How We Dreamed Green: Platinum LEED Honor

We dreamed green, from the moment we started planning the Learning Center on the Regenstein Learning Campus—in every solar panel we placed, in every window we installed, in every cleaning product we used. Recently, the hard work brought us national recognition.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is pleased that the U.S. Green Building Council has awarded the top rating of Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) to the Learning Center, which opened in September 2016. The designation means that the Garden is recognized as a leader in the green building movement. Of 51,875 projects in the United States that has earned LEED status since 2004, only 10.7 percent have been awarded platinum recognition.

Natural daylight from clerestory windows illuminates the building's main hallway.
Natural daylight from clerestory windows illuminates the Learning Center’s main hallway.

Sustainability Features

People of all ages and abilities connect with the natural world in the programs, classes, and events through the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden, based at the Learning Center. In every single decision we made before opening the Center’s doors, we applied the same sustainability standards that we use for our gardens: How do we save water and energy? What is the best way to reduce our environmental footprint?

Solar panels (like these on the Children's Growing Garden next door) supply 16 percent of the Regenstein Learning Center's electricity.
Solar panels (like these on the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden next door) supply 16 percent of the  Learning Center’s electricity.

Here are some of the ways we did so, with the help of architects Booth Hansen & Associates and the Rocky Mountain Institute, which provided sustainability counsel. The Learning Center uses the following:

  • A rainwater capture and storage system (the rainwater is used to water the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden)
  • 83 solar panels, which generate 16 percent of the building’s electricity
  • Environmentally friendly cleaning products, and paints, adhesives, and sealings with low amounts of chemicals that could harm indoor air quality 
  • 90 percent natural daylight
  • Special windows to deter bird collisions

Even outside the Learning Center, we made sure to think local and sustainable in the Nature Play Garden, with climbing boulders from Wisconsin and as many native plants as possible—not as part of the LEED certification, but as part of our environmental ethos.

“We are an organization that cares deeply about conservation and sustainability. When it comes to our buildings, we embrace energy-efficient construction practices that mitigate environmental impact,” said Jean M. Franczyk, the Garden’s president and CEO.

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Coming soon: Our 27th Garden

Meet our new Nature Play Garden, a place of whimsy and self-discovery, for learning and fun. You will be able to dabble in the water (try the boulder bubbler) or daydream on the grassy rolling hills. Experience the new garden at the free Opening Celebration of the Regenstein Learning Campus at the Chicago Botanic Garden on September 10 and 11.


See the complete schedule for our Opening Celebration events on our website.

Horticulturists selected the garden’s flowers and trees for qualities such as color, scent, texture, and even sound (the sweet gums trees have seed pods that rattle); more than half of the perennials are new to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“Adults will enjoy the fragrance of summer sweet and northern dropseed grass, smile at the large hibiscus flowers, be transfixed by the patterns of sunlight in the coursing water of the runnel, learn which plants do well in a swale to catch excess water runoff, and exclaim the usual ‘oh wow’ when the long sweep of redbuds flower in spring,” said Kris Jarantoski, executive vice president and director of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

The Nature Play Garden is part of the Regenstein Learning Campus, a new home base for the Chicago Botanic Garden’s plant-based, immersive nature experiences and classes. (Our last two new gardens, the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden and Kleinman Family Cove, opened in 2012 as part of the initial phases of the Learning Campus.)

Here are a few of our favorite features in the new garden:

PHOTO: A little girls jumps on the rolling hills at the Nature Play Garden.
Jump, roll, run, relax on the rolling hills

The hills are alive…

The big, grassy rolling hills are yours for interpretation. Lie down and read a book. Take a power walk. Here’s how we roll; show us how you roll (tag us on Twitter or Instagram, @chicagobotanic).

PHOTO: A young visitor discovers the boulder bubbler at the Nature Play Garden.
A young visitor discovers the boulder bubbler.

Make a splash

Dip fingers and toes into the 2-inch-deep waters of the runnel. A boulder bubbler will allow people in wheelchairs to reach out and touch the cascading water at arm’s length.

PHOTO: The Nature Play Garden amphitheater and runnel.
The Nature Play Garden amphitheater and runnel

The can’t-miss view

“Probably most of all, people will marvel at the topography of the (natural) amphitheater,” Jarantoski said. “As one of our catering staff members said (and the catering staff doesn’t often comment on the gardens), ‘The landscape is so kinetic and exciting!’ Standing on top of one of the hills provides an exhilarating feeling as the landscape falls away from you to the lawn. You’ll never think of topography the same way again.”

PHOTO: The hollow tulip tree log in the Nature Play Garden.
Kids enjoy going around, over, and through the hollow log—all afternoon long.


Jump off a boulder (wood chips on the ground make for a soft landing) or hide in a hollow tulip tree log (tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera, are also growing in the Nature Play Garden)—experts say it’s good for you to spend time outside.

Come one, come all

The garden was designed as a vibrant gathering place, for people of all ages and abilities. Check our website for evening programs that might call for stargazing or roasting marshmallows in the fire pit. Or pack a sack lunch and people watch in the picnic grove. Don’t feel like company? Duck into the hornbeam room or another sheltering thicket of trees.

Explore the Nature Play Garden at the Learning Campus’s free Opening Celebration, September 10 and 11, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; parking fees apply. Enjoy live music and Family Drop-in Activities, take home a free plant, and more. Members can stop by the lounge for light refreshments and a commemorative gift. While you’re here, make time to visit any of our 26 other distinct gardens and four natural areas.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and