The Gift That Keeps on Giving: Holiday Plants

Looking for a feel-good, beautiful, reasonably priced gift? Plants are all that and even on trend—see #plantsmakepeoplehappy; it’s an Instagram thing. Here’s a quick guide on which plants to buy—as a gift or for yourself. Make sure to get them to their destination safely by wrapping them head to toe at the store and getting them back indoors as soon as you can.

Holiday plants come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Take the beautiful but dreaded poinsettia. It’s beautiful because the red, cream, or sparkle-laden plants are dazzling. But it is also dreaded because the plant will drop its leaves in warm and dry air, cold drafts, or direct sunlight. There’s hope—and you need not be a horticulturist to nurture a holiday plant.

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus
So much for common names—these colorful plants (Schlumbergera spp.) hail from Brazil’s rainforest. Place them in bright, indirect light. Water thoroughly, letting the soil dry a little between waterings.


Who doesn’t love a fragrant pot of rosemary, trimmed to look like a miniature spruce tree? Keep it moist but not sopping wet, and give it bright light or a sunny window. And snip some stems for your culinary adventures.


Forget to water? No problem. Overwatering orchids kills them faster than underwatering. Place them in a southern or eastern exposure and enjoy several months of bloom.


Give it a cool spot out of direct sunlight and keep the soil moist but not soggy. It’s tricky to keep poinsettias going until spring, but if you’re game, here’s how.


Breathtaking, beefy amaryllis blooms—trumpets of white, cream, red, pink, or multi-colors—put on a show for several weeks. Put the plant in a bright, sunny spot and water thoroughly, letting the soil dry a bit between waterings. As each flower fades, remove the flowering stalk. A bonus: you can get it to rebloom next year.


Often called “the poor man’s orchid,” cyclamen (SIKE-la-men) plants like it cool, preferring daytime temperatures around 68 degrees Fahrenheit and down to 50 degrees at night—not always easy to do. However, an unheated sunroom, enclosed porch, a bright, cool window or an east or north-facing windowsill will do. Set the plant pot in a bowl of water and let it “drink” up the water and then return it to the saucer. Soil should dry out a bit between waterings, but not so much that the leaves begin to wilt.


Need a little holiday pick-me-up? Stop by the Garden’s Greenhouses in the Regenstein Center for a peek at the stunning holiday plants. Save time to drop by the Garden Shop for a selection of plants and other holiday gift ideas.

Guest blogger Nina Koziol is a garden writer and horticulturist who lives and gardens in Palos Park, Illinois.

©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Holiday Gift Guide 2017: 12 Curated Ideas

Now that the holidays are bearing down, we’ve put together some gift ideas for the nature lovers and others on your list, including the blooms-loving home mixologist (three words: cherry blossom elixir).

Bring your shopping list (or personal wish list; we won’t tell) to the cozy Chicago Botanic Garden Shop, where our offerings include handmade, inspired-by-nature gifts that you won’t find anywhere else in the area. Proceeds from your purchase help support the Garden’s mission.

Get your holiday shopping done early and then treat yourself to a walk at the Garden. Parking fees apply; members park for free (and get a 10 percent discount at the Garden Shop). Or shop online anytime.

For the home mixologist

Floral elixirs
Floral elixirs

These floral elixirs will transform champagne, spirits, and soda water into celebratory holiday cocktails and mocktails. Besides the cherry blossom elixir, other flavors include hibiscus and violet. Each elixir is all natural and handcrafted from real flowers.

Set of five 2-ounce bottles: $34.99
One 2-ounce bottle $9.99
One 8.5-ounce bottle: $19.99

For the holiday ornament collector

Carillon ornament
Carillon ornament

The new Chicago Botanic Garden holiday ornament features the 48-bell Theodore C. Butz Memorial Carillon, a lovely reminder of bells on a summer evening. This ornament, which has a silver palladium finish, also highlights the Garden’s elegant willow trees.  

Custom carillon ornament: $19.99

For the host and hostess

Hand-painted tableware
Hand-painted tableware

This hand-painted collection from Tag is perfect for the host or hostess who appreciates the splash of color that a cardinal brings on a winter’s day. The Cardinal Collection includes mugs, a dessert dish, and platter, and is dishwasher and microwave safe.

Cardinal mugs: $14.99
Greenery dessert dish (not shown): $16.99
Cardinal platter: $39.99

For the art and nature lover

Nature-inspired jewelry
Nature-inspired jewelry

Nature lovers can celebrate the ephemeral grace of a gingko leaf and other reminders of the natural world with this handcrafted jewelry. Nature’s Creations uses natural items or impressions from nature to make each piece, which is finished with bronze and other patinas.

$39.99 and up
Single gingko leaf necklace: $119.99

For the person with fun ears

Handmade jewelry
Handmade jewelry

Each handmade stud in this gemstone earrings set is handpicked, so no two are alike. Instead, the JaxKelly studs complement each other as sisters, not twins—metaphor, anyone? The earrings are gold vermeil over sterling silver.

$29.99 per set
JaxKelly quartz earrings: $29.99

For the outdoors-y man

Winter accessories
Winter accessories

For the man who isn’t scared by winter weather, consider these classic accessories from Dorfman Pacific Co. The warm 3M thinsulate gloves and fleece-lined hats will come in handy on walks in bone-chilling weather.

$19.99 and up

For the photographer

2018 Garden desktop calendar
2018 Garden desktop calendar

Photography fans and garden lovers will be reminded of the beauty of the seasons with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s 2018 desktop calendar. Featured scenes include the vibrant colors of spring-blooming tulips and the elegance of the Malott Japanese Garden.

2018 Desktop calendar: $19.99

For the train fan

Train ornament
Train ornament

Who doesn’t love a vintage train? We do at the Garden, where we celebrate the holidays with the annual Wonderland Express train exhibition. This two-piece train ornament is crafted and hand painted in Poland.

Train ornaments (2-piece set): $75

For the reader

Books for plant buffs
Books for plant buffs

Anyone who is interested in the natural world and how we study it will enjoy Lab Girl, the memoir by Fulbright Award-winning geobiologist Hope Jahren. Looking for a boost to your cocktail party chitchat? Enjoy tidbits about the plants that led to the creation of the world’s great drinks in the New York Times bestseller The Drunken Botanist.

Prices vary. Browse books available online.

For the home cook

Hand-painted servingware
Hand-painted servingware

The bright pomegranates on this sturdy servingware will lend a festive flair to any gathering. The collection by Tag includes individual bowls and a serving bowl; all are dishwasher and microwave safe.

Small pomegranate bowl: $9.99
Pomegranate serving bowl: $69.99

For the homeowner

Butterfield pottery
Butterfield pottery

Davin and Susan Butterfield are the artists behind this unique, small-studio editions of fine handmade pottery in stoneware. The collection features tableware and pottery, with nature-inspired patterns. Butterfield pottery is food safe, and microwave and dishwasher safe.

Blue floral mug: $39.99
Blue floral basket: $149.99
Blue floral large vase: $199.99

For someone special

Garden membership
Garden membership

Inspire and delight your loved ones with year-round access to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Membership includes free parking 365 days of the year, and special discounts on classes and events, the Garden Shop’s merchandise, and more. Your gift membership is fully tax-deductible and directly supports the Garden’s mission.

Garden membership: $95 and up

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Gardening Gift Book Recommendations, Part 2

You can give a gardening book to almost everyone on your list. They will especially love books about food and how to grow it! Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg adds to her recent Top 10 Gardening Gift Books blog with a follow-up list—plus more titles to find at our Garden Shop (on-site and online). 

Order through our Amazon Smile link and 0.5 percent of the profits go to support the Chicago Botanic Garden! Or bookmark

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide
Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

Audels Gardeners & Growers Guide: Good Vegetables and Market Gardening. Its opening line: “The book of nature is open, but its wonderful beauties and mysteries are revealed only to the careful student.”

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest
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. Our horticulturist-in-chief, Kris Jarantoski, included this classic on his recommendation list, too.

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History
Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers. A go-to history book about the world’s most distinctive gardens and the communities of people who built them.

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts
How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts by Frances Densmore

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts by Frances Densmore. Such a fascinating book, all about food history and resourcefulness.

How to Grow Vegetables by the Organic Method
How to Grow Vegetables by the Organic Method edited by J.I. Rodale

How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method edited by J. I. Rodale. The grandmother of organic gardening books, by the grandfather of organic gardening. A classic.

Edible Landscaping
Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy. Beautiful yards from beautiful vegetables.

Seed to Seed
Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. For the seed saver in your life.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. For gardeners of all ages.

Secret Garden, An Inky Treasure Hunt
Secret Garden, An Inky Treasure Hunt by Johanna Basford

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. A botanical coloring book to unleash your creativity—add Caran d’Ache colored pencils to this gift.

A RARE FIND: Planting: Putting Down Roots by Penelope Hobhouse. Sleuth the book resellers to find this hand-sized book, part of a series by one of England’s great gardeners. 

special bonus!

Now at our Garden Shop: More Great Gift Books

Lisa hand-picked these favorite fruit-and-vegetable books from the bookshelves at our Garden Shop. Members, make us your book-buying resource—you always save 10 percent!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Top 10 Gardening Gift Books…

Gardeners love to read about gardening. Therefore, gardeners love books as holiday gifts. But which books?

When we learned that horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg had built up a working botanical library for herself at home, we asked her for suggestions. She took the question to heart. Titles flew. In fact, it was hard to winnow the list down! Here, then, are Lisa’s top ten favorite gardening books for gift-giving.

PHOTO: Book cover of Les tomatoes du prince Jardinier
Les tomates du Prince Jardinier by Louis Albert de Broglie

Les tomates du Prince Jardinier by Louis Albert de Broglie

PHOTO: Horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg with fold-out from Le Potager du Roi.
Fold-outs in Les tomates du Prince Jardinier speak to tomato diversity like nothing else in print.

Know gardeners who grow tomatoes? Gift them this book, then bask in their reactions. Louis Albert de Broglie, the Gardener Prince, grows 650 tomato varieties at Le Château de la Bourdaisiére in Touraine, where he’s established the French National Tomato Conservatory.

Under the nom de plume “Le Prince Jardinier” (he’s a member of one of France’s noble families), de Broglie, whom worldly Americans may know as the current owner of the Parisian shop Deyrolle, has authored one of the most spectacular books you’ll ever open—and it’s a revelatory look at tomatoes. Includes recipes, fold-outs, and a book-within-a-book of garnishes. In French, available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Vegetable Literacy.
Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

“When it debuted in 2013, Vegetable Literacy became my new favorite cookbook,” Lisa says. “It’s so aesthetically pleasing, so beautiful to look at, and it elevates horticulture to its proper place.” Madison organizes her book by the families of plants, showing gardeners and cooks how and why vegetables from the same botanical family can be substituted in recipes. “It’s a soothing, orderly, nurturing book,” Lisa says, “and it’s botanically correct. It’s a great gift for deepening the gardener/cook connection.” Check it out at our Lenhardt Library. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Thoughtful Gardening.
Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox

Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox

Well known to British gardeners for four decades as the gardening columnist for the UK’s Financial Times, Robin Lane Fox deserves a place on more American gardeners’ bookshelves. Thoughtful Gardening collects a series of his columns, organized by seasons, into an easy-to-read book that’s charming and witty, yet sensible. “I read it in snippets, adding sticky notes, underlining, revisiting it every year,” Lisa notes. “It brings a fresh perspective through both historical information and hands-on experience.” Available to read at our Lenhardt Library.

PHOTO: Book cover of Art and Appetite.
Art and Appetite : American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine by Judith A. Barter and Annelise K. Madsen

Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine (Art Institute of Chicago) by Judith A. Barter and Annelise K. Madsen

The companion book to the Art Institute’s 2013 exhibition of the same name, Art and Appetite illustrates nothing less than the history of American food through its art. From a still life of cherries in a hat to Andy Warhol’s soup cans, the book skillfully and entertainingly marries food, food history, cooking, and art. So filled with facts and historical connections—chapter one alone tackles “Thanksgiving: The Great American Food Fest”—that it’s impossible to put down. Vintage recipes included. Available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Le Potager du Roi.
Le Potager du Roi by Pierre David, Gilles Mermet, and Martine Willemin

Le Potager du Roi by Pierre David, Gilles Mermet, and Martine Willemin

Lisa’s 2014 gardening travels in France included a trip to “the kitchen garden of the king” at Château de Versailles. King Louis XIV’s 25-acre vegetable garden employs the same methods of growing, preserving, and storing today as it did in the late seventeenth century.

“America’s early gardening history was tied to France,” Lisa explains, “and it’s thrilling to see the gardening methods still in practice, the thousands of varieties of old pears and apples and fruit, and the detailing of the espaliers—it all ties directly into my work today.” The layout, the photography, the history—what a great gift! Available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Vascular Plant Families.
Vascular Plant Families by James Payne Smith, Jr.

Vascular Plant Families by James Payne Smith, Jr.

A gift for the garden geek and plant nerd, Smith’s book focuses on plant families and taxonomy, including flower structures, pollination, and the fine details of botany. “I consult this book all the time,” Lisa reveals, “and it has the most wonderful illustrations!” Members, check it out at our Lenhardt Library. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Kitchen of Light.
Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad

Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad

The host of TV’s New Scandinavian Cooking goes directly to the source for his food, foraging for ingredients, eating flowers, and using just a few ingredients to make fresh, clean, simple outdoor meals. “Cookbooks are wonderful gifts when you make the right connection with the right cook,” Lisa muses. “Scandinavian or not, adventurous cooks will use it constantly.” Available online.

PHOTO: Book cover of Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers.
Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers by Donald N. Maynard and George J. Hochmuth

Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers by Donald N. Maynard and George J. Hochmuth

According to Lisa, “It’s the vegetable grower’s bible, and a truly useful gift.” Now in its fifth edition, Knott’s Handbook is the resource for row spacing, seed planting, soil information, weed management, post-harvest handling…all in one very important resource. If you don’t buy yourself a copy, read it at our Lenhardt Library. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Around the World in 80 Plants.
Around the World in 80 Plants by Stephen Barstow

Around the World in 80 Plants by Stephen Barstow

When author Stephen Barstow and his wife—both vegetarians—moved to Norway, vegetable growing went from hobby to necessity. Tour the world’s food plants with the man who holds the world’s record for most edible ingredients in a single salad (537). “It’s the book I’m reading now,” says Lisa, “and it’s dedicated to Château de Valmer, where we send our Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden interns to work each year.” Our Lenhardt Library has it on the shelves, too. 

PHOTO: Book cover of Nothing Ever Happens on My Block.
Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin

Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin

“This is the book that started it all—the catalyst for my library,” Lisa says. A book from her childhood that seemingly has nothing to do with gardening, Nothing Ever Happens on My Block is about awareness—or, rather, Chester Filbert’s lack of awareness, as he claims boredom while the block around his house seethes with interesting spies, pirates, monsters, and fireworks. It’s a fun gift for all ages—and especially those who know that awareness is one of the great secrets to great gardening. Available online.

Order any of these books through our Amazon Smile link and 0.5 percent of the profits go to support the Chicago Botanic Garden! Or bookmark

Visit the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden for more inspiration.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Bulbs for the Holidays

A number of tropical and semitropical bulbs can be used indoors to brighten up the winter months. Long-lasting blooms of amaryllis, Star-of-Bethlehem, and cyclamen are welcome additions to winter white.

PHOTO: A group planting of amaryllis, surrounded by ferns and English ivy.
Hippeastrum ‘Amalfi’ in the Semitropical Greenhouse


Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) are probably the best-known bulb grown for forcing indoors in the winter months. In recent years, plant breeders have introduced dozens of new varieties ranging in size from small miniatures no bigger than 4 inches across to giant doubles that can reach 8 inches in size, with dozens of frilly petals. Most commonly found are the large, red cultivars such as ‘Red Lion’, but for a unique holiday plant, look for some of the less-common varieties such as ‘Amalfi’ (a smaller pink variety), ‘Zombie’ (a double-flowered salmon-and-white variety), or the unusual purple-and-green Hippeastrum papilio.

Amaryllis are easy to care for, requiring bright light and not very much water. They do not like to be overly moist, and perform best if allowed to dry slightly between waterings. Cooler rooms prolong flowering, so make sure not to place it next to a heating vent. After they are done blooming, plants can be kept alive until summer, when they’re best placed outdoors to receive ample sunshine. When you return them indoors in the fall, stop watering, and allow the foliage to dry out and turn yellow. The plants will remain dormant for anywhere from one to three months. During this time, they require very little water (water approximately once a month). When you see new growth starting again, move the bulbs to a sunny location, and start the process all over again. As they age, amaryllis bulbs will get larger and larger, sometimes splitting into multiple bulbs. When this happens, they can be divided and potted up separately.

PHOTO: Closeup of Hippeastrum papilio bloom.
Hippeastrum papilio by Jerry Richardson from Warsaw, Indiana [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Another beautiful—but less common—plant that provides winter cheer is Ornithogalum ‘Bethlehem’or Star-Of-Bethlehem. These bulbs produce a 1- to 1½-foot-tall spike loaded with clean, white, star-shaped blooms. They grow best in a bright, cool location—the same type of environment an amaryllis prefers. Special care must be taken to not over water these, as they dislike having wet feet. In addition to the classic white flowers, a newer species, Ornithogalum dubium, has become available recently, with flowers ranging from buttery yellow to neon orange.

PHOTO: The white, lily-like blooms of Star-of-Bethlehem.
Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum ‘Bethlehem’)
PHOTO: Florist cyclamen in the Semitropical Greenhouse.
Florist cyclamen in the Semitropical Greenhouse


Florists’ cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum cultivars, are related to hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen coum and C. hederifolium), but are not hardy in northern climates. They’re also generally much larger plants, suitable for using as a living centerpiece, or tucked into a gift basket for the holidays. Plants range in size from minis that are 3-6 inches tall, up to full-sized plants that can be nearly a foot tall when in bloom. The flowers come in many shades of reds, pinks, and purples, and in white. There are many beautiful bicolors and even some plants with exotic, frilly petals. In addition to beautiful flowers, cyclamen also feature some of the most intricately pattered leaves of any houseplant. You can get plants that are all silver, silver with green veins, green with silver veins, and many other unique patterns. 

Cyclamen prefer to be grown in a cool room and kept slightly moist. They never want to be sitting in a tray of water, and they never want to be completely dry. If your plant does start to wilt, give it a drink of water, and it will perk back up in just a few hours. Like the two previously mentioned bulbs, your cyclamen probably will go dormant in the summer. If that’s the case, just cut back on the watering until new growth starts again in the fall.

Cyclamen flower buds
Cyclamen flower buds

When picking a cyclamen, try to pick one with as many buds as possible. Each plant is capable of producing dozens, sometimes nearly 100, blooms that open slowly over the course of the entire season, giving you several months of blooms. Because the buds are produced all at once, it is important to pick one with as many buds as possible; this way, you know that you’re going to maximize your bloom time.

All three of these plants are currently on display in Wonderland Express and the Semitropical Greenhouse.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and