Archives For garden

I made that?!

Prairie plant wall tile looks artistic, even though I’m not

Amy Spungen —  February 19, 2013 — 4 Comments


One of the advantages to working as an editor here is being among the first to read about new classes offered by the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Last summer, after proofing a description of a prairie plant wall tile class led by artist Janet Austin, I immediately registered for it, as did my web-design colleague Christina. I was a bit dubious, having last taken an art class in sixth grade, but this workshop sounded too intriguing to pass up.

When that Sunday rolled around, Christina and I joined a group of other adults eager to make art using plants. After we had gathered in our Garden classroom, Janet introduced herself and explained that we would be choosing among the prairie flowers and grasses collected in several vases and pressing them into clay. After that, we were to use tiny dried pasta letters to spell out the plants’ names—or anything else we wanted to “write.“ The pasta would be incinerated in the kiln, leaving only the imprinted letters. Clever!

We both chose bold purple coneflower. I thought it had a shape that would translate readily onto clay, unlike (I thought) the spindly looking Queen Anne’s lace next to it. I resumed my seat and looked down at my slab of clay, fighting a kidlike impulse to begin squishing it around madly. My mature adult nature asserting itself, I carefully pressed my coneflower into the slab, then lifted it up and took a look. Hmm. Not much there. I pressed harder. This time, I could see the contours of the leaf, the stem, and an array of pinprick dots left by the stiff cone.

Next came the letters. I shook the box of alphabet pasta over my desk, then began searching for the correct letters to spell out “purple coneflower” while Christina used the plant’s Latin name, Echinacea purpurea. Then we students wandered around, admiring what the others were doing. Best of all was picking  up our tiles a few weeks later, after Janet had applied verdigris glaze and fired the pieces. Amazing! Beautiful! Artistic! I made that?!

PHOTO: Prairie plant wall tile from Janet Austin's workshop at the Garden.

I gave my tile away as a holiday gift, but Christina still has hers, pictured here. As it turned out, one of the most beautiful tiles of all featured Queen Anne’s lace. Who knew its delicate beauty would translate to clay so well? The grasses were gorgeous, too.

Janet is offering another wonderful prairie plant tile class on Thursday, March 14 — the Garden Marker Tile Workshop — creating the same style of tile, but in a set of hanging row markers for your garden’s bounty. Don’t miss out on the fun!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Enchanted Kale Forest

Kathy J. —  October 4, 2012 — 1 Comment

PHOTO: a variety of kale plants are growing in the raised beds of the Children's Growing Garden.

We’re all adjusting to the recent drop in temperature, but some plants actually thrive in cooler weather. Check out the redbor kale in the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden. Forget bonsai, these kale varieties look like a miniature forest. Notice the branching leaf shapes are very similar to the trees in the background.

If you look at the kale from just the right angle, it appears to be part of woods that surround the garden.

PHOTO: The branching pattern of the kale leaves resemble miniature trees.See what I mean?

Kale is a member of a plant group called Brassica, which also includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and mustard. These plants grow well in the cooler months, and so they make excellent spring and fall crops. Since they come in a rich range of colors (dark greens to dusty teals to deep purples), and have an attractive variety of leaves (from smooth to lacy to ruffled), they are a favorite for fall garden displays.

Come to the Garden this month and take your picture near our enchanted kale forest!

Visit chicagobotanic.org/learningcampus/growinggarden for more information on the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden.

Boyce Tankersley, Director of Living Plant Documentation, takes us on a tour of what’s blooming in the display gardens on the first day of fall.

Sweeps of perennials on Evening Island, the cascading mums on the Visitor Center bridge, and masses of mums in the Crescent Garden, are found in the boundaries of our formal garden areas. Our show doesn’t end there, however — find gorgeous asters and sunflowers in the English Walled Garden, Japanese anemones and Endless Summer hydrangeas in the Waterfall Garden, mums mixed with later blooming annuals like zinnias and rudbeckia in the Sensory Garden, and an amazing array of colorful annuals in the Circle Garden.

We only visited six of the 25 display gardens, so come out to see them all this fall! Visit chicagobotanic.org/inbloom/ for more information on what’s in bloom.


Meet Katharine Hodgkin, a dwarf iris that is blooming now in the rock garden area of the Landscape Garden. The ethereal powder blue of this 4- to 8-inch-tall hybrid of Iris winogradowii and Iris histroides is beautifully etched with darker blue markings and shows a splash of lemon yellow on the “falls” — the three lower petals of the iris flower that may either hang down or flare out. Learn about this plant and more on our weekly bloom highlight page. http://www.chicagobotanic.org/inbloom/highlight.php

We stopped by the Production Greenhouses to see what they are growing for the upcoming spring garden displays. Tim Pollak, Outdoor Floriculturist, said we are growing 66,000 spring annuals and vegetables onsite this year for displays in the ground, in hanging baskets and containers.

Tim explained that the foxgloves you will see in the Circle Garden and Rose Garden were started from seed in October, grown at 42 degrees F for six weeks and brought into the greenhouse in January to grow with long days and warm temperatures to get them to bloom earlier than usual. The lupines you will see in the Heritage Garden and English Walled Garden are two years old and we plan to return them to the greenhouse for many years so they will continue to grow in size. The penstemon you will see in the Circle Garden have been growing for one year to get them to size, then overwintered in a nursery quonset and brought into the greenhouse in January to grow with long days and warm temps to get them to set flowers. Now, they are back in a quonset to slow their flowering until they are planted outside.

We are growing several species of echium (tower of jewels) for displays outside the Visitor Center as well as in the Heritage Garden and English Walled Garden. Most of the plants shown here were started from seed 18 months ago to get them to flower this spring. Echium fastuosum will grow 5-6 feet tall outside the Visitor Center, whereas Echium pininana will grow 12-14 feet tall in the Heritage Garden.

What are you most looking forward to seeing this spring?

View the video on YouTube here.