Monday, December 29, 2014

"The purest of human pleasures"


     Saturday it hit 50 degrees, and there was only one thing I really wanted to do: go walking in the Chicago Botanic Garden. Because really, when will we have another 50 degree day to be outside in? Next March? Could be.
    My wife and have been members of the Botanic Garden for years. We go every week or two and never get tired of visiting. It's always different, always new and interesting, as you don't see it all during any one visit, and the seasons are always cycling through, and the staff is always planting new things. I've never been bored there, or sorry I came. Not once. Even in February, when its cold, and snow-covered, the place has an empty, white, severe beauty.
    Plus there's exercise, people-watching, exhibits, a lovely little shop, and of course conversation. On Sunday, we got to talking, as we do, and my wife mentioned that, once the boys are both away at school, we'll have more time to travel more, and should think about visiting other botanic gardens. 
     I had the exact same thought, over the summer, when we visited Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, on Kent's college tour, and spent an hour or two in Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 55 acres of plants and lakes and flower beds, right on campus, which was also gorgeous, but in different ways: being Southern, there were unfamiliar or unexpected plants: a field of bamboo, for instance (which, for some reason, visitors had scrawled over. Nowhere else in the garden; just the bamboo grove. A puzzlement).
     Exploring Duke, I had thought, "I love the Chicago Botanic Garden, but it's a nice change of pace to poke around somewhere else. We should probably seek them out." Then I pulled back from that thought, almost frightened. There seemed something terribly defeated and aged about that. Some men travel the world, creating art, making fortunes, conducting matters of great importance and urgency. Me, I'll be traveling to parks, gawping at plants.
     Or, even worse, hoping to. 
     Well, too late for regret now. Nothing to be guilty about—it isn't just me. "God Almighty first planted a garden," wrote Francis Bacon in 1625. "It is the purest of human pleasures." 
    So with both the Divine and Francis Bacon on my side, if wandering gardens is what I like, then wander gardens and the hell with how it looks. If people can put on furry animal suits and attend conventions, then what shame can there be in going to collected nature? You have to accept things as they are. I could never figure out how to become an International Man of Mystery, and it's a little late now. To be honest, I'm not even sure how to go about finding other worthwhile botanic gardens around the country. I plugged "Most Beautiful Gardens in North America" into Google and got a top 10 list from USA Today. Duke wasn't even on it (but the Chicago Botanic Garden was!)  It's kind of hard to tell from the photos on that list. The garden in Vancouver seemed exceptional but that's about it. 
     What do you say, Hive? Any insights? What are your favorite places, garden-wise? Or am I the first person to consider such a fool's errand, to travel places just to go to their noted gardens? There's a fresh new year, only a few days away, and we need to come up with plans to help make the idea of a whole entire year to get through at least a little palatable.  

12 comments:

  1. Well, there is the Morton Arboretum right here where I have a membership. I've been to the Biltmore which is also in North Carolina. Tucson has a differnt presentation in their outdoor museum. You have probably been to Giverny outside Paris. In my retiremet I find my self constantly returning to Paris. I just like to walk everywhere. This spring I will be on a barge slowly floating through canals in France looking at everyone's gardens. There is so much. Dream and plan. Barbara Palmer

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  2. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona should be a stop on your itinerary. The desert plants and views of mountains will be very different from anywhere else you go.

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  3. Neil: it is me or you that's preventing me from commenting here?

    John

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  4. Neil: disregard the above, I guess. Maybe I've been hitting the wrong button. But I'll reiterate: I think it was warm Saturday and got colder Sunday. The kind of mistake I make a lot, but easy to correct here.

    John

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    1. I do believe you're correct. Been home a few days, they blend together. Saturday. I'll make the change.

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  5. My husband and I love strolling through Chicago Botanic Garden; but it is an hour of heavy traffic for us to get there plus $20 to park so we don't make it as often as we would like. Your occasional pictures and mentions of it are welcome vicarious visits for those of us who don't have the easy access that you do!

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  6. The Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Las Vegas is very nice. Also, it's in Las Vegas.

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  7. Greatly enjoyed the Montreal Botanical Gardens both times I've been: once in the late summer, once in the early winter. Also, it's in Montreal!

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  8. As the first commenter noted, if you enjoy strolling outdoors, whatever the season, the Morton Arboretum is a fine option. Like a garden for trees, you might say. Don't know if you've been there, or not, but as a Botanic Garden member, you have reciprocal privileges there and can get in for free. (Along with loads of other Gardens / Arboreta around the country.)

    Off the top of my head, we've been to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis and the Portland Rose Garden and Japanese Gardens, all of which were swell. Closer to here, the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford are reputedly very nice, though I've not been there. And, though you may hesitate to deign to set foot on the Colonel's old property, Neil, there's a lot to be said for wandering around Cantigny on a nice summer day. But you're probably aware of all that.

    If we lived in the leafy suburban paradise, we'd probably visit the Botanic Garden almost as often as you do. As it is, we tend to split our outings between there and the Arboretum, and they're not nearly so frequent.

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  9. When I lived in Philadelphia & worked at [unnamed], I took out membership at Longwood Gardens for a retreat. Every time I entered the gate I could feel my respiration change, slow: the beauty & variety & peace & joys for many senses were worth any drive. Visiting Bermuda, I questioned spending money to enter a "native" garden, since one could see flowers already abundantly everywhere around for free. It also was worth the money to enter a secluded eden.

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  10. Longwood gardens is awesome. Ditto the suggestion. The Duke Gardes. Well I get fairly frequent snapchats from my Duke attending daughter of its beauty. At least when she gets a rare escape from an engineering lab.

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  11. Allerton Park, near Monticello, Il, is a nice way to spend a day. And Robert Allerton has a unique story.

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