5 Fall Family Activities at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Fall is the season to spend outdoor time with the family. With school occupying the weekdays and thoughts of the busy holidays ahead, every autumn weekend counts!

For some families, “Let’s go look at the leaves” works as an autumn weekend rallying cry year after year (Welcome back!). But other families need a little more than color for motivation. Here are our suggestions for some fun fall things to do together at the Chicago Botanic Garden—and what to say to get the kids interested:

PHOTO: Beekeeper Ann Stevens adds bees to a hive this past spring.
Beekeeper Ann Stevens adds bees to a hive this past spring. Find out how those bees did this summer, and get more beekeeping questions answered in person!

“Let’s go meet the beekeepers.”

Harvest Weekend is September 19 to 20. The whole family can head out to the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden for a day full of fun and interesting topics: talk face-to-hood with the beekeepers; sample the apple expert’s varieties and discuss how to plant an apple tree in your yard; learn how to pickle, can, and preserve and how to keep growing veggies into winter; and join in on a honey tasting! There’s fun stuff for little kids, of course, and for foodies there’s a cookbook swap—bring a gently used cookbook and take a “new” one home!

Also that weekend: It’s the final Malott Japanese Garden Family Sunday of the season, a good day for exploring more about Japanese culture (creative kids will dig the gyotaku, or fish prints).

PHOTO: Biking to and from the Garden is better than ever with the North Branch Trail connection, and newly-available bike rentals.
Biking to and from the Garden is better than ever with the North Branch Trail connection, and newly available bike rentals.

“Let’s go for a bike ride.”

Rent a bike on site at the Garden or BYO (bike your own) here via the spiffy new Green Bay Trail linkup and North Branch Trail addition along Lake Cook Road. Park your bike at the Visitor Center or Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, and hike around to see the mums, the first fall color in the McDonald Woods, and the taller-than-your-head grasses in the Dixon Prairie.

Every weekend in September: free, fun activities for your toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school kids! Bring them to Family Drop-ins under the arbor at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. Hands-on activities for fall include making pumpkin prints and playing sniff & guess!

PHOTO: Selfie spot! Gourd Mountain is a great backdrop for your fall photo.
Gourd Mountain returns as the favorite photo op at the Fall Bulb Festival!

“Let’s go see Gourd Mountain.”

Fall Bulb Festival is October 2 to 4. Everybody loves Gourd Mountain, the giant pile of picture-perfect gourds on the Esplanade (holiday photo, anyone?). It’s the centerpiece of Fall Bulb Festival, which combines the always-anticipated indoor Bulb Sale with an outdoor harvest marketplace. Sip a cider while you munch on cinnamon-roasted almonds, or enjoy a glass of wine or beer while you browse the booths. The straw-bale maze is a giggling playground for kids or all ages. Add live music, and brilliant fall color and enjoy the Garden in its full fall glory.

Also that weekend: Take advantage of the October 4 Farmers’ Market to buy freshly harvested fruits, vegetables, and fall crops, with an eye toward canning and preserving. (Did you get your recipes from Harvest Weekend’s cookbook swap?)

PHOTO: Elsa and Olaf know the place to trick-or-treat is Hallowfest!
Elsa and Olaf know the place to trick-or-treat is HallowFest!

“Let’s go trick-or-treating.”

We have three weekends to show off your costumes at the Garden this year!

Come in costume to Trains, Tricks & Treats (October 17 to 18) and HallowFest (October 24 to 25), and bring the dog in costume, too, for Spooky Pooch (read more below)! The Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America hosts Trains, Tricks & Treats especially for toddlers and preschool train enthusiasts, with spooky-friendly decorations and the garden’s famous miniature landmarks decked out in Halloween style. We’ll be handing out small treats and treasures, too—and a Halloween plant to take home! (Admission applies.)

“Things” get a little creepier at HallowFest, as night falls at the Garden: start with scar-y face painting, then check out the bat cave, the haunted forest, the awesome carved pumpkin gallery, and the ghost train at the Model Railroad Garden. Then…dance party! Excellent family photos, right?

PHOTO: Spooky Pooch parade favorite Cerberus (or "Fluffy" to Harry Potter fans) "pawses" for a photo op.
Parade favorite Cerberus (or “Fluffy” to Harry Potter fans) “pawses” for a photo op.

“Let’s dress the dog up!”

Spooky Pooch Parade is on Halloween this year—Saturday, October 31! If you haven’t been to Spooky Pooch Parade yet, you’re in for a “treat!” For two hours only (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.), the Garden throws open its doors to human’s best friends (on leashes) for a truly zany costume contest and pet parade, and one of the most fun and popular days of the year. The competition is stiff—last year’s overall winner was the entire cast of The Wizard of Oz!

Also that weekend: the Roadside Flower Sale is the best resource in town for the beautifully crafted dried flower arrangements, cornucopia, wreaths, bouquets and decorations you crave for the holidays. Dried flowers, grasses, and pods are collected all year long by a dedicated group of volunteers, who spend months designing and crafting the 300-plus items for sale; it’s been a Garden tradition since 1980.


See you at the Garden this fall!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Lions and tigers and plants, oh my!

Plant and animal costumes topped most of the award categories at Saturday’s fourth annual Spooky Pooch Parade! More than 300 four-legged competitors and an uncounted number of two-leggers streamed into the Garden on a beautiful, sunny fall day to show off their creativity, parade around the grounds, and engage in some extremely friendly (lots of tail wagging) competition in five categories.

Best Overall went to Nanuk, a husky/German shepherd/yellow lab mix whose owner “dressed” him in tiger stripes using all-natural, non-toxic hair spray (made for dogs!). Nanuk’s look was simple, sophisticated, and show-stopping (he was great about posing for pictures).

Best Horticultural Interpretation was awarded to Enzo, who was dressed as a rainforest, a costume much-appreciated by the garden-friendly crowd. The 3-year-old Italian waterdog’s owner fashioned a handmade cocofiber shell, then stitched on orchids and epiphytes (air plants) that bounced around as Enzo walked the parade.

“The Pumpkin Patch” was named Best Puppy, meaning Nino, a 7-month-old puppy AND his family (dad and daughter), who all wore farmer/vine/pumpkin costumes. Nino drew much attention for his unusual breed: he’s a Lagotto Romagnolo, an Italian truffle-hunting dog.

A 13-year-old Yorkie won Best Senior for an interpretation of the Cowardly Lion: turns out that the grandmother in the family made the costumes for both Kiwi the dog and her own 11-month old granddaughter, who also attended, dressed as a brave little lion.

Finally, Jessie and her owner took home the award for Best Combination Dog & Owner, outfitted as sheriffs. The prize acknowledges the dog and owner who look most alike—how fun is that!

Visit the web site to view pictures of all of the winners.

We all noticed how many truly creative and wonderfully handmade costumes there were this year—we think it’s proof that people love Halloween almost as much as they love their dogs. Here’s a gallery of a few favorites.

Also, don’t miss this video of our favorite highlights from Saturday’s Spooky Pooch Parade — to share with the kids and anyone you know still looking for a great costume idea!

Pirate DogFang Girl


  • Dressed as a storm cloud, an English bulldog was followed by a corgi, dressed as a rainbow.
  • One of several hotdogs brought along his own human bottle of ketchup and human bottle of mustard.
  • One dog in a full-body shark costume and another as a sea turtle were trailed by their humans — dad in a full-body wet suit, goggles, and snorkel, and daughter as a squid.
  • Two dogs in suits: canine presidential contenders!