Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Chicago Botanic Garden's new Mitsuzo and Kyoko Shida Evaluation Garden.


     Saturday afternoon was crisp and sunny, and the Steinbergs—all four of us, for once, gathered in anticipation of Thanksgiving—headed over to the Chicago Botanic Garden for a stroll. The crowds that greeted the unusually warm weather last week were scared off by the mid-40s, and while we didn't quite have the place to ourselves, it was close enough.
     We made a beeline through the running cathedral arch set up for the holiday light show—you almost had to. I was tempted to say, "Wouldn't this be a nice place for a wedding?" but then thought better of it and kept my mouth shut; shutting up being an under-appreciated art form.
     I noticed that the boys had a habit of drifting into us as we walked, as they did when they were pre-schoolers, and the family tended to all stagger forward as a pack, a literal family unit. Occasionally my wife and I would have to stop, to let them get a bit ahead, as we did 20 years ago. 
     We wandered randomly, as we tend to do ("Left or right?" my wife or I would say, at each fork in the path) but intentionally crossed the Trellis Bridge, because it is so cool, with is serpentine bent wood deck, steel girder supports and stone pylons.
     "We can look around the experimental garden and then double back," I said, figuring we'd dead end against all the unsightly construction that has been going on at the south end of the garden ... well, if not forever, then a long time. More than a year. Chain link fences and construction trailers and heavy equipment.
    All gone.
    In its place, two pristine round wooden structures, and beyond, a pair of large metal domes and a running tubular archway that someday will be covered with greenery.
     "Let's go look at the gazebo!" someone cried, though we were already rushing over there.
     "Isn't it more of a peristyle than a gazebo?" I said, unable to help myself. 
     "A peristyle?" one of the boys asked.
     "Don't you remember your Plato's Republic?" I replied. Plato taught at The Peristyle.
     "Most people don't know what a 'republic' is," my younger son remarked.
     Sadly true. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. And while a peristyle is columns surrounding a space open to the sky, it is also typically within a building. So I might have been mistaken. Wondering if you're wrong, another underrecognized art form.
     This one, whether gazebo or peristyle, is gloriously outside. Two of them, each with a half dozen brand new Chicago Botanic Garden wooden benches. We sat, luxuriating on their lovely smooth wooden newness, running our hands over the unfinished wood, eventually to age to a soft gray, with the sweet Botanic Garden flower logo incised on the back.
    "I wish they sold these," I said. "We could put one in the back yard."
     We strolled the entire quarter mile path, taking in the fresh plantings of grass and young trees and shrubbery. This is the new—I don't think it has officially opened yet—Mitsuzo and Kyoko Shida Evaluation Garden. The various "rooms" designed "to provide diverse growing conditions for plant trials." Uh-huh. That might be the official scientific rationale. But I think it's just a new attraction designed to look inviting and modern and cool. Six years in the planning and construction. 
     "I don't think we've been in this part before," I said, an old joke—we've crawled over every inch of the garden, yet parts always seem fresh. But now, as my wife observed, it was actually true.
     I poked around the Internet, looking for something about the generous couple, the Shidas, but didn't find much, beyond that they're in their 80s and live in Northbrook.
     No matter. Whoever you are, thank you for the gorgeous addition to the Chicago Botanic Garden. My family had a tremendous amount of fun exploring it, the boys, reverting to childhood, took turns playfully bumping each other as they passed under the new trellis tunnel. I imagine many, many Botanic Garden visitors to come will also enjoy themselves in this new section of the garden. Though they will be hard pressed to have as much fun as we did, many will no doubt feel appreciation for the gift, and I'm glad to be able to speak for them.


  1. There used to be a peristyle in Grant Park, but it destroyed in the 1950s, when they extended Congress Street from Michigan to Columbus.

    1. But they're replicated it in Millenium Park in pretty much the original location.

  2. The real fun and joy, of course, is having (just) the whole family together again. Especially for an extended period. Enjoy these moments, as they become ever more fleeting and infrequent!

    Good call on keeping the wedding comment to yourself and avoiding the dreaded eye roll 🙄

    1. I was tempted to say, "Wouldn't this be a nice place for a wedding?" but then thought better of it and kept my mouth shut; shutting up being an under-appreciated art form.

      You're not the only one who does stuff like that, Mr. S. When we're in an appropriate outdoor venue for a marriage ceremony, I often remark: "Wouldn't this be a good place to get married?" And my wife will reply: "Who will you be marrying this time?"

      Sometimes I say: "Wouldn't this be a good place to renew our vows?" And my wife says: "Where will you get the money for a ceremony?" That shuts me up.

  3. We coincidentally made a pilgrimage to the Botanic Garden today. Only viewed the new area vaguely from the bridge, as we were taking a rather brisk tour of as much as we could get to. Even overstaying our welcome, we didn't have time for that. Because, as if sunset at 4:25 isn't brutal enough, the CBG is currently featuring a "hard closing time" of 3:00, to clear things out for the paying customers coming to see the light show. While shutting up is an "under-appreciated art form" and while I realize that non-profits need to cash in however they can, this ties in to a pet peeve of mine: the way the month of November has kinda ceased to be appreciated for its own fine features and is largely relegated to being part of the long, long run-up to Christmas.

    Today was a lovely day. Kinda windy, but you know about those winds of November, and it was pleasant enough, surpassing the "normal high" by 10°. Plus, the wind rustling the sycamore leaves and adding more life to the weeping branches of the lovely willows was delightful. Plenty of late color to be enjoyed, though certainly many trees are bare. But heaven forbid you'd like to enjoy this portion of fall for a bit longer -- no, no, gotta skedaddle so the Christmas tree and multi-colored light crowd can get a jump on December. D'oh!

  4. A thought that occurs to me whenever I see a peristyle, pergola or similar outdoor structure that's composed of framework and nothing else, is that landscape architects (I assume the originators of these structures) have an odd fascination with structures that look like shelters but really aren't. You are just as exposed to the elements while inside them as when you're outside looking in.

    Clearly, this is nothing new; I've been to Stonehenge three times, and the effect is as intriguing there as anywhere else (and perhaps even more so when it's a typical cold, windy, spitting-rain day on Salisbury Plain).



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