Archives For holiday

Creating Blooming Dish Gardens

Tim Pollak —  December 27, 2014 — 4 Comments

Create a miniature landscape in an open, shallow container: a dish garden! Gather small foliage and flowering plants together in a decorative container—like a basket or saucer—for a versatile display you can enjoy throughout the year. 

Dish gardens are easy to grow, very adaptable to most environments, and can be placed anywhere in the home. Even if you do not have a green thumb, you’ll find it difficult to kill a dish garden. They last much longer than fresh cut flower arrangements, although if you like, you can add fresh cut flowers—they will last up to a week or more. Once done blooming, the flowers can be easily removed or replaced, and the dish garden can be enjoyed for many more months.

Watch this video to learn more.

  • Choose the container: Your dish garden should be planted in a shallow container. The size depends only on how many plants you want to put into it. Almost anything can be used as a container—let your imagination be the judge. 
  • Provide drainage:  Adequate drainage is probably the most important rule to ensure the success of your dish garden. Be sure to remove excess water and avoid over-watering. Drainage holes on the bottom are best, but not mandatory. If drainage holes are not present, use a plastic liner or saucer in the container, or add a layer of gravel or pebbles on the bottom for drainage.
  • Choose the plants: Use small starter plants; 3-inch or 4-inch pots work best. Choose plants with the same general light and water requirements. Using seasonal flowering plants or interesting seasonal focal points—such as poinsettias for the holidays—and change them out throughout the year: replace your poinsettia with a flowering primrose or bulbs in the spring.
  • Dish garden themes: Be different! Try a cactus or desert garden, bulb garden, flowering annuals, African violets, or herb garden. Or try to spruce it up with special decorations for a holiday or event.
  • Planting and design: Always use a well-draining peat-based potting soil. Place the tallest plants in the center if the dish garden is to be viewed from several sides, or place them in the back of the container if viewed only from one side. Mix plants with contrasting foliage, colors, leaf sizes, and shapes. Top dress the soil with a layer of Spanish moss, gravel, or bark chips.
  • Care of your dish garden: Again, they are easy, needing only proper drainage, water, light, and an occasional dose of general fertilizer, and minor trimming if needed. They can last in the home for 1-2 years before repotting is needed.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Reflections on 12.12.12

One Day on Earth: 24 Hours in the Chicago Botanic Garden

Julie McCaffrey —  December 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

Two Garden staffers set out to capture 12 hours of the Chicago Botanic Garden on 12-12-2012 to submit to the One Day on Earth project. It turned out to be an ideal day to capture winter beauty with clear skies and lots of wildlife. We saw the lights at the Lake Cook Road entrance while it was still dark, the sunrise over the Malott Japanese Garden, gorgeous morning sun on the display gardens, the indoor Wonderland Express exhibition, the sunset over the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, the holiday lights on The Esplanade and the indoor Greenhouses. Wonderland Express is open through Jan. 6, 2013, so don’t miss it!

©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and

“I wonder…”  It’s a phrase we hear a lot at the holidays, especially about the outdoor light show that accompanies Wonderland Express, and it inspired us to gather the answers to your FAQs.

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I wonder how many lights there are.  750,000, give or take a string.

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I wonder what kind of lights they use.  LEDs, for the same reasons you have them at home: they last longer and use just 10 percent of the energy of incandescents.

I wonder how long it takes to put up all the lights.  Crews start stringing outdoor lights in October, using ladders or hydraulic truck lifts to reach the tops of the trees.


I wonder how many lights are on that big tree.  About 300 strings of LEDs light up the approximately 40-foot tree on the Esplanade.

I wonder if they re-use the lights every year.  Most lights are installed and removed by hand every year, tested, wrapped, and stored to re-use the next year. Some lights (entrance road, outer wall) are left on trees for two to three years. As you can imagine, damage from wind and weather and the occasional we-just-couldn’t-reach-it issue cause us to lose some lights every year. For an in-depth look at light installation and removal—and to see a tree delivered by helicopter—check out this video.

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I wonder if the lights are up for Thanksgiving.  Yes! The lights get turned on next Tuesday, November 20, in plenty of time for you to bring family and friends for a pre- or post-Thanksgiving dinner stroll around the grounds.

Bring your sense of wonder.

©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and

The new feature in Wonderland Express this year is The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup. We’ve identified some of the natural materials that make up all four of the Chicago sports features in this video. When you visit, you’ll see eleven garden-scale trains travel past over 80 Chicago landmarks creatively made from materials you might find in your own backyard! Visit for tickets and information.

Go behind the scenes to see what it takes to put together the 10,000-square-foot Wonderland Express exhibition. Heather Sherwood, Senior Horticulturist, plants a six-foot poinsettia sphere to be displayed in the Temperate Greenhouse during the exhibition.