Archives For gifts

Having three daughters in middle school means trying to find a nice way to show my appreciation to all of their teachers. When I say “all” for the middle grades, that is not just three teachers any more, because they have separate teachers for each subject, as well as “special” teachers for art, gym, music, and library. And then there is the office staff members who were really nice and helpful during the year.

Do I need to give everyone something? Certainly not. But I would like to end the year on a pleasant note and say “Thanks!” for serving my three children—without spending too much money, that is. The answer is plants (which is what you expected from a Chicago Botanic Garden blogger, right?). 

PHOTO: A flat of 3-inch lavender pots.

This flat of lavender came in pots with care labels. All we need to do is add thank-you notes.

Every year, I go to a local nursery and buy a few flats of herbs or flowers. I prefer going to a local, small nursery or greenhouse rather than a large franchise store that sell other products. The plants tend to be in better condition, and supporting local businesses is good for the community. And it’s fun meeting and getting to know small business owners.

My daughters help choose the plants, which means we usually get purple flowers of some kind. If the plants come in cell packs, we transplant them to inexpensive containers. Otherwise, we give them as they come from the nursery. It does not have to be fancy to make everyone happy.

We make a thank-you note on the computer. It includes information about how to care for that plant. Then we use use bamboo skewers (left over from making rock candy!) or plastic forks to hold them in place.

PHOTO: An oregano plant with a thank-you note attached.

We used a bamboo skewer to attach a thank-you note and oregano care instructions.

PHOTO: Lily of the valley plant, with thank you not held in the pot through the tines of a fork.

One teacher requested a plant for a shady yard, so we included some lily of the valley in the selection, and used a fork to attach a thank-you note.

I set aside one plant for each daughter to personally present to her homeroom teacher. I bring the rest of the plants to the school office during the last week. After years of doing this, the office staff now anticipates the delivery as if it’s Christmas. (I also bring a package of paper lunch bags so teachers have a clean way to carry their plants home.)

The principal makes an announcement during the school day that any teacher who would like a plant can pick one up in the office—first come, first served. Even if a teacher doesn’t want to take a plant (I’m pretty sure the computer lab instructor at our school is not interested), he or she can enjoy looking at them and smelling them in the office. That takes care of everyone I want to thank. All plants are claimed by the end of the day.

PHOTO: Seed packed with a label saying, "Thanks for planting the seeds of knowledge."

Creative wording makes writing the notes fun.

If this works for me, it can work for you, too. If plants are too much of a hassle or expense, consider giving seeds instead. Attach a ribbon with a note to let the teacher know your gratitude. You can say something cute such as “Thanks for helping me grow!”

Or use a clever rhyme:

Just like the year I spent in your room, I hope these seeds germinate, grow up, and bloom.

Looking for another idea? There’s always Bottle Cap Bouquets, which delight teachers and mothers alike. Cheap and cheerful!

I wasn’t sure how much the teachers appreciated the plants until one teacher asked my daughter if I would be bringing plants again, and what kind they might be. She was looking forward to the end of school, but she was also looking forward to taking home a plant to start the summer.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A friend/colleague recently gifted me with a new Chicago Botanic Garden office mug—so appropriate since she knows I don’t go anywhere without a cup of tea. What she didn’t know was that I’d soon be digging into the Rare Book Collection at the Lenhardt Library because of it.

PHOTO: Delicate orchids decorate a white china tea mug.

My new office mug…tells quite a story.

View all the items in the Orchid Show collection.

On the cup is a lovely graphic design of orchids—a topic that’s very top of mind here because of the Orchid Show, now in its final week at the Garden (click here for tickets). Fueled by a new-found love of the family Orchidaceae (a classic case of orchid fever), I took a closer look at the design. Was that a slipper orchid? Which one? What was the story behind it?

Turns out the design stemmed from one of the Garden’s great treasures: our Rare Book Collection. At the Lenhardt Library, director Leora Siegel related the history and details.

The drawings are by Henry Lambert, from a portfolio of 20 plates published as Les Orchidées et les Plantes de Serre; Études. The plates are chromotypogravures (a nineteenth-century French style of photolithography); Paris bookseller Armand Guérinet compiled and issued them in portfolio form, rather than as a book, between 1900 and 1910.

PHOTO: Illustrated orchids from Les Orchidees par Henry Lambert.

The portfolio’s title translates as Orchids and Plants of the Greenhouse; Studies.

The portfolio entered the Garden’s collection in 2002 as part of the purchase of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s rare books. In need of TLC—“bumpy, bruised, and dirty,” according to Siegel—the loose prints were sent for conservation to the prestigious Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in 2011. (Read more about the process in this recent blog.)

Looking lively upon their return in 2012, the plates then became contenders for an interesting project: the development of the Garden’s own line of merchandise to complement the Orchid Show. Of ten finalists, Plate 4 from the portfolio won out, as seen here in the Illinois Digital Archives (page 8).

Two orchids share the plate. The daintier, spotted, clustered flower is identified as Saccolabium giganteum (later re-classified Rhynchostylis gigantea), an orchid that’s native to Myanmar (formerly Burma). In 1893, its habitat was described as “where the hot winds blow and where the thermometer in the dry season is about 45 degrees Celsius (112 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade….” (Veitch, A Manual of Orchidaceous Plants…).  The American Orchid Society has a nice write-up about this species and its varieties here.

The slipper orchid Cypripedium schrodere is listed in the 1906 Hortus Veitchii as Cypripedium (Selenipedium) x Schröderae, with the note, “It is one of the finest of the Selenipedia hybrids, and was named as a compliment to the late Baroness Schröder of the Dell, Egham.” Nomenclature for lady slipper orchids gets complicated; the American Orchid Society goes deep into the history here.

PHOTO: Montage of orchid-related products in the Garden Shop.

A Mother’s Day (May 11) gift idea: an exclusive Orchid Show item, plus the promise of a trip to the Orchid Show in 2015!

Next, a graphic design specialist worked with the orchid illustrations, using a bit of creative license to fit the prints to the shape of the products: the cut of a coaster, the drape of a tote, the curve of a coffee cup. From that work came the Garden’s exclusive collection—it’s only available online and at the Garden Shop!—of items that are practical, meant for everyday use, yet connected to a deeper story.

Good design transcends time. It’s quiet, yet thought-provoking. Now that I know the story behind the orchid design, I look at my friend’s gift differently.

Come to think of it, it’s time for a nice cup of tea…

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Roses Are Red…

Adriana Reyneri —  February 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

A dozen red roses say, “I love you,” but horticulturists at the Chicago Botanic Garden transcend tradition on Valentine’s Day. Read on for thoughtful, unusual, and homemade floral gift ideas.

PHOTO: Delphinium in bloom.

Delphinium (Delphinium elatum ‘Royal Aspirations’)

Spouses can evoke their wedding day by combining flowers from their ceremony and reception into a Valentine’s bouquet, said Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist at the Garden. Tim would use sweet peas, freesias, and delphinium for a nostalgic, sweetly scented gift. Tropical flowers from spots such as Hawaii and Florida can conjure up memories of a romantic getaway.

Seeking a seasonal and local bouquet? Consider some of the dormant shrubs growing in your yard, said Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist. A little advance planning can produce beautiful flowering branches from early-spring flowering shrubs, such as forsythia. Prune 2- to-3-foot lengths, put them in a container filled with water, and place them in a sunny location. The bright yellow forsythia flowers will begin blooming in roughly a week, while other shrubs may take longer. Heather likes mixing the forsythia with silvery pussy willow. You can tie the bunch with a big red bow and attach a homemade card with a big “I Love You” on it.

PHOTO: Forsythia in bloom.

Forsythia (Forsythia ‘Northern Sun’)

Flowering plants such as kalanchoe, African violets, cyclamen, and azaleas can bloom for weeks and serve double duty in the summer garden. Tim Pollak likes giving indoor blooming plants to friends and family, because they serve as a lasting reminder.

Want to remember Mom on Valentine’s Day? Fragrant and long-lasting carnations can denote love for a mother, says Jill Selinger, manager of adult education. Delicate, blooming four-leaf clovers (Oxalis tetraphylla) can boost a friend who’s down on his or her luck. The clover leads into St. Patrick’s Day and can be transplanted outside in summer. Primroses, symbols of young love, can be put in the garden in spring and come back year after year.

PHOTO: Oxalis tetraphylla (four leaf clover).

A lucky gift: four-leaf clover (Oxalis tetraphylla)

Considering a recipient’s color preferences can create a Valentine’s bouquet that’s in harmony with their decor, said Jacob Burns, curator of herbaceous perennials. “Not that many people have red and pink rooms,” he said. “If I had to pick, I’d want a simple bouquet of ranunculus, anemones, or tulips.”

Presentation adds thought, meaning, and beauty to a floral gift, agrees Selinger. Gardenias, symbols of secret love, can be floated in a bowl, filling a room with their intoxicating scent for several weeks. How about placing a posy or small violet plant in a souvenir mug from a special date or trip? Remember, roses are red, violets are blue…

PHOTO: Orchid in bloom.

An unusual and stunning gift: this lady slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus)

Orchids can make an exotic, very feminine Valentine’s gift, and some varieties, such as Phalaenopsis, are very elegant and easy to grow, notes Sherwood. Plant biology graduate student (and our informal orchid spokesperson) Anne Nies recommends adding red and pink orchids—her favorite flower and research subject—into a mixed bouquet to add color, fragrance, and texture. “You can also make a bouquet or arrangement out of orchids alone; they have a wide variety of shapes and sizes,” said Nies. Among her recommendations are red Cattleya with their spicy scent, and mysterious-looking, blood-red Paphiopedilum, or lady slipper orchids. She also likes one of the stars of our upcoming Orchid Show: Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’, which smells like another Valentine’s favorite—chocolate!

Still can’t decide what flowers to give for Valentine’s Day? How about all these flowers throughout the whole year? A gift membership to the Garden affords free parking, discounts, and blooms in all four seasons. Loved ones receiving a tribute gift will get a beautiful notecard from the Garden acknowledging the donation made in their honor. How’s that for a very special Valentine’s card?

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org