellow rose and smiling.

A senior engages with colorful and inviting roses at Elm Tree Gardens in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

For today, we’ll concentrate on four factors of design: The entrance and exit to the outdoor space, plant material, pathways and ease of accessibility (circuit and materials), and seating.

The entrance/exit to an outdoor space—the threshold—is perhaps the most important factor to consider when designing an outdoor space for the elderly, and this largely comes down to one single detail: the door. Doorways are high on the list of residential complaints. Often they’re hard to open, or locked. They don’t have windows and therefore inhibit visitors from viewing the garden (…what’s the weather like?). Perhaps the door has a lip that makes it difficult for seniors in wheelchairs to cross the threshold on their own.

Another factor involving the threshold is the comfort (or perceived comfort) when entering or exiting the garden. Creating a transition or “comfort zone” between the indoor and outdoor space is key. Aging eyes have difficulty adjusting from indoor light to outdoor sunlight. Providing shade at the entrance/exit in the form of an awning or patio will increase the transitional comfort.

This brings us to the next factor: plant material.  I didn’t mention a pergola with draping vines as a possibility for the transition space. That’s because it’s a detail that is strongly discouraged in outdoor design for seniors.  A pergola or draped plant material creates patterned shadows on the ground. This is referred to as “visual cliffing” in design. Seniors react to changes in paving color, or deep shadows on a path as if they were a change in depth. This may lead to stumbles, fear, and discomfort. Simply avoiding structures such as arbors or trellises will alleviate this issue.

Plant selection for the garden is fairly straightforward. Use a variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, and vines and place them where they can be touched and smelled. Aging eyes can see highly saturated colors—such as oranges, reds, and yellows—more easily than blues, purples, and greens. Also, certain plant material such as herbs and traditional shrubs (hydrangeas, roses, etc.) help to stimulate memory as they often bring deep-rooted and cherished memories to mind for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Color choices are not just important when it comes to plant material, they’re also important for paving, our third factor. Since aging eyes have trouble with glare, use non-glare paving surfaces such as tinted concrete. Other satisfactory surfaces include rubberized asphalt and stabilized decomposed granite.

PHOTO: A brick garden path leads to a white gazebo in a circular garden.

A gazebo provides an easily accessible destination to garden visitors.

The pathway circuit is also pivotal. Creating interesting places to walk with shorter and longer loops, destinations points (such as a water fountain or gazebo), and changing vistas will encourage engagement and exercise. With these pathways, be sure to pay attention to safety. Pathways with edges or railings will ensure safety for wheelchair users or individuals with impaired sight.

It should be noted, however, that in a facility for those with Alzheimer’s disease, a destination point or wandering path should be adjusted so that its pathway circuit never takes an individual to a point where the entrance/exit is no longer visible. This may lead to the feeling of being “stuck” or agitated if confusion sets in. Not knowing which route to take or how to get back can be very stressful for someone with Alzheimer’s. Instead, create a series of large and small destinations and landmarks that will help users orient themselves in a space (flagpole, gazebo, group of chairs, etc.).

Lastly, think about seating. It is important to design different areas for seating to create options. Some may like an area to sit alone. Living with other people in a facility is a new experience for many residents and it can be stressful. A garden can provide a place for quiet contemplation. On the other side of the spectrum, there should also be places to sit with others. These spaces create socialization, either with visitors or among the residents.  

PHOTO: A lush urban garden has raised beds which provide seating, and a riot of colorful plantings.

Lush planting, smooth pathways, and seating areas enhance the quality of the experience in—and use of—any garden.

Consider also the kind of seating to be provided. Wood, fabric, or hard plastic materials are preferred, as they are more comfortable than steel, aluminum, or concrete surfaces. When possible, provide seating with cushions to increase comfort. Using moveable seating is also very popular. Use of the overall space skyrockets when people of any age are able to move or manipulate their seat for optimal comfort and satisfaction. This enables garden users to feel in control, which may be lacking inside the building.

These factors as well as countless others help to create spaces that are inviting and engaging to the elderly. There are additional factors to consider in an outdoor space that relate to programmatic intentions on top of the physical design but we’ll visit those topics another day.

Outdoor spaces in facilities for the elderly and aging are immensely important. The next time you visit one, take a moment for a quick assessment. With these basic tips, everyone can be an expert and wonderful advocate for successful outdoor spaces and gardens for the elderly. 


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Donna LaPietra, Executive Producer of the Antiques & Garden Fair, recently interviewed Peter Wirtz who will be speaking at the Fair this year. Peter is a well-known contemporary landscape designer who has designed private gardens locally and his lecture, “Formal and Informal in Contemporary Landscape Design” shouldn’t be missed.